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PixlTalk Episode 66: Dogma

We may be going to hell, but we're taking you with us!

It's time for another Tri-Force edition of PixlTalk! This week, we read your questions, spend some time talking about The Avengers, Call of Duty Black Ops 2, and Diablo III. Then, we head into the tabernacle and discuss the Holy of Holies. Well, not exactly, but we do talk about religion, gaming, and personal beliefs and mantras that we go to when we play video games.

Deep stuff for sure, but we keep things light, with amusing anecdotes about addictive gaming loops, games we play to exorcise our demons (read: games we play when we're pissed off), the portrayal of religion in video games, and much much more. Like, WAY much more! It's an epic edition of PixlTalk that flirts with the 3 hour barrier. If you can get through this podcast in one go, blessings be upon you, my child.

We hope you enjoy this more thoughtful look at a rather taboo subject. Check back in two weeks for our discussion on digital distribution.

Amen.

Featured Music:

Team Teamwork- M.O.P.-Ante Up (Battle!)

Florence + the Machine- Bedroom Hymns

R.E.M.-Losing My Religion


 

Comments

Rob Ottone Staff Alumnus

05/10/2012 at 05:11 PM

Fuck, I hate The Boondock Saints. Worst example of "Trying To Be Tarantino"-itis. "Things To Do In Denver When You're Dead" comes close, too. *farts*

Julian Titus Senior Editor

05/10/2012 at 05:42 PM

Sorry, I heart them big time. Must be that little bit of Irish I talked about.

Angelo Grant Staff Writer

05/10/2012 at 05:33 PM

I haven't started this one yet, but I couldn't help but notice the ep number is just one 6 short of being completely appropriate to the topic and abstract.

Patrick Kijek Contributing Writer

05/11/2012 at 12:02 AM

Haha, awesome catch. Coincidence?

Michael117

05/11/2012 at 05:09 PM

Very kosher episode guys. I love when you flirt with the 3 hour mark. Well here it goes. I've organized my thoughts into three general topics: Gameplay Trances, Mantra/Philosophy, and Religion in my games. I'll have just a couple points in each topic to explore. I'll bring the wall of text, but I'll attempt to keep it clean and sexy, much like my main man Patrick. Last week Angelo brought the wall of text hard for the Hellblock Heroes podcast and it was brilliantly done. His expansive and fanatical love of exemplary gaming music, and most of all his shout-outs to my beloved Morrowind, not only sparked an awesome thread, but earned my everlasting respect. But alas brave pioneers, a fortnight has passed, the Hellblock Heroes slumber, the Triforce has returned to shine upon Hyrule, and the wall of text must be engineered in their honor.

Gameplay Trances: There are quite a few games that have great gameplay loops, and have found very successful ways to engage players, but I when it comes to games allowing me to enter a trance due to their mechanics I have to explain why Sim City and Splinter Cell do that for me.

-- Sim City 3000 is a game I've sank hundreds of hours into in my life, especially when I was younger. I would open a media player on my PC, play some music, and grind through the game for hours without realizing time was passing. The hook of the game is that there's always something to do, problems evolve over time, and you never find yourself finished. When you begin with a blank canvas and start building initial roads, zoning out different areas, and brainstorming how you want your city to look and operate, there's a ton to do. Once you're a dozen hours in and your contemplating the pros and cons of opening a casino, or whether or not you should replace your entire power infrastructure in order to usher in a single fusion plant that will take care of your whole city by itself, there's still a ton to do. And beyond that, there's still evolutions to experience, Sims to take care of, infrastructure to manage, neighbors to negotiate with, and new issues to deal with. The mechanics are simple, there's plenty to do, but it's never overwhelming. There are always new economic, environmental, social, or infrastructural needs to address and it never gets old for me.

I love taking care of my Sims, analyzing problems, pollution charts, traffic charts, protestor rallies, budgets, city layouts, getting water and power to my Sims, and especially troubleshooting problems that occur like when Sims loose access to essential resources or when there's a natural disaster. I like planning and masterminding the city from its inception to its future and all the evolutionary steps in between.

