If you’re a regular visitor of Clan of the Gray Wolf, you’re likely very familiar with the video series, “The Weekly Wringer”. Host of said series, Daniel Cordaro (a.k.a. the Commodore), is the next interviewee for the On Gaming interview series here on VGA!
The Weekly Wringer’s purpose is to bring up interesting geeky topics and have them open to discussion with the viewers of each video which means Daniel is no stranger to thinking deeply on seemingly simple questions. You will see in the following interview how far a question on gaming can go. It’s a fascinating read guys and it will likely have you wanting to voice your own opinion. Feel free to leave a comment if you would like to add your thoughts!
Video Game Auctions: Many people agree that the Final Fantasy series has dropped dramatically in quality since the release Final Fantasy X. What are your thoughts on the changes made over the years?
Daniel Cordaro: I would be one of those people that agree. The last Final fantasy I spent any kind of real time with was Final Fantasy X and I don’t find that a coincidence. However, I’m not sure that’s where we need place the threshold of good and poor quality Final Fantasy. I’ll leave that for what it is and get to what I think is at the heart of the question which, to me, is as much cultural, if not more than it is experiential.
Doubtlessly, a game as much any other method of artistic expression is, in part, judged by the cultural conditions within which it is brought to life. Final Fantasy as a series arises at a time in which videogames come into maturity, coalesce a refined audience, and really take off as an art form. Before this time, videogames were merely time-wasters, toys, or even simply recreational devices. Final Fantasy, at least in my mind, stands as a leader of this movement toward a more mature and narrative driven medium. But we should also focus on the culture of technology at that particular time as well. Graphics and sound were extremely limited by the available hardware, requiring a great deal of imagination to “fill in the gaps” of the primitive images presented with videogames of the late 80’s and early 90’s. What does this mean for us? It means that much of our enjoyment of a game at this moment in time is really dependent on our own (re)imagining of the characters, scenes, and drama to forge a coherent experience.
What does this have to do with the question at hand? If we are to say one thing about Final Fantasy these days, the first thing that comes to mind is that they are very Japanese. Yes they are also ponderous, disjointed, and thin in terms of experience. But let’s take a moment to talk about them being uniquely positioned as Japanese works.
The Japanese model of creating videogames is well documented and, fortunately for us all, well-worn as it has produced many of the greatest games of all time. Here are a few elements firmly embraced in the creation of Final Fantasy – There is absolute melodrama, with violent emotions that are difficult to relate to without really internalizing very deeply personal experiences; Narratives that border on ridiculous, leveraged to tell a story with rather simplistic (some might even say overly idealistic) messages; And at the risk of sounding overly critical, stylized for a very Japan-centric culture (take the design of any number of the more recent FF characters as a case in point. Spiky hair is one thing – a bird living in some guy’s hair is another). In any case, in the early days of FF, we are willing to accept these things because first of all, they are portrayed to us in a VERY limited way with the technology of the time – with us as an audience forced to “fill in the gaps” as it were to personalize, internalize, and assign real meaning to the games and its elements.
Now take the world today. We live at a time in a world where the American model dominates the videogame landscape. Again this model is well documented, but suffice it to say that it stands in stark contrast to the staples of the Japanese model (As countless Japanese developers have attested – just ask Itagaki). To me this speaks to why FF retains its tremendous popularity in Japan, but has all but lost the massive audience it had in other (namely western) countries. As gamers, we do much less of the “filling in the gaps” as a means of experiencing a game due, in part, to the technology. We expect experiences with considerable depth, filled with very real emotions. We look to fill a much more realistic (at least in terms of visual appearance) world to give us a more realistic experience. And this is where I think Final Fantasy is sorely lacking these days. I just can’t find compelling reasons to play anymore. I’m not interested in playing yet another game where an androgynous main character, who also happens to be kind of an asshole, befriends absurd characters in order to rise up against the big bad fill in the blank (corporation, empire, etc) and in doing so, secures the love of another slightly less androgynous character of the opposite sex.
