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I’ve always been intrigued by the sea. Maybe because it’s a real “terra incognita” for every human being, both in size and in depth, but also for myself. I’m highly sensitive to seasickness each time I take a step on something that is floating with a rocking motion and I’m more comfortable with the continental stillness. So most of the time I tend to rest on shores, coastal towns and beaches to enjoy at least a bit of the sea’s generosity (the breeze, sea-friendly people, and the coastal wildlife).

So for that new article I will compare two masterpieces that take place across the most dangerous seashores ever imagined. And no, I’m not talking of a weird mix between a post-apocalyptic Ibiza or an zombie-infested Cancun, but more of : “Tomb raider” which retraces the origines of Lara Croft, the famous adventurer and “Shipbreaker” which is a novel written by Paolo Bacigalupi.

First, the settings. Tomb Raider takes place nowadays on an island, near Japan, a place known for having some kind of old weird mystical powers and malediction, like the “Bermuda Triangle”. This place has crossed centuries until now, and you will learn its history with several written logs scattered around the game. The layers of local history is there, like a palimpsest that tries to recover an exhausting and never-ending action. Boats or ships that pass nearby or aim for it, get all inevitably caught in a storm, or a typhoon and then sink. The seascape becomes then a cemetery made of shipwrecks, sea débris, sea buoy, and all kinds of rusty and broken materials. You will find old Japanese middle-aged villages and castles hanging onto a cliff, recent and WWII shipwrecks scattered along areas of skittish sand.

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As stated before, the journals will bring to you the state of mind of past dwellers of the island, but also of recent thoughts of your friends and enemies. Read them so that you can get the real sense of each relationship in time. It is really “Robinson Crusoe”, although you are a hot and desirable woman who the developers took on a trip with malicious pleasure to push her to her own physiological and psychological boundaries. For the physiological aspect, we got some weird changing of Lara Croft’s look, and unless you are a real macho sadistic gamer you won’t like the Croft’s transformation, but isn’t it supposed to look “real” after all, no? For the psychological aspect, of cutscenes for example, it could have been better made. The conversations , the faces and facial expressions look dull and fail to transmit real emotions. The journal of Lara Croft , which is unlocked through monologues when the player is sitting near a campfire (also useful for crafting, saving) could have been extended through. The crawling in weird, old and dangerous places (ruins, caverns, cliffs) could have been seen as more emotionally difficult and exasperating.

Your enemies are a bunch of “lost guys” (maybe they watched too many tv show),brought together by fate and stuck on the island in a huge sausage party. Consequentely : they will chase you, miss Croft, because they want to cook, do the laundry for them… oh well not exactly. They hate you and they want to sacrifice one of your friends for their own sect, which worships an old goddess of mystical and phantomatic power. Her powers still irrigate the island and provoke the storms and typhoon surrounding the island. Despair, rage and fanatism fill the hearts of this trapped people, so get ready for a lot of fighting. Did they dig their own grave in their madness? You wil have to finish the game to get the answer.

ShipBreaker3-PaoloBacigalupi Now that you have absorbed your visual cortex with all these impressive landscapes and particularities, you can use them to generate some cool visions while reading Paolo Bacigalupi’s book. Trust me , that way of thinking can look weird but it worked (for me) ! You will read faster and enjoy more this award-winning story, which takes place in a close future. A dark tale of social despair, poverty, destiny enlightened by a survival trek leading to adventure, emotional bond and eventually, hope. No pictures in that book, I’m really sorry.

It’s just a story of a every day normal guy (at least in this universe), Nail, living in a derelicted ( this time inhabitated), slum near a coast, with the will of surviving his poor and life-threatening job (he’s collecting rusty things from shiwrecks). To be more precise, the book begins when he’s exploring an old oil tanker and is collecting copper and various metals. With a friend, Nita, he will fortunately find with a great luck, a rich, shiny goelette that was taken and broken by a storm. And inside, a rich, mysterious and worthy princess. This will be the start of a great journey to save her from the coastal gangsters, helped by a genetical enhanced giant, they will start a trip towards her home, salvation, and I let you discover the rest. The characters are well painted, though minimalist, and so the nowadays absurd clash between the rich and poor take some sense when they look both at the same direction, to save their life. This weird and unusual unity is one of the fuels of the story. But also, sadly, this could be a metaphor of one of the multiple consequences of a society driven by hyper-capitalism (not necessarily the American society , to be noted). In Tomb Raider, it was a collision between reason, freedom, modernity, against enslavement, obscurantism and fanatism. It could also be the clash between old , medieval Japan (which tourists usually look for when they come to visit modern Japan), and international, modern time with the sea as a medium. Sea and land will always separate the people on the earth. Though emotions are human after all, have an international potential of sharing, and transcend frontiers, our past and also our future.

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That book received numerous awards (Hugo and Nebula award), some national book prices for children literature, but it can also be read by adults, don’t be picky ! It completes well the views driven by Tomb Raider. It was followed by another book which takes place in the same universe and period, the drowned cities. If you want to read more about “Shipbreaker”, I advise you to take a look at this blog http://dgcshipbreaker.blogspot.fr/ . It features several images and concept art which aim to recreate the universe of “Shipbreaker”.

METRO_2033_by_nitro_killerMetro 2033 the game, is an impressive piece of art. The developers clearly decided to use the closed suffocating intoxicating and horizon-lost environment of the underground to make an immersive trustworthy game that was acclaimed by all critics. Some linear feelings close to monotony was the drawback of such a success.