--Splinter Cell is one of my favorite franchises ever, and their particular take on stealth gameplay is one of my favorite styles in all of gaming. I have every single Splinter Cell game to date on various platforms, Sam Fisher sneaks into many of my blogs even when he doesn't belong there, and I can't enough of the core gameplay and loops the games have. What makes Splinter Cell great isn't some new lighting technique or an expensive amount of effort spent on rendering art assets, or even a love story. Splinter Cell is awesome because of the level design and the way the core game loop works in that space. I love being able to sneak into a complex, take advantage of dark areas, lock-pick doors, and shoot out lights or hack security systems. All this is to make my exploration more exciting and dynamic. Exploration is just one aspect, the other is the hunt. I love to explore every nook and cranny of a level, find all the guards within, study their behavior, and pounce on them when the time is right. I always hunt and knock out every single guard in a level one by one, I carry them off into a dark corner, and pile them up there. I avoid firefights, and I avoid being detected the entire time in general.

Whenever a level loads in a Splinter Cell game and I get dropped in, I always feel at home. I get into a mindset, a sneaky mantra, and I know what must be done. And each game is made so well for that purpose that it always satisfies me and allows me that kind of freedom to play how I want. The simple sneaky exploration and the hunt of the guards is what makes it great. Not explosions, not graphics, not a story, just straight up level design & gameplay. It's not really a guilty pleasure, it's just pleasure.

Mantra or Philosophy in my games: I want to cover two things here. I'll explain some mantras or mind sets I get into when playing Halo 3 regarding camaraderie with the AI Marines. Second I want to talk about a mantra I apparently have in which I attempt to play all my games in a cinematic fashion.

-- Halo 3 is my favorite game in the series so far for a couple reasons, but those don't really involve the topic we are on. Instead I'm going to explain this weird camaraderie and intensely protective instinct I have for the Marines in Halo 3. I never had this behavior in previous Halo games, and weirdly I never had it in Halo Reach. Something happened in Halo 3, some mess of variables came together to make me care greatly for them. The Allied AI in Halo has always been comically bad. The Enemy AI has been incredible and fun to play against, but when it comes to your allies it's as if Bungie beat them with a stupid-stick and kept them from being as effective as they could be. It's been like a running gag ever since the beginning of Halo. Every Halo veteran knows you should never let a Marine drive you around, and never expect them to survive long in a battle. The Marines are Human fodder just like the Grunts are Covenant fodder, meanwhile the truly effective warriors, The Spartans and the Elites, do the real fighting.

In Halo 3 things were a little different. The Allied AI is still pretty dumb, but it was good enough to make me feel like I was part of a team. When I start a level and the Marines are gathered around me, their leader John-117 (the player), I feel this obligation to be the best leader I can be. I want to do what a Spartan-II was engineered to do: accomplish the impossible, dominate in battle, lead the way, and protect the human race no matter what the odds are. In the Halo 3 levels I found myself sticking close to Marines, filling my vehicles with them, and adapting my strategy and philosophy so that the Marines survival is paramount to my success and honor. This kind of mantra is actually present in the novels as well. In Ghosts of Onyx when the Spartan II's & Spartan III's are marooned on Onyx and forced defend themselves against Sentinels, the Spartans use their bodies as shields and surround the weaker members of their group like Dr. Catherine Halsey. Early in the book the Master Chief is leading a mixed group of non-Spartans including an ONI Officer, as well as an ODST. Spartans are hated by some in the UNSC and revered by others, but in general the Spartans are a breed apart and very outcast. They are a tight knit family, and are accustomed to working in perfect synchronicity with one another. When a weaker "non-Spartan" member gets added to the group they become a liability and it changes their tactics completely.

The Master Chief sees the non-Spartan members of his group as liabilities but over time as they win battles together he begins to respect them. Even though they are a liability, he feels a responsibility to protect them, use their skills wisely, put most of the burden on himself, and be a good leader to them. That's what I found myself doing in Halo 3. When I had the chance to attract the fire towards myself I always did it for the good of the group. If I had to charge into an open area suicidally and start shooting, bashing, and fragging for my life, I did it because I knew it would keep the Covenant's attention off my Marines. When things went badly and my Marines died, I felt heartbroken and I often reverted to the last checkpoint so I could have a chance to improve my strategy and make it through with everybody.

