Why I Heart Isaac Clarke

Look at em! Ahhh, this guy's a coconut...

Sleep much?

This post containers spoilers.

The thing that makes Isaac Clarke so great is how flamin’ ordinary he really is.

You see, a lot of heroes tend to be these one-of-a-kind characters with skills and abilities above and beyond those around them. A lot of video games are made on the premise of being someone or some group’s last hope for no other reason than being unique during a time of great need.

For example, the Master Chief from Halo was the last Spartan. Captain Titus of Space Marine had some strange resistance to the power’s of the warp which helped him, on top of being one of the rarest soldiers the Imperium has to offer. In Skyrim, your character is dragon-born. In the Castlevania series, the Belmont clan has a long standing tradition of opposing vampires while Alucard is Dracula’s only son. And many main characters from the Final Fantasy series, such as Cloud Strife, Zidane Tribal and Terra Branford, all are incredibly unique and rare for a variety of reasons.

They can do it because no one else can.

But in Dead Space, there’s nothing super unusual about Isaac Clarke. Oh sure, he suffers from dementia from exposure to the marker (which is more a curse than blessing), but he’s not the only one and probably won’t be the last either. He stands up to the Necromorphs, but he’s not alone there. Nor is he the only one who can destroy the marker, as I’m sure both the Unitologists and EarthGov can. Only they choose not too.

Nope. Isaac Clarke’s quest is a bloody one of self-discovery and healing, but its overall effect on the world around him is fairly minimal, despite how huge it must have seemed at the moment of completion to the player. The player only explores the world around the eyes of Isaac in the main Dead Space series. We only ever see this world of political intrigue and struggle through the eyes of Isaac, whose condition made him highly useful, but not irreplaceable.

Indeed, Isaac is caught up in that long going struggle between church and state. Much like the Dark Ages of Europe where the popes and kings sometimes allied and sometimes struggled against one another. Neither side is particularly interested in Isaac’s welfare. Today, whether the conflict of church and state continues is a matter of personal opinion. But just about everyone knows what it’s like to be sandwiched between two power hungry giants in some shape or form, be them political, economic, religious or otherwise.

Also, Isaac is a nerd.

Even without super powers or unusually beneficial aspects, gruff soldiers are a common enough hero type. The Master Chief, Marcus Fenix of Gears of War, Commander Shepard of Mass Effect. All these games make the player feel remarkably qualified to save the world.

Not so with Isaac, who carries on a growing tradition similar to Gordon Freeman of Half Life. He’s not a soldier, he’s bloody tech support. He’s the guy you call when your hard drive crashed or you need permission to install the latest version of an application, or when your engine is on the fritz. His weapons? Mostly modified mining tools. His mission? Fix the damn engine before we get charred falling into the atmosphere.

And like many nerds, Isaac Clarke doesn’t seem to have much luck with the love life either. I just don’t see a happy ending for him. Like, ever. The first game was a sick joke on the man, when he find sout that his girlfriend, who he thought was alive and helping him, was actually dead. And the second game, he wrestles with dementia as the memory of long dead Nicole tries to kill him. Oh and the new girl? Poor gal loses her eye babysitting a guy for Isaac. What a lousy first date.

So yeah. It’s a shame that Dead Space 3 maybe the last we see of Isaac Clarke. It’s generally acceptable that we have to move on from characters after a while, after their story is told and the challenge has been overcome. But I’ll bet that the archetype of Clarke will endure. It’ll be thought on, reinvented and introduced in future games, books and movies.

I’m sure Dead Space 3 will do fine for itself. It’ll be a good game that is remembered, but not the break out smash hit that the series never was. At least for now. Sometimes, today’s moderate successes are tomorrow’s greatest hits.

Farewell Nintendo Power

Adios Wort! No one liked you anyway...

Adios Wart! No one liked you anyway…

Everyone who had an NES knew of Nintendo Power. The yellow and red titled magazine with its often amazing cover art, packed with news and strategy guides, unbelievably colorful designs. It was so much to look at, so much to read. It was entertaining as it was informative.

When I looked at Nintendo Power and compared it to every other magazine that ever passed my hands, all I could think was, “This is what magazines should be like.”

After 24 years of business, the closing of Nintendo Power is a big deal. As December is the last issue of Nintendo Power, writers at gaming sites are chiming in on the impact the magazine had on their lives. Not so much about recent successes by the magazine, but in the victories of the past.

