No More Heroes: Into The Suda-Verse

Shared universes are not a new concept, especially since they’ve been around since the dawn of modern fiction. Having different fictional works co-exist in the same reality is certainly an interesting idea, one that has sparked the minds of writers for generations. The biggest example of a shared universe is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which has been dominating theaters for over a decade now.

Now, you may be asking yourself: “Are there any new shared universes to indulge in?” After all, one may get sick of the constant barrage of formulaic and uninspired shared universes out there. However, by far the most interesting one would have to be Suda 51’s “Kill The Past” series. Suda 51 and his company “Grasshopper Manufacture” have been creating awesome and very weird Japanese games for over 2 decades now.

The “Kill The Past” series has been one of their trademark franchises for years now, while also encompassing most of their released titles. The titles in said series include: Killer 7, Killer Is Dead, an unrelated short story also called “Killer is Dead”, The No More Heroes franchise, Shadows of The Damned, Let It Die, Moonlight Syndrome, Silver Case, 25th Ward, and several others.

Most of said games are kept separate from each other, only containing slight references to each other. For example, there are baseball players from No More Heroes’ city of “Santa Destroy” in Diabolical Pitch. Likewise, the organization of “ISZK” originated in Michigan: Report From Hell, before showing up in several later games.

All of these games had small elements that connected them to each other, but were mostly their own stories in the long-run. This all changed with the release of the newest No More Heroes again, which goes by the name of “Travis Strikes Again”. This was the third game in the No More Heroes series, revolving around the anime-loving assassin named “Travis Touchdown”.

Despite being a sequel to No More Heroes: Desperate Struggles, it acts more as a sequel to all of Suda’s creations. The game focuses on Travis, who’s going through a midlife crisis of sorts. He now lives in a trailer in the woods, while ignoring his newfound family obligations. After being attacked by a new assassin named “Badman”, Travis finds himself once more thrust into a bizarre adventure.

Of course, Travis isn’t the only returning face. Kamui from “25th Ward” shows up to help him during the “Visual Novel” sequences. Travis also bumps into “Mondo Zappa” near the game’s end, while on the quest for more “Death Balls”. The game is full of a ton of these cameos and references, resulting it in feeling like one big crossover!

It’s nice to see all these mostly unconnected stories finally converge, while also setting up potential followups for their individual franchises. I can totally see them doing sequels to Killer Is Dead, Killer 7, and Shadows of The Damned after playing through this game! This isn’t too surprising, due to how much Suda loves these games. Considering how visually and thematically similar a lot of Suda’s games are, it was only a matter of time before they crossed over.

The thing I liked more about this shared universe is the fact that Travis isn’t that welcoming of all these “new” faces. In fact, most of them he distrusts or just doesn’t like. I like this more than other shared universes, where everyone will get along after having known each other for just a couple minutes. I like seeing protagonists who distrust each other, or who suspect each other of being more than they appear.

Considering the fact that most of the characters in these games are extremely flawed individuals with antagonistic aspects, it only makes sense for them to not get along with each other. That being said, Kamui’s interaction with Travis were truly entertaining. It’s nice seeing them form a sort of friendship over the course of the game, especially due to how entertaining their dialogue is.

Travis Strikes Again definitely did the right thing in crossing over all these games, while establishing and referencing the connections between them. I’m looking forward to seeing what Suda 51 and Grasshopper Manufacture will do with their franchises next. It’d be awesome if they continued to expand on this universe, while telling awesome standalone stories!

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Gaming In The Clinton Years: The Tommy Wiseau of Game Reviews

Video-game reviews have been around for decades, first existing within the confines of gaming magazines. It wasn’t uncommon to spot reviews of recently released titles in the pages of Nintendo Power, PCGamer, or Electronic Gaming Monthly. In the 90s, gaming started to become more mainstream and extend beyond the printed page. As a result, gaming-related shows became more commonplace.

