Tag Archives: Grand Theft Auto

The Violent Double Standard

Hey Gamers,

A long time has elapsed since I’ve put words to a screen, and it’s time for that to change. I’m going to spitball about GTA V here for a bit. I am gearing up to write about the recently revealed Nintendo Switch, but I usually like to warm up before the real fun begins.

gta-trevor-torture

Real fun, ultra violence….tomato, tomato.

In any case, I’m very late to the party on GTA V,  as the game came out a few years ago, but a number of happenstances prevented me from playing it for quite awhile. I bought it for myself on X-Mas, and have had a blast with the game so far. I’ve always been a big fan of the GTA series, maybe just as an after effect of GTA III being such a massive deal when I was growing up. There were plenty of games that justified the PS2, but GTA III was arguably one of the easiest justifications of why the system dominated that console run.

melee-halo

Not to say Nintendo or Microsoft were total pushovers.

The series really didn’t find itself till the third installment, with the first few GTA games being more of a middle of the road experience. The lack of technology was the obvious pitfall of the original titles: the top down view made the experience feel a lot more detached and archaic in design, something III fixed with a third person perspective and subsequently, a more immersive open world as a result. In fact, GTA III did for sandbox gameplay what Street Fighter 2 did for fighting games.

mudman-2

Annoy everyone with offensive knockoffs.

Fast forwarding a bit, GTA V tries a few new things, and mostly succeeds, even if the game is still guilty of some of the age old problems that has plagued the series since III. GTA has always been a jack of all trades and a master of none, at least mechanically speaking. The shooting is always second rate, as well as the driving….and well, GTA has never excelled at any single gameplay facet, but the experience has always been greater than the sum of it’s parts. I suppose the glue that holds the experience together is the empowering freedom that every installment is imbued with. Aside from the fragility of mortal life (which many pop on a cheat code to resolve in an instant), the worlds of GTA are truly yours to take, with an endlessly inviting yet intimidating environment where most anything seems possible.

gta-v-monkey

What happens in Los Santos stays in Los Santos, right guys? Right?

GTA V stands out more than its immediate predecessor, as IV deviated a bit from the prior games, eschewing the more ridiculous aspects of previous titles, and overall taking itself a bit more seriously . Where San Andreas had large Scale Gang Wars fought with Jetpacks, IV had hang outs with your cousin going to a strip club (to fulfill the simple task of seeing “big american titties” or so I have heard). Pretty mundane stuff in contrast, needless to say. So while Saints Row was picking up the slack for the zany antics during GTA’s chill out period , it wasn’t until years later when V  launched that the series returned to absurdity. V is not at all worried about being more ridiculously raucous, which is a saving grace of the title.

gta-v-horsing-around

You know, some good old fashioned horsing around.

However, from a story stand point, GTA V definitely has more difficulty in believably switching it up between the absurd and the serious during pivotal moments. Keeping in mind, GTA stories are rarely much more than parodies of already existing crime stories, at best recycling cliches from Hollywood’s most notable gangster offerings, but V never seems to balance inane and insane with more intriguing verve. The 1st act of the game has great momentum, and the 2nd act carries it confidently with the introduction of the Heist missions, but the game perhaps peaks too early in terms of drama, and then kind of meanders into some seriously dubious territory, in terms of both suspension of disbelief and bad pacing. A not so confident story guilty of flippancy more often than not.

In essence, I like that V is more ridiculous in many ways and better for it, save the story, which does not benefit in the same manner.

gta-v-sex-doll

It’s a touch and go mess, honestly.

Focusing more on one of the main characters, I wish to discuss Trevor, who is the obvious fan favorite in the community. We are speaking of a man that goes from 0-100 in about 3 seconds, with mood swings that startwith Trevor violating a stuffed teddy bear, which then somehow segways into a a bloodbath involving half of a walking mall and a firetruck. In a sense, Trevor is kind of the human personification of the world of GTA: total chaos.

While I was playing GTA V, I had a strange moment of realization; Trevor as a character represents a departure for the series in an interesting way, and I’m not sure how many people really considered why. Where as earlier GTA games featured basically a blank avatar (Claude from GTA II and III), and other characters were morally grey, but mostly mentally sound individuals, Trevor stands out. Looking back at past characters, Tommy was a killer no doubt, but he was still grounded in some form of reality, and CJ was just a kid mixed up in some bad shit trying to get out of the hood, CJ being the most sympathetic and likable of all the GTA protagonists in my eyes.

jetpack-cj

I mentioned the jetpack, right?

Niko is from Eastern Europe, and was a soldier who was fucked over in a war so…he is understandably harder edged, but you still felt for the guy in trying to make a new life by leaving a bad past behind him.

