4 issues I have with the film “God’s Not Dead”

My church recently held a screening of the film “God’s Not Dead”, a film that describes the struggles a young believing student faces in a college philosophy class taught by a militant atheist professor. He attempts to force the class to sign a sheet of paper saying that God is dead. The student in question refuses and is challenged to “prove” that God is not dead, with a failing grade hanging over his head should he fail to do so.

I didn’t particularly want to attend this screening, out of a combination of wanting to have a quiet night at home with my wife and daughter, but also because I feared the film would follow in the footsteps of a lot of “Christian” films, and simply be terrible but given a pass by believers because it’s “Christian”.

Well, it was not as bad as I feared. The actors did a great job with the material, very little overacting or hammy performances, the sets were well done, and most of the sideplots were coherently tied to the main issue. However, the film has some flaws, and I do not believe they should be simply overlooked because the film has a “God-positive” message. I’m going to count down my 4 main issues with “God’s Not Dead”.

 

4. The Newsboys scene at the film’s ending

Don’t get me wrong. I love the Newsboys. After Peter Furler left the group and was replaced by Michael Tait, I worried that the band would end up a shadow of it’s former self, like the Kevin Max version of Audio Adrenaline (shudder), but I was wrong, the band is just as good as it ever was.

The problem comes when you realize that you have this awesome band giving a live performance on film, with practically no dialogue between the characters happening during this time…and yet you mix them to be background noise. Why? You end the film with an incredible band that gives fantastic live performances, and you don’t allow the audience to enjoy it. With the exception of a few moments where two of the studends briefly speak, there’s no dialogue that occurs while the band is playing. Crank the ‘boys up and let us enjoy them during the film’s denoumont.

Minor quibble? Absolutely. But it annoyed me enough that I felt it warranted a mention on the list, even if it was at the bottom.

 

3. The subplot involving Ayisha serves absolutely no purpose

I’d call this a spoiler alert, but it’s practically inconsequential to the film. Skip the next paragraph if you must.

Ayisha is introduced to us as a college-age Muslim girl who comes from a very traditional family. She wears a face-covering garment in public, but at home she’s seen listening to a sermon by Franklin Graham. Her little brother sneaks into her room, discovers this, and eventually tells their father. When she refuses to deny that Christ is her Lord, he angrily throws her out of the house. While he is shown to be remorseful, he does not let her back into their home, and she turns to the local pastor for help. The pastor tells her God is proud of her and that she’ll be okay. Next thing we know, she is shown at the aformentioned Newsboys concert where she has a very brief interaction with the film’s protagonist.

That’s it. She has no ties to the main plotline of the film whatsoever. She isn’t in the class with the protagonist. She doesn’t know any of the main or side characters with the exception of the pastor (but we don’t learn that until very late in the film). She never interacts with anyone outside of her plotline in any sort of way that develops her character. She isn’t inspired by the protagonist or the pastor to have the courage to accept Christ and refuse to deny Him to her father, she does that all on her own. You could remove her entire subplot from the film and it would make no difference whatsoever.

So what was the point? The only thing it accomplishes is to demonize Muslims. The father is portrayed as controlling, old-fashioned, and intolerant. He throws his own daughter out on the streets for defying their culture. If you still believe in this day and age that all Muslim families are like that, you need to wake up, because it’s not true. Yes, there are families like that out there. But there are just as many who are more tolerant and open-minded. Chosing to showcase the former when it has zero impact on the plot at all means the only point you are making is to portray all Muslim families in a negative light and reinforce the “us vs them” mentality that pervades all aspects of our culture. I’ve had enough of that garbage. We’re all humans, and we need to come together in love and respect.

 

2. Every Atheist in the film was way over the top

How many atheists do you know, I mean REALLY know, to the point that you would consider yourselves good friends?

I can’t see your response, obviously, but I know a pretty good number of them. And I’ve talked with several of them about Christianity at length. These conversations were respectable, friendly, and thought-provoking, at least from my perspective. I can’t speak for them obviously, but I would hope they’d say the same.

This film had a very very big chance here to portray a similar experience. To show both sides of the debate that the other side is not full of militant angry people who just want to beat you over the head with a Bible or a copy of Hawking’s “A Brief History of Time”, but as fellow human beings, all trying to seek answers about the nature of life and the universe.

Instead, every atheist is a caricature of a human being. The professor is arrogant and hateful, seeing all believers as beneath him intellectually, and emotionally abusive towards his Christian girlfriend. The lawyer is extremely selfish and uncaring, reacting to the news of his girlfriend’s cancer with anger and a casual tossing aside of their relationship. The reporter is full of snide superior arrogance, ambushing Willie Robertson with questions that make it clear she regards him as a primitive subhuman. All of them are set up not only as atheists, but also terrible human beings. There was no need whatsoever to do this. We as Christians already make this connection FAR too often, that people without God are hopeless and immoral. We need to be reminded, often, that these are our fellow human beings, and that Jesus called on us to love ALL human beings as our brothers and sisters.

