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  #571  
Old 03-15-2019, 01:18 PM
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Things with problematic elements can still be enjoyed.
Yes, definitely.
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  #572  
Old 03-15-2019, 04:21 PM
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I'm going to add that enjoying problematic media (all media) carries with it an inherent responsibility in striving to recognize the problematic elements within and acknowledging them as you do. Willfully sweeping things out of mind only reflects poorly on oneself and the media being discussed while the ability to find meaning and value in works in spite of and in light of their failings can more often than not serve to elevate them and their successful aspects in the ways they deserve, if they're not beyond the point of support to begin with, as paxclara said.
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Old 03-15-2019, 04:23 PM
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that's a good point, i like that point
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  #574  
Old 03-17-2019, 01:05 PM
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Yeah I did a double-take at this as well! Dang!
Same. Good one.
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  #575  
Old 03-21-2019, 09:46 PM
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What makes a game "bad"? So long as we highlight the medium through the language and formalism of a consumer product review, the answer seems within reach. We've engineered metrics and systems to gauge individual aspects of video games, compartmentalized them into neat categories and then further numerically rank them for their successes and failures in those areas. Through this arcane science, we can gauge the ultimate worth of art and present it as an unquestionable aggregate, to be consulted at a glance and a whim, detached from its original context; only the number matters--ending and creating careers--and legitimizes the creation. We know this to be true because it's how the industry has trained us to interact with itself: consult numbers, not people, for the latter are subjective and fickle while the symbols of worth they leave behind can be interpreted reliably and unquestionably. There is an ingrained habit in us even in the presence of conscious pushback to revere the score and the metric and let it guide the scope of our interests and explorations. It is difficult to shake off.

One way to mediate the disconnect between only accepting the proven best and the sheer scope of the medium is to introduce an element of "fandom" to the equation. This is a risky venture, for as much as being a "fan" has been normalized in language as harmless or desirable enthusiasm for a given subject, the etymological root of fanaticism brings to bear its inherent dangers--myopia and uncriticality. "For fans only" is a frequently applied qualifier meant to deter the unfamiliar and attract the faithful, and it can read as much a compliment as a slight. In the best and most personally worthwhile cases however, fandom does not imply a set of critical blinders but a contextual lens that magnifies the present and potentially obscured specifics that make media emotively real to us. It is with this in mind that we can talk about one such critical under- and personal overachiever.



Touhou: Scarlet Curiosity
Developed by: Ankake Spa
Platform: PC, PlayStation 4
Year of release: 2014



Remilia Scarlet is bored. So destitute of entertainment, in fact, that the usually homebound vampire lord is drawn away from holding court at her mansion and into the lands beyond in search of excitement to liven up her undead eternity with. The tengu newspaper is reporting mysterious cryptid sightings as of late, after all, and that warrants investigation. Barely outside her personal grounds, the earth shakes and the Misty Lake trembles--something gargantuan and undefined has wrecked the Scarlet Devil Mansion and left it in ruins. The stage is thus set for Remilia and her dutiful maid Sakuya to tear through Gensokyo's countryside in search of answers, retribution and hopefully a little bit of amusement along the way.



Scarlet Curiosity is a fan-derivative work in the Touhou series of independently developed shoot 'em ups. It owes its mythology to its source material, but as so many fan games based on the series do, recontextualizes its form to occupy a genre divergent from its parent. Ankake Spa previously developed Youyou Kengeki Musou in 2011 also based on the series, starring the half-ghost gardener Youmu Konpaku, cast in a top-down action milieu reminiscent of any number of Ys-adjacents, suited to her high-precision swordplay. Scarlet Curiosity acts as a nominal followup to said ghostly adventures, but with the priorities shifted, informed by who the game is about and from whose perspective its story is told: Remilia is an immortal vampire, subservient to none except her own whims, and so the stakes at play are strictly informal and diversionary in nature. It's a game about sating one's curiosity, for the world around oneself, and the myriad residents therein. It's the literal final boss of her own game taking a vacation from staid lordliness and throwing all her vampiric might and zest into the one thing that motivates her: finding something interesting to do.



Remilia is our point-of-view for interacting with Gensokyo, and her uniquely sovereign perspective casts the game in a light unseen should she not be present. An action RPG as Scarlet Curiosity is would most often be judged by its mechanical merits; what you fight and how you fight it. The question of engaging challenge is intrinsic to such evaluations, as dungeon crawling hack 'n slashers embrace repetition not as an inherent negative but as an integral part of pacing themselves and their whither-and-hither play loops. This is where Scarlet Curiosity appears to have lost the plot, as the enemies are just too passive; the damage values too modest; the patterns too simplistic; the player character too capable. Cutting a wide swathe through hordes of fairies, black dogs, tsuchinoko, kappa and more isn't just second-nature to the Eternally Young Scarlet Moon, it's inevitable, even demanding of her stature and position. As the textual narrative showcases Remilia's absolute confidence in herself, so does the game's mechanical makeup reflect her grand poise and intimidation factor just as aptly if not even more effectively. It is possible to slip up and run out of health in Scarlet Curiosity, but the game's attitude to such miscalculations is telling: there is no admonishing failure state screen, just an immediate respawn to a nearby location with nary a penalty to speak for it except a wounded aristocratic pride.



