Response to “It’s Very Bad” on my Metal Gear Solid V Analysis

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The blog, “It’s Very Bad,” has written a “rebuttal” to my Metal Gear Solid V analysis: http://temporaldistortion.net/2016/11/a-rebuttal-of-mgs5-narrative-analysis/

I will attempt to respond to every part of the rebuttal, but there’s a catch… it’s written in Russian. I don’t speak or read Russian, so I am relying on a Google translation. It’s entirely possible that Google might misinterpret some parts, though some sections definitely get their intentions across anyway (like, “To hell with this ‘analysis,’ which invites us to swallow it”). If the author of the rebuttal believes I’ve misunderstood anything, he should feel free to point it out.

I’ll break down my response into 10 parts to correspond with the rebuttal. In each part, first there will be an excerpt from my original analysis in blue, then there will be the Rebuttal in red, and then there will be my response bolded in black.

Continue reading “Response to “It’s Very Bad” on my Metal Gear Solid V Analysis”

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Pure Exploration is not a Valid Standalone Mechanic

“I’ve already written a brief overview of my take on No Man’s Sky and have spent a good portion of the last few days scouring the Internet for the various criticisms and defenses of the game.

Perhaps the most salient and convincing argument I’ve seen thus far on behalf of NMS is the game isn’t meant to be enjoyed by the standards of traditional mechanics, rather, it’s a game based on “pure exploration.” The argument goes something like this:

Due to a combination of Hello Games making vague comments about the potential content of No Man’s Sky and Sony pouring a truck load of money into marketing to fuel the game’s hype machine, a lot of players were misled into believing that NMS was a standard AAA game with wide appeal. In reality, NMS is basically an indie game with an indie-sized development team (15 individuals), working on a barely larger than indie budget, with indie ambitions to fill the niche indie market of pure exploration games. Yes, NMS is lacking a lot of expected features, feels bare bones in parts, and doesn’t have a very compelling core gameplay loop by the standards of traditional big budget open world games, but that doesn’t matter because that was never the point of NMS. The game is really just about exploring cool worlds in an enormous universe and seeing everything that there is to see. It’s all about exploration.”

While I completely sympathize with the idea that an indie developer got caught up in a hype machine, and I’m totally on board with seeing small indie games try wildly experimental gameplay techniques… I don’t buy this argument on behalf of NMS…”

 

Read the rest of the article at Gaming Rebellion:

Pure Exploration is not a Valid Standalone Mechanic

Liebster Award

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Mr. TeaTime at Critical TeaTime nominated me for a Leibster Award which is a way for amateur bloggers to recognize one another. I haven’t read much of Mr. TeaTime’s work, but from what I have seen (his recent-ish Bioshock Infinite post) it looks pretty good.

In accordance with the award’s rules, Mr. TeaTime asked me twelve questions related to our shared topic. Here are questions and my responses:

 

  1. What game melts your cold critic heart? Meaning a game you know is flawed and has issues, but you cannot dislike it and will defend it until the end of time.

Colosseum: Road to Freedom was a 2005 PS2 release which I doubt anyone remembers today let alone cared about back then. While I’m not sure how such a buggy, incomplete mess of a game even made it to launch, it holds a special place in my heart for being one of the greatest mixtures of good ideas with bad execution I’ve ever seen.

Colosseum is the closest thing to Madden: Gladiator Edition we may ever see (which I wrote a bit about here). That core concept alone is so endearing that it’s a travesty no one else has picked it up since. You play as a slave (with a player-chosen country of origin and former profession) who in captured and sent to Rome to live and die as a gladiator in the hopes of one day saving up enough money earned from victorious bouts to buy your own freedom. Every day you either train at the “ludus” to upgrade your stats or go to one of two arenas where you can choose what fights to enter, earn money prizes, and shop for better equipment.

Seriously, it’s a great fucking system. It provides a more than adequate set up and motivation for the somewhat monotonous hack-and-slash combat where the next reward (an expensive new sword, a higher gladiator rank, etc.) is always just around the corner. Even the combat was a brilliantly original system where the location of a weapon strike was coordinated with placement of the button on the controller (ie. “triangle” aims high, “square” aims left, etc.). With proper tweaking there was tremendous potential for Colosseum’s combat to become a revolutionary take both on PvE and duel melee fighting.

But absolutely everything about the game was incompetently executed, if not outright broken. Enemy AI was generally braindead to the point that most gladiators wouldn’t even bother trying to defend themselves as you hacked away at their heads with an axe (duel AI was far better, but only by being recklessly aggressive, much like Super Smash Bros AI). The four combat styles (unarmed, small shield, big shield, and dual wield) were cool but helplessly unbalanced. There weren’t enough match types and most were slight variations on each other. A pointless story takes up too much time and laughably, blatantly rips of Gladiator at every available opportunity. The needlessly punishing weapon-drop system could more or less end your chances for survival at any point throughout a 20 hour campaign.