 

1. The film ultimately fails to serve any meaningful point of futhering the Great Comission.

Our calling as Christians is to go forth and tell everyone the good news, that Jesus’ death was the redemptioin of our sins, to go and make disciples of all nations, to love each other as Christ has loved us.

This film does not serve to aid us with any part of that calling. At all.

Think about it. Who are you going to invite to see this film? Your fellow Christians? Your atheist friends? Your friend of a different religion?

What will they come out of this film with?

Fellow Christians will come out proud that their hero proved to the mean ol’ atheist professor that God wasn’t dead. Woo! Feel good moment! We won! Down with the other guys! Go home and warn all your kids that the evil college professors will try to destroy your faith, but you must be strong! Except, as I pointed out above already, we need to stop seeing non-Christians as the enemy. They’re our brothers and sisters. If we ever want to make any kind of headway with helping them realize that God is actually real and that He wants to enrich our lives, it needs to start with Love.

Your non-Christian friends are probably going to be upset, and rightfully so, that you see them in the manner portrayed by the atheists in this film. Never mind that it’s more than likely that if you’re that close of a friend, they’ve probably never treated you as poorly as the characters did a day in their life, they must know the TRUTH that God is not dead! I’d be embarassed to ask non-Christian friend of mine to attend this. I would never, ever want them to think I felt this way about them, because I don’t. Far from it. Would I like them to come to the realization that God is real, loves them, and wants them to know Him as intimately as I do? Of course. This is not going to make that happen.

I don’t see the point of this film. The idea has merit, but the execution doesn’t work for any meaningful purpose. The attitude far too many Christians are coming out of this film with is the exact one we need to have less of.

Stuff I learned at NT14

Things I learned at NT14

I could go on and on about what an amazing event Nerdtacular 2014 was, but I’ve gone every year since the second one (me and Jeff Syer are neck and neck for who’s gonna keep the streak alive, you’re goin’ DOWN, Canadian!) and I end up gushing about it to whomever will listen both afterwards and as the next one draws closer.

So today I’m gonna talk about what was new this year for me. Stuff I learned that I didn’t know previously. New people I met that I’d never met before. New podcasts I’m trying as a result. Ready? Here goes.

1. It really is not a good idea to stay anywhere but the Cliff Lodge.

Snowbird has 4 different hotel buildings where people can book rooms. The Cliff Lodge can be considered the “main” one because not only is it the largest, but it’s also where the Nerdtacular festivities all take place. The rooms are pretty standard hotel faire, though they do include a Jacuzzi, which is nice.

However, a decent walk down the hill will get you too the next closest building, known simply as “The Lodge”. A few of our friends stayed there last year, opting to save money on Snowbird’s food prices (which are exorbitant by normal standards, and probably the only black mark on Snowbird as a venue for Nerdtacular), by buying groceries and using the kitchen that Lodge rooms come standard with to cook their own food. We decided we would do this same thing this year.

It didn’t quite work out that way, for a number of reasons. It’s a long walk to and from the Cliff Lodge, and you essentially end up feeling isolated from everyone. But worse than that, The Lodge has no air conditioning. At all. I was aghast. This is not a mistake we will be repeating, and I encourage you not to either.

 

2. Justin Robert Young and Brian Brushwood are friggin’ hilarious and I’m kinda dumb for not subbing to a couple of their shows sooner

Okay, this is probably not new. But after attending the FSL Tonight panel and hearing stories about the Night Attack panel from those who attended, I decided to subscribe to both podcasts. They are amazingly funny. I’ve no idea how I’m going to fit them into my listening schedule, as I am already prone to get way behind on the shows I currently am subscribed to, but I’m going to give it a try at least.

Sidenote: Yes I know Tom Merritt is on FSL, but I already listen to 3 Tom Shows, so I already knew how awesome he is!

 

3. Being a part of the Battle of the Frogpants Allstars was awesome and nervewracking

The whole time i’m on stage all I can think is “don’t pick your nose, don’t pick your nose”. Seriously, the altitude was giving me some very minor nosebleeds, which tended to dry up in my nose and itch.

Seriously, I had a lot of fun, even though I felt like I was not contributing much to my team. I just knew very very few answers to what Brian asked us, and Justin was just droppin answers non stop! It just comes down to luck more than anything, because I watched the match between the other two teams and felt like I knew almost every answer! But, that’s the nature of the trivia game!

Next year, assuming the fan spots in the teams are offered again, I definitely want to give it another go!

