Video Game Think Piece, I think.

Hi there, and welcome.

I’ve now finally created my own platform, after several months having no idea where to throw all of my think pieces and ideas – usually just throwing them out or deleting them shortly after writing them – I can now finally share my writing.

Who am I?

I’m just a nerd, nothing more, nothing less. I have studied English at a university level in Denmark and I like analysing video games for fun. Nobody listens, however, because – well, be honest, if you had to listen to someone drone on and on about a large variety of video games and make random analyses constantly, you would probably stop listening as well! Other than that, I’m obviously a gamer with experience in a large variety of game genres.

But this is already enough about me! This is not what this blog is made for … I’m here to share my thoughts about video games, I’m here to share my experiences with video games, and … Hopefully, I’m here to show people a different way of viewing video games as a medium.

I’m not planning on going full-on academic writing on this, because, frankly, I’ve rarely met anyone who would even read that.

So, without further ado, here’s my first, fully-written think piece, and remember: it’s a think piece, not a full-blown academic article, I’ll be coming back to some of the games and themes mentioned here at other times. For now, however, enjoy!

I’m sure you’re all gamers with focus on one or several areas, some of you are fanboys of particular genres, some just casually check out games and some do it for work. Maybe you’re the type to call yourself “PC Master Race” unironically! … Well, whatever you are, you’re all gamers!

I’m here to celebrate and talk about some games that I’ve loved my entire life. Games that taught me about the medium, games that evolved with me, games that helped me through thick and thin, so to speak!

Do you remember your first ever video game? The game that made you go “Wow! This! This is what I want all the time!”

Mine was a PSX “forgotten” gem called Air Combat. I was a refugee at the time and I had barely gotten to know the language of my current home country by the time I saw a Playstation for the first time. Now, don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t my first ever video game, that honour (probably) goes to one of the arcade fighting games or a silly racing game on my dad’s computer at home. But it was the first video game that made me go “WHOA!”. Not having a PSX or access to one anymore, I decided to play it again a few months ago via an emulator, and I still remember every single mission by heart! If I could get the music to work on the emulator, I’d wager that I could play it blindfolded! xD

What I’m trying to say is, I fell in love! That was the best thing I had ever played, ever seen! It held its status for a while, until I stumbled into Command & Conquer, when my family bought a new PC and I was allowed some time on it. Command & Conquer Red Alert, to be more specific, became my second obsession, but before it took a solid hold of me, my mother bought an Xbox for my brother and me late 2001, early 2002 (can’t remember exactly), and with it – Halo: Combat Evolved.

I’ve been an avid fan of that franchise ever since – having almost all the books, all the games, everything I could get my poor hands on! And it’s all proudly displayed in any home I move to.

But this was all just background, to give you some information of who I am as a gamer: I’m both a console gamer, as well as a PC gamer. I love action-fuelled FPS games, RTS and arcade simulators all the same! ESPECIALLY if the story is engaging.

30 FPS? 60 FPS? 120 FPS? Who cares! Does it play well and have an engaging story?

I say this because Gaming has become something else today. Something … Less. It has become so much more difficult to just play a game. Now, a game is a time investment. I can’t just jump in, play something and then log off (well, yeah, I can, but the games are designed to make you stay as long as possible, that’s what I mean). Microtransactions, Live Services …. I … I just get tired even talking about it!

And I know, I know! The Indy market is where it’s all at now! That’s where all the creativity is now! That’s where people go to play games made from passion!

But I’m really sorry, I know how much everyone seems to love Indy games! But most of the time, I find myself buying them just to support the creator, but never touch the game itself, because it all feels the same. It feels like “played one big indy title, played them all!”. Thing is, I’ve always been a fan of the so-called “AAA” titles. I know that it has changed meaning now, but there’s so much in these games that people don’t talk about! So much that’s worth talking about, but it’s buried by the news of publishers being assholes, crunch-time reaching insane levels and so on and so forth. I mean, I even had to abandon some of my favourite games because of their publishers and the politics around them because I don’t want to support it!

