The First Time I Wish I Was At E3

E3 has come and gone, and naturally I – like much of the world’s populace – was unable to attend. In fact, I confess little interest at the time; for so long have I been up to my neck in other things that I’ve rarely been able to indulge in actually keeping up with video game news, let alone actually play anything.

Though, much like the acorn, I am small largely inconsequential, but I dream of forests.

It would appear that the participants of the Electronic Entertainment Expo has had more than a few dealings with dreams this year.

Stepping back a bit, I want to say that I’ve hardly kept up with this stuff for the last few years. Much like my views on the Movie Industry have gotten increasingly jaded (directly proportionate, perhaps unsurprisingly, to my apparent acquisition of age), so too have my views of the Gaming Industry similarly degraded.

The cynic will say that it is not one’s perception that has degraded, though, but in fact has undergone augmentation. Whether this is from age, or a legit declination in quality of the media, is up for debate.

E3 of 2015 shattered that pretext for me. Like I said, granted I haven’t kept up with things lately, so perhaps it could be said that my insensitivity threshold has also lowered, so it’s easier to be Wow’d by the graphics and concepts and gameplay mechanics. I stand before you and say no, that is not the case. At least not to the best of my perceptions; games are less interesting these days because they’re more and more the same, and in a desperate attempt to make something different, a lot of developers have resorted to ‘ye olde schoole’ tried and true techniques; like Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze’s obvious throwback to the ancient 1994 release, Donkey Kong Country, which is a side-scrolling 2-D platformer.

That’s not necessarily a criticism, by the way. Very few games translate seamlessly from 2-D to 3-D environments, just look at Sonic the Hedgehog and Megaman. Some transitions are passable.

super-mario-bros-deluxe

mzaa

Others are not.

giphysonic

Still, developers will come out with a new title and I’ll look at it thinking, “Alright, so it’s Tomb Raider but with robot dinosaurs.” Again, don’t get me wrong, this looks pretty cool. In fact the concept is rather neat, but already I can see how its not exactly breaking new ground. For many of us, that’s enough, or else they wouldn’t keep making these Over The Shoulder shoot + roll games of which I’ve seen a hundred and one reincarnations.

Except for works of art such as The Last Guardian, the teaser for which I saw back in 2009. 2015’s E3 showed that yes, the project is in fact still alive, and looking better than ever.

Truly this is a game of masterwork visual storytelling; without a word of exposition or any kind of preamble, I find myself holding back tears from dropping down into my palak paneer as I watch the footage in my office chair. I never really had any interest in spending money on expensive consoles like the Playstation 4, but on seeing this the thought crossed my mind.

Yet even the raw emotions evoked by The Last Guardian, emotions the likes of which might be ascribed to pure adolescent wonder (and the sheer joy that I can only dream of experiencing, that moment we always see when a character realizes that Magic is Real), step aside for but a moment in silent awe at another thing that graced the light show of E3.

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Class Progression: 3/3 Bards

“The bards were feared. They were respected, but more than that they were feared. …If you’d pissed off some witch, then what’s she gonna do, she’s gonna put a curse on you… no big deal. You piss off a bard, and forget about putting a curse on you, he might put a satire on you.
“And if he was a skilful bard, he puts a satire on you, it destroys you in the eyes of your community… and if it’s a particularly good bard, and he’s written a particularly good satire, then three hundred years after you’re dead, people are still gonna be laughing, at what a twat you were.”

Alan Moore

 

At last we come to the third and final of this little series. If you haven’t, check out the first and second posts I wrote leading up to this.

I’ve talked about in my earlier years, I had a preference for paladins, and how that preference evolved into my interest in druids. Today, we’ll talk about what I have come to understand as the player-class that most accurately describes “me,” this evolving collection of cells currently typing these words. It’s all in one’s mindset, I think, more than their physical talent or ability.

As a writer, a nonconformist, an independent thinker, my path throughout life never really had any particular essence of direction. Sure there was “finish highschool,” and not long after, “finish college.” Then there was “get a job.” You are not unfamiliar with this script. Throughout most of this time, I wrote stories, I made art, I underwent a variety of projects and ran with a variety of crowds – these were all things I did that came naturally, things I either enjoyed doing or felt some compulsion to express from within. And yes, wherever I went, whatever I did, whoever I met, I never really identified with something in particular truly being mine, or my place. I have acquired a host of rudimentary skills from a multitude of walks of life, and these days I have embraced part of my unchanged identity as a learning addict.