 

4. Everyone really does love a cute baby.

I think Amelie was the real star of NT14. Everyone loved her, and she seemed like she had a great time. Well, until one Scott Johnson tried to say hi to her. NOPE NOPE NOPE ALL THE TEARS WILL BE SHED. Now the rest of the Johnson family? She loved them, Kim in particular.

Random sidenote: What do you guess happens when you take a ridiculously handsome gent like Reggie, mix with the absolutely drop dead beautiful Dana, and make a kid from the result? Yeah. Their daughter was adorable, and I loved meeting her.

Still, all that said, I don’t think we’ll be bringing her next year. She needs to be in a little better sleep routine and Nerdtacular’s not quite condusive to that sort of thing, especially when both parents want to be running around playing all the games!

 

5. Every year I meet a lot of new people who are really awesome, but there’s usually a couple that result in pretty close friendships afterwards.

I’ve no idea who that will be this year, obviously, but a big giant shoutout to everyone I met this year, and I hope I talk to you all many more times before Nertacular 2015! Because you’re all awesome. Believe in the NERDS.

Thirty-one years old.

5 characters from each Blizzard franchise I’d love to see in Heroes of the Storm

I got into the technical alpha test for Heroes of the Storm a couple of weeks ago, but I simply hadn’t had the time to jump into it and give it a good shot. I’ve never played a MOBA before (click this link to determine what that is if you aren’t sure) due primarily in part to the bad reputation that hardcore players of the genre have. League of Legends, far and away the most popular MOBA currently, is especially known for its absolutely toxic playerbase, most of which is likely due to an extremely vocal minority. Consequently, I wasn’t even sure I’d enjoy the genre at all. I’ve never been great at RTS games, would that translate over to MOBAs as well?

I’m happy to say that it did not. Heroes of the Storm is ridiculously fun, easy to get into but more challenging to master, like a good game should be.

Like most MOBAs, Heroes uses a model where the game itself is free to play, and players can choose from a small subset of the game’s total characters to play for free. That subset is a rotating roster that changes weekly. Any hero you wish to keep and use permanently, you must pay for, either with in-game currency or with actual cash. Additional items, such as different skins for your hero, must be paid for with actual cash as well.

The roster consists of well known characters from all of Blizzard’s franchises, and more will be added soon, but here, I’m going to list 5 characters from each series that I hope Blizzard includes.

We’ll start with Diablo.

Currently Diablo is well represented by the game’s eponymous villain, as well as the Archangel Tyrael and three of the game’s heroes from Diablo 3. Here’s who I’d like to see join that roster.

The Angel of Death

No one can stop Death.

1. Malthael

This one’s obvious. He’s the main villain of the 3rd game’s recent expansion, and an iconic character in the minds of recent fans. I see him as a deadly melee character, mixing his twin blades with soul-draining type abilities.

The skies shall rain fire, and the seas will become as blood. The righteous shall fall before the wicked, and all of Creation shall tremble before the burning standards of Hell!

The skies shall rain fire, and the seas will become as blood. The righteous shall fall before the wicked, and all of Creation shall tremble before the burning standards of Hell!

2. Mephisto

Or really, any of the other Prime Evils. I just picked Mephisto because his design in Diablo 2 was a terrifying look that I think would be even better with a modernized model that Heroes would offer. Rumors have Azmodan, one of the Prime Evils from Diablo 3, pegged as a future hero, but I’d like to see the villains from Diablo 2 get this treatment as well, especially since Azmodan was such a joke character in hindsight.

The Archangel of Valor

I feat nothing!

3. Imperius

The Archangel of Valour spent as much time fighting with the Nephalem heroes of Diablo 3 as he did battling the forces of hell. He’d make a great addition to Heroes, and it would give him a second chance (and many after) to face Diablo in battle again, given what happens to him during the course of the game!

The Master of the Undead

What a pity. I was beginning to enjoy the darkness

4. The Necromancer

We’ve seen three of Diablo 3’s playable characters get added to Heroes, but why stop there? Why not grab some of the ones from the iconic second game as well? I picked the Necromancer out of sheer love of the class concept, but it may overlap a bit with the Witch Doctor hero. Any of the second game’s characters would be a welcome sight

The Loremaster

Stay awhile, and listen!

5. Deckard Cain

Okay, now you just might think I’m being ridiculous, and you’re probably right, this is likely to never happen, but the game already has a pandaren child, a faerie dragon, and coming soon, a baby murloc! Why not an old man that just happens to be one of the Diablo franchises most iconic characters, perhaps second only to Diablo himself? He’d have to be a very unique support sole kind of character, using the Book of Cain to buff ally weapons, or the Horadric Cube in some fashion. It could easily work, just takes some creativity on Blizzard’s part and some dedication on the player’s part!

