Wednesday, March 23, 2011

3 quick things

...about the "Eastern vs. Western Game Stories" thing, which apparently everyone finds vastly more fascinating than the rest of the episode...

1.) Good Story is not the same thing as Good Writing. It's entirely plausible that Western game-writers write better screenplays - I wouldn't know, because I can neither read speak Japanese fluently nor read Kanji, and it's unfair to critique writing based on (usually poor) translation. So, yes, I'll take "every gonzo thing we can think of regardless of genre of aesthetic plus maybe somebody is a giant walrus just because" (Japan) over "Tom Clancy but shot like Black Hawk Down - unless it's period, in which case shot like Private Ryan, unless it's medieval in which case copypaste LOTR, unless it's scifi in which case Star Wars" (West.)

2.) With rare exception, I will take "characters who emote too much" over "characters who do not emote at all, or only emote flippantly." Also, I am neither an insecure 13 year-old nor a bitter 90 year-old - thusly, male characters who display quasi "feminine" traits, grow out and/or color their hair are not innately infuriating to me.

3.) Just a thought: If HUNDREDS of people rushing in to "disprove" the opinion in question keep citing as evidence, independently of one another, the SAME five or six titles - two or three of which are from the same company running on a VERY similar story engine... that MIGHT kinda be making the point for me. Just sayin.


counterpoint said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Greenlanterncorp said...

Going to have to disagree with you on this one

1) Most east games ive played seem like they all rehash the same two stories A. Kid who climbs up in power bs. B. Man who cant remember his life goes on a epic quest for what ever.

2} Sometimes yes but i rather have some one act human then goin into a dance off after they beat thier enemy

3) I dont mind the hair or what not but saying senseless comments like "for a western game" you knew you were goin to get people pissed. I almost say it was a troll move...

4) Most of time I agree with you and I watch your stuff all the time. (even this weird clone stuff) but not on this

Anonymous said...

For every Planescape: Torment, there will always be at least two Personas.

The reason is culture. The Japanese give a considerably more serious attention to "geek" culture (games, anime, manga) than the western world does. We treat it as a subpar hobby, whereas they treat it as mainstream.

Not everything out of the place is gold. And they're no less susceptible to the weakness of mainstream turning into pointless, cash grabbing drivel.

Still, Final Fantasy, despite its huge, glaring, crash-grabbing flaws, still has a better story than Halo...

asdf said...

When I first saw the episode, I did think "western" was a little too broad to be used as a category in this particular case. In my opinion, the comment kinda felt like it came out of nowhere and left me a bit confused. Also, I really agree on point 2 (referring to "characters who emote too much...").

Sharon said...

yeah i read those comments, i had no idea you were going to get so much crap for that, despite you already saying how much you liked Bioshock, but yeah, every single one picked out the same 5 games.

I Luv Vietnam said...

C'mon COD Black Ops is a western game, and it's story was way better than it's given credit for.
Also, in the military, you are expected to show no personality. So theres really no point in bitching about games in the military.

overkrowded said...

@I Luv Vietnam

Just because you're encouraged not to show character doesn't mean they don't have any.

That's like saying war movies should be full of people without personality. Not a valid excuse imo.

Eyes_Only said...

Had posted something quite nice...but there was an error and I lost it.

I will be brief here, and will return with a comment later on.

Bob, your gaming knowledge is SEVERELY limited. You too easily disregard a large portion, as it is habitually for you of late, of the gaming scene and history just to make a point that is rendered invalid instantly by the fact that it is backed by cherry picked ideas.

Western games with bad stories and too similar?
What about 'Morrowind' Bob?
What about 'Jak and Daxter'?
What about 'Machinarium' and 'A vampyre story'? Of 'Legacy of Kain', 'Metro 2033', 'Beyond Good and Evil', 'Prince of Persia', 'Gothic', 'God of war', 'Disciples 2' or 'Primal'?
Ever heard of them? They are not exceptions and they are not the extremes. Flawed but with still more than enough juice in them to give ANY Eastern game a run for its money.

You know, for every 'Silent Hill 2', every 'Shadow of the Colossus', 'Final Fantasy IX', 'Okami' or even 'Ace Combat 5', there are more than enough 'Rezident Evil 5', 'Star Ocean Till the end of time', 'Lost Planet', 'DragonBall Z' rehashes and so forth.

We don't hate on Eastern games because they're bad, or because they're weird (I play 'Castlevania' till my fingers bleed), but we hate on them because for 20 years they've been almost the SAME weird. Spiky hair and crap personalities, wasted world potentials (you should look no further than 'Demons' Souls' to see a good story and a good world that people like you are simply too blind to accept they're there).

When people name 5 or so games, that are most quite recent, one should know who that audience is. They are gamers much younger than most of us and for whom values are still forming. To hold it against them is to be very narrow minded.

Anonymous said...

