Author Archives: Curtis Retherford

Deus Ex: Human Repetition

“If only they would remake Deus Ex!” the people said. The game-makers,  eventually, listened.

And so we have Deus Ex: Human Revolution. It’s a decent enough game. If you like the original Deus Ex, then you’ll probably like this. If you didn’t, you probably won’t.

But here is the problem: It is just a remake of Deus Ex. That’s it. Rather than improve upon the original, Human Revolution rehashes it: same bad voiceover acting  and accents, same basic level design, nearly the same muddled plot, filled with conspiracy theories, and same awkward ending. Continue reading

Civilization V: To Be Completed in 2011

Civilization V is not done yet. It’s good, and it could be great, but for now it is incomplete. Which is too bad, because although Civilization V is not profoundly different from Civilization IV, it is a solid step forward, fixing or improving upon many aspects of the previous Civilization games. Unfortunately, problems with the graphics and the user interface mar what should be a spectacular game.

(text to be inserted later.)

Many of the improvements to the game seem so natural, and so logical, that it’s amazing that they weren’t made earlier in the series’ run. The hexagonal tiles are easier to navigate than the old square ones, and result in more natural looking borders. The one-unit-per-tile rule gives battles more strategic depth, and allows you to more easily see the massive armies your opponents are building up on your border. Ranged units can, given suitable cover, be effective in actual battle, unlike the old Civilzation’s use for archers: Fortify ’em in a city and forget ’em. City-states add more ways to win, and more ways to hinder your opponents.
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Painting Can Never Be Art

This is not art. The Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci is mysterious, but mystery alone is not art.

I have been lambasted frequently on the internet and in glossy exhibition pamphlets for the above, but it is a statement I refuse to either modify or recant. Instead, let me repeat and explain: Painting can never be art.

Never, I realize, is a long way off. However, given that we have roughly 32,000 years of painting to judge, I can safely say that, barring an incredible leap forward in canvas or pigment technology, painting can never be art.

A great many very important people have devoted their lives to claiming that paintings are art, but those people, although well-meaning, are incorrect. Let us start with a definition of art. As there is no one better to define art than an artist, I will use that of Tolstoy, who said “art is a use of indirect means to communicate from one person to another.” (Jerrold Levinson, The Oxford Handbook of Aesthetics, Oxford university Press, 2003, p5). We have, of course, many instances of such indirect means of communication we are readily used to: movies, which engage the viewer directly and use that engagement to subtly manipulate the viewer’s expectations of the world; novels, which require that the reader construct, given only a few basic rules and suggestions, an entire universe and use that universe to reinforce or alter our view of the ethical world; and video games, which allow a user to act, to move within a world, learn the rules through trial and error, and build a working method for analyzing and interacting with each other and with the universe. Art may serve the superficial purpose of telling a story, but it also indirectly allows us to become ur-philosphers and scientists, questioning all that we observe. Continue reading

Massively Ineffective: UI Mistakes in Mass Effect 2 for PC

This is purely a review of the user interface for the PC version of Mass Effect 2. There are no spoilers.

The user interface for Mass Effect 2 is a bit like living life with a little Regis Philbin on your shoulder. You want to cook eggs? Little Regis yells into your ear “Are you sure you want eggs?” You say yes. He yells “You mean yes, you want eggs?” You reply that yes, you want eggs. Then you open the refrigerator. You put the eggs on the counter, grab two, and before cracking them, Little Regis screams directly at your head “Are you sure you want two eggs?” You sigh, mumble that yes, you want two eggs, and for one brief instant you feel sympathy for Kathy Lee Gifford.

Mass Effect 2 is an exceptional game. The graphics are clear, the story continues to be compelling, and the squad combat has been improved significantly over the last game. What I am going to complain about here are very minor issues, but they’re minor issues that repeat throughout the game.

Click, select. Click, select. Click, select.