How does a game built so heavily on direct confrontation with enemies reconcile the fact that individually there isn't much to the opposition? To find the answer, one need only look towards the formative root of the production, at bullet hell shooters. It is one thing to play bullet hell; it is another to survive it; and still quite another to master it. These guiding principles are alive in Scarlet Curiosity, but reinterpreted for a different genre, and modified for the specifics of the narrative it's weaving and the world it's presenting. Remilia practically toys with her opponents--she isn't challenged by them in any way whatsoever. Her footsteps are a spectacle; her claws a pageantry; her dives a flourish. As innumerable stylish action protagonists inflict themselves on their enemies and are graded for their efforts--internally or externally--so does Remilia rely on the theatricality of her assault to elevate her mundane days and ours with it. There is no extensive integrated movelist here, but a set of tools each with a clear purpose: claws for comboing; wings for gliding with; a dash for repositioning and quick escapes; a divebomb for rapid traversal; a host of configurable special moves to learn the nuances of. All of them in unison amount to a pink whirldwind of momentum and ferocity barreling through crowds of enemies, racking up the combo counter.



Combos are what the game is built around of, in fact. It's not something where you chain together a handful of hits and are rewarded for it, starting the process anew--in Scarlet Curiosity 50-hit combos are a prelude, 200-hit combos a sustained note, and 500-hit combos a crescendo. The droves of enemies facilitate this, but also the specifics of the mechanics: combos decay and reset with time and upon taking damage, but neither is binary and there's always a grace period to connect with one more hit of your own and maintain the flow. Combos also aren't merely cosmetic but possess distinct play advantages, by activating a multiplier on attack and experience point values the higher the current counter is. Mechanically and psychologically, the game incentivizes the chase for ever higher combos, and it is through this that its overarching design clicks into place in all the ways that first impressions betrayed. The player begins observing each room of enemies not as a battle to survive, but a dancefloor to dazzle on, ripping their partners to shreds while remaining untouched themselves. Navigation, so sedate previously, becomes a time attack as you chase that one incidental jar placed on a long connecting path, because you just know it's there and can extend the combo timer on your way to the next melee. The specifics of the available moves become second-nature upon internalization--diving through the sky is incredibly fast and impactful even as it's difficult to wrangle all of Remilia's power into precise maneuvering; a dash is useful for rapid movement but lacks invincibility frames; said frames are often found in the meter-using special abilities. The distinct roles of the creature roster become clear in threat assessments: the individual hasslers; the stationary area denial turrets; the beefy meat-shields; the indirectly offensive oddities; the miniboss-like commanders, each capable of getting their potshots in and cutting a combo short in their own ways. This is ultimately the joy of Scarlet Curiosity as a dungeon crawler: the unrepentant commitment to player-dictated performance, dancing through the stages as gracefully and effortlessly as it all seems to Remilia.



And what stages they are. Scarlet Curiosity's world numbers among my favourites because it is so adept at melding together seemingly irreconcilable design elements and making them its own. It's a low-budget indie game, but it's giant in scale and atmosphere as you exist in it. It uses heavy, almost blinding use of post-processing effects like bloom lighting, depth of field and motion blur, communicating ambitions far beyond the expected scope, and wielding them as a point of charm and ambience instead of jarring tech-flexing. Its water, from the woodland puddles to the tiny streams and giant waterfalls and foamy rivers, is worthy of any adulatory Miiverse post. Its texturework wields anachronistic appeal to its advantage; rough and gnarly wood and stone reflecting off of mirror-sheen marble floors, while simplified and unadorned character models carve out their own space within. The colour range and application at play is unparalleled; blue and purple nights and shimmering-green days speckled by vivid luminosity in a rainbow of hues. The developers knew what they had, as made evident in a detail that absolutely did not need to be there but nonetheless is: choosing to play as Sakuya alters the time of day in stages that Remilia traversed in nighttime and vice versa, completely transforming their atmosphere through lighting changes alone. Even the game's primary genre definition is blurred at times to pleasing results--several stages play entirely or integrate seamlessly sidescrolling sections that cast the game more as a platformer than anything else. The camera is alive and active, balancing legibility and dramatic framing. Scarlet Curiosity is the story of a recluse spreading her literal wings in search of sights and sounds unfamiliar to herself, and it gives you all the tools needed to understand her sense of intrigue about her surroundings.