Maybe I’m over-thinking this, and it’s more about the way the games are way overcomplicated. For the moment, this strikes me as a better and more complete theory.
VGA: Considering the number or Star Wars video games there are out there, do you think you can single out two as the best and worst made to date?
DC: My goodness there are so many!!! And I, like most of your readers, certainly have my favorites which I could expand on here. But the question is can I single out a best and worst, and I certainly can. Just don’t ask me again next week, cause it might change.
For the record, I’ve not played The Old Republic. I’m not much of an MMO player either so it might not happen any time soon even if the game itself looks to grant the wish left unfulfilled by Galaxies. If I have to nominate a best from my perspective, I will have to point to the X-Wing series collectively. I have played many SW games, but none have so completely captured the heart, soul, and setting of the original films like X-Wing. The control is deep, multi-faceted, nearly impossible to play with a controller, but easy to master, fun to wield, and responsive. The story is engaging with missions for the Alliance and Empire still being so much fun. And the capability of destroying an entire star destroyer with a few Y-Wings is just awesome. I’m voting for X-Wing, even if there are more contemporary games that are great as well (and there are).
In terms of the worst I’m going to have to go with All of the games based on the prequels, specifically the Phantom Menace. This is the very definition of a game that is developed to tie in to a movie release with virtually no merits to stand on as its own experience. This game was frustrating, boring, impossible to control, and really not any fun. Other than that I loved it. 🙂
VGA: If you break all video games down to their simplest goals, many could argue that there are only two kinds; high score or completion. What would you say is your favorite “high score” game?
DC: Before I answer, I have to say I definitely understand the argument, but totally reject it. That being said, I do love the “pure score” kind of games that harken back to my childhood. I can’t tell you why, but I have to go with a guilty pleasure of mine which is any variation on the “jewels” theme. Who the hell thought you could have so much fun putting three jewels in a line over and over and over again? Well it’s pretty much my go-to when stuck somewhere with time on my hands and something with near infinite re-playability… even if I have absolutely no idea why.
VGA: What generation of home console gaming do you feel was the best and what games lead you to this choice?
DC: This is nearly an impossible question to answer (which makes it a damned good one in my book) but I’ll give it a shot. At the risk of letting sheer nostalgia rule this entire conversation I’m going to go with the 4th generation of consoles (16-bit). Before I launch into the games that help me make a decision, let me start by saying one of the reasons right off the top is that these were in many ways the last “pure gaming” consoles. They weren’t media players, home theater devices, or social networking tools. They played games. The controllers developed for this generation are simple, yet powerful and are the basis for nearly every controller we still use today. Obviously there were pure gaming consoles to come after this generation as well, but the purpose and placement of the home console would be forever changed (and grew a little older as it were).
Now, in terms of the games that distinguish this generation of consoles, I think there are many worthy of mention. Super Mario World, Final Fantasy IV and VI (2 and 3 US), Chrono Trigger, Sonic the Hedgehog, Star Fox, Donkey Kong Country, Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter II, Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past, Castlevania Bloodlines, Super Metroid, and I’ll go with the dark horses of Earthworm Jim and Comix Zone.
Rather than jump into an explanation of each let’s take a look at the trends. There are about a million JRPGs that I could’ve included here as there are so many good (not necessarily great) ones for these consoles. With Final Fantasy 4, 6 and Chrono Trigger, you have three of the best games of all time, not just three of the best examples of the JRPG, or three of the best 16-bit games. They really exemplify the pinnacle of the genre. Same situation with the platformers Super Mario World, Super Metroid, Sonic, Castlevania. All solid titles which created the foundation for what we are seeing with the renaissance of 2D platformers. We long as gamers for them which, to me, has fueled this movement’s fire. Fighting games went from the arcade to the home in a major way with this generation. Again, zounds I could’ve mentioned but I would say again, that my favorites of the genre come from this generation.
