Gaming Memories: How They Saved My Life

An old friend of mine wrote a blog post recently entitled “The Importance of Escapism”, and in it he describes how gaming has helped him overcome the tragedy of his grandfather’s passing. He goes on to say that escaping to a virtual world is a form of therapy for the human psyche, much like movies, books, and TV shows. This to me is one half of the power of gaming, the other being memories.

Much as Youtube user TVandLust commented in his video “Context Matters: Evolution: The World of Sacred Device”, video games are relevant in our minds due to the environment in which they are played. And I don’t mean the physical location, more like the time in our lives and the events that surrounded them. For the gentleman above, the game Evolution is not in itself all that notable, but the fact that it helped him through a turbulent time in his teenage years makes it all the more special. I have a similar experience with several games of my own.

Final Fantasy X

This game is one of my favorites. Not just because the amazing gameplay or the gripping story, but because of the time when I played it. During 2002 & part of 2003, I was a recent newlywed facing marital troubles. My then wife and I were constantly fighting, we were living in her hometown in central Georgia that I despised, away from all friends and family, and I never felt more alone. Couple this with the fact that we lost our first child about 6 months into her pregnancy, I was probably in the worst mental shape I had ever been. This perpetual depression that I suffered from (2000-2004), finally lifted once I started dating my current girlfriend. But there was one thing in my life that did offer some respite: video games. During this time, I played Final Fantasy X. I immersed myself in the world of Spira, and as much as Tidus annoyed me, I shared in his plight of being thrusted into a foreign land against his will. And throughout the game he feels powerless: unable to go home, to save Yuna, or to defeat Sin. And that was exactly how I felt during those times: powerless and miserable. So Final Fantasy X, despite it being a blueprint for the fuckery that was to come (Exhibit A and B), it was and still is one of the most cherished games in my collection. Another reason why I preordered the PS3 remake on Amazon the instant it was available.

Final Fantasy XI

Fast forward to the later half of 2003, I was separated, had moved back to Houston to live with my parents again, and still despising my existence. Video games to the rescue again. This time it was Final Fantasy XI. At the time, I was stealing from working for Gamestop The Evil Empire, and all my coworkers and friends were playing this game to death. When we weren’t playing the game, we were at work talking about the game, or looking up strategies online and in the guide. Our coterie lived in Vana’Diel, we were the avatars we played as. For me, this carried well into the PS2 release of early 2004 up until that September when I started dating my girlfriend of now 8 years. While I could no longer devote the 60-70 hours/week to that game, it had served its purpose. The game was a bridge from the previous chapter of my life full of woes to the current one filled with happiness. Thus is why I still play the game (albeit much more casually) to this day.

Conclusion

My favorite movie quote is from The Punisher: “Good memories can save your life”. This has become my personal mantra, as I believe our memories are what make us what we are. If good and bad memories are pans of a scale, and all I had were the painful memories of my past outweighing the good, I honestly think I would’ve taken my own life by now. The good memories have saved my life, and gaming makes up a vast portion of them.

I’m back

So i’ve been a bit neglectful of my blog lately, and I apologize for such behavior. Quite frankly I simply ran out of things to say. But now I’m back with a new domain and a lot on my mind, so stay tuned.

Oh yeah, and I’m posting this from my iPhone. Go me.

Adding my game collection to MySpace/Facebook

So I have this video game collection consisting of a few RPGs. Actually it’s a hell of a lot of games, 250+ and mostly RPGs. It’s all thanks to working at GameStop and buying them off of customers instead of letting them trade em in (I was a really bad employee). Anyway, I wanted to show off what I’ve collected, so I initially thought of creating a web page that pulls data from an external xml page on my web host and formats into HTML via XSLT and use an iframe for MySpace/Facebook to show it through. Well, that’s all fine and dandy, except Myspace/Facebook don’t support iframes. So I had to look at other options…

Now granted I could’ve just listed my collection as HTML on both my profiles, but that means I’d have to update both profiles every time I added a new game to the collection. I want to be able to update it in just one place and have the changes propagate everywhere I have the app. So I was left with only one option: Flash. Actually Flex to be more specific. So I hand-typed (most of) my collection in a flat XML file (probably should’ve done a database/web service, but just in case I switch web hosts, I wanted portability), and wrote a Flash app parses that XML and creates a datagrid with the box artwork, name, platform and what I paid/screwed-gamestop-out-of. The end result is on my profile @ http://www.myspace.com/ghaladen. I’d show it off here, but apparently WordPress likes to block Flash unless it’s from a video source like Youtube.