However, like a good PowerPoint slideshow, the developers managed to not entirely fall in the “rail shooter trap”, and surprised us during all the game, by giving us the choice of showing compassion or the opposite. They resisted, even if the temptation was big for an AAA production.

Inspiration came from a novel written by Dmitry Glukhovsky, called also “Metro 2033”, and the whole game is paying homage to his imagination. So let’s jump on the bandwagon before “Metro: Last light” goes out and see what we got there. The video game is presenting us a universe where the clusters of remaining human civilization is pushed to their psychological and physical limits, obliging themselves to hide in the tunnels of the Metro to escape the radiations and the mutants (who are just presented like a symptom of radiation as usual). The stunning graphics help the player to appropriate the world, to understand its mystical and mysterious dimensions. Each time you play the game, you have the feeling of taking a glance at the small perceptible pieces of a rich, heavy universe. You know there’s probably more to explore or to see about Artyom’s universe. So this is the moment where you should read the novel “Metro 2033”. It is a rich, complex description of “Metro 2033”, made of talks, information or feelings. It feels like the missing encyclopedia that you didn’t have in the game, or ironically like a lengthened loading screen. Still, it’s a pleasure to follow once more Artyom in his  quest, a quest that will shape his mind and the world around him. Like Ulysses and many adventurers, he left behind the ones he loved and cares for, and devoted himself entirely to his destiny of saving his metro station … and the world, or what is left of it.

02531946You want to know more about the enemies, the political factions, humans or mutants? Read the book! You will also be surprised by all the mystical, spiritual rumors and almost religious feelings that are spreading across the metro’s people, like some kind of uncontrolled and irrational chemical reactions. For example, the big bad dudes of “Metro 2033” are seemingly gaining power from the humans’ fear, uncertainty and despair. They become suddenly like a kind of psychological metaphor for the inner corruption, or chaos, that breeds and hides in every human soul that has lost its usual marks (the city, the sky, the world, and the nature). The physical anomalies that you meet in the game are maybe just a trick of your corrupted mind after all…

The outer world has become the cemetery of those broken dreams; an anti-verse of Utopia driven by anarchy, ignorance, hate and suspicion towards other living creatures. Post-apocalyptic social Darwinism. You get that same feeling in the game, but you have the choice if you make a perfect walk-through to choose a better ending than the one in the game, deciding to spare your enemies, stop the war, and to start to understand the incomprehensible.

When I’ve read the book it was hard for me not to see the station as the body of the neurons, and the tunnels as the axioms of those same neurons (it’s like the arms that are linking two persons). Between them, fireworks are the synapses, the accidental chemistry that perpetuate this big metaphorical human brain.

metro-2033-4e2665578c327The characters have different positions and roles in the books and in the game. I guess the developers didn’t want to bore people that have already read the book, or perhaps they just took characters that they wanted to develop more. Khan or Hunter is for example less present in person in the book. However, you will be happy to find some characters from the game, in different positions or situations. The main drawback of the book can be an overall boring experience if you only like action game with big guns. The action and the real proof of mystery are distilled parsimoniously, unlike the game. The atmosphere is generated by the talks and the short glance at the supernatural that stalks in Glukhovsky’s universe. The style is mature and emotionally complex, asking us to use our subjectivity in an objective manner. Which is a paradox, I know. Be ready for some length in description, and no real “big revelations” on the way if you already played the game.

So eventually, reading that book is a bit like unwinding the pulleys and the gears that are holding Metro’s universe consistent. It’s the “making-of” of the story of a universe. I can already tell you that it’s a good prequel for Metro Last Light, which I’m going to review with “Metro: 2034“.

Have a good read!

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InlineACIII_Forsaken_Book_CIf you have carefully followed “Assassins’ Creed III” plot, you might think that you have understood all the subtleties of the Haytham/Connor relationship… A relational tangle between a father and his son which is getting worse and worse through the game. That conflict can only be seen under the light of the somewhat never-ending (like Ubisoft’s spinoffs) and complex fights between Assassins and Templars.

The official and recognized book Assassin’s Creed: Forsaken written by Oliver Bowden depicts all of Haytham Kenway’s life. It has more the characteristics of a prequel, because Haytham is not very present within Connor’s adventure, and their ways only parted a few times. The deal is presented as a personal and weekly diary written by Haytham.

I’ve finally got some answers to some of my questions: Why did Haytham always have the famous Assassin’s blade on him? Did he betray his order? Who was Reginald Birch and what was his part in the Templar hierarchy?

How did Haytham become the ruler of the American Templar branch? Why did he leave his Indian mistress raising his child, Connor, all alone? What did he do while Connor was trying to unleash the USA from its chains? What did he think during the last moments of his life? Did he take a look back on what he had accomplished?

This book answers all these questions in an honest and detailed way. The whole book is placed under the sign of a bloody vendetta; just like you helped stubborn Connor to deal with his life (play through?) during the game. There are lots of similarities between the two stories, and if you like the story and Connor, and if you want to rewind and remix it while understanding new segments of the “Assassins’ Creed III” universe, this book is for you. For me, Haytham is a scheming and mysterious character, and it was a particular pleasure to understand and follow him through such an adventure.
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The end (=the last 100 pages) of the book is sticking closely to the video game reproducing facts and events while introducing some liberties at the same time. Dialogues and some background settings are slightly changed for better or for worse.

I did have mixed feelings about that part. Were these changes made for not boring people that had already finished the game? Haytham’s point of view is still interesting but how can we give him our confidence if some lines of dialogues and places are not the same? Is that a common translation problem? I actually read the book in French (sorry for not being a good old patriot!) but it was a bit disturbing to see pieces that didn’t stick together.