And yet I’ve played through Colosseum at least ten times. Back when it came out I introduced it to a couple of friends and we poured dozens of hours into its primitive multiplayer duels. There are so many great ideas buried under so much shit that if I even end up being a billionaire somehow someday, I’m going to find the old developers, give them a truck-load of cash, and tell them to remake the damn thing with some proper oversight and play testing.

Anyway, if you have a PS2 and can find Colosseum: Road to Freedom on Amazon or something, try it out.

Continue reading “Liebster Award”

The Trial of Huey Emmerich – Examining the Evidence

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I love Huey Emmerich as a character. I don’t love the man himself. In fact, I’m open to the idea that Venom Snake should have executed him on the spot at his trial. But I love what Hideo Kojima did with Huey in Metal Gear Solid V.

Throughout MGS1, MGS2, and MGS4, Hal Emmerich (AKA Otacon) was a bright light amidst a whole lot of grim-dark characterization. Otacon wasn’t a perfect man, but he was a hell of a lot kinder and more benevolent than almost anyone else in the series at that point, including the ostensibly heroic Solid Snake. At the very least, Otacon was one of the few characters who lacked the physical and emotional capability to snap someone else’s neck at a moment’s notice, and thus naturally engendered some form of sympathy from the audience. Add on some healthy doses of intelligence, ingenuity, humility, and even humor, and Otacon ended up becoming something of an underrated fan favorite character in a series packed to the brim with colorful personalities.

However, in MGSV Kojima cleverly twisted the nature of Huey Emmerich. Kojima used the popular preconceptions of who an Emmerich is and how he’s supposed act to create a sort of narrative trap for players. In many ways, Kojima pulls the same trick with Huey Emmerich that he does with Big Boss, where the character’s legend both within and outside of the game is used to obfuscate the true nature of the man. In Emmerich’s case, the positive legacy of Otacon is used to initially trick players into sympathizing with Huey. The two men may look and sound nearly identical, but they are radically different individuals on an emotional and ethical level.

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While Otacon strives to use his intellect and scientific passion to make the world a better place, Huey is… possibly a murderous, conniving, pathological liar. Or at least that is what Huey is accused of at his trial near the end of MGSV.

I must admit that I was pro-Huey for most of the game. I figured Kaz was being a raging nut-job as usual, and scapegoating a helpless, paralyzed sad sack like Huey was typical of a man so blinded by a desire for revenge. It wasn’t until the evidence was laid out at the trial that I thought Kaz might actually be on to something. Maybe it was just my affection for Otacon that lead me to trust a man who somehow had the unique capabilities to do lots of horrible things and seemed to chronically be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Yet I still can’t say for certain that Huey is guilty. There is a lot of evidence lined up against him, but the vast majority of it is circumstantial, with arguably only a single “smoking gun” to be found on one of his (admittedly abundant) charges. Maybe Huey is an absolutely horrible person who uses his sympathetic and familiar demeanor to cloak his crimes. Or maybe Huey is just an odd-ball who doesn’t fit into the testosterone-fueled world of private warfare, and is being unfairly targeted by angry, disaffected soldiers desperate to find an outlet for their rage.

Huey does get a trial in MGSV, but it can hardly be called objective. So I want to give Huey another trial. I will list Huey’s charges and provide evidence-based arguments for and against each count.

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Continue reading “The Trial of Huey Emmerich – Examining the Evidence”

The Phantom’s Pain – Turning Venom Snake into the Boss: A Metal Gear Solid V Narrative Analysis – Part 3

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EDIT – Since I wrote Part 3 last, it shows up first on my Blog’s feed.

Part 3: The Philosophy of Venom Snake

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A Different Path

As has already been stated, revenge is a prominent theme in Metal Gear Solid V. Kojima suggests that the quest for revenge leads to endless cycles of transgression and retaliation. When a person, organization, or country is wronged, it gains a desire for revenge and strikes back against the offender, which subsequently produces a desire for revenge in the original offender, which causes it to strike back, etc. This creates “an endless seesaw of blood and violence,” as Kaz calls it. Hence, Big Boss/Kaz and Cypher, the USSR and the US, the Soviet army and the Mujahedeen, Skull Face and the world, and all of the PFs in the war economy are locked in endless cycles of revenge-fueled violence.

This process represents an obstacle to the Boss’s dream of a unified world. If it is taken as a given that people fight, and that fighting is naturally divisive, how can unity be achieved?

Zero’s solution to this problem is to manage the chronic cycle of violence by controlling the context in which the fighting occurs. This initially takes the form of Cypher’s presence as a shadow government in the United States, which later evolves into the AIs’ control over information flow, and finally plateaus with MGS4’s war economy.