Enter George Wood, a man with a public-access show called “Flights of Fantasy”. The show was pretty bad, in my opinion. It’s lacking production values, deadpan review style, and awkward editing made it often painful to watch. Despite this, there was something strangely enticing about how awkward George Wood was and still is. The way he talked, the way he acted, and the way he presented his material came off as rather alien.

The man was basically the Tommy Wiseau of video-games, which got him a fair bit of infamy. Flights of Fantasy was not a very popular show, but that didn’t stop the series from inevitably returning years later. A Youtube gaming network called “NAVIGATR” hired George Wood to work for him, who promptly gave them the entire Flights of Fantasy catalog.

After re-branding the show as “Gaming In The Clinton Years”, the series was released to Youtube. The series came out in a time when game reviews on Youtube were a relatively new thing, so this series definitely stood out. However, what really made it stand out wasn’t the concept, but generally how bad the series was overall.

As previously mentioned, George Wood is an extremely awkward and weird individual. This is a man who spends most of each individual review rambling about the game’s controls, wondering if the game uses digital movie graphics, or just generally saying out-of-place and occasionally offensive things.

A good example of this is in his Toy Story game review, where he constantly wonders out loud if they used the graphics engine from the film to build the look of the game. He spends way too much of the review on this subject alone! More often than not, our pal George will spend a lot of time just listing off the controls. Why? I don’t think anyone really knows, since the controls for any game are usually pretty easy to find. My guess is that maybe George forgot instruction books exist.

I think the worst review that George has ever done would have to be his review for Tomb Raider II. Now, George is an eccentric man, one who happens to not like Lara Croft’s appearance all that much. He finds her design a bit too “provocative” for his tastes. During the review, George decides to give his “suggestions” on how to improve said character. I won’t describe what he says, but I will link to the review below. Trust me, it’s something you need to see to fully see to believe.

The thing about Ol’ George-y Boy is that despite his reviews being absolute garbage, they are INSANELY entertaining to watch! It’s almost impossible to put into words the kind of reviews this man puts out. The thing is, George has built up quite a reputation for not only being a bad gamer, but a bad reviewer.

This level of infamy was not lost on NAVIGATR and George, as they would both often poke fun at his ineptitude when it came to gaming. Even though George can sometimes say some terrible and juvenile things, he still manages to entertain. That’s something I can’t say about certain game reviewers/Let’s Players, such as DarkSydePhil. George may be a weird, awkward, and strange old man, but he managed to put something together that managed to entertain two whole generations. That’s not something many reviewers can pull off, even the really good ones!

Which Is Better In Video-Games: Custom Characters, or Pre-Made Heroes?

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Dovahkiin & Deadpool: The Ultimate Heroes

When it comes to video-games, there’s a lot of things that can lead a series to success. Be it unique gameplay quirks, tons of content, or just a really nice visual style. A good selling point for a game is the protagonist you get to play as. A lot of games will often give you a pre-made hero, and require you to play through that character’s story. All of his character traits, personality quirks, and other such defining elements have already been fleshed out.

Examples of these are Death from Darksiders, Nathan Drake from Uncharted, Sir Daniel Fortesque from Medievil. Characters that already exist within this world make for good protagonists, giving the designers leeway to toy around with their backstory and motivations. However, within the later years of gaming emerged a new and ever-growing trend: Custom characters.

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How can one be a truly great warrior, if one does not grow a rocking beard first?

Custom characters started becoming more of a thing in the late 90s and early 2000s, eventually becoming a fixture for a lot of franchises. It’s hard to play a modern Phantasy Star, Dragon Ball, or wrestling game that doesn’t have this feature inserted into it. A lot of franchises now allow you to create your own characters, allowing you to insert yourself into the story.

Character creation adds so many opportunities for the player to weave their own persona into the game, allowing for more immersion. This begs a very important question, though: Which kind of protagonist is better? Is it the pre-made heroes, or the custom characters?

This is a tough question to answer, as I feel this comes down to personal preference. Some people prefer having a character that the game designers already made, as it allows them to get fully invested in this character and the story from the get-go. Other people (such as myself) prefer having custom characters, due to the creativity and role-play opportunities.