 

Let’s move on to the Starcraft franchise. This one was hard to do, because you already have so many of the game’s well known characters present in Heroes. Raynor, Tychus, Nova, and everyone’s favorite Terran unit, the Siege Tank, currently represent the Terrans. For the Protoss, you’ve got Tassadar and Zeratul. Over on the Zerg side, you’ve got Kerrigan, Abathur, and coming soon, Za’gara. That’s most of the best-known and fan-favorite characters from Starcraft, so who’s left to consider? Well, I had a few ideas, and the best ones are these.

Chief Engineer of the Hyperion

Hey, wanna arm wrestle?

1. Rory Swann

I’ll confess, I’m a Swann fan. I like everything about the character, and it’s a shame he didn’t get used more in Heart of the Swarm’s few human missions. As far as gameplay, it’s pretty obvious that Raynor and Tychus were heavily inspired by their appearance in the Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty mission “Belly of the Beast”, so there’s no reason we can’t do the same for Swann. He can wear the same Marauder combat suit and have an ability to deploy his “Flaming Betty” turret for control. He’d be awesome.

Ruler of the Skies and the Ground

Transform and Roll Out!

2. A Viking

We’ve got a character that drives a Siege Tank, why not a Viking one? The Viking would be a fantastic Hero if done right. A deadly ranged assassin on the ground, but also able to transform into flight mode to move speedily over terrain, but lose the ability to attack perhaps? I’m sure there’s balance that would need to be done there, but it could work and work well if done right.

Must feeeeed!

Must feeeeed!

3. An evolved Zergling of some sort

Zerglings are one of the iconic monsters of Blizzard, and if we can get one as a character, perhaps with the story that it represents the ultimate pinnacle of Zergling Evolution, it would be a fun character. I also picture it with an ultimate ability that somehow involves it evolving into a Baneling, either doing massive damage but instantly killing the Hero, or more moderate damage but surviving to continue to fight.

As I was your beginning - so shall I be... your end.

As I was your beginning – so shall I be… your end.

4. Amon

Amon is being set up as the ultimate big bad of the Starcraft universe, it’s only natural he should get a spot in Heroes as well. So much of Amon is shrouded in mystery at this point, we really don’t know what he’s capable of or his preferred methods for fighting yet.

I feat not death, for our strength is eternal!

I feat not death, for our strength is eternal!

5. Fenix

Praetor Fenix in his Dragoon body (or possibly even an Immortal) would be freaking awesome. You’ve got a badass protoss mind in a spider-robot shell, blasting away with phase disruptors. Yes please. Bring Fenix back!

 

Finally we come to the Warcraft franchise. I expect that the bulk of playable Heroes in the future will come from this franchise. It’s had 4 games, including an MMO which by nature introduces us to a ton of characters, and gives many more of them the spotlight. For this franchise, I had a very hard time just nailing down 5, and I expect my 5 will be wildly different than someone else’s! Here’s the ones I nailed down. Note that I deliberately left off Sylvanas and Kael’thas because they were recently shown as being in the works.

Storm, Earth, and Fire. Heed my call!

Storm, Earth, and Fire. Heed my call!

1. Thrall

This is where I have to complain a bit about the current selection of Warcraft Heroes. We’ve got three Night Elves, a human (two if you count one of Arthas’ alternate skins), and 2 Dwarves for the Alliance, over on the Horde side we have Gazlowe, who’s not really Horde at all, and ETC, who is technically a joke character (an awesome one who totally belongs in the game, though). The Horde could use some love in Heroes, and who better than our beloved former Warchief, Thrall?

Darkspear never die!

Darkspear never die!

2. Vol’jin

There have been rumors and possible images that Zul’jin, the leader of the Forest Trolls that were a part of the Horde in Warcraft 2, is planned to be added to Heroes, and while I definitely think he should be a part of it, the Horde’s current Warchief  should definitely merit consideration as well. Vol’jin has gone through a lot of development since being included in World of Warcraft, and he’s definitely a front running character in the minds of WoW players. His abilities as a Shadow Hunter have always been a bit…nebulously defined, so there’s potential to put him in any role Blizzard requires in Heroes.

Peace is not always the answer!

Peace is not always the answer!

3. Jaina Proudmoore

Sure this might seem a bit odd, given that I complained about too many Alliance characters earlier, but I would love to see Jaina in Heroes for a number of reasons. One, she’s probably the games most iconic mage charater, and you guys know me, I love me some Mages; Two, She’s at least as equally well known an Alliance leader as the others currently in the game, if not moreso; and Three, you can include the Diablo 2 Sorceress and the Diablo 3 female Wizard as alternate skins for her and get three characters in one!

I am darkness incarnate. I will not be denied!

I am darkness incarnate. I will not be denied!

4. Gul’dan

We’ve got a LOT of bad guys from Warcraft we can include in Heroes. The Lich King and Illidan are already present, Kael’thas is in the works, Cho’gall and Anub’arak are rumored, but I’ve got two others I’d like to submit for consideration, and the first one is the Old Horde’s grand warlock, and the Orc responsible for their corruption, Gul’dan. He’s a marvelous character who could have all sorts of demon-summoning abilities, and I think he’d be a great addition!