If you start reading that book, make sure you don’t spoil anything. I will give you a few guidelines for not spoiling the game (if you don’t want to spoil the book, just reverse my suggestions). DON’T start reading before finishing the third sequence. Read the last part of the book (fourth part) once you have entirely finished the game (epilogue included). With such a step you might gain a two- sided view of the assassins’ creed story which is quite valuable for such an inexpensive book.

A more violent part is also very present, with descriptions close to the scripted killing movement that you can find in the game. Haytham fights like Connor, which is not very surprising. Why wasn’t this book rated 18+ for god’s sake? It seems as if Bowden depicted what he had seen on an internal pre alpha built version of the game… and it’s probably the case. Moreover the universe and streets are described authentically.

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[GAME SPOILERS BELOW]
In my opinion, the weakness of “Assassin’s creed III” story can be found in the fickleness and the irrationality of Connor’s decisions. If he was betrayed by Washington, who ordered to kill his family, why didn’t he give up the idea of taking his revenge? Was Achilles’s indoctrination so strong that Connor accepted to sacrifice his liberty for a higher purpose – bringing freedom to a country? Didn’t this make him close to the doctrine of the Templars, which is in a general way – the end justifies the (badass and amoral) means?
We find exactly the same incoherence in Haytham’s life. The Templars seemed to have bloodthirsty minions in both of the loyalists and patriots camps. In the book there is no convincing explanation concerning this problem, except that Haytham tried unsuccessfully to negotiate.

[GAME SPOILERS ENDZ]
Connor-And-Haytham-the-assassins-32919530-640-452At the end of the book I’ve finally accepted Haytham and Connor as antiheroes. America loves gangsters after all… Their life is being enameled by past contradictions. It must be a common thing found in murderers or assassins’ lives, however if you want to know more about the subject you should ask a criminal expert.

Paradoxically, one of the core features of “Assassins’ Creed III” is totally absent during the course of the book. Reliving jaw dropping and tipping point historical events, meeting Washington (except for killing him) and major historical figures is seemingly only a matter for Assassins… and for Connor.No, you won’t go deeper into your cheap history lessons with that novel. Too bad you were waiting to read that book to impress your history teacher. At best you can learn a few things about the social customs in the 1700s e.g. how women were treated or outlines of European war alliances (which were most of the time less stable than Charlie Sheen’s relationships).

I’ve always had a problem with Tie-ins products. Most of them are so bad, that they seem to be counterfeited! And that statement can be applied also to books coming from video games. This book escapes that judgment, but only by a whisker. However the fan base of Assassin Creed is starting to grow, so maybe the quality of the game – and of the books? – will have to adapt to a wider audience. Are people more fanatic of the story or of the history settings? We don’t know. To be continued…
The Destiny of Desmond’s genealogy was to stay on the assassin’s side. However both camps get more or less blended during the last episode. Was Haytham Kenway just an error in the fate that guided Desmond’s ancestors? Assassins’ Creed is a story of some lunatic fringe who started to doubt their convictions only after they had made irreparable damage to their surroundings. It’s a story of people of another time and place, but a story that will forge the ideas and the soul of a fictional future Western World. Newfoundland.

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The second “Haytham Kenway artwork” was found on the tumblr of an artist called… “lazercock” … here is the link, take a look! It’s great.

Assassin’s Creed: Forsaken (<-link) costs 10$.

Rama_coverYou certainly know 2001: A Space Odyssey and Rendezvous with Rama (Arthur C. Clarke Collection: Rama). Both are two grand classics. The first is a movie by Kubrick but both are more important books by the award-winning author Arthur C. Clarke. Perhaps what you don’t know is how such masterpieces spread their influences on video games like tentacles… if you try to cut one, ten will grow again.

There was a series of « Rama » books, the first being the most famous and the only one I’ve read. There was even a video game that is a direct breed of the Rama universe whose name is « Rama » -how original! It’s a “Myst” copycat, a point and click that takes place in the universe of Rama I and Rama II. The graphics are a bit outdated- it came out in 1996 on PC and Playstation- and the game is punctuated with captivating video interventions by Arthur C.Clarke. Take a glimpse on the video right below:

 

Rama is in fact (watch out a sparkle of spoil there) a celestial, spacy and artificial object that we can find in a « close call reproduction » in Mass Effect’s universe. The famous citadel, the center of the galactic life of all species, when it’s closed in its defensive configuration, takes the Rama shape. Even the Presidium, the head of the galactic government, gets a few architectural inspirations from Rama. Clarke’s universe has that particularity of showing humans facing things that are beyond all their hopes. Clarke’s heroes are not only modest and humble, but they are also voiceless and have lost a parcel of the feelings they believed they gained in the so-called normal world.

Rama16wikiDescriptions can be too long… even off-putting. Why? Because the heroes meet alien, gigantic, cold and enigmatic artifacts that weaken their determination and will. Inner metamorphosis is one important common point found in most of Clarke’s novels. I read one day that specific architectures can trigger specific thoughts and feelings. Well, that’s quite obvious, but as a gamer, while looking at the big old ring of Halo, or at some magnificent structures of Mass effect, or at an cold and empty spaceship wreck of “Dead Space”, you can be in a more “abstract state of mind“ than when you are looking at a car or a house for example. Scott’s movie, “Prometheus” is essentially about that. Clarke’s novels are about a new way of seeing the universe and discovering ourselves. Homo stellaris.

demotivational-posters-monolithThere wasn’t (and sadly, there will perhaps never be), a game based on “2001, A Space Odyssey” and its written sequels (2010-turned out to go as a movie also-, 2061 and 3001). However, there are a few clues which show that “2001“ modeled the imagination or views of the modern video game builders. Monoliths! You can find them in Stonehenge, but also in “Sims: Earth” and “Spore”. As a history artifact, they are presented as an ancestral awareness of our position in the universe. Today speaking of such things are pointless, because you know star lights are being drowned into city lights. Monoliths are presented as a shortcut for your species evolution. In “Eve: Online”, you can also find a few of these vertical rocks, but they are just standing there as a kind of homage. Now the shape of the monolith is for sure part of the science-fiction mythology.

