LVLs. will be going dark on January 1st, 2015.

rs-batsukyosukehinataHello to everyone who still meanders to LVLs.! It’s been close to two years since I ceased operating the site and relocated my games writing to Pixels, Polygons, People, Planet, which is going along well. I originally wanted to leave LVLs. up for posterity, but I’ve recently come to the conclusion that there’s not much point in doing that. The majority of my favorite material here is at P4 or will be at some point. The Imagery hasn’t done me any personal favors in years. Tunage is woefully out of date and likely most of its videos no longer work. I haven’t drawn all that much, and to be honest, I’d like to privatize my artwork for the time being. And, ultimately, I’m no longer the same person who once ran this site. My interests and desires have changed, and I think it’s high time that I close this chapter of my internet career. So, on January 1st, 2015 (or thereabouts), I will be switching LVLs. to private status, and once I port over the remaining Cultural Anxiety (aka Cultural Clash! articles at P4) essays I’ve done, I’ll close it down for good. So, if you want to snag some art, reread some of my (and Nester, TEi, Jason and Grace’s) older work, or simply poke around LVLs., you have a little over a month to explore. Wildcat Online, LVL and LVLs. all were cornerstones in my life, but their legacy does not necessarily need to remain on WordPress. I imagine a lot of it is on the Internet Archive at this point.

So, LVLs., enjoy your final curtain call. It’s time to finally level up.

~ JF

P.S. – This ancient Snow Dragon (WOW) comic sums up my mood about this:

snowdragonsfarewell

Fan Art Fridays – Pekepeke0′s “Silent Hill”/Gamer’s Playlist – DigiE’s “Trance Turnabout”

silent_hill_by_pekepeke0-d4m5hsm

Happy birthday to me! To celebrate, I’m sharing a fan art I recently fell in love with, as well as one of my fave remixes! Woo!

Pekepeke0, also known by her first name Ami, was last seen here during the Metroid Fan Art special. This morbidly perfect rendition of Heather from Silent Hill 3 astounded me with how wonderfully apropos it is. Dark, moody, sinister, and hellish; a fantastic interpretation.

gamersplaylist2012

The Ace Attorney series has some great music that has been radically improved by remixers. Case in point: DigiE’s splendid mixing of the ‘Gyakuten Saiban 3 · Trial’, ‘Pressing Pursuit ~ Cornered’, ‘Questioning ~ Allegro 2001′, ‘Questioning ~ Moderate 2004′, and ‘Turnabout Courtroom – End’ themes. This is amazing music that takes the limited GBA sounds and gives them a richness that the handheld could not replicate in its wildest dreams. It’s quite danceable, too!

I Take My Leave

There’s a scene in the Tim Burton film Ed Wood in which the low-budget filmmaker meets his idol, Orson Welles. The two briefly discuss their strikingly similar problems, and then the legendary director imparts the young Wood with this little bit of wisdom: “Visions are worth fighting for. Why spend your life making someone else’s dreams?”

It’s been a pleasure to write for LVLs. these last five (!) years. It’s helped me develop my writing skills, and I’ve done my best to try to provide worthy content for Wildcat’s blog. And at the end of the day, that’s what LVLs. is: Wildcat’s personal project. I’ve only been a contributor in that regard, and don’t get me wrong, it’s been my pleasure.

But as a developing writer, it was inevitable that I would begin to outgrow my position and feel the need to come into my own. That’s why I started up my own blog back in 2011. I figured that if I was going to put that much effort into something, I would like it to be my own project. As a result, I’ve drifted away from LVLs. these past several months, and focused more on my blog.

But I never meant for it to be an abandonment of LVLs. It’s been an online home to me for five years, and I’d be glad to continue involvement with it in some capacity. (After all, my writing still gets far more exposure here.) It’s simply the case that our visions are naturally diverging.

As I forge ahead in my own direction, I wish Wildcat the best of luck in his. I’m looking forward to seeing what new ideas and articles he and Jason come up with this year, and I hope to still make an occasional contribution. So, perhaps this isn’t as much a farewell as it is a “see ya around.”

With that, I take my leave. Thanks to all who have read my stuff on LVLs. I have officially gained experience and leveled up!