Stupid, pitiful creatures. I am the rage of your heart. I am the fury of your thoughts. I alone empowered you to bring chaos to this world, and by the endless void, you shall!

Stupid, pitiful creatures. I am the rage of your heart. I am the fury of your thoughts. I alone empowered you to bring chaos to this world, and by the endless void, you shall!

5. Mannoroth

Speaking of demons and the Old Horde’s corruption, how about we bring in the Pit Lord responsible for the actual blood that caused the corruption as well? Pit Lords already have one of my most favorite models in all the Blizzard games, and you could draw on their Warcraft 3 appearance where they were already neutral hero units for inspiration. Yes, a case can be made that other demon lords are more powerful (such as Archimonde or Kil’jaeden) or more fresh in the minds of players of WoW (YOU FACE JARAXXUS!), but if for nothing else than to see his visual model, I’d vote for Mannoroth as the first Burning Legion representative into the Nexus!
Did I get it wrong? Did I miss someone obvious? Leave me a comment and share your suggestions!!

As a longtime Star Wars fan, this was a bit of a blow.

I’ve been a Star Wars fan for a long time, and with that comes moments of great art and moments of sheer ugly disappointment, not only in the films but in the wide variety of other forms of media that have told stories in the Star Wars universe:  books, video games, animated TV shows, comic books and more. This collection of stories told in other media outside the films is known as the “Expanded Universe”, and it’s told stories across the Star Wras timeline. Years before the films, right before episode 1, in between the films, directly after episode 6, and even years in the future, the expanded universe has covered all of it with some incredible stories and some big honkin’ stinkers.  You’ve got Timothy Zahn’s inspired novels that introduced characters like Grand Admiral Thrawn and Mara Jade, and then there’s Barbara Hambly’s garbage that was almost impossible to read.  For every great Star Wars game out there that told incredibly compelling stories like the Dark Forces series and Bioware’s Knights of the Old Republic games (in terms of story alone I’d include SWTOR in there as well), you have quite a bit of junk like some of the games that came out after Episode 1 was released.  You’ve got novelizations of films that actually told the story in a manner that wasn’t terrible (meaning: all the prequels) and tie-ins that actually close up plot holes.  And then you have comic books that introduce green space rabbits. Seriously.

My point is: I get that the Expanded Universe isn’t perfect. There’s crap out there in it that I wouldn’t recommend to anyone. But there is also some very good works in there as well, and for anyone who likes Star Wars, I’d had it over to them in a friggin’ heartbeat and say “read/play/watch this”.

Well, in light of the revelation that there will be a Star Wars Episode 7, I’ve been extremely curious to see just how they were going to handle that. Would they adapt one of the EU stories to the big screen?  Or would they try to find a time period that wasn’t really explored yet and set the film then?  No answers were forthcoming.

Then we got the announcment that a division within Lucas was being formed to “set official canon”. In other words, these guys were going to review the whole of the expanded universe and make selections as to what was canonical to the Star Wars story and what was not.  Hell yes, I thought. Now we’ll get to weed out all the garbage and maybe get some better stories into this universe we all love and enjoy.

I figured this surely had to be the approach they would take. Others expressed fear that the whole EU would be declared non-canon, citing statements made by George Lucas himself that he only considers the films the “true story”. But this had to be untrue, I thought. Surely, they wouldn’t be that stupid. After all Lucas owns the division that publishes Star Wars books and games, of course he’s not going to be so stupid as to kill his own sales by doing that. I mean, really, are you going to buy books or games that suddenly contradict the new films or have a little blurb calling them “An alternate universe Star Wars novel/game/etc.”

Well, guess what. I was wrong. They really are that stupid.
http://starwars.com/news/the-legendary-star-wars-expanded-universe-turns-a-new-page.html

Everything but the films and the Clone Wars cartoon effectively “didn’t happen”.  Everything good and bad tossed out the window.

So now we begin the hard question of what does this do to the value of all the Star Wars EU stuff that we might still have. Is it devalued to you because it’s not the “real” Star Wars story? Or because it’s a great piece of storytelling or a ridiculously fun game anyway, does it still retain the value it had anyway?

To me, it all feels like it’s worth a bit less. Yes, in and of themselves they are great games/stories/whatever. But the fact that they were a part of a bigger universe that I loved as a kid and an adult, that made them even more special. Now, they aren’t. And now I’m less inclined to pick them up on that merit.