Big Boss’s solution is to embrace the fighting by accepting it as a natural form of stability. This is essentially the thesis of Outer Heaven. War as a constant. War as a way of life. There will always be wars and soldiers to fight them, so these soldiers should dictate how and why such wars are fought. As one such soldier, Big Boss figures that he may as well accumulate as much power as he can and usher in the era of chronic warfare.

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Continue reading “The Phantom’s Pain – Turning Venom Snake into the Boss: A Metal Gear Solid V Narrative Analysis – Part 3”

The Phantom’s Pain – Turning Venom Snake into the Boss: A Metal Gear Solid V Narrative Analysis – Introduction

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Author’s Note

6/16 EDIT – All done!

This four five six-part article (including the introduction) is currently over 21,000 27,000 words long, thereby making it by far the largest thing I have ever written for Theory of Objective Video Game Aesthetics or gamingrebellion.com (where I write a weekly article). I may add more to this piece later, but I really want to hear more feedback from the Metal Gear community. For one, I wrote and edited this thing all by myself, so I’m sure there are random typos and Metal Gear lore errors that I need help sniffing out. But I also want to get feedback on my overall points and structure (and a pithier title would be nice). Any and all feedback, good and bad, is welcome.

VecYTng

Introduction

“Now do you remember? Who you are? What you were meant to do? I cheated death, thanks to you. And thanks to you I’ve left my mark. You have too – you’ve written your own history. You’re your own man. I’m Big Boss, and you are too… No… He’s the two of us. Together. Where we are today? We built it. This story – this “legend” – it’s ours. We can change the world – and with it, the future. I am you, and you are me. Carry that with you, wherever you go. Thank you… my friend. From here on out, you’re Big Boss.”

– Big Boss

When I first finished Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, like so many other players, I was disappointed. MGSV was supposed to be the “Missing Link” in the Metal Gear canon. It was that game that would reveal the bridge between the heroic Big Boss of MGS 3, Portable Ops, and Peace Walker, and the grand historical villain of Metal Gear 1 and 2. As expressed by numerous launch trailers and Hideo Kojima tweets, MGSV was going to be a tale of Big Boss’s fall into darkness, driven by an insatiable lust for revenge, a consummate anger lit by his enemies which would scorch his soul until nothing was left but a power hungry mad man who would threaten the world with nuclear war for the sake of his power-hungry ambitions.

Instead we got an incredibly weird twist which did little more than retcon patch a largely ignored plot hole in one of the least-played Metal Gear games. We found out that the final boss of Metal Gear 1 was not Big Boss, but a body double, who through surgery and hypnotherapy was made into almost an exact copy of the legendary soldier.

Again, like most other players, when I first finished the game I thought this was a neat trick, a typically crazy, convoluted, but seductively entertaining twist from one of my favorite story tellers of all time. But of course… it was also a major let down.

Finding out that I had just played as some random ass medic from Militaires Sans Fronteres for the last 80 hours instead of the most important character in the entire Metal Gear canon was certainly a mind-fuck, but also left me feeling deflated. What was the point of it all? Why did I just follow some entirely new character for an entire game who has only a minor, tangential connection to the series’ larger plot instead of seeing Big Boss’s moral/psychological/narrative transformation which is at the heart of the entire series and was supposed to be the entire point of Metal Gear Solid V?

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Continue reading “The Phantom’s Pain – Turning Venom Snake into the Boss: A Metal Gear Solid V Narrative Analysis – Introduction”

The Phantom’s Pain – Turning Venom Snake into the Boss: A Metal Gear Solid V Narrative Analysis – Part 1

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Part 1: The Rise of a Legend

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Who is Big Boss? 

Take a step back and consider who Big Boss actually is at the start of Metal Gear Solid V.

Yes, he’s the protagonist of MGS3, PO, and PW. He’s a legendary hero, soldier, and leader. He’s the ultimate mentee of the Boss and seeks to carry on his interpretation of her will. It’s so easy to see Big Boss in this way because it’s the way everyone in the Metal Gear series sees him.

I’d like to suggest that there is another way of looking at Big Boss. In fact, I’d say that Big Boss’s legacy by MGSV is a dangerous legend which is in reality a toxic mixture of genuine heroisms and corrosive demagoguery.

Kojima’s cleverest trick of the last three Metal Gear games was to completely contain the player within Big Boss’s self-created world view. The player may know that Big Boss will eventually be the series’ primary antagonist, but when playing through MGS3, PO, and PW, those days seem so distant and abstract that it can be easy to forget them. In these games Big Boss is not just the protagonist, he also represents the only force standing between the world and nuclear annihilation and/or abject tyranny under Cipher. He is the gruff, charismatic leader of men who stands tall while malicious forces lurk in the background trying to manipulate and undermine peace and liberty. Big Boss is the world’s savior.

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Continue reading “The Phantom’s Pain – Turning Venom Snake into the Boss: A Metal Gear Solid V Narrative Analysis – Part 1”