Music Wednesdays – Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “So Long, Farewell”

I actually wanted to post “Pacific Coast Highway” by The Beach Boys, but it wasn’t on YouTube. Still, this seemed appropriate. :)

Song Highlights – Silent Hill’s “Silent Hill”

Silent Hill – Silent Hill (Intro Theme, PS1, Konami, Akira Yamaoka)

Ah yes, it’s been all too long since we’ve talked about Akira Yamaoka. He almost landed a spot on Tunage this year, but I wanted to do some more obscure musicians. Anywho, this introduced gamers to the world of Silent Hill back in 1999, and what an intro! Beautiful instrumentation, Yamaoka’s amazing guitar work, and unsettling melodies combine to define the ominous feeling the series would become famous for. Stunning work.

There will be no Music Wednesday from me this week; sorry!

Music Wednesdays – Tears for Fears’ “Head Over Heels”

Though probably best known for “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”, I’ve always been more partial to this, the single released just after the aforementioned song.

This is my foooooour leaf clover.

Weekly Whose Line? – Party Quirks

Opinion – The Last Story

tls2The Last Story (Wii)
Pub: XSEED/Dev: Mistwalker and AQ Interactive
ESRB: T

Please note that this opinion piece will discuss spoilers. Therefore, I’ve implemented a jump. For those who are curious as to what I think but don’t want anything ruined, I will write the majority of the piece without spoilers, and then flag the offending words AFTER the trailer at the bottom. So you can read through the article with nary a concern until you see the trailer at the bottom, in which I will discuss some of the key story bits and how they were executed. Read the full post »

Roundtable – The “A” Word in Relation to Video Games

Nester

OK, let’s dive into the deep end. I would like to bring up the old “video games as art” discussion. I realize this is kind of a tired subject that has long since played itself out, but I never felt it was addressed very well, and I think it’s because there are a couple of argumental dead ends that everyone tends to fall into. I’d like to get those out of the way so that we have a better idea of what we’re talking about.

First of all, I don’t like to use the ‘A’ word in regards to video games because it tends to come with a lot of baggage and negative connotation. People hear the word “art” applied to anything, and immediately think of snobby elitism. I prefer to say that we’re thinking of video games in an academic or intellectual way, and we don’t have to let our heads float up into the clouds.

To go along with that, discussing video games as art often boils down to one of two extremes. On one end, you have the Roger Ebert school of thought that claims that since video games have rules and winning and losing conditions, then they inherently cannot be art as a matter of principle because the format is too restrictive and imprecise. On the other end, you have the philosophical argument that art is completely subjective, and no one can make a definitive statement one way or the other. I don’t like either of these perspectives because they’re both dismissive, and lack intellectual curiosity. I think we can do better.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, there’s the notion that if a video game is art, than it must be sacrificing entertainment value, or “fun,” thus defeating the purpose of the medium. This is not necessarily the case. For one thing, “fun” is just as subjective a term as “art.” Two people may enjoy the same game, but for entirely different reasons. Also, I think any form of art in any medium needs to be entertaining on some level in order for people to want to spend their time thinking about it. For some people, that level may even be “art for art’s sake,” but those people are probably less interested in the actual medium (be it video games or anything else), and simply enjoy being art scholars. For our purposes, we can probably agree that for a game to be good art, it must also succeed as an example of its medium, and thus be a good game.

Now that we have all that out of the way, I think what we mean when we call something art isn’t so much a definitive categorization, but more of an attitude. If we say something is art, then we are looking at it from the standpoint that we can analyze it, deconstruct it, discuss it, and as I put it earlier, just be intellectually curious about it. So, the question becomes, “is it worth applying this mode of thought to the medium of video games?” I think so, regardless of whether we want to attach a label to it.

I actually don’t have a specific question to ask. I would just like to hear your general thoughts on it. Is this even a relevant topic anymore?

st-av

Wildcat

Before replying, I agree with you on a lot of your points. I think that the two extreme schools of thought that have tended to dominate this discussion have sort of missed the point. But I want to address these parts of your post:

Second, and perhaps more importantly, there’s the notion that if a video game is art, than it must be sacrificing entertainment value, or “fun,” thus defeating the purpose of the medium. This is not necessarily the case. For one thing, “fun” is just as subjective a term as “art.” Two people may enjoy the same game, but for entirely different reasons.