I’m not going to suddenly go out and sell off every piece of Star wars EU that I have (most of the video games are digital anyway) and I’m still going to see Star Wars episode 7, but I think Disney and whatever’s left of Lucasfilm has done themselves an incredible disservice here. They were all too happy to let the EU continue making profits for them when movies weren’t around to do it, or when they actually made the craptastic prequels make sense (seriously go read the novelizations of the prequel films, you’ll be amazed how much less they SUCK compared to the movies) but now it’s not convenient for them, so out the window it goes.

It’s just disheartening to see something I care about get mangled by the people who created it and in theory should be taking better care of it, all for the likely sake of money. As a geek, you’d think I’d get used to that sort of thing. Still sucks every time tho.

My own perspective on gaming, in reply to my best friend.

Howdy folks. This post will be a bit unusual. It’s a response to a post written by my friend Josh over at jdhjanus.wordpress.com in which he outlines his perspective on gaming and why he likes the things he does. So before continuing any further with reading this, I invite you to read his post first, otherwise this probably won’t make a whole lot of sense.

All good? Kay. Welcome back. Let’s do this.

I think Josh makes a very key mistake in his opening premise, that American (and most Japanese) gamers don’t share his mindset of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. That mindset, I find, gets thrown about a lot by people in life and work by people where it’s not true. It may very well be the case that something isn’t broken and works just fine. But there’s absolutely no reason why it can’t be improved and made even better. Did the older games work? Absolutely. But they also represent the best that could be done with the technology at the time. We’ve improved on that tech tremendously. To not iterate and improve on what you can do with gaming would be a waste.

Now let’s look at each of his individual points, and I’ll provide a sort of rebuttal to it based on my own experience.

 

1.  Traditional Gameplay

In a lot of areas of life, I’m like Josh in that I stick with tried and true and don’t experiment much. You ask me to cook; I’m going to ask where the directions are. Ask me to do the laundry, I’ll ask for directions on what should be done normal, what on permanent press, and so on. I’ll read directions on how to assemble, use, or repair stuff.  I’m not really the type who will just “wing it” and see what happens, because if it doesn’t work, then I’ve wasted materials, time, or both, and that’s not something I’m terribly fond of doing. Actually, it outright scares me.  For a long time, I had that approach about gaming as well. It’s only been more recently that I’ve been able to branch out and try new things, and I’ve had an absolutely amazing time playing some truly fantastic games as a result.

To Josh’s point where he says that storyline is a very important part of a game for him, that I can and will heavily agree with. But I do not agree that gameplay should fall as far short below on the priority list as I think he’s making it out to be.

Josh, I direct this quesiton to you. You say that you don’t want to spend a ton of time learning a new gameplay system because sometimes the battles or other gameplay detract from the story. I have to ask then: why are you actually playing a game at all? It sounds to me as though you would much rather be watching or reading the story rather than interacting with it. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, I just wonder if perhaps you are looking for what you really want in the wrong art form entirely.

Video games are, by nature, an interactive medium. We take on the role of someone or something and take a journey with/as them. The experience of that journey is just as important as our capability to interact with the world of this journey. If you aren’t excelling at both, then in my mind, your game is not complete.

And yes, at the time, with the limits of the technology being what they were, the original turn-based RPG systems and point and click adventure titles were absolutely great. They were a natual evolution from the tabletop RPG games and text-based games that pre-dated them.  Why should the evolution stop there? Why get to one point in the design spectrum and say “Yeah, this is good enough for every single thing that will come after this”.  Sure, we absolutely will see some mistakes along the way (Final Fantasy 8’s magic/leveling system was gawdawful), but just because we might have some stinkers doesn’t mean we should stop trying, and we, as gamers, should NEVER be afraid to try something new that’s been shown to us. If we don’t try the new, we’ll never know what we might be missing out on.

I will definitely agree with Josh that we don’t necessarily NEED revolutionary innovation with every game release, and I definitely think there’s a place in the market for an old-school RPG that has a defined class system and turn-based combat. Like he said, it definitely works well and will appeal to some segment of the gamer population (myself included). But we should not leave games at the point they were 10-20 years ago, by no means. Those gameplay systems were a product of the technology of their time. The technology of today allows us to do much, much more.

 

2. The focus on Action Elements

Again, let me preface this by saying that, like Josh, I don’t “like” to make decisions quickly. I like to consider various options, weigh pros and cons, and decide based on that. Sometimes I can be impulsive with purchasing decisions, and I would say approximately 50% of the time I end up regretting not having “done the research” and found something more to my liking. This goes back to my earlier dislike/fear of “wasting” things, in this case, money.

But that’s something that has a real-world consquence. In videogaming, you (usually) don’t have that issue to worry about. If you make a bad call, you can work to amend it or try again on the next go-around, depending on what you’re playing.  So, unlike Josh, I have no issue with it and in many cases, I actually prefer it.