Have to agree with Eyes here, especially regarding Legacy of Kain.

Bob, check this series out... It'll blow your mind, man.

Twinmill said...

Listen: I already posted my distaste for western titles (western RPGs in particular,) but Eastern RPGs are almost as bad. Maybe it's because I've seen enough animes that I know where eastern stories are starting to repeat themselves, and really, mentioning Final Fantasy 13 or 14 is about as low of a blow as mentioning Gears of War and letting it speak for everything else. While yes, Final Fantasy 13 seemed like angsty bullshit, Star Ocean, a much better game with a much more engaging story had a bit of that too.

Look as hard as you want, you will be hard pressed to find a western character that constantly is complaining and moping about your player actions in a WRPG.

I take that back. Dragon Age 2 has characters like that.

So yes, while eastern stories tend to be more colorful, and much more engaging than some bullshit about a dragon with pages and pages of lore that's overall bland and uninteresting, they still have their pitfalls.

Western stories don't have as much color in most cases, but they know better than to assume their audience has the mental stability of a 13 year old who forgot his zoloft.

Really, if western writers focused more on characterization instead of churning out the same story 50 times with minor variations, the games would be much more engaging. I think there are two major factors as to why western writers fall short. Let's get to the most obvious: most western game writers aren't real writers. BioWare is an exception. They don't fully know about character creation, and in most cases, it's not up to them to create the main character. They handle backstory and scripting.

The second reason is because the eastern culture is foriegn to us. It's new. It's fresh. Until you've watched too many animes. The harsh reality of it is, eastern games have their own recurring characters, except, instead of Big Bad Manly Hero Dude, it's Tsundere, and instead of Big Manly Sub Hero Dude, it's Dark Magical Girl.

I'm pretty sure that if you trolled some Japanese discussions about story, they'd be complaining about how their set of character types, that are new to us, are unoriginal to them. They might, just maybe, might be praising the upcoming Elder Scrolls game for its deep story, and the typical western fantasy characters who are sure to make an appearance.

Read the Warcraft story. As big as the games are, the story is actually an undermined gem. Go look up Richard Knaak, and acknowledge that while, yes, he's no Kurt Vonnegut, the bright fantasy portrayed in the stories is much better than the typical scenario, and the characters are actually worth giving a damn about.

Admittedly, I still prefer eastern games, but the upcoming western titles might be a sign of change. If TOR is even a remote success, more companies will hire actual, published, authors to do their stories, and they will have much more of a say in the story itself, both in the background, and execution. Who knows, maybe EA and Activision will grow some balls and take a risk for once.

Andros said...

While I agree with Twinmill there are some things I'd like to point out.

I don't think the japanese style of games is going to change any time soon nor do the japanese consumers find problems with it. The spiky hair, the big eyes, the teen angst sob stories, japanese gamers love that crap and with few exceptions, most western games are put in the bargain bin the moment they're released in there.

Now like Bob said the main difference is the setting these games take place. Most western games put you in familiar environments you might recognize from movies or other media, Star Wars like sci-fi, LotR kinda medieval, wild west, 2nd World War and sometimes imagining a 3rd. Of course there are the "Oddworlds" and other "Legacies" that go "Beyond Good and" give you a "Bioshock" of originality but those are few and far between.

Eastern games are usually putting the player in relatively "unknown zones".
You get to be a plumber in a mushroom ruled world, or a dog that makes flowers bloom or a prince controlling a ball that absorbs anything in its path or a lawyer that has to object in weird testimonies that involve spirit mediums or a doctor performing cirurgical operations or a humanoid robot from the year 20XX that can absorb the powers of other robots or... (I could go on)

Point is eastern games are not all RPGs nor are all westerns FPSs. The thing is there are more non jRPGs then there are non wFPSs.
It's not western games are bad, it's that the east has more variety.

Anonymous said...

"you should look no further than 'Demons' Souls' to see a good story and a good world that people like you are simply too blind to accept they're there"

You know Demons' Souls is a Japanese game, right?

Anonymous said...

When you said that, the first thing I thought was, "Troll lol lol lol". Video games stories are all around bad For every Half-life, Planescape or Persona, theres dozens Gears of War, and Final Fantasy "Everything post 6 depending on your views of 7."

imsmart said...

Yeah, Western game storylines are pretty bad, almost as bad as Eastern game storylines ha ha. It's almost as if the players are supposed to control what happens, like they're games or something.

Megavolt said...

Going more from the responses at escapist magazine than the ones here, it's obvious there's a lot of ignorance on both sides. Especially when it comes to judging both western and eastern game stories by only as early as the 128-bit era. As it turns out, most of my favorite game stories come from the mid to late nineties, with some early 2000s thrown in. That goes for both western and eastern stories. Bioware and Bethesda aren't the end all and be all of good western storytelling (I'd take Black Isle/Obsidian and Troika over their stories anyday). Nor is the latest JRPG schlock representative of all that the genre has ever had to offer (unfortunately, it seems like these games peaked in the 16-bit and 32-bit eras).

