/Scraps: FC Barcelona

This is the introduction of an essay I wrote that would later become the piece published in Paste Magazine last month (which I’m quite proud of, by the way). It’s more or less a festschrift on the Pep Guardiola era of FC Barcelona.

While I was pitching the piece to editors, this section was called “artsy faff” that is “largely meaningless to anyone not intimately familiar with soccer, but is also so flowery that it becomes nearly impenetrable.” That’s actually useful criticism, but I like to use every part of the hog, even the parts left on the cutting room floor. I blame Brian Phillips.

Camp Nou, Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain

Sportswriter Sid Lowe once asked Catalan midfielder Xavi Hernandez,  who plays for Spain and F.C. Barcelona, how he deals with defenders. Xavi replied:

Think quickly, look for spaces. That’s what I do: look for spaces. All day. I’m always looking. All day, all day. [Xavi starts gesturing as if he is looking around, swinging his head]. Here? No. There? No. People who haven’t played don’t always realise how hard that is. Space, space, space. It’s like being on the PlayStation.

Xavi’s response seems obvious: passing the ball is fundamental to soccer. But it’s also the teleological apex for Xavi, the Barcelona team he captains, and the recently-ascendant tiki-taka style he champions. That’s what I do, he says — not only now, but always.

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/Ceci n’est pas une action RPG: On Mage Gauntlet

The consensus on Mage Gauntlet —  RocketCat’s promotional literature, the TouchArcade review that sold me on the game, various forums is that it’s an action RPG. We have, however, been sold a bill of goods: Mage Gauntlet has more in common with River City Ransom than it does with Secret of Mana.

The problem is that the game’s visual style, theme, and mechanics have all been perceived as belonging to the categorical definition of action RPG: Mage Gauntlet takes place in a fantasy setting, and a couple of the underlying systems are governed by a set of stats affected by equippable items. The SNES-inspired art direction only reinforces the misconception.

So it’s true that Mage Gauntlet plays a bit like Secret of Mana, but the granular experience ultimately presents itself much differently.

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In a 2003 interview with Edge magazine, Yoshinori Kitase explains the motivation behind Aeris’ death. “Death comes suddenly and there is no notion of good or bad attached to it. It leaves, not a dramatic feeling but a great emptiness. When you lose someone you loved very much you feel this big empty space and think, ‘If I had known this was coming, I would have done things differently.’ These are the feelings I wanted to arouse in the players with Aerith’s death relatively early in the game.”

The number of people looking for ways to bring her back to life, or to save her from dying, suggests the team was successful. Fans felt loss—but instead of just thinking about the things they would have done differently, they tried them all, and hoped that they would save her from dying.

Looking for a way to stop Aeris’ death or to resurrect her after she’s gone—they’re both ways of dealing with loss. So is blaming Square for killing her, or Sony for keeping Square from seeing its vision to its completion. And so is refusing to give up almost to the point of blindness, the idea that trying anything is better than nothing.

— Brian Taylor, “Save Aeris,” for Kill Screen

/Twerk: Gears of War 3

The following is a large chunk of the RAAM’s Shadow review that I left on the cutting room floor — not because I don’t think the topics aren’t salient, but for the crime of inelegance. It follows a discussion of the ways the DLC fails to expand on RAAM’s character:

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/Dante and direwolves, or, I’m really bad at reading fantasy

Sansa Stark

Early in George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones, Ned Stark beheads a direwolf belonging to his daughter, Sansa, while camped at Castle Darry on the Kingsroad. It’s a sordid affair — a young prince gets bitten, lies are told, friendships are betrayed — but it’s a turning point in the reader’s understanding of the politics and social economies of Westeros.

In any case, I’ve read the scene twice and seen it on TV as many times, but the its most basic symbolism has always eluded me. Here’s Greg Tito from the Escapist:

After watching the final scene where Eddard Stark must take Lady’s life at the order of his friend and King, I considered the symbolism of the wolves for the Stark family. The sigil of House Stark is the direwolf, which is partly why Ned kept the beasts, but he and his girls are leaving the North to go to the dangerously unfamiliar intrigues of the capital city. The Starks will be out of their element. Sansa and Arya sought to bring their wolves with them, but at the conclusion of “The Kingsroad” both are gone – Lady executed and Nymeria chased away. The Starks cannot take the North with them to King’s Landing and the wolves can no longer provide protection like Summer did for Bran.

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/Dragon Age II: On (of all things) Armor

I was surprised to learn that I couldn’t change my companions’ armor in Dragon Age II. I shouldn’t have been: when I spoke to Matt Goldman for a series of previews I published on Destructoid, he let it slip.

“And, basically, to confer the advantages of having that one really good design on all of our characters, we made certain decisions: to limit the amount of changes you could do on them. They evolve as the story evolves, rather than when you decided to give them different gloves, for instance. Which, I think is a stronger motivation for changing their appearance.”

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/Twerk: Dragon Age II

At a (relatively) recent press event in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, I got a chance to play about four hours of Dragon Age II and to interview a few members of the development team. I got fifteen minutes each with lead designer Mike Laidlaw, lead writer David Gaider, and art director Matt Goldman.

After transforming — as if by alchemy — twenty pages of transcribed audio into eight articles and almost 8,000 words. I’ve wrapped up my pre-release coverage of the game for Destructoid. It’s probably the most extensive project I’ve ever done, and I’d be lying if I didn’t say I wasn’t proud of it, dozens of angry comments notwithstanding.

I did a traditional preview. I asked about downloadable content and the internet’s collective backlash against the game; and  about changes from the original, especially its art and story structure and new morality mechanics. I learned about how BioWare used it’s player data to refine its development process; and under which lineage Dragon Age II might fall.

I’m not sure if squeezing blood from a stone is a marketable skill, but it’s almost certainly been done here.