This is where Trevor stands out as an oddity, as Trevor for all intents and purposes, is a certifiable psychopath, having absolutely no moral boundaries whatsoever and a seemingly endless thirst for violence in which he gleefully engages in. As I mentioned previously: Trevor represents some walking metaphor for the world he inhabits- chaos incarnate. This is the interesting split with Trevor from other characters in the series, as we kind of have to observe and judge Trevor in real time outside of our own actions, and be a little closer to the idea of how insane GTA is in theory, and perhaps even how fictionalized the games have to be in order to maintain a sense of self , or how desensitized we have become to violence itself in order to participate.

motoraxe

I mean, joy rides have really spiraled out of control in recent days.

I know that sounds a little heavy handed, but I think there is a case to be made that Trevor represents a confrontation for the player, as we have to observe the very same insanity we’ve been personally guilty of for so many years in a new, uncomfortable way .

He challenges us by pushing the boundaries, helping to uncover at what point violence crosses the line from darkly humorous to detestably horrific.

Truly, Trevor represents the worst of the worst: so uncontrollable and violent by GTA’s standards, that even the other crazy murdering protagonists are terrified of him, going as far as high ranking government officials specifically wanting him very dead for what a threat he is. Where as most other GTA anti-heroes are poised as somehow charmingly flawed in their conquest of the criminal underworld, or someone like Claude who represents you as the player, a personal conduit, previous GTA characters have represented someone to root for. If we then look to Trevor, who outside of your own actions, provides a sense of brutality we haven’t seen yet in GTA, Trevor succeeds only in being a train wreck: you know it’s wrong to want to see the carnage the crash will cause, but you can’t help but sadistically hope the derailment occurs for a small sense of relief.

Despite his bi-polar fueled ragefests, I was always entertained by Trevor…when I wasn’t blown away by his vile approach to the every day. And yet, Trevor persists as manic to a fault, and goes back to GTA V failing to toe the line between the inane and the insane, with Trevor’s lighter moments being almost Tom & Jerry in one instance, to straight up Reservoir Dogs within the blink of an eye. Rockstar didn’t seem to quite know what to do with Trevor entirely, kind of having their cake and eating it too. If they made him too brutal he would have been a loathable character entirely, but make him too high jinksey, and he would have lost his fearful reputation as a result

I don’t know if they quite pull it off, but Trevor at least stands tall as a very memorable character as a result, even if a deplorable one. The simple truth of the matter may lie within who Trevor is fundamentally, as further analysis suggest he becomes a distillation of the GTA experience as a whole, representing the game, the player, and the interaction between both, in spurring the random chaos of a fantasy. Maybe Rockstar’s greatest achievement with Trevor then, is somehow creating an avatar that encompasses the interaction of the game and the player, into one psychotic symbolism?

walrus

I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.

Thinking about it, does that make Trevor the Walrus? I suppose if Trevor is the avatar of the experience, then maybe we are all the Walrus in this case?

……

Regressing back to my original point, and to clarify: I’m not taking GTA to task for not being more self-aware or less violent: the very premise would make the games instantly vanish into a thin air of boring paradox. I’m more pointing out that GTA V suffers from the same systemic problem many games  across the board do, which is lagging behind in the story telling department…or perhaps, struggling with the story and gameplay complimenting each other in a greater, more satisfying manner.

I’ve seen many gamers turn their nose up to the phrase “ludonarrative dissonance” as a criticism, a term used to describe conflicts between gameplay and story. In this particular instance however, I pair the term with disassociation to boot. How my swath of bloodshed and murder is somehow palatable and joyous, while I’m simultaneously revolted by the  Trevor inflicting the same kind of terror in a similarly gruesome way, I stand in a final moment of grand hypocrisy.

Hmm. 1800 words later, and I’m still not sure I’m articulating quite what I wanted to say here. On top of me being rusty in the writing department, I think there’s a lot to unload on this topic, so this idea may yet be in it’s earliest stages of development. With one final note, though I have thoroughly enjoyed GTA V, I think if Trevor does act out as sort of the spirit animal of GTA V in a symbolic way, I think observing that Trevor is an imbalanced riot says as much about V as it does him, and maybe even me, at least in terms of when conceptual depravity is concerned.

Well. I suppose that’s it for now. Just trying to shake the cobwebs out.

~Pash

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Encyclopedia Muranica: Decisions, Decisions

Hey Gamers,

Initially, I had trouble deciding on what to write about.

