Monday, September 20, 2010

Commentary: Your Analysis is plain wrong.

 I feel that one of the main priorities of this blog are to encourage discussion instead of inciting flame wars, so naturally I'd give people their opportunity to be heard and bring their points to the table as well. Here's a comment from my previous post: The Character Assassination of Samus Aran:

"I do not normally comment but I love the Metroid franchise and Samus Aran in particular. I also respect your writing but I believe your analysis is plain wrong. The very fact that a child Samus is shown during the Ridley scene communicates that Samus was recalling childhood trauma. Childhood trauma can easily last into adulthood especially when you have a character as solitary and naive as Samus. It is unlikely that Samus would have seen a psychologist.

In response to your point about Adam requiring Samus to authorize every weapon, firstly, this is still a video game so Samus needed to develop over time so I think it is excusable. It isn't sexist either. The other soldiers similarly required authorization for their weapons. Of course, Samus gets special attention because she is a walking super weapon. I felt that it worked.

Anthony was a badly written and acted black character but the Japanese hardly ever do black characters any other way. I was unsurprised that Anthony ended up the way he did.

tl;dr Sakamoto knows Samus. Retro's Samus = Master Chief with tits."

You know I have to say that after arguing points about this game for the better half of a week, this is probably one of the more rational comments I've received. I can't say that your points are invalid, as they make sense to a degree. However, let me offer some additional exposition.

*puts on some appropriate music

The very fact that a child Samus is shown during the Ridley scene communicates that Samus was recalling childhood trauma. Childhood trauma can easily last into adulthood especially when you have a character as solitary and naive as Samus. It is unlikely that Samus would have seen a psychologist.
  The psychologist commentary was borderline facetiousness at best, but you're right childhood trauma can last well into a person's adulthood and become problematic when facing simular issues. It's a problem that's all too real for people.

I don't like outing my friends, so for the sake of anonymity, I'll call this person "Steven". Steven and I grew up together and had frequented the local rec center as kids. One day we learned about free hour at the pool, so we decided to go, despite both of us not knowing how to swim. Steven jumps into the deep end without thinking, and almost drowns. A lifeguard saved him, but the whole notion of coming face-to-face with your own mortality tends to give a person a good reason not to want to go near whatever it is that almost resulted in their death.

A couple years later. A severe thunderstorm hit, and resulted in torrential downpours and flash flooding. Riding back with Steven, and his family we were stuck in three feet of water (and slowly rising due to Hampton Roads' crappy sewer system) about a block away from his house. It was a pretty scary situation, but it wasn't that bad, however Steven, due to his personal trauma, had gone into a panic attack, and the situation was more complicated because of that. We managed to get out of the car and walk back to the house, but after calming him down and getting him realize that we needed his help in carrying his sister and brother through the flood waters.

It would be years later that finally Stephen decided to face his problems. My apartment at the time was a block away from the beach, and my fiancee' was willing to teach him the basics of learning how to swim. He panicked a bit when he had to immerse himself underwater, but once he faced his fear he took to swimming rather quickly. Of course there were still instances of him having that panic of drowning, but the last time we talked he said that keeping a cool head is what usually what helps him the most if he finds himself starting to panic. Other than that he's a rather good swimmer. 

Granted, Samus' issue was more to do with a fifteen foot tall emaciated Pteradactyl that was responsible for the death of her parents, but the same thing goes for her as well. Once you confront your fear and overcome it like what Samus did on Zebes the first time, and again on the Space Colony and then again on Zebes in Super Metroid, there should be no reason for her to lose it like she did in Other M. Having fear, and being surprised initally is one thing, but having her freeze up like that contradicts the previous games, and make them seem like they've never happened.Realistically, she would be afraid, but would rationally use her head to overcome it and take control of the situation instead of having to be rescued by Anthony "Remembah me" Higgs.

Additionally, if you've played Metroid II, you would also notice that the majority of the Zeta, Omega, and Queen Metroids all have large mouths with sharp teeth, which would most likely be a trigger for one of those trademark panic attacks of hers, and since she did that mission solo this probably would have been the last time we would have seen her.Imagine if once you encounter one of these mutations you suddenly lost control of Samus and she just stood there, while you get attacked constantly. You'd throw your Gameboy in disgust, wouldn't you? I know I would.

In response to your point about Adam requiring Samus to authorize every weapon, firstly, this is still a video game so Samus needed to develop over time so I think it is excusable. It isn't sexist either. The other soldiers similarly required authorization for their weapons. Of course, Samus gets special attention because she is a walking super weapon. I felt that it worked.
I'm not really arguing that Samus wouldn't need to develop over time, because just having her run around the premises full power would of been game breaking, but I can't honestly say that having Adam authorizing your abilities was the better option over say situational restrictions. What if a section was basically loaded with fuel canisters and that was the reason why you couldn't use certain beams or bombs, and if you did it would show the consequences like the screen fading to white and the section of the bottle ship exploding and then a game over screen? Another idea would of been if the 'Deleter' character had rigged some type of computer virus that would disable her suit during crucial periods where she needs certain abilities.

