Monday, 5 February 2018

Video Game Characters Inspired By Myths and Legends

Originally written for Forces of Geek and published 26th January 2018.  

Since the dawn of time, humanity has been fascinated with myths, legends and lore, we’re social animals and some of our oldest stories can be traced back to thousands of years. Whether through religious superstition, oral tradition, stories and songs passed down through centuries, written accounts, fictitious embellishments describing strange mythical creatures and legendary protagonists, there’s no doubting humankind loves a good story.

It’s no surprise then, that one of our most popular forms of entertainment has oft looked to myth and legend for inspiration, I want to explore some of the video game characters that are imbued with mythical history or inspired by tales of old.

I’ll begin with an obvious game, one that probably came to mind while you were reading the previous two paragraphs, Pokémon. While not all pocket monsters are based on mythical beasts or creatures, this game series possesses multiple examples. It’s true that the majority of Pokémon stem from Japanese folktales however there are some that find their origins elsewhere. 

For instance, Zapdos, the flying bird that can summon lightning shares an uncanny similarity with a mythical bird found in Native American lore. Many tribes along the Pacific North West believed that there was a bird that brought with it, thunder, rain and lightning. These birds were said to have made a thunderous sound overhead as they flapped their wings, the Native Americans called these spirits, thunderbirds and they often adorned the tops of totems.

Sableye is another Pokémon that shares its origin somewhere other than Japanese folklore (I have plenty of examples of mythical game characters that relate to Japan, which I will get to later). In the late 20th century, there were multiple eyewitness accounts of a small extra terrestrial creature with bright glowing eyes, pointy ears and a slender frame (fun fact, the film Critters was also apparently based on these accounts). 

The sightings were contained to Kentucky and the whole occurrence has since become referred to as the Kelly-Hopkinsville encounter giving the critters in question the imaginative nickname of Hopkinsville Goblins. 

How I Became Addicted To Visual Novel Dating Games

I wrote this shortly after I returned from Japan and it was originally published on Forces Of Geek in December. I became quite addicted, very quickly and have only just stopped playing any of these games. The last ones being Korean made, Mystic Messenger which I adored and the other being Doki Doki Literature Club - which was...well, unexpected. If you have any recommendations, please do comment! 

I was travelling around Japan recently and within a day of being there, I started to notice that practically every person on public transport was playing a mobile game. On one occasion, I gazed down the train and found myself watching each individual flicking their thumb or tapping on their screen in almost perfect unison (in silent mode of course, because anything else would be disrespectful to fellow passengers and incredibly rude in Japan).

Japan’s excellent transport etiquette aside, the number of passengers playing games on their phones really shouldn’t have surprised me as I’ve always known they were absolutely huge in Asia, yet I was taken aback by the number of commercials I saw on Japanese television or on billboards. 

Wanting to immerse myself in the culture while I was there, I decided to download a mobile game of my own to play. I had been playing Final Fantasy Brave Exvius and Pokémon Go at home but that was really the extent of my mobile gaming experience prior to what happened next.

My phone was advertising a genre of games to me in Japan that I hadn’t ever given a second thought to. These games were, as far as I could make out, visual novel dating simulators, otherwise known as otome games. The word “otome" in Japanese means maiden which displeased me a little, after all, as every girl knows, games aimed at the female of the species must include romance, pretty clothes and lots of pink. LOTS!

In recent years however, the word has taken on a newer connotation and is now the female equivalent of the word “otaku” which is a term for those obsessively interested in pop culture such as anime, games and manga. Well, that certainly sounds like me!

Personally, I’d rather there was one word to describe both sexes but sadly, Japan is still stuck in the dark ages when it comes to perceived gender roles and gender fluidity. Hey, it can’t be as perfect as it’s trains. Despite my initial hesitance and reservations towards these games for their blatant casual sexism, I was still intrigued and in the interest of…science and morbid curiosity, I wanted to see what exactly was being advertised to girls and women in these games. 

I downloaded one, however it was set in feudal Japan so it’s attitudes towards women were that of the historical period so I decided that I had to download another more modern title. In doing so, I realised the right thing to do was download a few more examples of each to make my experiment less biased, as well as downloading one meant for male gamers, a sort of control test if you will. It definitely had nothing to do with becoming addicted to them. 

After playing them for three weeks in Japan and a continued two weeks afterwards, my (loosely) scientific findings yielded a very interesting result and not one I hypothesised. I, Emma-Jane Corsan, female human being of planet Earth, staunch believer in equality with an intense dislike of gender based stereotypes was addicted to otome games.

Normality Will Resume Shortly

Hello, first I must apologise for the small unannounced hiatus. It certainly wasn't intentional, however after having a holiday in Japan for three weeks in October, I've had much more freelance work than I anticipated. As such, my updates on here dissipated.

I intend to remedy that immediately, hopefully you'll enjoy reading the next few posts even if they are late - though, I still can't bring myself to include the Christmas one, I'll save that for next year!

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

The Worst Places In Gaming To Go Trick-Or-Treating

Written for and originally published by Forces Of Geek on 27th October 2017. I love Halloween, it's my favourite event/holiday!  