All the legendary work (or most of it) of Clarke is now available online in e-book format on Amazon, Rosetta books, the Nook Store or Kobo. You can find the classics and also books in more traditional settings like “Dolphin Island”. Clarke was a big fan (he died in the late 2000’s) of diving, unexplored areas like space or oceans. That book is about an aquatic zoo and was adapted in a dull DS video game which I shouldn’t have mentioned because it’s not worth being mentioned at all in a video game blog! About “Spore : A space odyssey” :

 

TheHobbitIf watching “The Hobbit” feels like a video game, do we need another “The Hobbit”game? Maybe we could just watch the movie :/. Mr.Bilbo already had a video game to fill his typical hobbit pride. The –original- name of the game was The Hobbit. Bilbo is there a red head. I’ve always knew hobbits don’t have souls.  Get ready to see a lot that acronym, LOTR. While digging the archives (gaming archeology can be interesting, and not only while gog.com sales are doing their –cheap- show), I’ve figured out that game was released just before “The Return of the Ring” and was based on the book license and NOT the movie license. The machines were PCs, gamecubes, PS2 and even Game boy advance.  These were good old times. That game has probably lost a lot of interest nowadays however, as the big New Zealander blockbuster is heading in our direction. In those days it was just filling a need some Tolkien’s fans probably had in their hearts. It was an interesting Zelda derivation. Today it’s just outdated.

Three movies are already on the grill… That basically means that we will have some nice hobbit video games soon out, and the free IOS’ game “Hobbit: King of Middle-Earth”, is leading the way, with a nice STR touch, towards awesomeness … or something more disappointing. A few days ago, a multiplayer online battle game for PS3 and XBOX360 (don’t search anything close to a story in such a thing) called “Guardians of Middle-Earth” is permitting us to unleash our end-year fury in arenas. It looks fun.

A little retrospective is necessary. There are several “Lord of the rings” games, some based on the books, other on the games. It’s time to clean that wilderness. Are the games based on the movie interesting? Do they give that same epic feeling as the movies? To what point do they transcript the journey, details and settings of the original books?

war_in_middle_earth_europeThe first games in the middle-earth background have been on the market in 1988:”LOTR: The Shadows of Mordor” is a RGP game based on the second film “LOTR: The Two Towers” and “LOTR : War in Middle Earth” is a RPG game where you embody the different warlords who lead their troopers to the battle in the final film, “LOTR : The Return of the King”. RPGs were the main asset of LOTR, but it was a long, long time ago, as gandalf told me.

Then a fallow time occurred until 2002, in which Vivendi dropped the first modern The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring game for consoles based on the books and not on the movie . The game is average and lacks the adventure side that defines so much the fantasy world, and things are not going to get better during the 2000’s. All the Lord of the Rings universe or close will be crunched, with a double hit for the games that found their inspiration in the movies, instead of the books. Imagine the copy of a copy, for plastic surgery for example. Even a top model would get his face demolished.

In 2003 and 2004, EA strikes back with releasing, in a row, beat’em all adaptations for Lord of the Rings The Two Towers and The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King“The Third Age” is another attempt of EA to make a more oriented –RPG game. They will introduce the concept of “corridor RPG”, which is as efficient as using a laxative to heal gastroenteritis. I won’t lie, I’ve played those games. I was so much in need of LOTR universe that I just couldn’t wait for something better to come in my line of sight. LOTR obsession can be really serious when you are young.

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That borked epopee will stop for EA with the release of something that will finally pay tribute to their name.” The lord of the rings: Battle of Middle-Earth” is a non-typical strategy game, with a sequel (add a 2 to the title) and even one add-on. The story of the “Battle for Middle-Earth 1” follows the main story of the film and is decorated with several spin-off close ups on secondary characters. That scheme in fact comes back a lot into LOTR games… I would prefer to play something entirely new, or that would reveal a big fold of the universe. For example: Easterlings and Oliphant! I guess they must have had their heroes before the last battle, and an interesting -unexplored- culture, like hobbits, or Rohan people…

Weirdly, the STR games are the most gifted LOTR games. The video game <The Lord of the Rings: The War of the Ring, out in 2003, is a forerunner to “LOTR: Battle of middle-Earth”. It’s entirely based on Tolkien’s writings.

Let’s notice that since The Lord of the Rings: Battle for Middle Earth 2 story has resulted from an agreement between Tolkien enterprise, the Saul Zaentz Compagny and EA to use elements from Tolkien universe and not only from the movies. EA has now a wider playground! New places, new heroes, new… bugs. And it’s not a Faustian pact. EA can do good things too. I’m sure.  110%.

valpnow_com-WITN_AgandaurIn 2009, The Lord Of The Rings: Conquest action and hack and slash episodes, you have new graphics, better sword movements, more blood… And, surprisingly, an alternate ending that gives the ring back to Sauron. It’s a kind of “LOTR: Battlefield”. The game is finally taking liberties with the movie and the book, of course this is hardly a surprise. This is the last LOTR EA game, and the rights nowadays belong to Warner.