One of the biggest draws of gaming is to immerse yourself in situations that you likely would never encounter in real life, be they playing in “the big game”, mowing down hordes of zombies, exploring the far reaches of space, or exploring life with superpowers, either as yourself or as a part of someone else’s story. The repeated term I just used there is “you”. You might be playing someone else’s role, the role of you in this situation, or a completely different role that you choose, but the point is, it’s you, somehow or some way.  You’re having this experience that you (probably) can’t have in the real world, thanks to the medium of video games.

Of course, it’s impossible (for now) to completely translate the experience of taking cover, popping out, and unleashing torrents of gunfire against invading aliens. You’re divorced from most of the physical requirements of such situations, as well as most of the fear, because your own life isn’t on the line. But as technology has advanced, games can give us incredibly realistic environments, AI programming that not only has gotten smarter but now adapts to your actions, and the capability to have our avatars do things that were previously not possible, allowing us to develop different strategies beyond “watch for patterns and attack the weak spot”.

And that sort of realism, to me, is so much more satisfying to play through. You not only have to rely on your own ability to strategize, but also to think on your feet and adapt as the situation changes, just like you would in reality. Of course, you could always make the wrong decision. That’s the risk. But the consequences? Not terribly severe. You can simply try again, and this time you’re armed with the experience of your previous attempt. You don’t really die, and the world isn’t really overrun with zombies, killer robots, or shambling horrors that defy all attempts to even comprehend their biology. Your brain is even better for it, because the more you force yourself to think quickly and respond to new situations, the better it will be for other situations where you need to do so in the future.

So, my dear friend Josh, I challenge you to not only find a game with a fantastic storyline and action sequences, but devote yourself to completing it and make your brain work better! I’ve got some recommendations for you, too. We’ll talk ;-)

 

3. Preference of linear and straightforward plots

Josh builds his arguments around 2 points here that I have to disagree with

  1.        Western RPGs are filled with nameless characters that have no personality compared to their Japanese counterparts
  2.        Said games do not have a strong linear plot and are instead open worlds full of sidequests where the plot takes a backburner.

For point 1, I would point you at pretty much any RPG that BioWare has made just as a single example from my own perspective. If someone is going to sit there and try to tell me that the characters (including the player ones) from the Dragon Age series or the Mass Effect series do not just as much personality development as anything in a Japanese RPG, then I just have to walk away and let them wallow in their own ignorance. Yes, you do customize part of that character, but said character has a defined voice, personality (though you can alter it with your choices in these cases), and personal story. And I’m certain that there are numerous examples that I simply don’t know about because I haven’t played them.

With regards to point 2, I have to take issue with his dismissal of side quests. I have played a not-insignificant number of eastern RPGs in the past, and I remember all too well a common element to all of them: grinding. Whether you needed to grind out some levels to be up to par with where you were supposed to be, or you had to grind out some cash to be able to buy a new set of gear from the nearby town’s armor shops, or grinding away whatever other arbitrary points the game had to boost your abilities, at some point you were wandering around waiting for that little flash or change in music that meant a random encounter had just happened and it’s time to fade to the battle screen!

Side quests are that, but with additional little nuggets of story to go with them.

Instead of mindless monster killing and boring wandering around, you have a clear objective, a little piece of story, and you get to explore certain areas while you do it. And what’s even better, in many modern cases, they’re completely optional. I invite you to go play the most recent single-player RPG in the Elder Scrolls series, Skyrim, and ignore every single sidequest you pick up. Just do the main storyline quest chain. You totally can.  It’s an amazing story, too. You’re a prophesied hero, and you traverse a massive world to battle an evil that wants to obliterate creations. And you never have to touch a single sidequest to do it. Of course, you’ll have a much stronger and richer game experience if you do.

This goes back to what I mentioned earlier with regards to realism: Having the freedom to choose what you do makes games a more satisfying experience. If I choose to put a hold on my quest to save all creation to help a little girl deal with a bully, doggone it, I like that I can do just that. And in many cases, optional side quests are just that: optional. I don’t particularly see what the difference is between getting them early on or only having them available at the end of the game. Either way, I can choose to do them or not.

Quick sidenote: I recognize there are games where sidequests are pretty much not optional, and you practically have to do them to keep up with the game’s story. A lot of MMORPGs are guilty of this, the most notable example that I’ve recently played being Star Wars: The Old Republic. That’s a design style I do not particularly enjoy. Old Republic gives you an absolutely fantastic personal storyline that’s incredible and epic. Unfortunately, the leveling experience comes incredibly slow, forcing you to do side quests and the side planet storyline to keep up. That is one thing I will fault most MMORPGs for. World of Warcraft, in my opinion, got this one very much right with the Cataclysm expansion’s revamp of the original game leveling experinece. Each zone is a self-contained storyline on its own with minimal side questing that is usually related to the main plot you’re playing through anyway, and especially in later expansions, the zones tie together into an overall plot that you explore once you reach the level cap.