What it also gives is ample opportunities to enjoy and appreciate it as a fan work, by fans and for fans. Taken on its own, a statement like that would rightly engender suspicions of insularity, a precluding mark on something exclusionary. Like the best fan works though, Scarlet Curiosity isn't dependent on its inside baseball qualities to impress, only in adding layers of meaning to. Its soundtrack will always be good, and it can be elevated when you know what each remixed track is sourced from, what significance it holds in its usage here, and what emotive associations you bring to the mix yourself. Remilia's theme can be interpeted as a lax save point jam, or her central leitmotif can be integrated into the melodic progression of the final boss and secret boss themes, dueling and overtaking the few legitimate challenges she faces in audio form even as she bests them physically. It's the little hints alluding to the unseen and unexplored aspects of Gensokyo beyond the game's scope, like discovering one of Yukari Yakumo's dimensional gaps deep in a forest, uncommented by anyone and existing as if to remind the player that Gensokyo's creator goddess's influence extends even to the games and derivative media she does not directly appear in. It's reading the newspapers fueling the game's primary narrative which also suggest at the power dynamics at play in their margins. It's the opportunity to see bullet patterns and spell cards familiar from their sources reinterpreted into a format where three-dimensional movement is a factor. It's the ability to briefly occupy the role of someone even stronger than a final boss, and see their statistical reality reflect their reputation inside and outside of the game. Scarlet Curiosity is a fan game through and through, and while it has an informed depth to sate the interests of a series veteran, it can also do just what it titularly promises to a Touhou neophyte and make them curious of all its scarlet offerings.