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So many choices for one little Jedi!

I often like to create a character and name him Jim, James, Jerald, or pretty much any name starting with a “J”. The thing is that since my name starts with a J, I like to create a character who’s name possesses the same letter. I feel this adds a bit of flair to the character, even before I decide on what the character should look like. Being able to personalize a character is one of the things I love about character creation.

That being said, custom characters can also be a doubled edge sword. Most games prefer not to give your custom character a voice, instead opting to have the character grunt. This means that your character will in most cases not have a speaking voice, which may be a good or bad thing depending on your views. I like having a character who doesn’t talk, but it can sometimes make me feel disconnected from the story.

Also, a custom character will never appear in full during cinematic cut-scenes. This is due to cinematic not running on the in-game engines. Normal cut-scenes will feature custom characters, but cinematic ones will often feature your character obscured or in a different outfit. Again, this is done to avoid breaking player immersion.

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“It’s Normal Guy, The Science Jedi!”

This is far different for pre-made hero, as these characters often have a singular fixed design. A hero that was already made by the developers tends to feel like a more fleshed out character than a custom creation.  For one thing, pre-made heroes can show up in all cut-scenes, are voice-acted (sometimes), and feel more like a living breathing part of this fictional world.

More often than not, a custom character can feel out of place, due in part to the insane amount of odd customization options. Believe it or not, some games can often give you some ridiculous creation choices that take out of the game. A good example of this is in Dragon Ball Xenoverse, which gave you so many ridiculous character options. Heck, you could run around with insect wings for crying out loud!

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Sadly, this axe was quickly replaced with “The Harbinger” after only a few hours of gameplay. It will not be missed.

Still, some games did do customization right. Fable: The Lost Chapters was a good example of this. In Fable, each character starts out identical to one another. However, your character changes as the game progresses. Choices you make decide how your character looks. For example, if you are evil then you will gain horns. Investing in certain stat trees can also change your hero’s look, such as gaining blue lines on your face if you become a mage.

How the character looks and behaves is determined entirely by how one plays the game. A rather obscure game named “Soul Sacrifice: Delta” has a unique take on this as well. In the game, you play as a prisoner who can’t be customized in any way. However, when he/she relives the memories of the sorcerer inside the book, the player is then given the opportunity to customize said character. In essence, you are just creating an avatar for the actual playable character to use.

So, to answer my original question: Which is better? While I think both pre-made heroes and custom character have their pros and cons, I prefer the latter. Custom characters just have so much versatility, plus it’s cool getting to design my own avatar within the game. Still, pre-made heroes are also pretty awesome, allowing the player to take on the role of an already pre-existing character.

In the end though, it doesn’t really matter which kind of hero I prefer. As long as the game is fun, entertaining, and thrilling, then I’ll continue to play it. Which kind of character the player is given shouldn’t impact what they enjoy too much, as long as the given character isn’t annoying or unlikable to said player. Be it either kind of character, I feel there’s a playable hero out there that every gamer can enjoy.

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A true hero walks his own path, which also happens to be a path filled with loading screens.

Personal Thoughts: What Makes a Great Open-World RPG?

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That horse does not look happy to be on this box-art.

I love open-world games, specifically open-world RPGs. Role-playing games just feel good with a lot of open areas to fully explore. The problem with open-world RPGs is that they have a fair bit of problems, some of which have persisted with the genre since their inception in the 90s. To be fair though, I’ve seen a ton of good examples of it being done right.

The thing that makes an open-world RPG bad is often the world itself. If you fill the world with boring side-quests, uninteresting NPCs, and uninspired dungeons, then you aren’t doing a good job of making a believable. A world needs to be interesting and full of unique and exciting things. If your epic fantasy / sci-fi world is just a more boring version of real-life, than you’ve failed at making an interesting open-world environment.

Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and Fallout: New Vegas managed to avoid this pitfall altogether, by having likable and interesting characters, as well as unique worlds. These two games had a ton of unique and fun side-quests, and were just generally a ton of fun. Skyrim did some things right, like making a more believable and much more visually appealing world. However, they also had a ton of really boring side-quests and dungeons crammed into every orifice of the world.