I have, it seems, become a jack of all trades, but not quite a master of any one particular thing. And I think in this society of hyper-specialization, I think I’m okay with that.

“A jack of all trades, but a master of none” was a phrase I used to despise when I was younger. I used to think that being a jack of all trades was inherently useless, as it meant you were not particularly good at any one thing. In a Head Full of Fantasy, where character class plays a roll in basic thought processes and group settings, I had never truly ascribed much value to rolling mixed or multi-class characters. Well, not until discovering that shapeshifting, slippery druid thing mentioned prior – I have no doubt that playing the “unclassable” druid laid a foundation of thinking for me. Funny, considering I never liked any bard-like characters most games I’ve played, and actually do not have any affinity for “folk music.”

These days, I see things a little differently.

As I have grown and matured, I have learned that my talents are not my strength, though I am not weak. So that rules out warrior – and what is a warrior in today’s modern world? A farmer, perhaps? Or a construction worker, an athlete, maybe even a soldier.

I have intellect at my disposal, but not the sort of memory or desire to spend hours researching something for the sake of knowledge, at the expense of one’s physical health or social skills. I would not make a good wizard/mage; and what are they? In today’s world, they are the programmers, the analysts, the scientists.

No, I am a writer, a storyteller, as might be evidenced by the existence of this blog (and, soon enough, my books). My strength is in my way of words, though not necessarily by way of song; I think many writers make modern-day bards. We collect stories, allocate our knowledge, invent our own. There are writers who travel from place to place, those who stay home and research and read and absorb, or those who put down on paper the experiences that they have simply witnessed. I may not brandish a lute or lyre and provide my allies with stat bonuses, but I wager telling a good story can have the same effect. Or better yet, writing it down for future readage, thus immortalizing the event.

These days, I’m more interested in adaptability, like I was saying in the druid post, than single-function. A bard is someone who is not a master swordsman, but they know how to wield a blade. They can’t cast a plethora of spells, but they have a few tricks at their disposal. A bard may not be able to move unseen or slit throats as quiet as a shadow, but they can pick a few locks/pockets and move about unnoticed when they wish.

I find this fascinating.

But the difference between being a bard and being a druid is that a bard feels real-life-applicable; a bard gets through life on wit and charm, and while I refuse to subject you fine readers as to why I am so witty and charming, I can tell you they’re among my better assets.

Also, they don’t offer shapeshifting courses at the colleges I’ve been to.

The bard is a traveler, a scribe, a storyteller. They have not always been used to great effectiveness in most videogames — often considered more masters of none as opposed to actual jack-of-all-trades. A common fault among the bard class, in terms of game-practicality, is that a bard can often do many things, but none of those things are generally strong enough to be of any real use during the game. One may be better off having a rogue for the sneaking, a mage for the casting, a priest for the healing, and so on.

There’ve been a multitude of attempts at making bards applicable, with varying results. But I’m not gonna get into gaming mechanics here; I’m more interested in the real-world concept, such as folk singers, or travel writers, or photographers for National Geographic. Hell, I distill the concept not so much to include music, but any form of art or creativity that involves charisma (see wit and charm).

Part of me wishes I dug bards before I quit League of Legends…

A wo/man who goes through life traveling from place to place, learning languages and local customs, picking up skills and experiences, discovering the world one village or adventure at a time. Sounds bloody romantic, doesn’t it?

Or, like a lot of people I know, it sounds like something they wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot-pole. “No thanks,” I know some folks think, subconsciously or otherwise. “I’ll take a safe, secure, complacent office job in a cubicle over the risk.”

Tell ya one thing. Having spent time in a cubicle (Where They Used To Think I Work) the life of a bard sounds significantly more appealing to me. Even if I’m not particularly musically inclined. Well, not on the production side anyway…though that, too, may change. Picking up a guitar and playing a few diddies hardly counts as bard-worthy.

But in my current state and life circumstances, I feel the bard truly fits my mindset. Perhaps that too will change in time, as things always do, but it is an oddly comforting, geeky sort of feeling to come to grips with being something of an categorizable enigma.