I have played bad video games. There are games I'm repulsed by, that send my skin crawling and my morals tested. Those are the kinds of games and offenses I save my ire for, and if these elements are not present, I'm primed to find and apply worth to creative works and freely indulge in them without reservations. History may know Scarlet Curiosity as a failed experiment or an undercooked derivation. All that matters to me is that I enjoyed it from beginning to end.



~~~

It's a pretty good time to be into Touhou. Official games have started trickling into Western marketplaces and interesting fan games are also being developed and localized in their own right. Scarlet Curiosity itself was originally released in 2014, updated and localized for consoles in 2016, and made its way back to PC in upgraded form last year. Not a bad lifecycle at all.
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  #576  
Old 03-21-2019, 09:55 PM
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Originally Posted by Peklo View Post
What makes a game "bad"? So long as we highlight the medium through the language and formalism of a consumer product review, the answer seems within reach. We've engineered metrics and systems to gauge individual aspects of video games, compartmentalized them into neat categories and then further numerically rank them for their successes and failures in those areas. Through this arcane science, we can gauge the ultimate worth of art and present it as an unquestionable aggregate, to be consulted at a glance and a whim, detached from its original context; only the number matters--ending and creating careers--and legitimizes the creation. We know this to be true because it's how the industry has trained us to interact with itself: consult numbers, not people, for the latter are subjective and fickle while the symbols of worth they leave behind can be interpreted reliably and unquestionably. There is an ingrained habit in us even in the presence of conscious pushback to revere the score and the metric and let it guide the scope of our interests and explorations. It is difficult to shake off.
I have rallied against this for years. I wrote a post for onthestick.com (before that just redirected to either our Extra Life page or the YouTube channel) about "The Cult of 8.5." A videogame is not a toaster, and it shouldn't be analyzed like one. I only care if the toaster makes toast. How much toast will it make at once? Will it do that thing with bagels and english muffins where only the inside will be toasty? That's what I need to know about a toaster. A game, a film, a record... there's a lot more to art than that.

"Does God Hand make toast?" God Hand does everything God Hand needs to. Are the controls hard to grok at first? Yes. Do some of the objects clip in and out? Yes. Are there sections that are kinda ugly? Yes. Is it still one of my favorite PS2 games, nay, one of my favorite games ever, anyways? Yes. And I don't really know how to distill that down to a number. And I don't care that I don't know how to distill that down to a number.

Related: despite being a big shoot-'em-up guy, I have nothing to contribute about the Touhou games.
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  #577  
Old 03-21-2019, 10:08 PM
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You post that “such and such a game is bad” a bunch though. I think that if we accept that an 8.5 or 7.0 game can have worth beyond what a consumer reports value can measure, then we have to (have to) extend that consideration to 5.5, 4.3, 2.0 and so on.

I was reading an article just today on Ikki. The author details that game’s numerous flaws and outlines a fair case for it being the first kosage. However, they speak to an essential charm, vogue, and importantness that give the game value. Even horribly flawed, the game has worth.

If we’re going to accept that games are, if not art, at least works produced from a creative drive and that they have worth beyond that of a consumer product then we have to stop judiging them on dichotomy of Good/Bad.
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  #578  
Old 03-21-2019, 10:11 PM
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Not trying to call you out specifically, Shakes. It’s as Peklo says, we’ve been trained to think this way and we default to it. It takes work to fix. That’s why I’m a broken record and annoy everyone on this forum!
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  #579  
Old 03-21-2019, 10:12 PM
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I do. Because I think there are games that are bad. Also movies and albums and songs and tv shows and paintings that are bad. Saying "numbers are not a good way to represent the quality of a piece of art" and "creative works aren't toasters" is not saying "all art is good."

I mean, I started this thread specifically to defend 5s and 3s and whatever, but not in those terms, because I view those numbers as essentially meaningless. I mean, what makes a 7.5 different than an 8? And let's not even get into places that use a full 100 point scale.

But that doesn't mean games can't be bad, it just means explain what's bad about them instead of going "It's a 6/10, it sucks."
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  #580  
Old 03-21-2019, 10:23 PM
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I get what you’re saying, and I do think it’s worthwhile to examine what design choices lead to a game’s successes and missteps. Rejecting the consumer mindset doesn’t mean abandoning critical facilities. But, because we’re so ingrained in that mindset, so so so often a critical assessment of a misstep will then extrapolate that misstep to be representative of the whole. “BotW’s weapon durability is why it’s a bad game” for a recent example. If we drop the Good/Bad pretense we can then look at a game honestly, defining both ups and downs, appreciating it for what it truely is, without utter condemnation.
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Old 03-21-2019, 10:26 PM
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I think that if we accept that an 8.5 or 7.0 game can have worth beyond what a consumer reports value can measure, then we have to (have to) extend that consideration to 5.5, 4.3, 2.0 and so on.
Definitely agreed. If I judged games solely by review scores or a Good/Bad scale, I wouldn't have played half the cool indies I've played. Love me some walking sims.

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Rejecting the consumer mindset doesn’t mean abandoning critical facilities. But, because we’re so ingrained in that mindset, so so so often a critical assessment of a misstep will then extrapolate that misstep to be representative of the whole. “BotW’s weapon durability is why it’s a bad game” for a recent example. If we drop the Good/Bad pretense we can then look at a game honestly, defining both ups and downs, appreciating it for what it truely is, without utter condemnation.
This too. I admit, I have a bad tendency to compare games to other games. But I don't want people to think I hate them just 'cuz I might dwell on a thing or two I don't like about them.

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  #582  
Old 03-21-2019, 11:27 PM
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Something positive about numbers: 5 star rating systems are way better than the 10 point scale.

@Peklo: This wasn't that bad honestly. A pretty and easy Ys clone with some nice boss fights. It even has the same cheesy music. I think I like it more than Ys 6 lol.

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  #583  
Old 03-22-2019, 07:47 AM
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Originally Posted by Peklo View Post
What makes a game "bad"? So long as we highlight the medium through the language and formalism of a consumer product review, the answer seems within reach. We've engineered metrics and systems to gauge individual aspects of video games, compartmentalized them into neat categories and then further numerically rank them for their successes and failures in those areas. Through this arcane science, we can gauge the ultimate worth of art and present it as an unquestionable aggregate, to be consulted at a glance and a whim, detached from its original context; only the number matters--ending and creating careers--and legitimizes the creation. We know this to be true because it's how the industry has trained us to interact with itself: consult numbers, not people, for the latter are subjective and fickle while the symbols of worth they leave behind can be interpreted reliably and unquestionably. There is an ingrained habit in us even in the presence of conscious pushback to revere the score and the metric and let it guide the scope of our interests and explorations. It is difficult to shake off.