On the subject of Skyrim, another thing I don’t like about open-world RPGs is that the whole world revolves around you. In most open-world games, things don’t get done unless you are there to get them done. All the quests and dungeons in any RPG is beatable by your protagonist. While they are there for the player’s enjoyment, it breaks immersion. Most of the time, it feels like you are the only person in the world getting things done.

A game that got this right was Mount & Blade: Warband. This game was fantastic, mostly because its open-world didn’t focus solely on you the player. You start out as some random guy, with an origin you select. From there, the world is your oyster. Side-quests in this game are a bit boring and static, but the game manages to balance this out by making them timed. Some side-quests can be failed very easily, such as another army wiping out a hoard of bandits before you get the chance.

While I respect that an open-world needs to have a lot of things for the player to do, I wish that other people would be doing these things as well. Sure, you can find corpses in dungeons of people who attempted such things, but that’s about it. You’ll never encounter rival adventurers, unless they are a part of a quest itself, which is very rare indeed. Mount & Blade managed to find this good balance of making the world feel alive, while at the same time not overpowering your hero.

Another thing that open world-games have a problem with is direction. More often than not, making a game open-world often destroys the necessity to do the story at all. Certain open-world games try to keep you busy with a lot of optional content that just feels superfluous. Fallout 4 is a big offender of this. So much of the side-content in Fallout 4 just felt kind of lame. The game forces you to do a fair bit of it, such at the settlement building. Even if you don’t want to do it, the game makes you do it anyways.

I feel open-world games need more structure. Freedom is fine, but not if there’s too much freedom. That’s where games like Divinity II come into play. Divinity II balances its open-world structure by splitting its open-world between multiple zones. You’ll start in one area in the game, and move to other areas over the course of your playthrough. About 10 hours in, the game really opens up! Until this point, areas have been large, but not too large that it distracts from the plot.

Once you reach the third major area, you can basically do what you want! Plus, there are certain areas from past sections that you can return to. Another thing an open-world needs is that sense of discovery. When you’re playing a game like Kingdom of Amalur, you often don’t get that sense of discovery. As much as I love Amalur, it’s really just a single-player MMO. While it presents a truly massive world, most of the things that occur within it are pretty samey. Their aren’t as many secrets to discover, and bizarre creatures to battle as other games have.

Risen 1 is an open-world game that really surprised me. It packed its fairly large island with a ton of secrets, as well as tough enemies. I won’t forget the first time I faced down a Grave Moth and heard that terrifying shriek! Risen 1 is a game that has more problems than a grade 12 Math test, but it’s definitely more fun than it has any right to be.

So in short, I think what the perfect open-world RPG needs is:

  1. An open-world that opens up to the player gradually, instead of shoving a massive landscape to explore in your face at the start.
  2. An open-world that doesn’t revolve around the player, but instead has them as an active part of said world.
  3. A world that feels real and is packed with meaningful side content and characters.
  4. A good attention to detail, and a ton of lore and nifty little secrets to back it up.

Of course, there is a ton of other factors involved, including having good graphics and great gameplay. I think the open-world in an open-world game is just as important as the gameplay, at least in my opinion. I know that no game will ever have that perfect “open-world experience” I crave. Still, several games come close.

One thing I’d like to touch on that really annoys me with open-world games is that too many series are going open world. You have Toukiden, Mass Effect, Dragon Age, and Fallout. Yeah, I get that people love open-world experiences, but not every series needs to transition into that. I think it worked well for Toukiden, while the other games definitely had some dry periods.  Still, these games do bring a lot of enjoyment to the table. However, I think open-world games need to start balancing their wealth of content with a more quality experience. In my eyes, an open-world should focus on being one thing and one thing alone: An actual world.

Games That Should Totally Happen: Tron MMORPG

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How come characters in sci-fi always get the coolest outfits?!