So which style do I prefer? Honestly, I have to say neither. I think maybe that eastern games have had better character-driven stories (Final Fantasy VI) and western ones better plot-driven stories (Deus Ex). Also, I agree that eastern stories have typically offered up more imaginative environs and situations, whereas western stories have typically stuck to the high fantasy and/or more realistic/gritty kind of settings and logic. But a good story is a good story regardless of whether its stylish, melodramatic, dry, or minimalistic. You can even have exceptions to the western and eastern norms, like KOTOR II working more as a character study (and no, one doesn't need the restoration mod to appreciate this; criticisms of its unfinished state have always been greatly exaggerated), or Final Fantasy Tactics being driven more by the political plot than by any sort of emo lead.

One thing's for sure, though: You shouldn't have singled out western stories and effectively implied that eastern stories are superior. Not if you aren't willing (or capable of) to have a serious debate about it. I myself have more eastern gaming experience than western gaming experience, but I've played enough of the western PC classics and so forth to know that it's not all three-pronged dialog trees (good, neutral, evil) and chosen one stories. Also, for people who think JRPGs are all low rent anime stories, try the Ogre Battle series (my all time favorite RPG series). The first major decision you face in Tactics Ogre is more severe than any decision I can recall from a western game. In fact, being idealistic in that game makes you "Chaotic", while taking the most logical/practical course makes you "Lawful". Go figure.

spork said...

Most of the responses I've heard here and on the escapist remind me of a list of the best 50 animated films I saw online. So many people were complaining that there were too many Studio Ghibli films in the top 10 and not enough Disney/Pixar films.

Eric Taylor said...

While I do understand your point, Bob, and agree that a lot of the hate Japanese games get it based less on actual flaws and more on insecurities of the audience, I do think you're being overly dismissive of Western games and storytelling.

I would argue that western and eastern games simply have different styles, the same way western and eastern literature do. I think Japanese games are more likely to be experimental and deal with concepts or themes which are unlikely to be dealt with (maturely) in a western game, like Persona 4's handling of sexuality; however, western games can be much better at crafting characters who the player can relate to and in general present realism a bit better. For example, the Persona games, despite having a modern contemporary setting in more-or-less the real world, tend to be so out there and "anime" that the characters seem less like people and more like symbols. By proxy, something like Planescape Torment or The Longest Journey (Finnish still counts as Western, right?) presents characters who, even in a fantasy setting, are instantly recognizable as distinct personalities.

I think Eastern and Western games alike also both suffer from certain conventions and trappings. If Persona and Planescape Torment are both paragons of the respective culture's best storytelling in gaming, then (recent) Square Enix games and Halo/Call of Duty/Gears of War/Insert Gritty Manly Shooter Here represent the cliches and conventions games from that culture risk falling into.

Both cultures have games with good and unique stories and interesting ways of presenting those stories, and both cultures have (significantly more) games that fail to do this. My guess is that you have more experience with Japanese games than American games (which is only natural, really, and not at all a criticism), but as a result, you have a more fleshed out view of what's available in Japanese games' storytelling and a more generalized view of the same thing in western games. The best way to remedy this would be to play more games, which I think you'd agree with :)

See, I ended in a smiley face. Therefore I'm not being overly critical.

biomechanical923 said...

Hey Bob,
Rather than argue about what constitutes "good writing" or a "good story", I'd like to speak about your original point on game-based-movies.
Particularly, I'd like to hear your opinion on what it may take to make an actually successful game-to-movie adaptation (forgive me if I've forgotten an episode in which you already mentioned this) You can take this as my 2 cents, or a possible future show topic.
I was thinking of a few games that actually might make decent films.

Fallout, The Witcher, and S.T.A.L.K.E.R.

What these three games have in common are pretty obvious, they're all categorized as "WRPGs" This means they all have several attributes that lend themselves to the creativity of filmmaking.
1. They have large, yet not completely-defined universes and mythologies. That means lots of areas to explore, lots of potential settings, not all of which need to be included in one film.
2. Being a WRPG, they're "open-ended" in some aspects. You're free to create any type of character, with any kind of personality that you like. Nobody's going to throw a huge stink if the main character in the movie isnt the same main character as the game (See: Resident Evil movies) because hey, this is the story of another character living in this universe, not your own self-customized Mary-Sue.

Another thing struck me about The Witcher, and S.T.A.L.K.E.R.
The Witcher is already based on a series of Polish fantasy novels.

And S.T.A.L.K.E.R. well, that was based on a movie, which was in turn based on the nobel Roadside Picnic.

So, technically, you could be making a movie, this movie is based in part on a game, which is based in part on another movie, which is based in part on a book!

Lucas said...

Gloria said...

What namely you are writing is a horrible mistake.