I remember how frustrated I was for almost a year where I didn’t touch Destiny 2! Why? Because of Activision! I returned to the game about a month after Bungie split from Activision. In the meantime, all my friends where talking high about how much fun the Forsaken DLC was and how much better the game had gotten. Great! But I couldn’t give my money to Activision! I just couldn’t! I haven’t bought anything from neither Activision nor EA for quite a while now, apart from Star Wars Battlefront 2, on 75-80% sale, because my friends talked me into doing so! xD (I might talk about that game at some point in the future)

None of this hate from my part should go to the devs! By golly, those people work so darn hard to create something amazing!

Now, let’s take a step back and look at some games.

How many here have played, or even know of, Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown. If you don’t know it or haven’t played it – I highly recommend it! It’s cheesy and made with so much love!

The game is fairly standard within its genre. It’s an Arcade Simulator at its core and it truly plays like one! Wanna fly around in the latest overpowered real-life aircraft and destroy every enemy in your path? Wanna fly in with literally hundreds of missiles and bombs to sow havoc on your enemies? Go play Ace Combat 7! It’s gorgeous and it’s impressively well made!

But that’s not all. I haven’t heard a lot of people talk about the way the game is presented, the way the devs created a story through in-game dialogue, through music.

Honestly, if you’re interested in more details on that, I’ll link to the short-ish piece I made on Reddit back in January or February, when the game was still new.

Let’s take it to the next step – Command & Conquer. What happened to that franchise? Simple – EA happened! They wanted to port it to the mobile market, they failed, and from that failure, they gave us Tiberian Twilight, which we just don’t talk about! NO! Don’t you dare say a word about this abomination that doesn’t exist! – Then they tried to give us a F2P version with microtransactions (Generals 2) – they failed! Then they just straight up abandoned the whole thing … Until recently when they gave us a mobile game.

Once again, no hate to the devs! Based on my playtime in Generals 2 (Also just redubbed Command & Conquer – the F2P version), they did some great work! It was fun! It was engaging! But it was clearly F2P! Not because the devs wanted it that way, but because the publisher wanted something different from the franchise!

Now, you might say that I can’t just blame publishers for wanting money for the project that they gambled a lot of money on, and you would be right! Absolutely! They should get paid for their work! However, as we’ve seen time and time again – if you stick with your fanbase and give them what they want – what they hope for – what they expect, you get paid (Just look at the game called Warframe)! If you burn your fanbase and attempt to trick them into paying you more, you’ll lose them! But what do I know – I’ve spent my life studying and mastering language, culture and multimedia, I don’t know shit about business! xD

But let’s stick with C&C for a little while longer.

When was the first time you ever actually listened to video game music? When was your first experience with video game music that took it a step further than simply 8/16-bit sounds?

For almost everyone I’ve ever talked to around my own age, it’s almost always the same answer! Command & Conquer: Red Alert. Oh, come on! You know you can hear Hell March playing in your head right this second! Who couldn’t? I mean, I knew about the song and heard it several times before I even knew the game! That soundtrack was astonishing! And I’ve heard so many referencing that soundtrack as the dawn of video game music as a “thing”! And why wouldn’t they? Unless I’m completely mistaken, and do correct me if I’m wrong, it was the first video game of that scale and sales numbers to truly have music in it, music that was in the front of the gameplay (Of course counting Command & Conquer as a franchise here, not JUST Red Alert). Now it’s the norm.

Next time I truly saw music used in a video game to such an effect was, you guessed it, Halo: Combat Evolved. The score was absolutely fantastic! Could you imagine Halo without that score? I sure as heck can’t!

All these games are huge in scale! Two of them being part of video game history, as trendsetters, as games that established the norm of their genre. Halo: CE changed console First Person Shooters forever! Command & Conquer set the norm for what and how Real Time Strategy games are made and played. Sadly, I don’t know enough about Ace Combat to say anything there, but I’d be willing to assume the same, since they’ve been at it since the 90’s and are still making new games.

So … Where does that leave us?