Warner’s Lord of the Rings: War in the North [Download] is a bit more interesting. It features several characters we never saw in the movies (nor the books if I’m right), who fight a war under bad’n’cold weather conditions to help the ring carrier. The story is unpublished. A hack’n’slash RPG, but that brings at least a bit something new in the LOTR progeny.

“Lego’s Lord of the Rings” has been released recently. With Lego graphics, it’s an entire and accurate reproduction of the movie LOTR.

Last but not least, one of the most successful Tolkien’s spin offs is the MMO “LOTR online” and all his add-ons. Based on the books, the atmosphere is really well restored, and is the best way to dive in the LOTR universe.

The question is: do we need a hobbit game based on the movie or not? Will we have a teeming mass of games set in that new timeline like after the three first movies? I don’t know. At least one game retracing Bilbo’s adventure is probably in Warner’s starting block, ready to be developed if the movie “The Hobbit” is a success. So if you want a new hobbit game, go see the movie, and bring your family, your neighbors, everyone!

3753-the-lord-of-the-rings-the-white-councilBut finally the most faithful game that could have transcribed the lord of the games with freedom, realism and interactivity never went out. It was supposed to be called “LOTR:The White Coucil”. That name comes from a gathering of elves and wizards, to decide things like “how they must bake the next batch of lembas”. We will see them in action in the next 3 Bilbo movies. So that game should have been released by EA redwood shores, the architects of dead space. The (ex-) game’s executive producer told us :

“The action takes place in a massive open world where you can go anywhere you want, and the characters in this world are powered by an incredible simulation AI based on the same technology used by the makers of The Sims 2. The story of the game is built around a series of Story Quests. You can choose to follow specific Story Quests, embark on a range of other types of quests, or set off on your own adventures in the massive open world environment.”

On one hand: An open world with total liberty, a bunch of quests, crazy AI. That’s SOMETHING.

On the other hand: Well, Skyrim did it, and …. Have you just read makers of the Sims 2?

EA has blurred the question of the whereabouts of that game. It’s probably a dead project.

And I’m still waiting for that ONE game that will give me the same feeling I got while I was reading  the three LOTR novels for the first time . A big mix of emotions, poetry, adventure, liberty and action. There are lots of possibilities and opportunities. LOTR games would have certainly to gain for a more introspective view of the characters they control, like the feelings expressed by an Easterlings‘ soul coming close to Sauron, his feared master. That would make a LOTR RPG LOTR action games more interesting. I still wonder if the Hobbit is going to give games a better setting for adventures. Maybe a bit more “historical” liberty in the Tolkien’s movie universe will set up a new deal without losing coherence.

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To summarize : “Battle for Middle earth 2″, “LOTR online” and to a lesser extent “War of The North” or “Guardians of Middle-Earth” are great -Christmas or not- presents for a LOTR fan. You can find the links right in the article (little trick to make you read ;) ).

End-Of-The-World-1-1024x768Grab your brain (though I doubt that if you believe in the 21st December termination of the world it’s a good idea) your teddy bears, your 6-pack of beer (or sleeping pills, same kind of deal) and your patience, because the end of the world will last…

It will be more something like sad lingering death pangs rather than the paroxysmal Hollywood cataclysm prophesied through internet shit chat… chitchat.

The 21st here, the 21st there, the 21 everywhere! *Yawn* However if you had to take one game and one book with your post-apocalyptic package, which one would you choose?

Electricity will probably not be something that could be spared, and apocalyptic games are very common but I suggest the game I Am Alive [Download] as a good buy. You will wander through a crumbled city, made of shades of dust and fading light. You will collect remaining supplies, and take care of the last ruins of humanity; dying, ill, vulnerable, complaining survivors…

You will try to hang yourself desperately to the few friendly people you meet, rebuilding laboriously a family and human bonds from nothingness. The hero of “I am alive” is what we all want to be in such circumstances.He has lost everything; he doesn’t dare to look behind him, and stands strong like a reed in the storm. A man defined by his future, and not by his past. His ethics and perception are not distorted, even if he’s always facing very aggressive gang looters, ready to kill him for a food can (well today things are basically the same, just put an “i” prefix on the names of highly coveted property).

Nevertheless, for helping strangers you meet in the dusty city, you must get rid of your own goods, that you can use to facilitate level progression. Will you be selfish, or a generous savior? The choice is yours. Well, it’s only a game, but if violent images can have an impact within our psyche (see my last article), what about an act of sympathy?

And let’s keep the settings. A world devastated by a cataclysm (climate or anything else), a man caught in the middle of that whirl, people desperate for their future. The book by Steven Amsterdam “Things that we didn’t see coming”, released in 2011, could have taken place in the world of “I am alive”.

The end of the world is the kind of things that you want to see coming from afar. At least with binoculars or a YouTube re-broadcast.

The main character had the bad luck (or opportunity?) during his childhood to have a father that believed in the 2000 year apocalypse involving his family in his frenzy. Computer/clock bug right in front of us, captain! *yawn* Maybe there are numbers, like 2000, that activate something primitive “run or fight” syndrome in our brain.

This kind of warm-up aka “apocalyptical training” will draw the main lines of how the hero will deal with a real catastrophe during the rest of the book. If you don’t want to miss a scarp of that story, don’t read the text here below.