Having her Varia suit malfunction while trying to go through a room that has extreme tempratures would have had more dramatic effect than having some asshole authorize the use of the ability midway through, and Circumstantial reasons as to why she couldn't blast through the game at full power from the beginning just makes more sense if you put stipulations in the place of some guy telling you when and where to use your abilities. What's really interesting is the fact that I came up with those scenarios in ten minutes, while it took possibly a year to plan out how your weapons are used in this game. So does that make me a better director?

Anthony was a badly written and acted black character but the Japanese hardly ever do black characters any other way. I was unsurprised that Anthony ended up the way he did.

Just because mediocre writing exists doesn't mean that you should drop your expectations to accept it as it is every time. There are some things that do well enough to where you can accept it as a 'pass' and then there are things that are so badly done that even it's most passable things are considered another example of how bad it is. This is the latter.

This also goes back to one of the points I made on GoNintendo when I discussed this; With the enormous amount of money that goes into development of a game, it makes little to no sense as to why developers don't just hire on a professional writer to ensure that the story remains consistent and has enough integrity to not break immersion due to it's glaring inconsistencies with characters and the overall plot. There was an article on Gamasutra called: The case against writers in the gaming industry that was pretty interesting, but fell flat on a lot of points; Mainly, the writer stated that why should developers hire writers to improve a game's story, when you could just find a programmer who writes? A commenter presented the answer to that very statement here, which rings true on so many levels.

Before I leave this and get back to work, I also wanted to address the idea that a designer who can also write is better than a professional writer.

First let me say that yes, in theory, someone who can do two things well on a project is more valuable to the project than someone with a single talent. That really seems like a bit of a no-brainer. The problem is that in the same breath that this was said in the article, Maxwell also claimed that taking 3-4 hours out of a week for a meeting with the writer was too much time away from his duty as a designer. If that is indeed the case, how can Maxwell justify asking a designer (who can write) to take what would undoubtedly amount to much more time away from creating mechanics in oder to fill that role, even if you scaled the writing back considerably. Even for the bare minimum of well written plot or dialogue or even, say, help files and instruction manuals, you're looking at a lot of dedicated time for you designer / writer.

I understand though that it's hard to think of what to do with a writer once the story is finished. The problem is though that a writer's job doesn't stop at crafting the story any more than a designer's job is finished after the initial mechanics are down on paper. Once the story arcs are planned, the writer still has plenty to do. Assuming for a moment that said writer isn't also responsible for writing the maual and doing other more technical writing, he/she still has to write the scripts. Dialogue is one of those things that is very very tricky to do well and it requires a lot of work and polish to make it sound realistic and believeable within the context of the story, a task that is far more often failed in released games than accomplished. This is usually because that sub-par dialogue is written by a designer who, regardless of their abilities as a writer (and usually it's less than they think), doesn't have the time to craft the words properly. Honestly, many many many of the games that are currently on store shelves could have benefitted greatly by giving the writer more time to polish their work. Why assume a writer's job should be done significantly before the project is completed? To me, that just seems like cutting corners.

I could probably continue, but my lunch is getting cold and I have to get back to work. Before I go, I will say these two things: First, I want to apologize if my words seem rused and disjointed in places, I wanted to respond quickly in a limited time. Second, I was just thinking that if you could find a programmer who could also design, then why would your company need any designers to begin with. Come to think of it, if you had a Producer who could also program then why would you need programmers... 
Likewise, a talented writer could of made more of a difference in trying to bring Sakamoto's whole 'delicate flower encased in a iron box' concept to life, while not sacrificing the things that made Samus such a favorite among fans for a little over two decades. Alternately, this would also mean that someone could have written Anthony to not sound like he should end every sentence with "y'naawmeen", and make a credible, yet interesting African American character who doesn't sound like he came straight out of 1995. Unfortunately, Sakamoto decided not to go with this and instead of doing the cooking by the book, he used a messy recipe which ended up with the cake coming out cra-zy.

Above: Just in case someone didn't get the reference....

"tl;dr Sakamoto knows Samus. Retro's Samus = Master Chief with tits."

This is another big part of the debate. I don't really think the issue is that Sakamoto knows samus per se, It's more like he was around when the character was created and fleshed out for the purpose of putting her in a video game. Even he, himself states that he had little to no input in the concept of making Samus a woman. 