100% agreed. A+ post all around, but this paragraph in particular articulates much of what I believe very succinctly, and why I value community opinions of friends so highly and have completely rejected game reviews.

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That’s why I’m a broken record and annoy everyone on this forum!
Yes, that's why... >_>

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I don't want people to think I hate them just 'cuz I might dwell on a thing or two I don't like about them.
This actually touches on something else that I see a lot of on Talking Time, and part of why I value this thread so much. TT is full of video game fans, and as video game fans, we've all been well-trained by critics and the media to articulate what we don't like about games, and style ourselves as amateur critics, but we're not nearly so adept or willing to articulate what we like. So often I see posts on this site that follow the following template:

Code:
I started playing [X], and it's a fun/neat game.

But it has a few things that annoy me about it.
[Three paragraphs detailing many faults.]

I still like it, though!
It's just... exhausting. It's a real bummer. You can tell me that you like a game all you want, but it sure doesn't seem that way when you obsess over everything that's wrong with it! I would so much rather read about what's cool about a game than hear for the millionth time all the things that are bad. I get enough of that on the rest of the internet.
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Old 03-22-2019, 07:58 AM
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“BotW’s weapon durability is why it’s a bad game” for a recent example.
I'm not sure who you're quoting, but it definitely isn't me, because I loved the hell out of BotW (it was in my top five games of the year for 2017 and is one of my favorite Zeldas), despite all the weapons except the Master Sword being held together with scotch tape and bubblegum.

I did say in the "improve a game" thread that, yes, making the weapons less like porcelain dolls would, in fact, improve it, but isn't that the exact kind of thing you're talking about? I don't want to belabor the point, especially in the POSI VIBES thread, but, again, being critical of an aspect of a thing is definitely not saying it's bad, but there are games that are, in fact, bad.

POSI VIBES: The Game Boy Mega Man games, especially the last two, are pretty good, actually. And I am on-record saying Game Boy Mega Man V is better than its console counterpart.
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  #585  
Old 03-22-2019, 08:04 AM
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Oh sorry. I meant that as a general sentiment that’s come up recently as an example of the trend. I didn’t mean to imply that was something you directly had said. apologies.
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  #586  
Old 03-22-2019, 09:04 AM
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Ah, ok. Gotcha. All good.

But yes, on this we agree: nuanced critique is important, rating games like blowdriers is bad, and Breath of the Wild is fantastic.
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Old 03-22-2019, 10:31 AM
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Thanks for reading, all!

I was interested to frame Scarlet Curiosity around the concept of "bad games" because even if you don't explicitly seek these opinions out, you are likely nonetheless faced with them. Steam prominently features a big Metacritic display on every game's store page that it applies to, and even if you don't pay attention to that, there's a metascore tab among the columns of information in your game library. This is no longer something that serves as a purchasing guide; it's something to remind you of the agreed-upon worth of video games even when you're past the deciding period for your own monetary commitment. It's something you can literally rank and order the games you have by, and every time I booted up Scarlet Curiosity, I was confronted by its status relative to its peers, where it sits at the lower end. In a directly competitive venue for players' time and money, a presentation like this has to have an effect, conscious or not, on what people will bother with, as it gives easy legitimization to ignore the works that don't measure up. How many people buy games en masse via Steam or comparable services' constant wide-scale sales as if habitually, to stockpile them up, and only dedicate time to them later if ever? That's when games like Scarlet Curiosity are in danger of falling through the cracks, because of the psychology of value judgements in play and how that information is stressed and relayed.

I also want to stress that I don't mean any of this as some kind of screed about "don't trust a critic!" or moaning about video game journalism, because people working officially in the industry are as or much worse constrained by its systems as the people observing from outside of it. Any games writer you like that's written for a publication doing grueling work-for-hire game reviews is much likely a far better and more interesting writer removed from the ecosystem of commodified news cycles and product reviews. Writing about games was never under threat because of "lazy, dishonest journalists", but because of the systems of capitalism around them and the frameworks that kind of environment enforces. Support games writers in the contexts in which they can and do good work.
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Old 03-22-2019, 11:29 AM
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Steam prominently features a big Metacritic display on every game's store page that it applies to, and even if you don't pay attention to that, there's a metascore tab among the columns of information in your game library. This is no longer something that serves as a purchasing guide; it's something to remind you of the agreed-upon worth of video games even when you're past the deciding period for your own monetary commitment.
If I ever get into Steam gaming (i.e. get a thing with Windows again) the first thing I'll be doing is looking for a way to turn the metascore tab off.

Quote:
I also want to stress that I don't mean any of this as some kind of screed about "don't trust a critic!" or moaning about video game journalism, because people working officially in the industry are as or much worse constrained by its systems as the people observing from outside of it. Any games writer you like that's written for a publication doing grueling work-for-hire game reviews is much likely a far better and more interesting writer removed from the ecosystem of commodified news cycles and product reviews. Writing about games was never under threat because of "lazy, dishonest journalists", but because of the systems of capitalism around them and the frameworks that kind of environment enforces. Support games writers in the contexts in which they can and do good work.
Oh yes, definitely. Professional games journalists have to deal with playing nice with companies that may cut them off (and in the worst cases even get them fired) if their games don't get a favorable review, and that review embargo bullshit they force on reviewers exists solely so the game companies can make as much money as they can off pre-orders and day one sales before people realize their game's not all it's cracked up to be.

Also there's review deadlines, so reviewers can never really savor a game as much as those of us who just play for fun. Having to burn through a few titles in time to get a review on the table then move onto the next pile has definitely got to have a psychological effect on a reviewer's opinions of games.
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  #589  
Old 03-22-2019, 11:32 AM
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The irony is that I've started giving games a numerical score when I beat them, in order to try to quantify what I think of them. But I also recognize that it isn't an objective measure of a game's worth, either. Not all 8/10s are created equal; they likely get there in a much different way. One might be solid at everything all the way through, like a Skies of Arcadia, and leave me feeling quite nice about the entire experience. Another might be like King's Field IV, a game I thought sucked to start, but grew to be an excellent experience. I think there are objectively bad aspects to it, but the positive aspects outweighed it.