Granted it’s really simple, but I’m not a Actionscript/Flash/Flex kind of person. In fact I loathe all things Flash. But it was a necessary evil to show off of I’ve collected over the years. Only downside is I couldn’t get RPC to work with Flex, so the XML has to be compiled with the flash app (meaning I have to recompile and upload the swf file to my host everytime the list changes). But I guess it’s not bad for a few hour’s work.  And before you ask: No, none of my games are for sale or rent.

XNA Community Games – Hell Yeah!!

When Microsoft announced it’s first version of it’s XNA game development engine, I was impressed. It ran well, and it allowed me to make some cool demos with C#. And the fact that it could run on Xbox 360 natively gave it a bit of a wow factor. But I wasn’t rooting for it 100%, due to the fact that in order to play your creation on Xbox 360, you had to have a 100 dollar a year subscription to the XNA Creators Club. Not only that, if you wanted to share your game to other Xbox players, they had to have the same subscription. So I ran through a few tutorials, made a couple demos, and shelved it.

Fast forward to about two months ago, Microsoft announced it’s sophomore version of XNA, this time opening the development platform to*any* .NET compliant language (let’s see, that’s C#, VB, JScript, Python, Cobol, Pascal, etc). Nice. And they allowed for multiplayer support via Xbox Live. Nice again, however now my friends have to have both a Creator’s Club $100 license *AND* a Xbox Live Gold account. Not impressed at all. So once again, fell on deaf ears.

Now, just a few days ago, Microsoft just announced it’s Community Games initiative. When the service goes out of beta (hopefully sometime this spring), a developer with a Creator’s Club license can publish a game for peer-review by other Creator’s Club members. If a peer reviews the game and passes it (no bugs or inappropriate/copyright infringing content), the developer can publish his own game on Xbox Live Arcade for *anyone* to download and play, for free or pay($$$). Anyone as in anyone who has an Xbox 360, an internet connection, and a pulse. No Creator’s Club license required. And did I mention, you can sell your game for money????? This is huge. Microsoft is changing its policy on game distribution from an iron fist to loose hands. It’s like every .NET developer will be handed an Xbox Live Arcade publishing contract (well for $100/yr, and a peer test). This is the day and age ladies and gentlemen. No longer do you have to either try to woo over a game publisher that usually doesn’t give a damn about you, your game or your well-being. Microsoft has opened the flood gates for developers everywhere to start profiting from their creations, without all the red tape of trying to get a contract, or trying to sell their game off their website. This is *HUGE*.

All I know is, I’m dusting off my XNA Unleashed book I bought a few months back. Several years back I was part of a group of people that shared my passion for video games, and we always dreamed of the idea of creating a compelling game, or an array of games actually, and achieving commercial success. Unfortunately due to the our naiveness (for the most part because we were so young), and the lack of a chance by the video game industry, we got discouraged after a few years, went our separate ways, and haven’t spoken of it since. But this….now, this is the chance that I wish we had back then. This is what is going to do to the game industry what Mp3/iTunes did for the music industry. .NET taught us that we can write compelling software w/o the woes of unmanaged languages like C++ (shudders at the thought of pointers), XNA taught us that a small group of 1-5 developers can make games that can rival the efforts of multi-million dollar software development houses, and now Xbox Live Arcade is going to teach us that anyone with a great idea, some code know how, and some modeling software and expertise, $100, and some serious fuckin passion can make a game and publish it to the world, and potentially sell millions.

So with that being said, I’ll be off to refresh my knowledge of XNA. I think I want to make an RPG. Sound good to you? Feel free to comment below.

P.S. In case you are interested in what XNA can do (on both PC and XB360), check out this video. And trust me, compared to the way games were made in the past, making games like this is incredibly easy.

Shining Force III Translation Project

Now, I know this is not late breaking news, but I find it to be blogworthy nonetheless. Remember this game for the Sega Saturn?

 Shining Force III

If you are a Shining Force fan, you probably remember it, if not, well, then just go back to your Final Fantasies (NOTE: I like Final Fantasy as much as the next RPG fan, I just don’t think it’s the be all end all RPG that all these fanboys croon about). Anyway, this game was released in 1998, in the US and Europe as, well….Shining Force III. What the dim-witted company know as SEGA didn’t tell us was that particular game we got was only 1 episode out of three (which explained the lame ending), they decided (like other great japanese rpgs like Grandia and Lunar), that America didn’t need the other two games, since according to at the time Sega of America douchebag exec Bernie Stolar, “Americans aren’t really into RPGs”. Prick. And in fact, in retrospect, the Scenario 1 we got didn’t have all that great of a translation either, now that I think about it. But alas, we got what we got. 