That Changed Quickly

That Painful Decision Making Came To An Abrupt End

No, I didn’t get stuck in a literal bear trap, though playing RE4 on an incapable computer certainly felt like it. Though, I guess if there was just a single performance issue, it would have been more manageable and akin to just one trap. Unfortunately, due to the abysmal differences in specs needed and the specs required, it was as if stuck in a field of traps.

This Is Probably A More Accurate Portrayal Of Me Playing RE4 On The PC

This Is Probably A More Accurate Portrayal Of Me Playing RE4 On The PC

I was super excited to play the title too, despite having  already quadruple dipped on the game. At $20 bucks with enhanced performance (and Steam related goodies), it was hard to say no. Needless to say, unless you want me to bullshit my way through how exciting Spain was at 5 frames per second, we’re skipping the RE4 sh-peel for now.

But just for fun, I will give you a small taste of what Spain would actually be like at 5 frames per second.

Ready?

Let’s Go!

Spain 3 Frames Again

Spain 3 Frames Again

Spain 3 Frames Again

Spain 3 Frames Again

Spain 3 Frames Again

Chainsaw Man

RE4 Game Over

Great!

Moving On.

The other game I was going to write about isn’t very topical in any real sense. It’s not apart of an anniversary celebration, nor is it a reexamination of an upgraded experience. No, the other game I wanted to write about was simply an old favorite, the PS2 version of Vice City, in all of it’s classic freedom. I know the mention of the game seems kind of random, but a PS2 was given to me as a gift not too long ago. The gesture was pure charity, and in response to a series of events I would rather not discuss here.

Regardless of the circumstance, I felt obligated to acknowledge the gift by immediately enjoying it. All too often, I take what I have for granted, almost self-destructively  so. My own procrastination can give way to severe degradation, acting out as the most painful kind of slow death I can imagine.

Yes, Even Slower Than Spain At 5 Fames Per Second

Yes, An Even Slower Death Than Spain At 5 Frames Per Second

The first step to not being chainsawed to death in a field is the acknowledgement of both the field and the chainsaw, and how to avoid either. With Vice City, my acknowledgement of both the generosity and the fun to be had was enough to avoid my usual trappings, so a victory for everyone involved.

Except For Jack Here, But Seriously, Fuck Him

Except For Ol’ Jack Here. But Seriously, Fuck Him

I always thought Vice City was one of the poster childs of the safe sequels done right in video games, following in the vein of Doom II, Sonic 3 and Majora’s Mask. I know those seem like random games, but they all kind of played the role of sound remixer with many of the previous game’s resources and assets, but provided fresh experiences regardless. Best of all, because all of them used a lot of the same virtual equipment of their highly successful predecessors, they all had a quick turn around. This is awesome to fans and non fans alike, as anyone who wanted more got it fast, and everyone who didn’t know what they missed got a second chance to understand why.

Kind of a double your pleasure, double your fun scenario.

I Prefer My Sequels To Be Deadly, And Not Dead On Arrival

Also, Lots Of Dying

In some insanity, I do believe GTA isn’t entirely a game that’s solely about mass destruction, it goes way deeper I think. Sure, who doesn’t like to “drop a tank”, pop on god mode and go on a never ending rampage? Everyone, that’s who…but you can only kill the entire population of a city so many times before you really can’t do it again. GTA is way more than just immersing yourself in a mass grave of your own creation, it’s about being unashamed of just being you, and letting you be the most you you could imagine you being.

You, Possibly

You, Possibly

I do like the idea of believing in the you that believes in yourself, and it often acts out as an unspoken aspect of great game design. I feel most video games kind of facilitate that on a subtle level, GTA just seems more successful in doing so, reaching a far broader audience than most others. As mentioned, while the game does allow you to go ape shit in your own little virtual playground of destruction, I never really have those types of conversations with others. More so, those dialogues always seem to take a back seat, secondary to the much larger picture you help to paint when creating your own GTA experience.

Much like with GTA III, a lot of people will talk about feeling comfortable with themselves just driving around, as if the city helps them find relaxation though curiosity. People talking about how they like their favorite vehicle to be a certain color, or how funny they find the pedestrian dialogue to be.

Self-awareness, color coordination, and people watching, not stuff you’ll find the back of the box bragging about.

Doesn't Mention All These People Either, And It Really Should

Speaking Of Subtle Boasts

The soundtrack was phenomenal, I won’t be the first nor last person who says so. Whether it be Lazlow bringing the metal or K-Chat delivering the funny, there isn’t a radio station that you can’t get addicted to in this game. Even without Lazlow making us chuckle as Vice City’s talk radio host, his very absence in that role during VC somehow makes his performance in III all the more legendary; fun culture connection and world building at it’s most engaging.