-- Playing in a cinematic fashion is something I started doing a while back and I first noticed it with Half Life 2. HL2 is a very cinematic game and everything happens on screen as you wander around. That method of using the environment to tell stories to the player struck a chord with me and ever since, I've found myself trying to play things like dramatic cinema. When I play Halo I won't just run from point A to B, I'll walk slowly, look around me, and see everything there is to see. When people start talking I'll make sure I can see the people talking and I'll try to get a good vantage point on the event. When something epic happens I always walk slower and take it all in. When I play Gears of War I see things very dramatically. I like to roadie run through explosions and gunfire, and slam my shoulder into cover. I see hundreds of tracer rounds flying over the top of my cover spot, then pop up defiantly to start shooting back, that's very dramatic and I like getting the feeling from Gears.

Gears has always been very cinematic in that fashion and in practically every trailer that came out for the 3 games, the commercials always play a somber song and show the Gears being surrounded or overwhelmed by a horde of monsters, but the Gears still stand back to back and begin to open fire no matter what the odds are and no matter how shitty and colorless the world seems. The very first Gears 1 "Mad World" commercial is my favorite video game commercial of all time, and I bought and played that game simply because of that 60 seconds of television. Marcus ends up in the dark and gets overwhelmed by a giant spider as well as a bunch of Locust crawling out of the ground, and even though he has this hopeless scared-to-death look on his face, Marcus braces himself, stares right at the spider, and opens a constant stream of fire. I cherished that feeling and it's what I connected to the most with those games thematically. Those kinds of feelings seep into my gameplay when I'm playing Gears co-op and my friend goes down and needs to be revived, or when we get surrounded and have to fight our way out.

Religion: My experience isn't necessarily religion but it seems perfectly at home in Patrick's topic.

-- Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic. I felt a very positive set of emotions and transcendence when I played the Jedi Trials on Dantooine in the first Knights of the Old Republic. The first time I ever played through that section of the game it had a profound impact on me and I've never been able to repeat it in another game ever since. When I go back and play through Dantooine it's not quite the same, it was just all in the first experience. Before you travel to Dantooine you have to witness the utter destruction and orbital bombardment of the planet Taris. It's tragic, many friends you met die, and a whole city or planet is basically lost thanks to the Sith. So in that context, I was horrified that all those people died, it was super dramatic, but instead of just getting angry and going straight for revenge like you do in most games, in KotOR right after that tragedy you go straight to the peaceful Jedi Enclave and begin learning to clear your mind and learn the ways of the force.

The Jedi system of beliefs, their rules, ethics, diplomacy, combat styles, lightsaber colors, and even the various classes of Jedi were completely engrossing to me in that game and I felt like I was learning something legit and studying a new culture. The exposition and advice the Master Jedi give you are all amazing, but the real beauty of learning to become a Jedi in KotOR is the quests on Dantooine. How you handle the quests are what define the type of person you are, and what kind of Jedi you will be. You get to investigate a crime and come to your own conclusion. You confront a fallen Jedi and get to choose how to deal with her. You intervene between feuding families. The morals, procedure, ethics, logic, and reason you can use in each quest really made me use my brain in ways I love using.

I've said before I was raised Catholic, but I'm not a spiritual person anymore and I'm a lot more hopeful and more productive because of it. It didn't work for me personally, Gods, spirituality, magic, and mythology doesn't work for me. At least not in a literal sense. I find these things to be fascinating to study and learn about. Christian mythology is beautiful at times and is fascinating just like Norse, Greek, Roman, and Egyptian are, just to name a few. I don't worship anything, I don't beg to anything, I don't curse anything, and I never want to live forever in eternity. When I die I want to be buried in the Earth, I want to decompose, and I want all my matter and energy to become food and sustenance for the flora and fauna of this planet. The flora and fauna of Earth have helped me survive my entire life and I'd like to provide the same for them when I die. I find great humility, nobility, and honor in that, and I don't need a king, gold streets, or eternity. I also don't need to have my sacrifices and honor be validated by a deity.

I just try to keep an open mind and use my ever evolving understanding of some skills (reason, logic, ethics, etc) the best I can in everyday life so I can be a positive force in our civilization. The Jedi quests in KotOR spoke to me in that way because praying, ceremony, dogma, or tradition won't complete those quests. They can be completed or failed in a few ways but you can apply your own skills and ethics to them and find out what you're capable of. I liked it because religion and spirituality wasn't forced on the player, nobody told you how to think, or how to act, you weren't indoctrinated, but I certainly think there were some kind of spiritual and intellectual aspects to the whole thing. It was a beautiful experience and I've never seen it in another game ever since.