Where am I going with all of this?

Well … Let’s take a look at some of these games and I’ll tell you!

Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown released in January of this year, and while it’s an absolute gem of a game, having no microtransactions, but boasting the typical Asian video game style DLCs galore, by itself, it’s almost too good not to play! The developers managed to combine sound effects, OST and gameplay to create something truly magnificent, something you never see in Indy titles! – Which, side note, is why I can’t personally put the same effort into Indies. I love what they are, I love what they can do for the industry! But big dev teams with the time and resources to do so, can do something that none other can – what I call Invisible Art.

Here’s a little taste of a that Reddit post I made about the design of Ace Combat 7, it was posted on the Ace Combat subreddit:

“But let’s go back to Lighthouse [Mission name] .. Not only does the mission dialogue do a magnificent job establishing the player as the ultimate badass, so much so that even the elite [enemy] squad can’t help but acknowledge our amazingness, but the soundtrack and story driven dialogue amplifies that. So, the 10 minutes are up, the Arsenal Bird [Boss] arrives, we see how invulnerable it is, how powerful it is!

And the music switches from a hopeful and heroic tone, to a more melancholy, yet still hopeful tone. Slowly building up as the Princess and the Queen are talking over the radio. And then it hits … The moment I’m sure most, if not all of us, went “holy shit” at! The princess smashes shit, the drones are throwing volleys of missiles at you, the music slows down and … The shield is broken! The music rises with a heroic choir and you’re finally able to swoop in and annihilate that darn bird!

Those 10 seconds are some of the best seconds of games as art that I have ever seen in my entire life! It was shock and awe in the most badass way! And if you take out just one of those things from the equation, it falls short! Imagine dropping that white phosphorous on the civilians [From Spec Ops: The Line] without any of the other enemies there, or without the cutscene prior. It wouldn’t have had the same effect!

What AC7 does so freaking well is it’s use of mission design, choreography of enemies, timing of the soundtrack and the mission chatter! Together, they make an almost perfect campaign.”

This is what I mean when I talk about “Invisible Art”. Design that is so well choreographed and timed, that the only way to truly experience the beauty of it, is by playing it yourself. The devs didn’t focus on trying to sell this as something that would look amazing during a stream, quite frankly, I think most people would get seasick from watching a stream of this game! xD .. But instead, they created a dance for the player to partake in, one that culminates in a symphony of destruction and beauty!

DOOM 2016 does something similar. Instead of being focused on creating things that would look good and get you, as the player, to buy stuff, the devs instead focused on creating an experience that felt fast-paced and intense! They created a song, a dance, a choreography for the player to partake in! And in doing so, they created a god-damned masterpiece! While playing it, you don’t get the feeling that you have to do X, Y or Z – nah! You’re there to dance! You’re there to kill and look damn good doing so!

Remember the first time Battlefield 4 showed off its engine with the skyscraper crashing in the middle of the multiplayer match! That sense of awe, that sense of wonder and amazement! THAT is what I play video games for!

Remember those first few steps on the ring in Halo: CE. Looking out across the water and just ……. Losing yourself in the moment!

When was the last time you played a video game that gave you that feeling? When was the last time you felt wonder because of a game?

From time to time, this does somewhat happen to me in Indy games. Not too long ago, I played through Ori and the Blind Forest with my GF. The way she looked at the visuals grasped me and I went on that journey with her, because she was so taken by the beauty of it. Me? I saw a puzzle in front of me and the experienced gamer in me was already analysing the best course of action! … That’s why Indies don’t work on me as well .. They’re gorgeous, but they are almost always puzzles, and I dislike puzzle/platform games because it’s just a quick challenge I have to get past, nothing more, nothing less…

Now, there is no conclusion to this whole thing, that was never the point. Instead, it’s a brief look into how I perceive video games and how I talk about them. It’s a little look at what’s to come, some of the things that I’ll be writing about in-depth. I hope you enjoyed the read, and I hope to see you again.

And remember – Video games are artistically and academically beautiful.

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