There are a lot of menus in this game. Since time immemorial (aka around 1983), the mouse has functioned in essentially the same way when selecting menu items. You either click once on the item to select it, or click twice. Mass Effect 2, however, decided to go a third, decidedly shitty, route: after you click on the menu item, you then have to click another item, elsewhere on the screen, to actually select it. Continue reading

Re-Replaying Final Fantasy III/VI: Is Nostalgia As Good As I Remember It?

I hold a special place in my heart for Final Fantasy III. (Attention nerds! When I say Final Fantasy III, I mean the game that was released in America as Final Fantasy III, and released in Japan as Final Fantasy VI. For clarity’s sake, I will simply call it Final Fantasy III, because that’s what it says on the title screen, and I’m reviewing the original, Super Nintendo American version. So chill out, nerds, and go lecture someone about the correct meaning of the phrase “first Star Wards movie” or “first year of the millennium.”) I inevitably compare all other Final Fantasy games I play to FFIII, and when they come up short I sit back in my rocking chair, take a puff on my corn cob pipe, and declare “You know in MY day, when we played Final Fantasy III…”

Which is why I decided to replay it. Or rather, re-replay (I had played it a couple times as a kid, and once as a freshman in college. Remember: life is precious, and you must never waste a single second.) I wanted to know how much of the game still held up after all these years of “advances” in the Final Fantasy series (notice how I put advances in quotation marks, to imply that later games aren’t as good? I’m really fucking insufferable, ain’t I?), and how much of the game I was simply viewing through the hazy, rose-colored glasses of nostalgia.

Kefka

You know, maybe it's just me, but I somehow forgot that at one point, outside of Doma Castle, Kefka gets a double-handjob and then laughs.

The final verdict: half of the game is as good as I remember it, and the other half is much, much worse.

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English As She is Spoke: Translation in Final Fantasy III/VI

I’m replaying through Final Fantasy III on the Super Nintendo (originally known as Final Fantasy VI in Japan), and noticed that the dialogue is much, much worse than I remember. Much of the blame lands squarely on the shoulders of a guy named Tom Woolsey, the translator for the American version of  Final Fantasy III, although there were clearly problems all along the line.

Some of the problems are simply due to technological limitations, such as only having enough room for a certain number of letters; other problems are due to untranslatable cultural differences between Japan and America, or to Nintendo of America’s own stringent guidelines, which demanded a heavily bowdlerized script. A skillful translator, given time, could have worked around these problems. Square, however, had neither to offer Final Fantasy, and so we are left with, well, this:

D'goh indeed.

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If the endings of other games were changed in the same way that the ending to Portal was

WARNING! ACTUAL AND FICTIONAL SPOILER INFORMATION  FOR PORTAL AND OTHER, MUCH OLDER GAMES, FOLLOWS.

Metriod Ending

A woman's work is never done.

Valve has changed the ending to Portal. A slight update to the game added the “valuable asset retrieval” to the ending. It doesn’t change much, and if you want, you can simply watch it on youtube. Essentially, Valve has set up a sequel for Portal by having Chell get captured at the end.  Portal 2 can now open up with Chell once again stuck in the Aperture Science Labs.

Were the endings to other games changed in the same way Portal’s was, this is what we would have.

Super Mario Bros.

Mario chops the rope to the bridge, sending Bowser into the lava. A doorway opens. He hesitates for a second, then walks into the room. Peach looks at him and smiles. Despite her long captivity, she is radiant. Not a single hair on her head is out of place. Her dress is immaculate. Mario drops down to the floor. “Thank you, Mario!” she says. Mario exhales, and looks up at Princess Peach as she speaks again. “But our princess is in another castle!” Mario pauses; looks around. He looks at the princess, his eyes wide. She continues to smile vacantly. His eyelids are suddenly heavy. He fights to keep them up. Thoughts, unconnected and urgent, flash through his mind. Was one of the many mushrooms he ate poisoned? The room seems to grow larger and darker. He hears the sounds of reptilian feet scraping against the ground behind him. The feet seem to be a million miles away. Mario rests.

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