The acknowledgement of the soundtrack is just one more tick in the category of non-blood shed GTA supplements; music, but to a further extent personal celebration. That feeling of being virtually alive, and often times without needing to do so through taking virtual life. I know this seems like an odd point to drive home, but I think there’s a large truth in these games people really take for granted.

There’s a facade present, one that can be quite brutal, but the visuals really cover up this entire other level of meaningful connection. I referred to it once as “virtual theater”, enjoying the act of playing a role or being on stage, without ever really being that character or in that location. You relate through a villain or a place you’ve never been to while acting, but never really fully transform or travel to the fictional locale in question. Unlike a play, in Vice City you can petty much choose which ever role you’d like to play, and control when the scene changes take place.

Some hyper realized sense of creating your own screenplay, one action at a time. Virtual theater, truly, and Vice City is one of the best shows in town.

Like many video games, and the virtual realities they portray, it really is the easy way out saying the game is a form of escapism, but not the entire truth. Escapism gives you an idea of it’s meaning to someone else, but doesn’t further imbue the idea with the richness of it’s meaning.  To some, GTA may always be a murder simulator, and that’s their choice in how they enjoy it. To others and myself, it is life on a stage. It can be an honest form of self discovery, a delightful act of virtual burlesque, and a true indulgence in the form of interactive experience…one that holds a world of opportunities to both the wicked and the sublime.

However You Choose To Enjoy It, It's Yours For The Taking

However You Choose To Enjoy It, It’s Your Choice To Make

And that’s the real beauty of Vice City, in all of it’s persuasive glory.

~Pashford

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Seemingly Legitimate

Hey Gamers,

I had a lot more lined up for today, and a slew of topics to discuss rhetorically, in an attempt to entertain.

Time seems to have caught up with again.

Time, however, has a bad habit of catching up with me.

I must be brief, but not without remorse. A couple of things have still caught my eye, and are definitely topics of interest I can discuss in the short hand. I first direct my gaze to GTA: Online, which has been glitching faces off for a mere 24 hours. I’m surprised others are surprised, that an online game launches with a few hiccups. The only thing we can really ask for when something as massive as GTAO launches, is that the game company responsible, is vocal about its faults, and swift with it’s patches. No online universe will ever launch without a hitch, and has to be the most unlikely expectation I’ve heard in my recent gaming days.

I take it back, second most unlikely thing.

I take it back, second most unlikely thing.

One other topic of vast interest, is the swiftly approaching launch to Pokemon X & Y, which I’ve been keeping a close eye on since first announcement.

A very close eye.

A very close eye.

Like many of my proud gaming brothers and sisters, I have been a Pokemaniac since Red and Blue. The games represent some of the best in portable playing, and continually impress, even when they aren’t fully pushing themselves to try something different. X & Y, however, seem to be bucking the trend of experimentation more than, well, any other PKMN game that has ever released.

Correction, more than any other *relevant PKMN game has ever released.

Correction, more than any other *relevant* PKMN game has ever released.

I’m sure I’ll get hate for that, but fuck you. The game is like three hours long and doesn’t even have half the Pokemon in it. My only love of the title, comes in the form of some of it’s functionality, adding a sense of adventure to a 12 year old’s life, with the promise of stickers at my local Blockbuster.

Which was way more legit than the promise of a Free Mew in that van one time.

Which was way more legit than the promise of a Free Mew in that van one time.

Hmm…

Anyways, fuck Pokemon Snap. My point was, the game is looking ambitious, and armed with proper direction. With a major push involving a 3D overhaul, a brand new Pokemon type (Fairy), and holy shit Mega Evolutions, I really can’t believe how real Pokemon is about to get.

So fucking real.

So fucking real.

~Pashford

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Quickie: Am I Evil?

Hey Gamers.

News seems to be unusually regular for this time of year, but as I’ve discussed in the recent past, E3 no longer represents the doomed conglomerate of relevant gaming information.

Or so I'm led to believe.

Or so I’m led to believe.

Among the hotter topics of discussion, Team Fortress 2, impossibly so, gets better, the announcement of a new Call of Duty game, and the Kinect still acting as the catalyst for disappointment.

Peter Molyneux, explaining to on lookers, the legitimate concern he had for developing on the Kinect.

Peter Molyneux, explaining to on lookers, the legitimate concern he had for developing on the Kinect.

Faux pas aside, some of the more interesting tid bits that caught my attention involved a spectrum of the  gaming gauntlet.

Picture not related.

Picture not related.

For starters, due to the constantly unintentional business spoiling practices of the ESRB, both GTA 1 and 2 have been rated for the PSN. This will translate into cross-platform play, making the titles available for the PSP and Vita as well. I’ve recalled several times being surprised in the wee hours of the morning, that certain iconic titles weren’t available for download on Sony’s online infrastructure. The first GTA seemed like an obvious inclusion to me.