 

So as much as fans in the Western World booed and hissed and bitched to Sega about it for the last 10 years, not a damn thing has been done about it. All pleadings to port these games to a new console (DS or PSP would’ve been nice) has fallen upon deaf ears. So, luckily a few fans decided to translate the game a couple years ago, and finally fans had a text to read along to while they played the japanese version…..Meh……

 

Enter knightOfDragon and his team of misfits. Much like Neil Corlett brought us the translation patch for Seiken Densetsu 3(Sequel to Secret of Mana, thanks Square/Nintendo. You fucks), they have brought us patches for Scenario 2 and 3, and even the Premium Disk for the Eng-rish speaking world. They even re-translated the JPN version of Scenario 1 (such nice guys). So here’s the post (they don’t have a site), and here’s where to get the files. And you get an English copy of Shining Force III Scenario 2 and 3, and PD in a few easy steps:

1: Go buy Scenario 2 and 3(Around $50-60 on Ebay at the moment).

3. Stick one of the discs in your CD drive.

3. Download SF3Patch.exe from the above site.

4. Specify which game you’re patching and follow the instructions to make an iso of the patched game.

5. Now you can either mount the ISO for an emulator, or burn the ISO for a chipped Saturn.

 

And that’s it. And finally, you can see the ending to such an amazingly epic story that modern day RPG’s could only dream of having. And if you’ve never played a Shining Force, you can finally find out that Final Fantasy VII is NOT the greatest game ever made, and start seeing that there’s talent outside of Squeenix (and as of late, ALOT more talent).

 

 

 

 

 

By ghaladen Posted in Gaming

Lost Odyssey

Yesterday I picked up Lost Odyssey…. and I must say the circles around my eyes have started to grow. I could barely finish my workout this morning. I think we have a masterpiece on our hands, ladies and gentlemen.

Ok, if you’re wondering what the hell I’m talking about, here’s the details: Lost Odyssey is an traditional RPG for the Xbox 360 from Mistwalker. What is significant about Mistwalker is it is headed by none other than Final Fantasy creator/Square-Enix-slave Hironobu Sakaguchi. Also among his legion is Nobuo Uematsu, the original composer for Final Fantasy. So, with these two on board, one would expect a game that could stand toe to toe with the Final Fantasy series. Well, earlier last year, the world was hopeful with the debut of Blue Dragon. I remember I bought it the day it came out: $60 game and $20 guide. I even reserved it at Gamestop too, something I hardly ever do. I don’t think I could describe the sheer disappointment I felt within the first five minutes of playing. I felt like this was a Fischer-Price RPG. Five characters, the archenemy is a pansy old man named Nene (yes, which sounds like nay-nay), and the characters looked straight out of a Dragonball Z episode (of course, this is because the main artist was Akira Toriyama, but still). I mean hell, the main character looked like Gohan, or whatever his name is. Needless to say, I’m sure the execs at Square-Enix were laughing their asses off when they saw this game, saying “This is why we fired him”, and I was incredibly disappointed in one of my favorite storytellers of all time. So I started reading up on Lost Odyssey, story sounded interesting. So I reserved and paid it off again. And I prayed that I wouldn’t be disappointed….

…And I wasn’t. If you are an fan of Final Fantasy, you will love this game. If you are a fan of RPG’s, you will love this game. If you like stories that are moving and leave you begging for more, you will love this game. If you thought Final Fantasy XII was a disappointment in the story department, you will love this game. This game in my opinion, is what Final Fantasy XII should have been. If you’ve been living under a rock in Africa for the past few years, here’s the short edition: Lost Odyssey tells the story of a man named Kaim Argonar, who has lived for 1,000 years and has lost all his memories. He slowly begins to remember as the game progresses, and gets caught up in a political struggle in a world blessed (and scarred) by magic-powered technology.

Needless to say, it’s a pretty epic story. The battle system is pretty much traditional turn-based, not overly innovative, but who gives a shit? If you love Final Fantasy like I love Final Fantasy, you’re not overly crazed by new battle systems, it’s the story that gets you. And Lost Odyssey delivers on story, maybe even a little too much sometimes. Basically, there are parts of the game where Kaim will regain his memory in the form of dreams, which are about a 5-10 minute text read (yes I said read, hard to believe in this day and age of gaming). If you can tolerate the annoyance of having to read a chapter of text at a time, you’ll find these stories tugging at your heartstrings, as they are beautifully crafted. But aside from these drawn out reading sequences(and they are a bit frequent), this game will blow your mind. If you enjoy classic RPG style gaming, with modern technological advancements in graphics, you will love this game.

Just the beginning…

Okay, since this is the first post of my blog, I’m not really going to say much here. This is my new space for relaying my thoughts, feelings, and just everyday rants. Hope you will join me on the ride.