So, lately I’ve been getting into Tron: Uprising. It’s this really unique and well thought-out animated series with a refreshing art and animation style. It’s got a deep lore, and manages to stand apart from the films and be its own unique thing. With the Tron series, there are a fair bit of iterations and deviations. You have Tron, Tron 2.0: The Videogame, Tron 2.0: The Comic, Tron: Legacy, Tron: Uprising.

You have so many versions of this world inside a computer, ripe for exploration and adventure. So, that begs the question… Why isn’t there a Tron MMORPG? A massive multiplayer online role-playing game set in the world of Tron seems like a no-brainer. You already have a pre-existing world and a fair bit of source material to build upon. This seems like it would make for a fantastic MMO experience!

Instead of typical character classes and archetypes, you can have “Functions”. You’d play as a specific program with a function that would determine your program’s capabilities. For example, if you were a repairman program, you’d be able to build “Light Cycles”. Stuff like that would make the game super interesting! You can have characters from the films return, and have them labeled as “Backup Duplicates” of the original. When you set your series in a computer world, it’s just ripe for bringing back old threats in unique ways.

Heck, who wouldn’t want to take missions from Castor, or join the MCP and try to take down the system? Tron is this universe that is just rife for expansion, and it’s one of those few Disney franchises that hasn’t been milked to death yet. I thought Tron: Legacy was an okay film, but I feel it could’ve used a lot more expansion. With an MMO, you can’t really get a more expansive experience than that. MMOs are designed not only to be huge time-sinks, but also to flesh out a universe in ways that normal series could only dream of.

Best thing about a Tron MMO would be attempting new plot-lines and seeing which ones work and which don’t. Heck, if a Tron MMO was successful, it could lead to a resurgence of interest in the brand! Plots and ideas from the game might even make it into a film itself, or at least a TV show! This sounds like a match made in heaven, but sadly it can never be.

Why is that? For one thing, MMORPGs are a dying breed. These are the most difficult kinds of game anyone could ever make. They are also very expensive to produce, especially considering how graphically intensive most modern MMOs are. Not only that, but Disney doesn’t tend to MMOs anymore. They shut down Club Penguin and ToonTown Online, too popular massive-multiplayer games. These games raked in the cash, but Disney shut them down.

To be fair, MMOs are hard to constantly keep running. Servers are expensive and the interest tends to die after a while. An MMO hinges upon it’s player-base, and I doubt that the Tron fan-base can keep the game running forever. People have fond memories of this series, but it’s not enough to keep a MMORPG running for more than few years.

Even though a Tron MMO mostly likely wouldn’t work in today’s economy, I still feel that Disney needs to do more with the license. I’d love to see more Tron games, and I’m not talking about more crossovers with Kingdom Hearts. I want to see legitimate Tron games set in the classic world. Or heck, maybe even a followup to Tron 2.0! The thing is, with the ever-increasing advancement and prevalence of computers, I feel the world just needs more Tron.

Video-Game Idea #1: Imagine Lords: War Of Renewal

I’ll be honest, I’m not game developer. I know a lot about games, but I’m no beta tester or programmer. However, I do like to muse from time to time on potential game ideas. I know these will never be picked up, but I think it’s still something fun to talk about. So, one idea I had is a game takes place in the dreams of a fictional god. The god will always be different on each play-through, chosen from a pool of available gods. The gods will be taken from all mythologies. This could be Egyptian, Norse, Greek, Japanese, or any other mythology you think of.

The game would take place at the end of existence. The god you choose will be floating in a non-existent void, frozen by time and unable to interact with anything. The god you choose will be trapped in his/her own dreams. Inside this dream is a somewhat small open-world, but set in a more fantastical version of our own universe. The god is now in human form within said dream-scape, yet possesses some of his god-like powers.

The human you play as will be customizable, unlike the god. After creating your human, your told by a “Dream Nymph” to defeat various foes in order to regain your god-like power. This involves fighting enemies, leveling up, and regaining access to your god powers. You venture across this small, yet fully explore-able open world. Why is the initial open world so small? I’ll get to that in a bit.