Something else that tends to bother me is the fact that he's taking these steps in retconning the Metroid games in order to position himself as the foremost lord and master of Metroid. Let's look at this quote.

Although I have never tried to hide the psychological element of Samus intentionally, as a matter of fact I was trying to demonstrate the characteristics of Samus. Maybe because of that kind of approach Samus Aran has been taken as kind of a mysterious personality and that mysteriousness might have attracted people.

But now that we have shared more of her personality with Other M people might not have a similar interest. They don't see Samus Aran as a mysterious personality anymore but we knew that it was the case and the reason why we created Other M in that context is because after knowing the personality of Samus Aran we wanted people to love Samus Aran much more than before playing Other M.

So Samus being a mysterious character might have been catering to the ability for us to sustain the interest with Samus Aran so far, from now on we need some different approach. Now that you understand who Samus Aran is, what Samus Aran is you must be intrigued to know what she'll be doing next.
The problem with this is that perhaps we didn't need to know who Samus Aran was, or who she is? This is one of the serious issues that people in creative control seem to have; Some strange need to define who a character is, as if the fandom are complete idiots, who can't possibly understand the character to begin with. This sort of hand-holding is unnecessary, as it tends to destroy all the mystery and respect that has been built up in order for someone to force their vision of a character (which may conflict with our visions) upon us.  This kind of goes back to the Star Wars prequels analogy from the first post. Taking the mystery out of the Force, and Anakin Skywalker's backstory was a poor decision as it pretty much tarnished the image of what James Earl Jones, Sebastian Shaw and David Prose worked to accomplish. Of course this is all meaningless when it comes to the 'creative vision' end of it. In both cases we witnessed the truth behind the characters, and discovered who they were, in order to know what they do next... which is contradict themselves, and question why we respected and feared them in the first place.

Still, I have some strange suspicion that this was needed for Sakamoto to have the 'one true vision' of Metroid and that we'd have to go through him in order to find out what's next. This means anything that goes against his vision of Metroid is completely disregarded as was the Prime games (So says Nintendo's PR) . I don't agree with this, as does many other vocal fans, and sites, but I do understand why people are defending this game so valiantly.  Basically, this game breaks a lot of the memes that were built up to shoot down the credibility of the Wii as a next generation console, and for what it's worth this does show that Nintendo (with a little help from Team Ninja) can create industry games. The problem is with having all the earmarks of an industry game, like great graphics and grand narrative, this game tends to come with all the problems of industry games; like a more linear experience than what people are used to, or having the story take precedence over a more engaging experience exploring the bottle ship with the 'story' unfolding through gameplay like...say... Super Metroid.

Incidentally, the 'Master Chief with tits' analogy makes sense, because MC despite having a seriously limited personality works. You may be asking "How?", Well a silent protagonist allows the gamer themselves to be projected onto the character. Like how in Chrono Trigger you could voice your opinions through the actions and answer the questions presented to you how you want. When we're presented with a character who drones on over and over about her personal problems we're not really engaging in an immersive interactive experience. we're watching some lifetime movie network drama set in space.

tl;dr  - I think you make some good points, but I can't really agree with them. Sakamoto certainly knows about some girl named Samus, but not really as much about the Samus Aran we've spent two decades getting to know through gameplay. Besides, who died and made him king of the Metroids, anyway?

oh.... right.


  1. Great response Spiracy. Hope this will clarify your (already clear) views about this game.

  2. Well thought out commentary, this is.

  3. Anonymous commenter here again. Thanks for the response. It did clarify your view for me. I'm optimistic about the Metroid franchise. Your response makes me think Sakamoto may be able to find a formula that works for everyone. Sakamoto, along with everyone else, knows Super Metroid was the best of the series. I really hope Sakamoto gives this another shot. Sakamoto did direct Fusion which fared much better with the critics. Fusion was linear, it had Samus narration throughout, and introduced the Samus/Adam relationship. I enjoyed the story, as a Nintendo fan however, I can understand storytelling through gameplay is a major part of the Nintendo experience (my personal favorite is Zelda storytelling).

    I don't think they need to give it back to Retro just yet. The sales may end up being pretty good given that the holidays are coming up. The critics and fan response may lead to Sakamoto going back to the Fusion-style storytelling or even the Super Metroid silent protagonist approach. But, in my opinion, Sakamoto does Metroid gameplay the best.

  4. Retro's dance card is most likely filled up if Nintendo trusts them enough to work on DKCR so I don't think they'll be fidding around with Metroid for quite some time.

    Whoever works on the next Metroid game will most likely go the old school forumla route in order to please and patch up the fanbase. I would even go so far to say that the next Metroid title could even be a Wiiware game done in the style of the Konami Rebirth series in order to whet our appetites for the next big game in the series.