The artwork was probably my favorite part about the gaming magazine. Nintendo Power took the extra effort to either create their own artwork or use colored artwork from the game itself.

The gamer’s guide for the original Final Fantasy was one of my favorite, as was that for Final Fantasy III (we now know as the sixth title). In the former, several pieces of new art were developed, with western style fantasy settings.

The art added to the game guides really added to the beauty of the magazine.

The art added to the game guides really added to the beauty of the magazine, and helped us to imagine details the game art didn’t provide.

For the latter of the two, general acceptance of Japanese style fantasy artwork was more widespread in the mid 90s, resulting in my first exposure to the work of Yoshitaka Amano. That’s right, the gaming magazine helped expand cultural knowledge.

Another aspect that surprised me was the intense effort at creating solid strategy guides. Nintendo Power really set the standard for writing them, with everything from character analysis to monster glossaries, maps, battle tactics and strategy. They found everything you wanted to know. Almost all future gaming guides emulated Nintendo Power‘s informative approach to writing strategy guides.

And then there were the comics.

The earliest ones were comedy pieces involving Nester, the Nintendo Power mascot. But during the SNES age, we started to see some real comic book style pieces. These included The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past by Shotaro Ishinomori and Super Metroid. Now that was some serious entertainment value.

The Nintendo Power that I remember is long, long gone. The internet revolutionized everything. Why bother with magazines when GameFAQs and individual game wikias can help with strategy? Why bother subscribing when sites like IGN offer the news and reviews?

But as nostalgic as I am, it’s just one of those things from one’s childhood they cannot really have back. All that remains are the memories.

Final Fantasy VII Remake Explained

History repeats! But not for these guys...

History repeats! But not for these guys…

Both Kotaku and IGN have released stories about the shareholders meeting over at Square Enix. And the reasoning they provide as to why they haven’t created a remake actually makes perfect sense: They have yet to make a Final Fantasy better than VII financially and critically anyway. Although in all fairness, the most financially successful Final Fantasy was the first MMORPG, XI.

I had to add financially and critically. There’s always that guy who is quick to say, “FF7 was not my favorite,” as though their opinion obviously meant all the difference in the world.

So the gist of what we’re told is that if they do a FF7 remake before topping the game, then the Final Fantasy series is finished. That would be admitting that they cannot do any better than their crown jewel of the past. So until Square Enix is in a dire financial situation or they finally do come out with a title that tops FF7, it’s not going to happen.

I, however, have a slightly different theory as to why Square Enix doesn’t want to do it. Pride.

Hironobu Sakaguchi left the company Squaresoft in 2004, after the colossal bomb that was Final Fantasy: The Spirit Within. Although he did not direct a game since FFV, his creative touches were felt in the well remembered VI and VII (and several others). To not make a game better than those Sakaguchi helped to create is to admit that they will never be as successful as they once were.

And that’s not a message of weakness Square Enix would want to send.

The Writing Jukebox

"To answer your question, it's about this big."

"To answer your question, it's about this big."

Today, I’m breaking a cardinal rule.

In the past, almost all of my music for writing entries have centered around a “no lyrics” approach. Now I’m breaking the rule this one time. Sometimes, certain songs lyrics just fit a circumstance so well that it’s worth the distraction.

Now the big thing about music of this kind is that it’s better for listening to in order to get ideas, rather than something to occupy your mind. You may want to let yourself feel whatever you’re going to get from the music, and then get to writing first.

  1. Homeward, by VNV Nation.
    I used to listen to VNV Nation all the time, and despite being somewhat depressive in some songs, it help me through some break ups way in the past. Homeward tends to be one of the more hopeful pieces.
  2. Vida la Vida, by Coldplay.
    I am not a Coldplay fan. Not by a long shot. But they got this particular song right. It discusses the ups and downs of politics, useful if you want to look at civilization as a whole.
  3. Casino Royale – You Know My Name, by Chris Cornell.
    I’ve never been a fan of the 007 movie series. Even Daniel Craig, an action actor worthy of a respectable nod could not draw me into the series.  But Chris Cornell absolutely floored me this with song.
  4. Don’t Stop Me Now, by Queen.
    This song made a recent come back thanks to Simon Pegg and Nick Frost‘s amazing, amazing take on zombie movies. This song makes you fly. If you’re looking to create a scene that oozes of fast, high good times. Whether or not you’re a Team Fortress 2 fan, you may want to check out the alternative music video ‘Don’t Stab Me Now’ because the song quality is better, although there are a few voice drops.
  5. I Don’t Wanna, by Within Temptation.
    I love Within Temptation. I’ve been a fan for a very long time. This particular song just takes off and sets you up for some incredible vocals by Sharon den Adel. Try it. You’ll like it.
  6. Macross Plus – Information High, by Yoko Kanno.
    Macross makes me nostalgic because it was my favorite show growing up. American fans better know it as Robotech, but Macross Plus was there when I turned into a teenager, and kept the tradition going. Information High, by Yoko Kanno, hits a pulse pounding high of techno and lyrics. I recommend this for futuristic stuff and yes, dog fighting.
  7. Ages old. But still beautiful to look at.