Quick Pic History Lesson: Not the first GTA.

No, the other first one.

Next up, I come to find out one of my favorite video game music composers, Grant Kirkhope, is making the soundtrack for the upcoming re-make Castle of Illusion.

Looks Epic

For any of you not familiar with either, Castle of Illusion was a fan favorite platformer that released on Sega consoles in the retro era, and Grant was the man who is likely responsible for your favorite tunes in the late 90’s. He acted as Rare’s in-house composer, and handled most of their major game soundtracks, including Goldeneye, Banjo Kazooie, and Conker’s Bad Fur Day.

In fact, due to ever vigilant folks over at D-Toid, I was delighted to find out Grant had recently posted several of his best works, with a pay what you want incentive for all to enjoy. I love the OST’s so much, I’m more than happy remind Grant with my wallet, that he’s just one more reason I smiled as a gamer way back when.

I don't think any of us really knew what we were getting into.

I don’t think any of us really knew what we were getting into.

Lastly, and possible most excitedly, a teaser trailer for the new game The Evil Within has been released.

Commence the wetting!

As a long time fan of survival horror, I’m always on the hunt for some good old fashioned gut wrenching. The Evil Within represents a collaboration between two gaming greats: Bethesda Softworks and Shinji Mikami.

You might know Bethesda Softworks for some of their other work…

ATE Oblivion

 And again, you may be ever so slightly familiar with Shinji Mikami’s past dealings….

ATE RPD

…and they’re having a baby!

How unsettling the birth may actually be.

How unsettling the birth may actually be.

I for one can’t wait to see what the two do together, as they represent some of my fondest memories as a gamer. I’ve written love letters in the past to the older RE titles, and my hundreds of hours sunk into the Elder Scrolls series speak for themselves (and me…now). I’m sure we’ll get a better glimpse at The Evil Within this E3, and I’ll be sure to keep you guys posted as the news rolls in.

Well, that about wraps it up for my time this day. Join me next time, where we may discuss further the merits of being a talking bear, how tiring it would be to carry around thousands of bullets on you at any given time, or how scary bursting forth from a Rhino’s asshole would actually be.

Happy Gaming,
Pashford

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Encyclopedia Muranica: A Serious Joke

I’ve speculated a great deal on what makes fun, having so much of it without trying. For this reason, I’m always present as an observer of reality, whichever one I’m currently existing in. I continue my search for this unattainable truth, on foolish premise I may walk away with a definitive answer. Perhaps the reason games work so well is that indelible vastness of working design. Fun has no beginning nor end, and can be the difference of a running joke and a dead hooker.

Pictured: A Running Joke

As just noted, the equation can be of absurd measure. The two great examples just previously mentioned exist as such,  speaking of course in regards to Sonic the Hedgehog and Grand Theft Auto. Both, in many respective gaming circles, considered to be the top o’ the line in terms of fun factor. As a note, I refer to the original trilogy on the Genesis for Sonics’ sake, but I’m sure you were already leaving behind the possibility of the more recent Sonic games as a running joke.

Seen Here: A Dead Hooker

Sonic and GTA have very different speeds, aims, and purposes. Hell, the two experiences even possess a different number of dimensions, and they still have that commonality I speak of. This beating heart of game design that perpetuates a flow of entertaining momentum. Spin Dash, loop de loop, fly through the air. Steal car, pick up Hooker, retrieve the money with a bat.

Both having some innate humor about them, a practical joke pulled by The Devil followed by your last laugh.

Your Last Laugh

Maybe this perplexity I draw analysis from is intrinsically linked to my sense of style. Most games operate on this heavy reliability of player involvement, and I speak beyond just the simple action of command inputs. A perception of what’s going on, how to solve a problem, the interpretation of what’s worth striving for, all in the sense of finality. The final goal usually representing the end of fun.

The End of Fun

I thusly include myself as heavy flaw in a robust theory, another contradictory piece of an already solved puzzle. Perhaps, my problem with analyzing design is my impossibly involved nature. Maybe to some, the idea of a swinging bat or blasting right past is already apparent. The product of a players self posed question, the thrill of them answering with their own curiosity.

A strong suit of this medium, may in fact be it’s rhetorical mindfulness. When creating a game, fun, and by essence, what’s funny, plays major factor. From the beginnings of Crash Bandicoot, to the ends of Silent Hill, humor can persist a certain truth. When you end up with a good idea becoming real, you’ll often find it often starts as a joke.

Design may just be funny that way.

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