This is but one journey among billions. What character classes do you identify with? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Today’s music is brought to you by Final Fantasy XI, the first of Square-Enix’s attempts to cash in on the whole Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG) genre. If there’s one thing they got right in that game, it was the music. Below you’ll find the theme for the area known as Ronfaure – a place in fact I’ve never been – and rather than throw some folky bardy taverny thing at you today, Ronfaure’s a slower beat that positively drips medieval kingdom. Have at it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Class Progression 1/3: Paladins

Throughout most of my gaming career, I played almost every classic character class under the sun, at least to some degree, in the majority of RPG’s out there. However, there were always certain classes to which I identified as “me,” the job, the career that I felt most represented who I, the Jesse, was and believed and went about life.

There are the archetypal roles in fantasy stories and games; the fighting warrior, the sneaky rogue, the scrutinizing mage, the stoic cleric. As other games came out over the ages, whether in my lifetime or otherwise, other playable classes emerged; things like rangers, paladins, monks, shamans, druids. Nothing here should be new to any experienced gamer, or roleplayer for that matter.

What I’m going to talk about today is how my preferences for certain classes changed as I aged. It came to my attention that there’s something of an arc happening here, as I mature(d). So let’s get right to it, eh?

In short, when I was young, I loved fighters, which eventually bled into paladins. After that, I became fascinated by the samurai, which led to monks, then eventually druids. These days, I favor the bard. It’s been quite the path.

During the earlier part of my life, I had a rosier look on things. I look back and recall that religion was never a central part of family life. I did not believe in a god because it was the tradition to follow, but because the concept was there and it’s something a small-minded child can easily grasp. I can’t say if this, a thing I can only describe loosely as “faith,” affected my decision-making when it came to choosing the character class I played as in games. I’ve known people like that; folks who played only paladins because they were, in life, so religious they could not even put themselves in the shoes of a nonfaithful.

Such people frighten me.

No, rather, I think it was the absence of real faith in my life that lead to my fascination with paladins at an early age. There is something that interests me, to this day, about a warrior who is no mere devotee (i.e., priest or cleric), but the closest thing to a mortal made into a weapon for a deity. Surely there are examples of this in both historical and modern concepts that are regrettably and profoundly stupid, but in a fantasy setting, where gods actually exist, this is big stuff.

I first came to practice the idea of a paladin while playing Diablo (the first one from 1996, not Diablo 2 in 2000, where an official paladin class was introduced). In Diablo, I played the warrior, and consumed as many tomes of Holy Bolt as I could find. At the time I thought turning the warrior into a “holy knight” was the coolest thing ever, even though in that particular game this decision would not be considered effective. But effective wasn’t the point; I loved it, I loved the concept.

https://redamnesia.files.wordpress.com/2014/06/f0fbf-diablooverlord.jpg

Hold on guys, lemme just dupe this Glorious Platemail of the Stars and I’ll be right with ya.

The sound, the feeling of drawing energy from a source beyond, a true source of good, a holy source… this is what I’ve come to understand was, and may still be, one of my deepest desires in life. I am not a man of faith. Heck, I’m not even spiritual.

But I almost envy those who believe, because they have a certain sense of assurance that I will never have. Being spiritual is interesting to me, though it is not me; not anymore. You will much more likely see me subscribe to Buddhism or shamanism/animism than anything else. We’ll get into that later.

Yet still, there remains a certain part of me that thinks, with a mental sigh, “It must be nice to feel one’s place in the universe assured by a cosmic being.”

Naturally, I played Paladin a lot in Diablo 2. But the most defining moment for my exposure to what paladins could be, what they meant, was in one of the most influential fantasy RPGs I’ve ever played.

No, not Cecil from Final Fantasy 4. No, not Arthas from Warcraft 3.

I’m talking about the paladin class from Baldur’s Gate (1998). I can’t say I played the class to its fullest potential, but I did rock that game, and I had a blast doing it; the paladin provided a single-use heal – which in that game was kinda hard to come by – among a couple of various spells that were not so much deity-fueled, but morally fueled. Spells like Detect Evil and Protection From Evil were real things, and to this day I think the Dungeon’s & Dragons description of Evil is the most well thought-out, at least in terms of storytelling.

But what had the greatest effect on me, personally, was the Baldur’s Gate paladin spell Holy Might. Activating this not only provided nifty bonuses, but a rocking sound effect that I can hear in my ears even now, almost fifteen years later. A sort of baleful, angelic warcry that, I imagine, is among the last things you ever want to hear before someone puts a sword through your skull. That one spell, that one effect … that one sound … defined what a paladin is to me.