Julian Titus Senior Editor

05/13/2012 at 10:18 PM

Great post as always, sir.

I think the last game that made me get into "flow" was Deus Ex: Human Revolution. I lost hours trying to squeeze every last bit of data and information out of the computer terminals and lockers. I did every quest in that game, which I rarely do. The only recent games I can say I've done that with are Mass Effect and Dragon Age.

You and I are the same when it comes to viewing games cinematically. People talk about hating passive cutscenes, but I would prefer that to a real time conversation where I'm never sure if I'm in the right spot to see what I need to see. Since I get totally engrossed in a storyline I tend to stand still when someone's talking to me anyway, because that's what I do in real life, so it's like I'm in a cutscene anyway.

Michael117

05/14/2012 at 06:31 PM

I wanted to bring that up but I was pretty sure you would do it yourself lol. I remember you were binging on Deus Ex for like entire days and forgetting to eat or something lol. I kind of get that quest flow with Mass Effect and Dragon Age 2 as well. I like doing all the main and side quests, and I like buying up the best gear, while searching for the best prices. I get into that flow with those games when it comes to the inventory management, leveling, getting new gear, and finishing quest on the list.

I don't mind a passive cutscene as long as it strikes a balance between being cool and being believable (I don't want to see characters doing things that never happen in the real game). You know speaking of "cinematic playing", I just played the Azura's Wrath demo recently and I was kinda blown away by how much fun it was. Talk about friggin' spectacle. I've never seen such over the top insanity since I use to watch Dragon Ball Z. I remember your review spoke pretty highly of the game. At the time I said I wasn't very interested because the way it seems like one big "cutscene game" but I take it back.

The mechanics worked in those boss battles I played, it was fun. The button prompts stroke a great balance and weren't too tough and they weren't stressful like I thought they'd be. I don't like QTE's just for the sake of QTE's and I hate when games make you mash buttons feverishly like how Resident Evil 4 did when you're running from something for example. I hated button prompts in RE4 but Azura's Wrath does it very well and it was fun. The button prompts never over stayed their welcome, they didn't drag out and make you mash for too long, but it was still challenging and exciting to see what happened on-screen.

And the spectacle was second to none, jaw dropping in fact. A giant planet sized guy pushing his finger through the atmosphere and Azura blasting him into pieces? Azura and a guy fighting on the moon and then the guy takes his sword and stabs it through the Earth? Awesome, I'm in.

Jon Lewis Staff Writer

05/12/2012 at 12:39 AM

Oh God of War 3 on hard mode... I almost destroyed my controller doing the Scorpion fight near the end, and Zeus, oh my...my patience was tested to the highest degree, lol

Patrick Kijek Contributing Writer

05/12/2012 at 01:56 AM

Convinced that I was in Hell for awhile there ;)

Jon Lewis Staff Writer

05/12/2012 at 04:41 PM

yeah i kno, God of War epitomises false difficulty. It was more frustrating than hard, but that said it was satisfying to win. I literally had to do everything in my power to beat Zeus and it felt good to best him. Screw titan tho, lol

Patrick Kijek Contributing Writer

05/13/2012 at 01:30 PM

Wait, Titan mode is what I mean by hard difficulty. That what you're talking about?

Jon Lewis Staff Writer

05/13/2012 at 04:52 PM

haha, maybe i was playing titan, in my previous comment i meant God difficulty, lol

Patrick Kijek Contributing Writer

05/14/2012 at 03:28 AM

Haha, think that you mean chaos. Ironically, God is normal mode. We are at least gods, they say.

Angelo Grant Staff Writer

05/21/2012 at 01:01 PM

Considering my background (I attended a seminary school for my college degree), I felt obligated to respond to this thread the min I found out it was on the topic of Religion, but honestly, I don't have much to say.  I think a lot of different views were discussed and nobody pooed on anybody for their beliefs, or the beliefs of others that weren't represented.  More importantly, you guys had inoffensive (to me anyway) fun with what is usually a pretty toothy topic to bring up, so good work guys.

Julian Titus Senior Editor

05/21/2012 at 03:28 PM

Thanks, Angelo! I'm happy that Patrick had such a deep topic to bring to the table, and it's good to know that we didn't step on anyone's beliefs and were still able to have some fun and humor in there.

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