I also found fun in the pirate Famicom version of Golden Axe III, a game I would consider to be objectively bad (and rated a 3.5/10). Yet somehow I kinda enjoyed exploiting the wonky hit detection and figuring out exactly how to rip enemies to shreds within the framework of a game that is mostly broken. Others' mileage may vary!

I do believe that scores can serve a purpose, but in the end, the text is more important. I'm more tolerant of certain flaws in games than others would be, and vice versa. That's why I like reviews that actually break down the flaws, but as intimated by others, I like to read about the positive aspects as well, because those aspects will often overcome the negative aspects for me.

(Basically, evaluating good and bad games is tricky!)
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  #590  
Old 03-22-2019, 11:33 AM
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Originally Posted by JOJ View Post
Something positive about numbers: 5 star rating systems are way better than the 10 point scale.
I'm a fan of 2 star scales.

no stars - I wasn't a big fan
1 star - a solid experience
2 stars - something really special
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  #591  
Old 03-22-2019, 11:54 AM
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I've also gotten away from the 7/10 = average scoring system, as well. I really prefer 5/10 as average, which I think lines up more with the 5-star rating system.
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  #592  
Old 03-22-2019, 02:57 PM
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I also want to stress that I don't mean any of this as some kind of screed about "don't trust a critic!" or moaning about video game journalism, because people working officially in the industry are as or much worse constrained by its systems as the people observing from outside of it. Any games writer you like that's written for a publication doing grueling work-for-hire game reviews is much likely a far better and more interesting writer removed from the ecosystem of commodified news cycles and product reviews.
I hope nobody took it that way. But, yeah, the best way to engage with a critic is to actually READ their review and not just scroll down to see the number (not that anyone here would do that). In fact, I've always found it funny to read a review then get to the bottom and be like "that read like they sure liked it more than 7/10, but whatever, I guess."

In terms of any type of criticism, I tend to find critics whose feelings I line up with generally and read their stuff. And I think that helps tremendously in games. Reading (or watching) what someone who is into classic-style indie games thinks about Devil Engine (for example) helps me a lot more than someone who never plays shoot-'em-ups reviewing it.

Like, I remember Michael Donahoe's EGM review of Fire Pro Wrestling Returns was a little controversial, but he was a wrestling fan writing a review for wrestling game fans, and... yeah, his effusive praise was right on the mark. FiPro Returns is AMAZING. If you like wrestling. But if a non-wrestling fan had written that, it wouldn't have been nearly as positive, I suspect.
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Old 03-22-2019, 02:58 PM
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Very good post on capturing your thoughts on Scarlet Curiosity, Peklo, and I like the unexpected followup PSA about Steam's metacritic column. At first I was like "wow that sucks it was an unwanted intrusion, I must have turned that off years ago" but then I realized I hadn't. One quirk of interacting with your steam games primarily through shortcuts instead of the client, I guess. It was like discovering something in your house that you never noticed before.

Unpopular positive opinion: I like numbers and putting my games into an organized ranking. You aren't taking my personal numbers and personal rankings away. Muwahaha!
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  #594  
Old 03-22-2019, 03:16 PM
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Originally Posted by ShakeWell View Post
POSI VIBES: The Game Boy Mega Man games, especially the last two, are pretty good, actually. And I am on-record saying Game Boy Mega Man V is better than its console counterpart.
I feel they literally get better as they go. Dr. Wily's Revenge is at the bottom of the bunch, II improves on its playability while still trying to catch up to its NES forebears, III is decent to pretty good, very middle of the road of the five, IV is rock-solid, worthy of the NES games and perhaps better than some, and V almost feels like it was wasted by only ever being a GB release.

On a related note: Xtreme does a decent job downgrading the SNES experience to Game Boy, and Xtreme 2 is like somewhere between IV and V in terms of refreshing previous ideas and introducing new content.
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Old 03-22-2019, 09:23 PM
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Originally Posted by dosboot View Post
Very good post on capturing your thoughts on Scarlet Curiosity, Peklo, and I like the unexpected followup PSA about Steam's metacritic column. At first I was like "wow that sucks it was an unwanted intrusion, I must have turned that off years ago" but then I realized I hadn't. One quirk of interacting with your steam games primarily through shortcuts instead of the client, I guess. It was like discovering something in your house that you never noticed before.

Unpopular positive opinion: I like numbers and putting my games into an organized ranking. You aren't taking my personal numbers and personal rankings away. Muwahaha!
I love rating things. It makes it easier to place feelings into words for many titles. These days I can usually look at a game and go "yep this is a 2/5" or "this here is a 5/5 no question" and not really second guess myself. Only reason I don't do it more on here is because it makes paragraphs look ugly.
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  #596  
Old 03-23-2019, 05:48 PM
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Touhou fan games are a funny thing. To people unfamiliar with the series, the very existence of the franchise, official games or not, can come across as derivate, due to its vast scale and impenetrability--a common half-joking refrain goes "what anime is this from?" One can take this as a grave offense, but the point stands: Touhou has in large part been defined by its fanbase through the years, for better or for worse, to an extent where the qualities unique or at least crystallized most strongly in the ZUN-developed official games can sometimes fall to the wayside in how the series is perceived at large. This can be a point of bitterness if one's imprinted interests and associations are in danger of being overlooked in favour of less compelling interpretations, but it's a fundamental aspect of how the series exists and interacts with its audience. Whether ZUN's works are loved for themselves or taken as root ingredients for transformative derivations, Touhou is an ongoing source of inspiration for many. The cottage industry of fan works dedicated to it is testament enough, but you can also see its echoes and references in modern-day game developers who bear its influence in their own creations--the Momodora series and Undertale are just a few of the more notable and easily identified examples.

What can be understood from this is that Touhou, despite its origins as a grassroots-mentality localized project, grew up to be embraced by a worldwide audience even in the face of the limited availability and language barriers at play. The games were shared, translated, and perpetuated by people far removed from the context of their creation and immediate distribution, passed along and reinterpreted as if propagating a modern mythology. The dedication and even devotion of Touhou players is intimidating, and it's a passion that's reflected back at ZUN and his attitude towards those playing in his legendarium: there are certain guidelines and preferences outlined for the purposes of not misrepresenting the series or abusing it financially, but largely ZUN allows and is even glad of the existence of fan fiction relating to his creations. This is the interplay between Touhou and its audience that defines large parts of it, where the material is not so much claimed and surreptitiously reworked but openly borrowed for the purposes of personal interpretation. Recently, official Touhou games began making their way on Steam, and a favourable statement from ZUN relating to the potential release of fan works in their wake encouraged and engendered developers to publish their own projects relating to the series on the platform. One of them stands out from the rest, humbly and quietly.