I think that’s ludicrous. Art does not equal boredom. A game can be artistic in nature and still maintain a sense of quality in terms of its mm3-gameplay. On top of that, it would be difficult to label games as art due to the subjective nature of them. Let’s say that, for a random example, Mega Man 3 is being considered as “art”. I love the hell out of that game in terms of “fun”, and it has a great visual and audio design that delights me. It feels the most refined out of the series for me. Does that make it less of an example of an art form? I would argue no. However, if someone doesn’t like MM3 as much as I do, they may think it’s not a good representation of art or entertainment. They may prefer MM2 and want to consider that the franchise’s high point in terms of fun and in terms of artistic value. Meanwhile, I would also consider MM4 the franchise’s low point personally. However, I do think it too has some artistic merit, despite my dislike of the overall experience.

Also, I think any form of art in any medium needs to be entertaining on some level in order for people to want to spend their time thinking about it. For some people, that level may even be “art for art’s sake,” but those people are probably less interested in the actual medium (be it video games or anything else), and simply enjoy being art scholars. For our purposes, we can probably agree that for a game to be good art, it must also succeed as an example of its medium, and thus be a good game.

I would concur. I think quality must apply to both the gameplay design and the aesthetic design for a game to qualify as art.

Now that we have all that out of the way, I think what we mean when we call something art isn’t so much a definitive categorization, but more of an attitude. If we say something is art, then we are looking at it from the standpoint that we can analyze it, deconstruct it, discuss it, and as I put it earlier, just be intellectually curious about it. So, the question becomes, “is it worth applying this mode of thought to the medium of video games?” I think so, regardless of whether we want to attach a label to it.

I completely agree, and that’s one of the goals I have for LVLs. in terms of its new direction. I want to do just that! I want to analyze, deconstruction, discuss and be curious about games. I want to look at them with an anthropological eye and decipher the cultural meanings I can gleam from them. So yes, I think, at least in the terms of your phrasing here, that this is relevant. Games are a form of media, and should be gauged by similar methods. Of course, the interactivity must be considered, but that is what makes games such an awesome thing. You become part of the art with games in a way no other form of media can offer. You can bring your individualism into it, and that is incredibly profound if you ask me.

Jason X

I have to agree with Nester on this one. In practice, I lean more towards “art is whatever you want it to be” camp, but when you get right down to it, calling something “art” is just a method for classifying something as being above the common levels of entertainment.

It’s interesting to see how opinions can form and change over time. I used to be the type who would say that Ico and SotC are art. Ico Screenshot 01Nowadays, I’m not so sure. I wouldn’t argue with someone if they called those games art, but as I get on in years, I’m starting to wish that people would stop trying to make things into other things. Can’t we just enjoy something for what it is, rather than creating an entire cause around it? Both of those games touched me on an incredibly deep, emotional level, and it’s often difficult to describe precisely why to the uninitiated. Do we really need to go beyond that, though?

I think the human mind can often be its own worst enemy. It craves clarification with one side, but that same elucidation tends to take away from the enjoyment of the things we seek to define…

Or maybe I’m just getting old, and this sort of discussion is better suited for the young. Either way, I’m perfectly fine with enjoying things in my own way. All I know is you all should be playing The Walking Dead game.

A college instructor of mine once said he subscribed to the definition that “art” is something you find in an art museum. And he wasn’t intending to be cheeky, but I think it goes with what I was saying about art being an attitude. If you saw a particular photograph on the Internet, you might give it a quick look, pass some judgment on it, and move on. However, if you saw that same photograph in an art gallery, you might be more compelled to look at it a little bit longer, and think about it a little bit harder.

At the same time, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with Jason’s perspective that it’s OK to just enjoy games as entertainment, and not have to get all academic about them. Most games are created that way. Maybe you like Ico because it’s just a really fun adventure game, and you’re not interested in reading into subtexts.

This may sound surprising, but when the concept of video games as art first crossed my mind, I was against it. I just wanted my games to be fun entertainment, and nothing more. I had a quick turnaround, though, when I suddenly realized that games had achieved a surprisingly profound ability for expression as early as the ’80s.

So, at the very least, the desire to classify games as art is an acknowledgement that there is another level of observation for people who might be compelled to find it.