The hero of the book will always be calculating his interest, predicting his social position with the other survivors he might meet, keeping his goal in mind: to stand out of the crowd, no need for selfless action, except for people that deal with that “post apocalyptic way of life” the same way  he does. Stealing, looting, betraying and using people are part of the deal. The final touch is escaping the consequence of his acts… in corrupted and weak governments; after the catastrophe’s fallout such things are easier.

During post-apocalyptic love stories, birds of feather flock together! The whole book feels really as if you are in the mind of one of those hateful enemies that stand in your way during post-apocalyptic games.  The author’s goal is reached when I ask myself how I would act in such a delicate situation.

In Fallout 3, if you got speech [skill 100], you can probably get hostile people to love you by sharing a radioactive beer or some outdated peanut butter filled with real radioactive particles, but it’s not so common. The end of the book includes a moral twist that relativizes the hero point of view, in a disturbing deus ex machina.

The writing style is a bit introspective, but in overall I felt comfortable with the book, it was quite relaxing but disturbing.
Take a look at The Road, both a movie and a book; according to me it’s a bit less original than Amsterdam’s essay to release the seven plagues on an bloodless western world. It feels a bit like watching the collapsing city in the sea of grey clouds of “I am Alive”. The movie is a black and white journey, where every piece of remaining color wavelength irradiates from the hope of the future of humanity. It perfectly echoes with “I Am Alive”.
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The Last of Us is a game that is close to “I am alive” , but is not yet released and seems a bit more plummy.

You can buy “I Am Alive” on Steam, or on Uplay, the downloader service from ubisoft.

Things We Didn’t See Coming is of course available on Amazon !

And by good cause, I mean saving the world or some grateful innocent civilian populations from some terrific, mad dictators/fanatic group.  Maybe you have heard that story about weapons of mass destruction?

That’s the most common argument that is sprinkled in modern weapons of mass distraction’s stories to morally justify the use of violence. Yes, I mean video games.

Catharsis’ hypothesis (in other terms if you watch a crime, you have less “chance” doing it or being tempted of doing so) is another way for seeing things, but is most of the time an inner professional justification for the people manufacturing these violent “artworks”. However, such a statement was never scientifically proved by psychologists.

More than 50% of today’s games contain scenes that according to psychologists create aggressive thoughts, and so cause violent behaviors in a long term or a short term. In such an intriguing “pot-pourri”, their definition of violence contains verbal (swearing) or physical violence, aggressive behaviors, sexual aggressions, harassment, thefts and murders.  It’s a wide definition, and the video games scenes on the dock for such a cause-effect link include explosions and car crashes.

Ubiquitous gamers answer that way: “I’m playing COD/Battlefield/Manhunt (cross the odd man out) and I’m not a killer, god damn” (You’re probably doing that at the same time you’re reading, let’s admit it). That statement is only partially right because concerning murder; video games are most of the time a risk factor drowned among others. Video games magazines and other media have had hard times understanding and transmitting that concept of risk factor. Other facts (alcohol, social and family instability, personal factors…) have to synchronize themselves for that risk factor to be clearly identified as one, and not only as being a way of distraction.  Doubt and uncertainty are perhaps not a concept made for wide scientific vulgarization and unbridled media sales. As it has already been proven, violent images on television are in fact bad for social life and security. Video games are still waiting for their turn (it will come soon).

The main aspect of violence lies in the stagecraft itself. The demonization of the enemy or the denial of his intelligence, emotion, humanity is a common point in modern video games. Even if the enemies are human being (or close to them); rare are the games that explore their motivations or the structure of their society. Such inquiries are for example something that could explain why a simple encounter (between humans and aliens) ends up in a terrible war or insane slaughter.

It’s much more convenient to stick a label on the otherness (not only in video games, ignorant reader… oh wait, what did I just say?), showing them as being crazy (Far Cry 3), heretics (Halo), oppressors (Assasin’s creed series… though lots of moderations made things less Manichaean) or just opponents by nature (Hitman: Absolution) or by the military system (Call of Duty).

The encounter of cultural differences (societies or just unique entities) is one of the great challenges of today‘s world and tomorrow’s struggle. And it’s one of the most notable absentees of games… not books. For example, in the book “The mote in God’s eye” by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, the first contact with alien species is presented as a total fiasco, an encounter between two ways of organizing societies, relations and the people’s mind. The merging link will fail, eaten up by ambition, incomprehension and suspicion.  Often war or hostility, are based on open hate or suspicion, the cynical thing is that often people forget why they are in that system when they are too much engaged. Trying to find justifications, where they can be found or created, is a way of dealing with the problem. This works for video games too. Some violent gameplays work like a hamster wheel, and this is valid for their stories too. Maybe it’s time to put a spoke in that wheel, just to gain lucidity on that question.

I still wonder if we could make an AAA game with less aggressive patterns and murders today. This surely shows the limitation of video games in relation to films and books.

I doubt that tendency can be avoided, and I will give a few solutions to make things more “acceptable” (if they can be). The younger a video game player is, the more subject to violence the player will be. This is why some age limitations and regulations are sealed on video game boxes (ESRB in the USA, PEGI in Europa, and the severe OFLC in Australia). It would be easy to set up at the cash desk of a store a simple identity control not to put violent games in irresponsible hands. The age limitation doesn’t work at all, this is why Germany and Australia often censor or forbid some games, making geeks extremely angry!

According to a psycho-study by E.Konijn, the more the players identify themselves to the character they embody in a violent game, the more violent they become afterwards. That effect can be maximized if the hero and the universe of the games are realistic and dive the players in the right immersion (e.g. a pleasant atmosphere, a realistic graphics and cut scenes close to movies).  But this is not a problem that will soon disappear.