RAIN Project
Developed by: Kirisame Jump
Platform: PC
Year of release: 2018



First exposure to RAIN Project can be disorienting and bewildering. As varied and diverse as Touhou derivatives can be in terms of genre and style of play, most of them subscribe to roughly comparable aesthetic and tonal considerations. They often espouse a sort of maximalist profusion of information, in all the ways from hyper-saturated explosions of colour and screen-filling elements; to the sharply and extravagantly melodic treatments of the series's famous music; to even the interfaces themselves, tracking all sorts of numbers and metrics and gauges. RAIN Project does not do these things, immediately setting itself apart from its peers through sheer contrast alone. We are so accustomed to things being done in one codified way in long-form creative works that a break from shared customs and norms reads as refreshing as raindrops from the heavens.



Touhou games, by necessity, limit themselves to casts that only capture a fraction of the totality of hundreds of persons and entitites that populate the fantasy land of Gensokyo. This focus is what grants each individual work their narrative texture and thematic content--the main series alone has encompassed sojourns to Hell, excursions in the moonlight of eternal nights, intrusions into ghostly divine mausoleums and more. RAIN Project derives its player character Sanae, its primary cast and very setting from Mountain of Faith, the tenth game in the series. In there, a story of wavering faith, passing gods, immigration and integration, and the somber mood of autumn was told--RAIN Project's angle is to make the implicit explicit, to underline the melacholy and personal emotions of that game's cast through its presentation and narrative momentum in ways that the tonally distinct shoot 'em up could not. Gensokyo is a liminal land for forgotten things, things betwixt folklore and myth, unregarded by history. When the Shinto gods Kanako and Suwako start fading away in our world and feel its pull, Sanae holds to her faith and follows after her religion, her ancestry, her family--and to scale her own mountain of faith, with only an umbrella at her side to keep the rain away.



This tone of introspection and self-discovery is what defines the game's atmosphere. Far from the hectic and the overly stimulative, RAIN Project is a sorrowful and lonely trek through an universe that is so often framed through primarily whimsy. That sideways sense of humour exists here, but it is supplementary to Sanae's journey that's characterized as much by a sense of loss and anxiety as the exploration of unknown lands. Sanae is never truly alone as the gods still watch over her, but her constant companions are internal doubt and the ghosts of a past long gone, reunion and self-actualization always at arm's reach. It's a test of faith and a coming-of-age narrative all wrapped in one as she scales the mountain, interacts with its residents and is gradually emboldened by those interactions, narratively and mechanically, as new movement verbs are added to her arsenal in the form of bequeathed keepsakes and blessings from those she encounters, emboldening her ascent. RAIN Project wears the form of an exploratory platformer (or "search action" *wink*) but it's strictly not about the puzzle-box interconnections of a sequential map--its level design speaks to its emotive sparsity through its large-scale vastness and ability to let itself breathe in ways that most charitably bring to mind works like Metroid II, and others of comparable austerity.



The overarching reserved tenor is carried through in the game's audiovisual aesthetics, to a startlingly committed degree. RAIN Project's soundscape is composed of somber piano and hesitant synths, only breaking from the standard for the boss fights, themselves presenting remixes of Touhou standbys far removed from the ostentatious and the hyper-charged as the norm goes. ZUN's official Touhou art is notable for its artistic idiosyncracies that allow for readings outside of suspect moe connotations, and together with his approach to writing his characters, render mainline Touhou almost radically decent and non-exploitative in the face of the far outnumbering derivative works that lean into the sexualization, misogyny, stock characterization and art styles in line with these aspects. RAIN Project is one of the few that does not carry even a hint of the aesthetic crimes of dōjin works as a stereotyped artform, instead conveying its message through uncharacteristic minimalism and sleight of hand in making the most of its limited assets and scope. It is unlike almost any other game attached to the series through its manner of presenting its cast alone, so often immortalized through facial expression and farcically exaggerated patter. In RAIN Project, the gods, people and yōkai are faceless, mere suggestions of their forms, and are defined visually by what's always been an integral aspect of Touhou: the raw iconography of the character designs themselves--the clothes they wear, the colours they wreathe themselves in and the silhouettes they cast. In removing the sometimes infantilizing aspects of big eyes staring back at the viewer, we're made to confront the mythologically and fashionably evocative aspects of these characters, reduced and distilled to their suggestive power.



Knowing what to cut from any creative endeavor is always a challenge. In playing RAIN Project, one might feel a small hope within that such editorial foresight were applied to the game's more action-based aspects, as hit detection awkwardly contorts in ways that at least feel inconsistent, enemy placements raise an eyebrow and the unconfigurable and so far keyboard-and-mouse-only controls put your spatial recognition, multitasking and finger dexterity and endurance to the test. Sanae's omnidirectional umbrella swipes demand precision that is difficult to reconcile in the midst of simultaneous evasive actions, under barrage from adapted bullet hell patterns where it seems one's hitbox is always at a distinct disadvantage compared to the games that inspired RAIN Project. The stark ethos at the heart of the game extends to the way it treats player survivability: three graces is all one gets, and a fourth mistake is the ever-present inevitability of death, with no way to restore health outside of save points. All of these factors converge in the later levels and bosses; some of the hardest ever fought and at least part of it concerns the mind as if resenting the game for its myriad bigger and smaller glitches and untelegraphed bits of design.



A callous dismissal would be premature and insufficient in capturing the story of RAIN Project, however. We know the game to be a derivative fan work; that's inherent to every Touhou media outside of ZUN's involvement. What makes the game so remarkable, in light of all its successes and failures, is that it was developed by a group of high school-age teenagers, most of them novices to game development. Knowing this, every niggling criticism becomes almost untenable as the appreciation rises for the far more numerous things that worked, that captured something special about the subject matter unexplored elsewhere. The rough edges, the amateur "mistakes" that an emotively removed and haughtily impartial observer is so quick to point to, are transformed into the byproducts of excitement and enthusiasm in reaching beyond one's grasp and reveling in the audacity of such an act--they become the game's lifeblood and a chronicle of its heritage. RAIN Project is in many ways fandom unleashed to its best incarnation: the reckless and impassioned tributary appeal to one's inspirations, while also repurposing the material to allow for individual personal expression therein. It's a game inspired by the works of a Japanese solo developer who started his own journey over twenty years ago, and now a group of kids on the other side of the world have added to that ongoing tapestry. Even when the bugs turn up, the mechanics chafe and your fingers ache from their ordeal, it's impossible to regard RAIN Project with anything but kindness for the simple fact that it exists.



RAIN Project to me stands as a testament to fandom; its strengths and meanings, across cultures and generations. It's left an indelible mark on my own interactions and perceptions of Touhou and the possibilities of fan fiction. Sanae's search for faith reaffirmed and renewed some of my own, and that's worth any spiritual crisis along the way.