Virtual Console No-Shows – Games Gone Missing Special

No Virtual Console support this week for North America usually translates to me writing a VC No-Shows, but I’ve noticed a disturbing trend as of late. SimCity for the SNES disappeared from the VC the day after New Years, joining several other games that have been removed from the service over the last couple of years. I’d like to list all of these titles and keep this post as a running tally of what games used to be a part of the VC library and posit why they were removed.

NES

tmnt-1

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Konami)

Date Removed – 1/26/2012
Why is it Missing Now? – When Konami and UBI Soft reached a deal to release Konami’s TMNT titles on various DL services, it signaled a hopeful flood of Konami’s classic TMNT lineup for the Virtual Console. Only Konami’s first NES effort made it onto Nintendo’s services, and all of the games issued across all consoles as part of that agreement are now no longer available. Tragic, as this game is easily the weakest of the bunch, and seeing the others would have been a boon.

Super NES

simcitysnes

Simcity (Nintendo)

Date Removed – 1/2/2013
Why is it Missing Now? – I can only presume that Nintendo had some sort of arrangement with Electronic Arts to re-release their take on Maxis’ classic, and perhaps 1/2/2013 was the end of their agreement. Otherwise, I’ve got no idea! It’s apparently still available in Europe as of this writing.

dkc1

Donkey Kong Country series (Nintendo/Rare)

Date Removed – All were taken down 11/16/12
Why are they Missing Now? – The sudden disappearance of one of Nintendo’s SNES stalwart franchises was a surprise last November. They did at least announce their removal in advance (unlike SimCity above). Screwattack posits that Nintendo has to work out a licensing deal with Rare (despite owning the franchise and characters) every time they re-release the SNES games, and they chose to let the Wii VC license expire. Hopefully, once the WiiU VC is established, these will return.

srt

Super R-Type (Irem)

Date Removed – 3/30/2012
Why is it Missing Now? – Simple explanation here; Irem pulled all of their DL titles from Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft in March 2012 due to financial hardships and company restructuring.

Master System

rtypems

R-Type (Irem/Sega)

Date Removed – 9/30/2011
Why is it Missing Now? – This was the first game to be dropped from the VC, and I imagine it was due to Irem’s monetary difficulties much as the later removals were.

TurboGrafx-16

rtype_1

R-Type (Irem)

Date Removed – 3/30/2012
Why is it Missing Now? – Try not to mind the parroting, but it is the same as Super R-Type above; Irem pulled all of their DL titles from Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft in March 2012 due to financial hardships and company restructuring. Expect to see it some more…

vigilante

Vigilante (Irem)

Date Removed – 3/30/2012
Why is it Missing Now? – Irem pulled all of their DL titles from Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft in March 2012 due to financial hardships and company restructuring. *squawk*

ns

Ninja Spirit (Irem)

Date Removed – 3/30/2012
Why is it Missing Now? – Irem pulled all of their DL titles from Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft in March 2012 due to financial hardships and company restructuring…*Wildcat wants a cracker!*

loht

Legend of Hero Tohma (Irem)

Date Removed – 3/30/2012
Why is it Missing Now? – Irem pulled all of their DL titles from Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft in March 2012 due to financial hardships and company restructuring…and that’s the last time we should see that! (sorry for the bad parrot puns :p )

sd

Silent Debuggers (Data East/G-Mode)

Date Removed – 3/1/2012
Why is it Missing Now? – G-Mode pulled three of their Data East-developed titles for the TG-16, but it’s unclear why exactly they did so. The NeoGeo and NES Data East titles remain on the service (Magical Drop 2/3, Street Slam, Spinmaster, Fighter’s History Dynamite and Burgertime [which was just released in December 2012!]), so who really knows what happened here.

bw

Bloody Wolf (Data East/G-Mode)

Date Removed – 3/1/2012
Why is it Missing Now? – Another Data East-developed title yanked for the TG-16 by G-Mode for unknown reasons.

do

Drop-Off (Data East/G-Mode)

Date Removed – 3/1/2012
Why is it Missing Now? – Another Data East-developed title yanked for the TG-16 by G-Mode for unknown reasons. *cough*

That’s all of them as of January 5th, 2013. Let’s hope the purging ceases or that the Wii U VC opens up and brings back some of these along with it.

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