However, we must not underestimate the power of gameplay and game design by only seeing the wrong or questionable aspect. There is a focus on violence because it’s a first concern of the media, and the governments. Should average citizens be even more concerned about violence? Tell me what you think.

Gameplay can drive violence (as we can’t erase it, it’s the law of the market) to a more moral field. For example, a few RPG games allow sometimes the gamer to choose whether fighting or talking is the best (or the more moral/ethical) way to handle an encounter or a situation. The possibility of choice shows at least that violence is not the only solution.

 For example, “The Witcher” and Bioware choose that path. Other games allow the same kind of things, plus the fact that speech choices (when you meet an enemy, you have options between different lines of dialogues) can be “good” or “bad” or neutral. A bad or a neutral way of handling a talk can lead to a quarrel, which gives a moral side to the play.

The virtual world reacts to your action, is regulated by its own rules and by … yourself. It’s not the world of anarchy and violence that everybody thinks it is at first. Gameplay liberty allows avoiding shooting battles.”Deus ex Human Revolution” allows finishing the game without killing a single soul (excluding a failed attempt and the 4 –if I’m right- bosses).

Have you ever asked yourself why Germany has forbidden some games with too much blood? Well recently, Christophe Barlett and his college from Iowa University have realized that with a game having blood effects on and off, players have more aggressive thoughts after playing the game with the blood effect on. However, they haven’t studied the effect of vampire movies (“Twilight”) on neuron depletion, something that would be quite interesting.

In the end, violence should be presented as something subjective, not omniscient and objective by its use. Our real world is not made of breathless conflicts (however personal conflicts are another piece of cake). In video games, subjectivity implies developed characters, like in books. People that will make you feel things or what they think. It can be a step for showing different points of views to understand a full problem. Violence can be at that moment only an accident, a necessary evil pro bono (term to be taken with the safety-first principle), or a voluntary error, instead of showing it like a ubiquitous pattern for solving disagreements. Can games create empathy, one of the most fundamental barriers to aggression?

Instead of aggressiveness could video games generate other feelings like responsibility, ambition, care and self-control? It has already been done but is it enough emphasized? We must not forget that video games are how developers choose to build them and what we decide to see , or feel, in them. We have choice in what we decide to retain. Let’s not let our subconscious decide for us.

Recently I’ve played Halo: Reach. Two half alien moons were looking at me, just waiting to be explored. While standing at the edge of a windy cliff, staring at the convoluted cluster of clouds overhanging a beige battlefield, amazed by the beauty of this landscape I realized that it was the reason why I was playing that game.

I will certainly forget the irritating grumbles of “grunt” or the moaning of an atrocious “elite”.

But not that sight.

Because that landscape wasn’t just anyone’s.

It was mine and it carried me out of the turmoil of the battlefield.

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If you want to read more about that subject, take a look at: A.Anderson et al.  Violent video game effects on aggression, empathy and prosocial behavior in Eastern and Western countries in Psychological Bulletin, vol. 136, pp151-173, 2010.

and that article : Are video games really the villains in our violent age?

or those ones : Gun Violence and Video Games: Why This is Not the Debate We Should Be Having Why aren’t we Discussing Video Game Violence ?

I’ve recently found myself in a train station, with a woman next to me reading « 50 shades of grey ». As a man, we probably have problems understanding by what womanly miracle that book is so famous. Things are going to change completely, because “Fifty shades of Grey” is about to be released in a party game by Imagination, an enterprise approved by the author E.L. James.

It’s supposed to reveal your inner goddess … if you are a woman. But if you are a man, will it reveal the Apollo in your soul? Or maybe it’s gonna be just a party crasher, drunk men using that game  so that they don’t have to endure that ordeal in the bed. They will have to be careful, as in the U.K. matters have gone serious when a woman recently asked for a divorce when her man inadequately satisfied her need for Fifty Shades of Desire.

Romantic (really?), liberating and totally fun, the “Fifty Shades of Grey: Party Game” will entertain and surprise you as it reveals how you see your friends and how your friends see you” (blind people will have to deal with that, sorry). All players listen to the vanilla style question (can I have a gang nam style question, pleeeease?) before secretly voting on which of the eight pre-determined friends they believe is best matched to the question.

For example “which one of you will never speak to me again for subjecting you to this?”; it basically means that if you choose the wrong person each time, you have probably chances of losing all your friends in one evening!!! When everyone’s ready, the answers are revealed for all to see! Once all the ‘Oohs’ & ‘Ahhs’ have died down any players who picked the same friend as the reader wins an Inner Goddess token. Bonus tokens can also be won, and watch out for the special ‘Twitchy Palms’ questions that are worth double!

The first player to collect 20 tokens wins the game and a ride in Charlie Tango … if only! Most intriguingly, “to amp up the action, Imagination has also created the Red Room Expansion Pack, which brings a more risqué tone to the game”; and a high probability of loosening tongues… or sexual manners. Truth or dare for adults?

International release on Valentine Day and out in the U.S , Canada, Australia and U.K on  the 10th of December. Specially to make New Year’s parties spicier… or more exhausting. It’s a matter of point of view.

47 is the archetype of a product. His different faces, through all the Hitman games, were as expressive as a line-up of wax masks. One more victim to his hunting table, and he will perhaps raise an eyebrow, or have a few more wrinkles on his forehead (damn, that is REALLY a good DLC idea). Yes, we can’t really talk of emotions here.

