Of Reverse Continuity & Awesomeness

After having had a day to recover from the “excellence seizure” I experienced following the release of Return, the new cinematic for Star Wars: The Old Republic, I feel like I am finally coherent enough to post my thoughts on it.

 

… Wicked. Just freaking sick. Gorgeous. Beautiful. Epic. Brilliant. I feel like there aren’t enough adjectives to use for it (certainly none that do it adequate justice).

 

This new cinematic, made by the geniuses at Blur, may be the closest any piece of Star Wars media has come to capturing what made the original trilogy so enduring. It had everything: the cocky Smuggler, who talks a good game, but fights a better one; the Jedi master, who sacrificed himself for the survival of his padawan; the Padawan, destined for great things, though they, themselves, do not yet realize it; the Sith lords, cloaked and ominous; a pulse-pounding lightsaber duel featuring some of the best choreography ever seen in Star Wars — you name it, this cinematic had it in spades.

I’m positive that everyone had their own reasons for loving the cinematic. For me, I couldn’t help but think of all the minute details from the previous two trailers (Deceived and Hope) that suddenly have a new coat of context applied to them.

-After seeing Return, I feel like I finally understand that look of utter fury and pain on Satele Shan’s face in Hope as she Force-doukened (trademark pending) Darth Malgus into the mountainside. At the time, I wondered why she looked so pissed — now I know why.

SS_BA008

This is for my master!

-I understand now why Satele had such a rough time trusting the Sith in ToP. It would be a little hard to trust anyone who launches surprise attacks, especially considering your own master was the victim of one of them.

-I can now see the evolution of Darth Malgus in three parts.

1) Ascension (apprentice who kills his master when he has surpassed him);

2) Lesson learned (commander who leads his forces to battle, but suffers his first defeat, learning of his own mortality);

3) Master (a battle-hardened, much wiser Sith, utterly sure of his own skills in both lightsaber combat and tactics, kills a Jedi Master in one-on-one combat and leads his armies in a successful sacking of the Republic’s capital city.).

-The trooper on Alderaan, the one who watched one his fellows die right beside him in Return. I get why he was so relentless in Hope, why he was willing to set off a frag grenade right in his own face, just to damage his enemy.

All of these don’t even take into account the events of the novels, which also gain a new perspective. The motivations behind some key characters got a spotlight shown directly on them with Return.

This cinematic series would work well if seen in the order Return, Hope, Deceived – but actually, I like the reverse chronology BioWare used in the cinematics.

I felt like BioWare made the smartest move possible with this last cinematic, focusing on both the Empire & Republic. The two previous cinematics felt like propaganda videos for one or the other side; Return felt like a welcomed showcase of both sides.

Other than the narrative tie-ins, there were too many reasons to love this cinematic to name all of them. The Smuggler (oh my goodness, so badass), the dual-dual-wielding-weapon-Jedi (yes, I typed that right [the double-bladed light saber is supposed to be a dual-wield weapon]), finally getting some light shed on why Malgus was dual wielding lightsabers (though I did laugh at some who suggested it was a hint at respec. XD), Satele Shan (love the new design), etc. The cinematic was so crispy, I’m getting baked just thinking about it.

As one poster on Darth Hater said, this is “the first that actually felt like the original trilogy.” I can agree with this statement 100%.

There are still several days of E3 left. There should be any number of things that we will learn from the con before it is all said and done, but this is, without a doubt in my mind, the best way they could have begun their SWTOR promotion.

Here is the video — courtesy of realdarthhater — for your viewing pleasure:

Beloved, never avenge yourselves

-but leave it to my wrath, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay.”

Alright alright, so it was God who said that, but I think it is an apt quotation now that I’ve seen my (at least PvP) AC path in SWTOR.

Say hello to your friendly neighborhood Vengeance Juggernaut.

Badass

Chooser of the living, chooser of the slain

In case you’ve been hiding under a rock with your fingers plugging your ears going “lalalalala”, then you know that today’s Friday Update for Star Wars: The Old Republic included a sneak peek at a new comic upcoming called The Lost Suns (which incited a particularly satisfying display of QQ rage), a few tidbits of what can be expected from SWTOR at E3, and finally, an update to the Advanced Classes page on the official site.

While the first two pieces of the update were not without their merits, even if people didn’t all see them (Eternity Vault? Try and convince me this is not going to be the first raid shown in the game.), the AC update, understandably, took center stage.

I’ve never seen so many nerdragers backpedal so quickly. It was beautiful. BioWare deserves a bully for such a well-played match.

This may be the first really tangible material that players can use to plan the first stages of their game time experiences. Many of us had an idea what class we would play, and some even may have felt certain they knew which AC they were destined for, but this is the first time we, as players, have been given a glimpse of the various ability trees we can dive into in order to make our characters our own.