Now, the game’s first act will eventually take you to your last challenge as a mortal: Defeating yourself. In order to fully take on your god form, you must defeat it. I imagine the bosses themselves not being too unique from each other, since there will be so many gods available. So, a fight with Anubis may play out the same way as a fight against Hades. Regardless, once you defeat your god form, you will absorb it and return to your godly appearance.

This is when things get really interesting. You won’t wake up right away, instead you will be thrown into another dream-scape. This one is massive and is a true open-world. With your new god powers in tow, you have to do battle against other gods. These other gods will be other plays (or NPCs if you choose not to play this portion of the game online) Imagine this portion of the game playing similar to Grand Theft Auto Online, but as an action RPG featuring gods.

In this dream-scape, you’ll start off in a land indicitative of the mythology you originate from. For example, if you are a Japanese god, you start in Japan. Your goal at this point is to destroy all the other gods and become the last one standing  Think of it like something akin to God of War, expect it’s a last man standing dealie instead of a revenge mission.

The reward for the god battles will be the chance to remake the universe in whatever way you see fit. You see, each game you play in the second act will be called a “cycle”. The last player standing, who defeats all the other gods and absorbs their essence and god powers becomes the one true god. At this point, you can remake the universe however you see fit.

Now, battles between overpowered gods would be difficult. That’s why the offline mode will be there, with adjustable difficulty. So, those who want to get to that third act can do so offline. If they want to try their luck against far more powerful gods, they can go online and try their luck. Of course, it would be tough to balance the powers of so many gods and keep the game fair. What I think would be interesting is that if there were other ways for the gods to settle their quarrels without fighting.

These could include games of chance, tests of might or speed, or even mini-games to decide who is the superior god and the one deserving to continue. Players who lose have the chance to either watch the progress of the god who absorbed them for a while, or simply start a new cycle against new opponents or new game if they wish. So, what happens after you become god of the universe? You get to create the universe!

This would be less like a simulation game, and more of a building game. You would create planets and stars using your god powers, but would have to recharge after creating a few planets. To recharge, you would have to go down to the planets and sew the seed of life using your powers. You create new life using magic and your god-like energies, and these would become the beings that inhabit each planet.

So, the game would continue like this, with you creating each planet and star until the universe becomes completely full. After creating enough planets, you can either fill the rest of the universe up with planets, or just auto-spawn them so you aren’t taking forever to populate everything. From there, the game is pretty much done. You can go to planets, engage in wars, or even destroyed what you create.

Once you felt you done enough, you can voluntarily choose to end the game. Then, you start a new game as a new god, or just go back to a previous part of the game. You would even be given the option to go back to the god battle portion, but play it as your custom human character instead, so you have the opportunity to explore this much more massive world.

Now, I imagine a game like this being tough to make. Not only would you have to balance an open-world, but account for the online servers and all the gods that will show up. I guess the game doesn’t need the online portion to be perfect. I feel having smart NPC gods as opponents during the war session would be more fulfilling than fighting player-controlled gods who abuse the engine and find ways to cheese system.

I think the hardest part of getting the game to be made would be the concept itself. It’s about gods fighting each other, which would most likely upset some cultures. I’ll be honest, I respect all mythologies and religions. I just like the idea of all these gods meeting and duking it out. I’ve always been a huge fan of shows like Saint Seiya and Justice League, shows where heroes and gods often do battle.

So, having a game like this would be an interesting experience, in my opinion. I know there are games out there already with gods fighting it out, but I’d love if there was a game that had gods fighting each other to become the one true master of the universe. I think of my idea of a combination of Smite, Spore, God of War, Skyrim, Grand Theft Auto Online, and maybe a little Reign of Kings tossed in there.

Regardless, I hope you all enjoy the little idea I tossed out there. I’m no game developer, nor do I have an intention of ever being one. I’d love to write for a video-game, but my interest in game development does not go beyond that. Of course, that could always change in the future. I’m only 26, so who knows? Maybe one day I might get interested in game development and make this into a game somehow. I doubt I’d be able to pull that off, but it’s still something fun to think about.