Even his neck is inlaid! He’s got a black and white code bar, a good logo for the slices of life he took coldly, nothing less. The kind of things that give you the creeps when you go to the supermarket and start inadvertently gazing at the code bar of each product.

In Hitman: Damnation , things change. Our favorite number starts to take initiative on his own, as Diana Burnwood has got off the radar. He seems to be thrown in a kind of story-driven emotional free roaming. No more liaison officer (at least that’s what we think), 47 must certainly listen to his own demons, his thoughts, his feelings.

But how has our anti-hero started to feel something? Does it make him less reliable? If he feels something does that excuse him more than before, as he was engineered to do such a work? What can push a hitman to betray his contractors? Could you find the forerunners of such an inner change … the missing link?

Clues start to unwind in the book “Hitman : Damnation” written by Raymond Benson. It’s been out since the beginning of October, a perfect timing for jumping on the bandwagon of the buzz around the new Hitman game. You follow Hitman executing a few contracts, and one is particular because it will lead him to get out of his sentimental catatonia. Several factors will influence him: drugs withdrawal, dreams and even… a woman! Is love in the loop too? It’s up to you.

47 will reveal a secret part of himself, his childhood, his fear, his hobbies and his habits. His journey will carry you (in a first person view!), in the womb of two organizations. First, the famous ICA agency with its terrible duo at its head, Jade and Travis, the last one always plotting some blow below the belt.

You will also take part in the inner undertaking of a fanatical sect with politico-religious aspiration. I guess the author couldn’t resist the temptation of staging a typical American political conspiracy, putting the fate of America (I mean the USA and the rest of the world as well) into the (bloody) hands of a careless 47.

It’s a difficult work to give the point of view of such a character getting his grip on something that will change… your gaming experience. But Benson makes it happen, and we feel a true difference of sensibility with the other protagonists.
In the game, 47 is like a vengeful spirit, inhabited by the obsession of killing the target. A pixel puppet structured for the need of the gameplay. Sadly, Hitman: Absolution falls again in the same skewed way of showing things. After having read the book, the hitman of the game seems really dull. They used flashbacks, instead of an internal narrator.

I don’t know if continuity is very important, but it’s presented like a prequel, isn’t it? I felt a bit betrayed; I put that on the account of the very different and specific purpose of these two means of entertainment.

Benson’s scenes of action and stealth are a stirring tribute to the Hitman’s series, and more precisely the first two games. It feels like a good written description of the in-game actions I’ve issued, with all the possibilities that a book allows relatively to a game. However, a few details and inconsistencies (like a witness falling into the sea and staying silent… damn if a killer threw me in the ocean, I would scream) can be spotted on moments of drumming suspense, which makes me think of bugs and the possibility that the author was inspired a bit too much by the game.

Don’t forget to listen to “Ave Maria”, a hitman classical OST, during the tense moments !


One thing well described in the book is the way hitman gets in a suit to infiltrate a compound, or a party. The game play  consisted in pushing a button, but here hitman looks really like an actor, getting into his role and not only like a random guy in a silent film. This concept lacks in the game and this could have led to some cool cut scenes. At any time he can get busted if he doesn’t play his masquerade by the book.

So is this plot a good introduction to Hitman: Absolution?

In fact in Hitman: Absolution, a whole bite of what is happening in 47’s mind is glossed like a part of the deus ex machina at the end of the story. We can only imagine what the bounty hunter is thinking, and as he is human he should have had some kind of inner monologue.

This is why this game can change your gaming experience, and will probably change your vision and expectations of the next Hitman, which has been announced as a task to do by Square-Enix Montreal. Which way 47 do you think is going to evolve? Will go rogue to protect Diana and Victoria? Will he stop working and negotiating a deserved retirement ? In a peaceful or bloodthirsty way? Will he get back in the rank, like a good little soldier? Will he earn his humanity? At what cost?

I’m sure of one thing: If his hair mass is proportional to his humaneness, he will perhaps earn a ginger mop in the next big episode! To be continued!

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Sadly, there’s no special package with the book and the game. Hitman: Damnation can be found on Amazon (not the jungle , okay?).

Hitman: Absolution is a bit more expensive as you may see.

Myst is an adventure that lots of old-school players like to dive in; in other terms, a point and click classic. It featured interesting and mesmerizing universes that are presented through a “linking book” , which permits a “mise en abyme” of invented worlds (written by one person-the enigmatic atrus). Well, I mean parallel universes, and you are the so-called tourist.

That setting is very rich, both by the gameplay and the story. There even were three books released by a science fiction writer, David Wingrove. He received assistance from Myst’s creators, Rand and Robyn Miller. The Book of Atrus (1995), The Book of Ti’ana (1996), and The Book of D’ni (1997) was combined  into a mash-up called “The Myst Reader” that you can find here in Kindle edition. I love the Kindle format because it can be read on the PC or on the Kindle , I never lost track of the story thanks to the electronic bookmark, and last but not least my crippled English gets a useful hand from the “Oxford Dictionary of English”.

And now comes the funny thing. A fan, Mike Ando, made a book that can play the Myst games. Under the pages of a book that is an accurate replicate of the ”linking book”, you can find an entire windows PC running on an Intel Z530P with GMA500 and 1Gb of RAM. In other words, enough to run all the Myst games (Myst 1 , Riven, Exile, realMyst).

Enough space was even digged in the (fake) book to allow heat dissipation. Yet, it won’t annihilate  the sweat and the render that you might emanate while racking your brain on the tiny screen displaying puzzling enigma.

15, 000 $ and it’s yours.

Cool.