*Go to the Advanced Classes page and select the Sith Warrior-Juggernaut. Now, read the tooltip for the Vengeance ability “Unstoppable”. Combine that with an ability Georg Zoeller mentioned that changes your Force Choke from a castable ability into an instant cast, and you have a recipe for a “CK” (caster killer), which should explain at least part of my excitement.

As launch — seemingly — draws closer, I find myself thinking about things in real time. I’ll look at a video of Tatooine and think, “As soon as I get to Tatooine, I’ll have to go to that canyon.” I do the same thing when I see videos of PvP, crafting, even dancing.

My excitement, which, honestly, had been dimming a bit, now has come back in full force.

I look forward to the day when my toon, which I crafted to my specifications, can get moving on his/her journey.

If updates like this are any indication, I think that day may not be so far off.

Whatever class you intend to play, my hope is this update did for you what it did for me — provided real substance to help you on your path to your preferred AC.

P.S. – This video has nothing to do with the update, I just felt like posting it. 😛

The Evolution of a Story-loving Gamer: A Musical Journey (part 3)

Time to bring to a close the very first tl;dr article series on this blog. Are you as excited as I am? No? Ok then, on with the show. 😛

When I look back on my gaming history, I realize that I was very rpg focused. When I think back on the titles that influenced me, I don’t think of just the Super Mario Bros., the Metroids, or the Mortal Kombats — I think of more obscure titles, like Lufia and the Fortress of Doom, Lufia 2: Rise of the Sinistrals, and Earthbound.

When I think back on those titles, I immediately bring back to mind the great music that I heard while playing them (surprise surprise, considering this series’ focus). Each of those games had excellent music for my taste, and not even just for their heroic qualities.

Sometimes a game’s music, for all the heroism, and grand exploration involved, just needs to be fun. Believe it or not, many games forget this fact.

Everything is fist-pumping, action packed, pulsing music. That’s fine for action sequences, but a story should always have more facets to it than simply fighting and heroic deeds. Laughter and humor are what give stories their lifeblood. There should always be scenarios that deviate from a serious narrative, if only for a short while, to show you that the world is not just black and white — it can also be a little bit goofy gray.

I mean, seriously, if you were in the midst of a journey to save the world from the threat of an evil intergalactic being who wants to enslave your entire race, would you expect to hear something like this?

Earthbound – Hi Hi Hi

This was the music you heard upon reaching Saturn Valley in the rpg Earthbound. Home to one of the strangest, but oddly charming, races I have ever seen in a video game: the armless Saturns.

"I aM hELpInG yOu, bOiNG!."

Seriously, the caption is a pretty spot on example of how they spoke ingame. These things were a race of, allegedly, genderless extraterrestrials whom you meet on your travels through the game. They are a peace-loving people, who sell a wicked form of psychedelic coffee in their shops that trip you out when you drink it (I don’t know what substances the developers were on when they designed the game, but I want some).

Does this fit in with a narrative whose focus is kids saving the world? Actually, yes. It fits quite well in a game where a photographer pops up out of nowhere to take a pic of you with your group, beckoning you all to say “Fuzzy pickles!” before taking the shot, and a game where you meet a slob kid inventor who creates brilliant devices, like a giant eraser that erases giant pencil sculptures that block your way (seriously, I want some of what the devs were on).

I think part of the reason that game stood out to me, despite the fact that it wasn’t a huge moneymaker in America at the time of release, was the fact that they tried to blend humor and a serious narrative, and it worked. Somehow they found a way to make that piece above, and this–

Earthbound – Snowman (Snow Wood Boarding School)

–fit within the context of the same narrative.

In my opinion, that is always how it should be. Stories should never get so serious that they forget to inject a little bit of humor into them. At least not rpgs.

It’s a delicate balancing act, to be sure. If your narrative has more of a grand focus, then humor should be there as an accent piece. It should not dominate the landscape, or else you risk diminishing the impact of your dramatic focus. Nevertheless, I can think of very few instances where a story was made better by the absence of humor, and many, many instances were a story was enhanced by its addition.

This same philosophy (injecting a subtle amount of humor into a grand narrative) can be seen prominently featured in the best rpgs of the past 15-20 years. Moreover, the music associated with these humorous moments help to make the light-hearted moments stand out even more.

For instance: Lali Ho!

Final Fantasy IV – King Giott’s Castle

*Kweh*

Final Fantasy – Chocobo Themes

Have a nice stay!

Earthbound – Enjoy Your Stay (In my opinion, THE best inn theme in an rpg. It just has a friggin sweet “Spanish villa” feel to it.)

Anyone for some Pazaak?

Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords – Iziz Cantina

That last one has me expectant for some good light-hearted music in Star Wars: The Old Republic, because its composer, Mark Griskey, also composed that little catchy “Star-Wars-meets-1920’s-speakeasy” theme for the Iziz Cantina in KotOR II. I look forward to some nice easy listening in SWTOR cantinas (and based on the limited amount of cantina music I’ve heard from the game, I would say I won’t be disappointed).

I think the point of this last part was to emphasize the importance of having all sides of musical atmosphere represented. Yes, it is important for you to know how heroic your characters are in an rpg, but you should also have musical indicators that let you know your character is not tasteless, and neither is the world in which they roam.

On a selfish level, I hope — and even expect — that there will be music that emphasizes the humor of the situations in SWTOR, just as there will be music to emphasize the romance, or heroic action. I always look for this same thing in any movies I watch, or video games I play. I hate when media neglects humor in an effort to be taken deadly serious. Granted, there are stories where such music would detract from the message (for instance, I don’t think Schindler’s List would benefit favorably from a Cantina Band-esque little ditty), but I can hardly think of one rpg that has ever benefited from ignoring humor.

In the end, everyone has their own opinion on what makes a story endearing. Some love their stories to be dark, full of complexity, with humor nowhere in sight. For me, I prefer stories that find some way to balance drama, humor, and romance. It is not an easy feat to achieve, but it can be done effectively. I’m positive of that fact. It’s one of the reasons I love rpgs over any other genre.

My sincerest wish for the future of rpgs is, I don’t want them to ever lose their flavor.

Part of what makes an rpg worth playing is the total package. It isn’t just being a hero/heroine, it isn’t just saving kingdoms, or romancing companions. It is not just bombastic leitmotifs over grand boss fights that emphasize how awesome you are. Creating a tangible, flavorful world — that’s what makes rpgs worth playing.

–It’s watching an old wizard beat a “spoony bard” over the head with a staff while slinging spells at him (Tellah, R.I.P., you magnificent old bastard).

–It’s drinking a psychedelic cup of coffee with your grade school-age friend, in a village populated by armless, bow-wearing, androgenous beings that speak as if they have ADD (please someone from the dev team get back to me).

–It’s going off to fight a boss who wants to destroy the world riding on the back of a chicken — with a silly theme to match (jk, I love you chocobos).

–It’s about teasing the hell out of that ice queen Bastila just because you can, or jumping into a threesome with Isabella & Zevran on a whim (I love you, BioWare).

Most importantly, it’s about creating memorable musical cues to accent these great moments.

As one member of the orchestra working on SWTOR stated so perfectly, “The music leads the experience. Always. Emotionally.”

Music is universal. It forms the backbone of any form of media in which it is present. It pushes any story forward, makes you care for the characters, and it makes you feel the full breadth of a situation.

Music also gives you a tangible bookmark for your memories. Show me one person who doesn’t have a deep memory associated with music, and I’ll show you a poor, unfortunate bastard.

In video games, it is even more apparent how integral an aural identity, a musical identity is to the essence of a video game. I’ve long ago stopped thinking of video game music as some niche medium that has no artistic merit. For me, music in video games is as important to my identity as a story lover as books were to people from my grandparent’s generation, or films were to people from my parents’ generation.

Video games — some of them — have every right to be considered worthy for consideration as a valid form of artistic work. Rpgs stand at the very front of this line.

I’ve played video games with narratives that rival novels. Hell, it is not even surprising to find a game with a story written by a novelist, anymore (shout out to Drew K and the talented writers at BioWare).

The music associated with these works are equally as deserving of accreditation as serious works of art. Many video game pieces have even been played by symphonies, and inspired people to pursue careers as composers, or musicians. As video games have grown more intricate with the technology that allows them to do so, music in video games has also grown and matured. In all honesty, what makes–

–so different from–

–? Nothing. Yasunori Mitsuda was trying to interpret the feelings of a boy who had traveled to another world; Bach was driven, arguably, by his desire to interpret music as a testament to the glory of God. Each was driven by a different inspiration — but both are deserving of their artistic merit.

Video games exist to give gamers an escape into a fantastical world which we can mold and shape to our liking. Music is there to give that world color, and vibrancy.

In conclusion, here’s hoping that as video games age, composers continue to improve the audible landscape of them for the better.

I really believe that Warren Spector was right on the money when he said “video games are the medium of the 21st century.”

Video game music will be the flavor of that medium.

Hump Day Listening: David Bowie

Damn, it feels like eternity since I was here last.

The last few weeks have been… tiring. I won’t go into any intimate details. I’ll just say, perspective really changes when you are faced with something that can affect every facet of your life. Luckily, I didn’t have to find that out the hard way.

That was this past week, however — today, I want to get back into my little groove.

Modern Love always seems to do the trick. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s the bright yellow suit. Either way, I’m in the mood for a little lift.

‘Ere ya go, people. Take care.