Interestingly, I’d probably put the current generation of consoles (8th) as the runner up.
VGA: What are your thoughts on developers charging for downloadable content? Are gamers being forced to pay for something that should be free after having already paid for the core game?
DC: I have no issue with it at all. Don’t get me wrong, I’m as annoyed as any gamer when I see some of the things that become available in DLC and realize that I need to spend more money to get them. But I think that DLC as a model will fail if consumers don’t want the content. I honestly don’t feel that currently there are many developers that sort of “half develop” a game only to release the “other half” in DLC, just to double dip. If this were the pattern, I’d have a big problem with it.
Instead I think we now see a trend toward DLC being a differentiator for people that want to buy used games. We’ve known for years that game companies are frustrated that the retail value of their games is not extended to used titles. I think DLC is one way the industry has tried to cope with that. If you buy a game and get some of the exclusive DLC, if and when you sell that game to someone or a retail for resale, the DLC you had doesn’t go with it, therefore making it one less attractive for you to sell and two less attractive for another customer to buy. And even if they do buy it. They have to fork over the cash for the DLC again. Not sure it works to secure that much incremental revenue for the industry, but I think that’s the thought process anyway.
VGA: HD remakes are becoming more and more common these days. Is there a game that you feel deserves a remake but has so far gone overlooked?
DC: I actually like the HD remake phenomenon because it forces the industry to take stock of the greatest games that it’s produced over the years. I think we’d all laugh if an HD remake of Daikatana was released. And undoubtedly, I think it’d be pretty unsuccessful commercially. But the idea of remaking some of the best games in order to give them a little shine is never a bad thing. I’m not saying I buy them in droves, cause I don’t. But I do think I would find the whole proposition much more attractive by remaking some of the best games we’ve ever seen. Or even games that didn’t get the chance they deserved (like Beyond Good and Evil, or Psychonauts for example).
HD remakes could also be a great way to localize games that never made it to certain countries. Or even an opportunity to play games that were only released in limited quantities originally, making them nearly impossible to legitimately play these days.
There’s also an opportunity with HD remakes to really make a better run at some of the games from the past that might’ve been strong, but lost a lot in the presentation due to the technology of the day. For example, Tomb Raider Anniversary. The original game was great for the time, but would almost be completely unplayable upon revisiting. The remake gives it another shot with a much needed technology boost. It makes the game playable and fun again. Feels new even though it’s a remake.
As to a game I’d love to see remade, I’m tempted to go with Star Fox 64… but I think I’ll go with Actraiser instead. That game was absolutely amazing with both action, RPG, and simulation aspects. And the music was awesome too. I could see this going in many directions, but I just think the original concept had so much potential that has, as yet, been left to the original games alone. Shame, I think.
VGA: What would be your top five favorite video game soundtracks?
Final Fantasy 6
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
VGA: Out of everyone in the video game industry, who would you like to meet the most and why?
DC: As awesome as it would be to meet Miyamoto, I’m going to have to go with someone I already met (even if only briefly) – Ken Levine from Irrational Games. I got to shake his hand and tell him how much I love his games which is fantastic. But I’d love to sit down and talk to him about the concepts he’s derived over the years, the evolution of the industry, the real work of videogames as a medium, and the importance of narrative in videogames.
I love the way Ken Levine designs videogames. I love the way he makes videogames. But I think most of all, I love how he talks about videogames. In many ways, the inspiration for the work I do at CotGW is inspired by the intellectual discussion of videogames that comes from brilliant people like Ken Levine. It would be a sincere pleasure to talk about the medium I have come to love so much with such a brilliant and influential mind.
Thanks to Daniel for this deep and very interesting interview from all of us at VGA. The guys over at Clan of the Gray Wolf really know their stuff. Check in over there for tons of great content and get involved in the Weekly Wringer if you want your voice heard on a variety of topics weekly. Also, don’t forget Echo Screen Live which is a live podcast hosted by both Roo and the Commodore twice every month!
Best thinking cap ever…