~~~

I probably would've put something from this game on my boss list over at the popularity polls had I been aware of it then. Missed opportunity!
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  #597  
Old 03-23-2019, 06:44 PM
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Peklo, your posts are a treasure.

I'm curious about the influence you mentioned between Touhou and Momodora, though. Could you elaborate on that a little? I haven't played any of the Touhou games myself (though it makes me happy that the kind of fandom it has exists at all), but I have tinkered with the. Onodora games, and I'm wondering about the influence you mention. I don't mean to sound challenging; I'm just genuinely curious.
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  #598  
Old 03-23-2019, 06:52 PM
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I haven't actually ever played Momodora (and am not interested to, for various reasons), but I'm familiar with the games and developer through a few degrees of separation, as in knowing someone who might've worked with someone who might know someone, and so on. I don't have anything case-specific to point to, then; it's just something that appears plain to me in their genealogy, as do the various Cave Story and Souls influences they also bear.
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  #599  
Old 03-24-2019, 05:07 PM
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Originally Posted by JBear View Post
100% agreed. A+ post all around, but this paragraph in particular articulates much of what I believe very succinctly, and why I value community opinions of friends so highly and have completely rejected game reviews.


Yes, that's why... >_>


This actually touches on something else that I see a lot of on Talking Time, and part of why I value this thread so much. TT is full of video game fans, and as video game fans, we've all been well-trained by critics and the media to articulate what we don't like about games, and style ourselves as amateur critics, but we're not nearly so adept or willing to articulate what we like. So often I see posts on this site that follow the following template:

Code:
I started playing [X], and it's a fun/neat game.

But it has a few things that annoy me about it.
[Three paragraphs detailing many faults.]

I still like it, though!
It's just... exhausting. It's a real bummer. You can tell me that you like a game all you want, but it sure doesn't seem that way when you obsess over everything that's wrong with it! I would so much rather read about what's cool about a game than hear for the millionth time all the things that are bad. I get enough of that on the rest of the internet.
Yeah, I agree completely. There's a second reason for people not writing about what they like, though; it's harder to do. A list of grievances is easy, capturing the exhilaration of a great game in writing is really hard.
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Old 03-25-2019, 05:00 AM
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I have written that post many many times. It’s easy to start a post thinking it’s going to be about how much I like a game only to find myself complaining the whole time.
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