Let’s face it, if any of us lived in a video game world we’d be regular folk, just your run-of-the-mill boring NPC. The only excitement in our lives (unless the protagonist crosses our path) would be special events or holidays. 

My favourite of which is Halloween, so it got me thinking, what would it be like to go trick-or-treating in one of the various video game worlds? 

The idea of an in-game Halloween sounds amazing on surface level but when you realise that the majority of game worlds are fraught with enemies, obstacles and a severe lack of sugar inducing treats, suddenly the idea loses appeal.  

I’ve come up with the worst places to go trick-or-treating in gaming, some of which might surprise you. 

Friday, 20 October 2017

"Get Over Hair!" - A Look At Gaming Hairstyles

Originally published on Forces Of Geek on Friday 13th October 2017.

If I were to tell you that the terms ‘alpha blending’, ’bent vertex normals’ or ‘multi-mesh brushes’ were part of the everyday lexicon of a hairdresser, chances are you’d believe me. I could certainly do with some alpha blending myself. 

You’d be right to believe me too as these terms do relate to hair, albeit in the non-traditional sense. You see, video game tresses require specialist technical ability and more often than not, developers will hire a specialist virtual hair creator or stylist who works solely on designing and creating character hairdos. 

Getting character hair right in video games, or more specifically real-time hair that reacts to it’s surroundings appropriately, has been a long and arduous challenge for game designers and it requires a specialised talent and skill. If a hair stylist is master of their craft, so too are the character artists that create computer generated follicles. In my opinion, the latter makes for a better hairdresser because I detest the awkward small-talk about weather I’m subjected to in salons.

TressFXHair is not the name of an up and coming barbershop or salon. It was created by computer tech giant AMD and is a real-time rendering technology that allows characters hair to respond to in-game environments realistically, it’s the reason that Lara Croft’s hair in the 2013 reboot of the Tomb Raider series responds so accurately to the changing weather conditions. 

That was just the first step because AMD have since improved upon this technology with PureHair, a collaborative solution with Eidos Montreal. Other companies are following suit, perhaps the most impressive I’ve seen so far comes from NVIDIA with HairWorks 1.1 which can render 500,000 individual strands.

In 1996, Lara Croft’s plaited braid didn’t move due to the technical restraints of the time and we all know that underneath Mario’s red cap, lurked a permanent bad hair day. Well, that or it was a clever way to avoid rendering it. 

Monday, 9 October 2017

All Your Base Are Belong To Us

Written for and originally published by Forces Of Geek earlier this month. 

When broken down into their purest form, there are essentially only two main types of games; linear objectives and those that focus on protecting or returning to bases. Whatever you call them - bases, headquarters, safe-rooms, hills, goals - they are constructs which gamers devote an almost irrational amount of selflessness toward. 

Who hasn’t given their own life in-game to protect the sanctity of a team base being defiled by the opposition with a gung-ho “I’m gonna die but I’m taking you with me” attitude?

And yes, I know I’m adhering to the clichéd mantle of “there are two main types of…” idea, which I usually detest and know is easily refutable, but having thought about it long and hard I’m surprised to find that at their crux, there really are two types of video games. 

Hear me out first before you rush to the comments section to berate me. I mean, this is the internet so that may well happen anyway but in all seriousness, I’ve genuinely struggled to think of any other types. 

It’s not just modern games that adhere to this pattern, even the original ground zero game, Pong arguably has a base, you are essentially protecting a ball with a paddle in the same way you might protect a base or deflect a goal in a football game (sorry, it always feels weird to write the word ‘soccer’ as a Brit).

10 Gaming Illnesses You Definitely Don't Want To Contract

Written for Forces Of Geek sometime in September? I don't know anymore...I'm so behind with updating. Forgive me, dear reader! In my defence I wasn't feeling great!

I’m writing this wrapped in a dressing gown, surrounded by tissues with multiple cold and flu medications strewn around me. No, this isn’t a bizarre fetish I’m into, I’m just unwell. In this sickly composition, the only thing on my mind in-between the sporadic headaches is video games. Specifically, I’m wondering why the hell we don’t have amazing cure all elixirs or first aid sprays that can even take care of broken limbs. Instead, I’m destined to suffer through this illness. Where are you when I need you Dr. Mario?

Because I’m feeling incredibly self-centered and sorry for myself right now, I’ve decided to write about video game ailments. I’m not talking about thumb related health problems or ‘The Claw’ or viruses of the malware kind, rather those sickly in-game infections, impairments and illnesses. Alliteration…or should that be Ill-lteration (please don’t judge my bad jokes, I’m highly medicated right now) aside, I’m traversing the sickly world of video games.

Viral outbreaks are perhaps the most common ailments in video games and include titles such as Bloodborne, The Last Of Us, Left 4 Dead and Day Z. 

Of course, these range from being virally contagious diseases that turn humanity into brain hungry zombies to altering your higher brain function but I’d be remiss if I didn’t first mention the T-Virus from the Resident Evil series so I’m starting with that.