 

4.  The preference of 2D worldviews

I can get Josh’s desire to see everything around him. It’s why in a lot of games, if given the option, I will switch from a first-person perspective to a third-person one. I did this in Skyrim, I did this for most of the Jedi Knight series, and most of the MMOs I play tend to default to this setting anyway.

And by no means is the classic 2D worldview completely and utterly dead: I mean just look at the number of indie titles out there making fantastic use of it. Mark of the Ninja is a fantastic 2D stealth game. There have been new classic Megaman titles in recent release. It’s still out there and still being used. But It’s not the future.

This goes back to my earlier point about advancing technology triggering the evolution of games. The 2D experience was great when it was the limit of what we could do. Why in the world would we want to just stop there when new tech allows us to do so much more? We can build entire worlds to interact with in incredible detail

I have to direct another question to Josh here: Josh, is it possible that you had one bad experience with Ocarina of Time and it’s completely scarred you from 3D games entirely? It sounds to me like that’s the case. I think you’re letting generations of fantastic games with incredible experiences waiting for you pass you buy because of this fear, and as your friend I don’t think that’s a good thing. I think its time to jump back into the fray and conquer them and see all the awesomeness you’ve been missing. Your preferred old-school 2D games are awesome, and that isn’t going to change, but that in no way means that new 3D titles are thus inherently bad.

 

Hopefully in reading my responses to Josh’s point you got a good sense for how I feel about gaming. I look forward to what the future offers and can’t wait to try it out. While I do have my own genre preferences (such as not touching sports titles with a 10-foot pole), I’m also much less afraid to jump in and try something new than I used to be.

Some random thoughts on a WoW Insider

“Add to this the fact that, when World of Warcraft Started, there was a novelty in playing the Horde. The Alliance was humans, elves, gnomes, and dwarves, your typical D&D party. The Horde was orcs, trolls, forsaken, and tauren – the monsters”
-source

There’s a lot I disagree with Matthew Rossi on in this article on, but one thing I do happen to side with is the idea that the Horde is the Monster faction, the Alliance are the stereotypical fantasy humanoids.

This was the case in Vanilla WoW, but come Burning Crusade, the stereotype was turned on it’s head. The Horde gained Blood Elves, a stereotypically good guy pretty race, and the Alliance gained the Draenei, retconned to resemble the race of demons known as the Eredar, but their antithesis on the moral alignment.

While I understand that this needed to be done to address faction imbalance (too many kids or old-school gamers both tabletop and electronic wanted to play the “good guys”), I still think it’s taken a part of the identity away from the factions. I miss the days of feeling like the Horde was the faction of misunderstood and feared races, bound together for mutual survival. And I still don’t particularly think the Blood Elves story was handled well at all for the entirety of the expansion.

If we could do this all over again, I would love to see the faction identities of Alliance as the “good/pretty” and the Horde as the “misunderstood monster” preserved. I would leave the Blood Elves as antagonists in Burning Crusade (preserving the rebellion of the Scryers of course), but have a separate rebel group who still called themselves Quel’dorei/High Elves refuse to have anything to do with the path that Kael’thas lays out and return to the Alliance. Meanwhile, the Draenei crash-land on Azeroth, and are met and helped by Orcs practicing Shamanism, most of whom have no memory of the Draenei or the horrible things their fathers had done to them. Many Draenei would object to allying with the race that nearly brought them to extinction, but the Prophet Velen would have a vision showing a redeemed Orcish race battling the Legion that once used them. They join the Horde both out of need for a protective alliance and to help guide the Orcs along the path of redemption.

The Horde would still gain access to the formerly-Alliance-only Paladin class via the Draenei, and you could simply leverage the Wildhammer connection early to gain the formerly-Horde-exclusive Shaman for the Alliance.

As far as the Cataclysm races, while I do enjoy my Goblin Hunter, I would have preferred that the Goblins stay a truly neutral race. Yes, playable Goblins gives the Horde a shorty race, but the Goblin people have for most of WoW and WC3 been adamant about staying out of the Horde-Alliance conflict. Plus, the Worgen would make much better members of the Horde anyway, I mean they’re Werewolves for crying out loud! I’m not sure who the Alliance should get in lieu of the Worgen, unfortunately, perhaps the Dark Iron or Wildhammer Dwarves could be added in as a second Dwarf race.

I realize that this would ultimately mess with the story of WoW quite significantly, but frankly, the new races have had terrible lore so far (Draenei and Worgen practically ignored after their starting zones, Goblins have had a racial leader that they spent half their starter zones fighting and yet he’s still in power somehow, and the Blood Elves were kind of messed up from the start, though lately they’ve done much better by them).  I think there’s some very good story opportunities in going this route, and it’s a bit sad Blizzard chose to dilute the flavors of the factions and miss out on these.

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