    Ages old. But still beautiful to look at.

    Terra’s Theme (Orchestral with Lyrics), Final Fantasy VI.
    Final Fantasy VI. Some say it was the last real Final Fantasy. Others say it was merely the last of a generation before taking off into something new. But regardless of which camp you belong too (if either), you will probably enjoy this beautiful piece. Even despite it being in Japanese. If not because of it.

  8. Dance in the Dark, by Lady Gaga.
    In case this video confuses you, that isn’t actually Gaga. That is Lizalo Galama, who created this video as a fan project. The reason it’s confusing is because of how much it actually looks like something Gaga would make. There’s something a little depressing to this song despite how upbeat it is. You may find it useful.
  9. Story, by Lene Marlin.
    This is a slow and sorrowful piece. Like looking over a tragic life. My favorite part is just around 3:05.
  10. Somebody Save Me, by Krypteria.
    I think of travel on this one. I like the vocals and lyrics despite how depressing it can be.

Another 10 Music Pieces

So immediately after my last post giving 10 pieces of music for writing, I started another post with more music. It takes a little research to find good music with little or no lyrics, while trying to avoid re-using artists I have already mentioned before.

  1. Nothing Else Matters, by Apocalypta.
    “What, no Apocalypta?” MisterEd asked on the Shoutbox immediately after my last music listing. Self-induced cranial knockings commenced afterwards.
  2. Blade Runner Ending Theme, by Vangelis.
    You may find this hard to believe, but Ridley Scott is actually looking to do another movie set in the Blade Runner universe. I honestly don’t know how to take the news given that the sci-fi/noir flick is one of my all time favorites, and that Scott doesn’t seem to have ever done a sequel in his life. We will see what comes of this. Until then, enjoy the original sound track.
  3. Escape, by Craig Armstrong.
    Just when you think it’s over, they’re still coming after you! Run, you fools!
  4. Canabalt Theme, by Danny Baranowsky.
    Canabalt is a simple flash game that came out sometime back. All you do is jump, timing yourself to avoid obstacles and land safely on buildings. Click the link to play, but watch the clock: Your day could disappear playing this.
  5. Factory, Vagrant Story OST.
    Vagrant Story was a one of a kind game. A dungeon crawler influenced by Shakespearean plot writing with supernatural elements.  I have heard talk and discussion of sequels to Ashley Riot’s story, but looking at the direction the Final Fantasy series went after the tenth or eleventh title, I’m not interested.
  6. Escape from the Tavern, by James Horner.
    Willow. Now there’s a movie time forgot. Let’s face it, Hollywood has only started to be kinder to the fantasy genre in the last decade or so with stuff like the Harry Potter series. Still, there maybe some treasures in the soundtrack, if one is willing to look for them.
  7. Give them a shot. You may find your new favorite band.

    Give them a shot. You may find your new favorite band.

    Babylon of the Orient (instrumental version), by The Shanghai Restoration Project.
    The Shanghai Restoration Project is a great band whose discography continues to grow. Most of their music has some lyrics to it and always has an Asian flair. You may also want to check out the lyrical version of this piece.

  8. Just For Today, by Hybrid.
    Oh man, I actually almost don’t want to share Hybrid simply because of how amazing their work is and how much it inspires me. Still, if I like a band I should support them by passing the word along. This song makes me imagine flying and fighting, but if you want something trance and dark, try Dreaming Your Dreams.
  9. Metal Gear Solid 2 Theme, by Harry Gregson-Williams.
    The Metal Gear Solid series continues, but will be doing so without Solid Snake. I can’t blame Hideo Kojima. He was probably scared to death of some other producer butchering his favorite character. Still, damn good music though.
  10. Promise, by Akira Yamaoka.
    My favorite of the Silent Hill series of games was Silent Hill 2. But the music overall has never disappointed. Spooky and eerie, like a ghost tale told properly.