To this day, I have been unable to locate that sound byte from the original game. When I do, you can be it will be safely stacked away with the others, possibly used as the alert sound for some kind of notification.

There was a paladin character named Bjornin in Baldur’s Gate, who acted as a quest-giver, and to bring him to your attention a scripted NPC would approach the player and complain about him. “He’s just staring at me. From across the (tavern) room. It’s like he’s judging me. Who gives him the right to judge anyone, eh?”

Well, in fact, a god somewhere, actually. A god that exists. And a good one, for that matter, because a paladin is not a paladin unless s/he remains Lawful Good, which is arguably the most boring of alignments, but certainly as Good as they get. Breaking that rule results in becoming a Fallen Paladin, at least according to D&D (I’ve yet to encounter a game where this has also happened, save perhaps Arthas from (World of) Warcraft, but Blizzard’s definition of paladinhood is vague and flimsy at best), which would essentially result in a disgraced being, reduced to a “normal” mortal for falling out of favor of their god, stripped of their power.

All this remains fascinating to me, but as I grew, my preference for such a class changed.

Next time, I’ll talk about the aspects of Eastern-styled fantasy warriors garnered my favor, as I went through a metamorphosis of my own.

Today’s music is brought to you fittingly from Baldur’s Gate, which will be mentioned again in future posts (though I promise not so excessively). This tracks is known as The Lady’s House, a bit that plays when entering certain temples in game. It’s a short piece, and in fact is not something I normally listen to except when in a very specific mood.

That mood? Something along the lines of a peaceful fantasy, letting my brain briefly drift into a state, into a world, where there are in fact anthrocentric self-serving deities out there looking out for us.

And then I come back to the real world. But it’s nice to dream.

Catechization

So I love this word in part because it’s uncommon and has excellent fantasy-setting usage. It also happens to sound similar to carbonization, a good old spell I used to use in my Magic: The Gathering days.

 

Anyway, completely unrelated, catechization is, in its traditional form, the “education” of a person in the ways of religion. Looking up the word, it seems to have an association with Christianity, but as a well-bred heathen it may as well apply to any form of religion, as far as I’m concerned. But I like to stretch it further, and for the topic of today, I’m merely musing on the catechization of the next generation in other matters.

Much in the same way that I am curious to one day see generations of elders hovering about with tattoos all over themselves, listening to “classic music of their youth” from the 1990’s the way elders today listen to ancient recordings of antiquity, I am very curious to see how more recent generations are gonna turn out with Gamer Parents. The Millennials, as they’re called, are people who are essentially younger than the internet, and it is interesting (to say the least) to witness the effects of this on modern society.

But what I’m getting at more today is the media to be consumed, the good old movies and videogames that settled twenty and thirty-somethings hail as their favorites, which for many of them (us…) would include movies of the eighties and up. As of this post, I don’t have a sprout-clone of my own bouncing on my knee or gnawing at my heels, but some close family of mine does. My nephew is working on his third year in this realm, and watching his evolution through occasional windows of visitation has had me thinking. The same goes for my niece, who will be a year in a month, and their parents are Gamers, lovers of fantasy and science fiction and lots of stuff in between.

At this stage, the kids are barely reaching sentience, let alone sapience, so I wager it’ll be a few years before their catechization will commence in full, and it will be thorough indeed. I have already heard talk of showing them more recent films (such as Pacific Rim, which I’ll tell you I liked, but there’s next to nothing to tell story-wise), once they are finally old enough to grasp what’s happening, so for now it’s Tony the Tiger and Laurel & Hardy.

I know that The Dark Crystal is on the list. I know, maybe when my nephew (or both) reach their teens, Conan the Barbarian will be not far behind. Things like The Neverending Story, Labyrinth, The Beastmaster… well, maybe not The Beastmaster. But there’ll be a pile of games to supplement this, and it’s that part that I find more interesting, because in most of us can simply sit through a movie and forget it later. It’s a bit harder to muscle one’s way through a game unless you like it, and whether my niece and/or nephew will reject video games or embrace them has yet to be seen.

Heck, I even wonder (because it’s more fun to wonder instead of simply ask them) whether plans are in place to catechize my niece and nephew with 8-bit games first, and as they level up, they’ll gradually progress to 16-bit, and so on.

But honestly, I find it more interesting to sit back and watch. There’s more suspense to the story that way.