Posts tagged ‘mortal kombat’

December 11, 2011

Mortar and Pistol’s Game of the Year


Spike just held their Video Game Awards, and Skyrim walked away with Game of the Year for 2011.  And it is no surprise, it was easily the most anticipated game in years, and it certainly lived up to the hype.  But while Spike is nothing more than a simple blog (or so I’ve heard), we here at Mortar and Pistol realize that our Game of the Year award is far more prestigious and coveted, and comes with far less award money.  In fact, rumor has it that Bethesda and the rest have never heard of us.  Regardless, below I give you my game of the year, but first:

Honorable Mention – Mortal Kombat

With an incredible franchise history spanning nearly two decades, the Mortal Kombat series has developed a very dedicated fan base of all ages.  It was the catalyst for the creation of the ESRB and the cause of countless parents realizing not all video games were OK for their precious snowflakes to be playing.  Uppercuts continued to be great in all walks of life, but never as sweet without a “Toasty!” accompanying it.  This year’s reboot and newest incarnation took us back to our MK roots and built on everything that made the series great, while leaving all the crappy innovations behind.  Coupled with some great DLC, Mortal Kombat ’11 helped make 2011 one of the best years in gaming we’ve ever seen.  Though it was released the day the Playstation Network went down, once it was back up and running the online fighting proved to be some of the most fun and addicting of any fighting game on the market.  I still can’t hit a possum in the street without stopping, rolling down my windows, and shouting “Fatality” before screeching off into the sunset.

Third Place – Batman: Arkham City

Following up on what was already an incredible game, Batman: Arkham City showed us that not only could a Batman video game be good, but that they could be amazing.  With elements from nearly all genres mixed together in perfect harmony, with a simply fantastic story, Batman: Arkham City was impossible to put down from beginning to end.  Where Nolan reinvented the Batman films, Arkham City invents the Batman game.  Detective work that puts L.A. Noire to shame, a fighting system that makes Kratos embarrassed, and a story that makes Dante Alighieri go back to his writing workshop at the community college, this game is a masterpiece.  Even for people that don’t particularly like superheros, this game will have you pausing at every boss fight to search Wikipedia for their back stories.  And when you hear Solomon Grundy recite his nursery rhyme, well, you’ll be growing worse by Friday yourself.

Second Place – The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Go ahead and start flaming me in the comments on how this didn’t get first.  Don’t worry, I’m prepared for it.  Regardless, Skyrim is purely an epic game.  One I had been anticipating for years, it lives up to every second of the hype and then some.  When I first saw the world before me, the mountains in the distance capped with fog, the Northern Lights twisting and painting an indescribable landscape, I was stunned.  The game is a worthy addition to the already daunting Elder Scrolls series, and proves that this is a franchise that all others aspire to emulate.  The first night I got it, I played until the sun came up and barely felt like I had done anything in the game.  The first time I stumbled into the Dwemer ruins I was giddy with glee, the nostalgia from Morrowind overwhelming me.  It will be a game I play for so many hours that it should come with a Surgeon General’s warning, and one I’m sure to write more articles about in the future.  I’ve found myself more than once shivering from Mountain Dew excess at 4am, promising myself I’ll go to bed, just one more quest.  It is as engrossing a game as I’ve ever played, and one that you think about playing when you’re not, and even when you’re already playing it.  As far as money’s worth goes, you’ll feel like you owe Bethesda more because $60 wasn’t enough to cover what you’re getting.  I eagerly anticipate upcoming DLC even though my quest menu is still as packed as a hungover prom date’s missed call list.  Skyrim would have taken first easily if it wasn’t for another game this year, one I didn’t really even get excited for, and one I didn’t have too many expectations of.  But once I played it, I realized I had found something special.  And that’s why this year, first goes to:

First Place – Battlefield 3

I knew the big battle this year would be between Modern Warfare 3 and Battlefield 3, but I didn’t realize I’d later be debating between Battlefield 3 and Skyrim for Game of the Year.  I even once posited that MW3 would win out and end up being the better shooter this year.  But Battlefield 3 proved to be something more than just another shooter for the year.  It proved to be more than a game.  It is an experience like none other.  It, in my opinion, is even more engrossing than Skyrim by being just so damn realistic.  The physics of the new Frostbite 2 engine, the incredible sounds of the gunshots and explosions, and the innovations made to the FPS genre all work to make Battlefield 3 not only the best shooter ever made, in my humble opinion, but 2011’s best video game.  Every match is so varied and different and the world is so open to possibilities that each game will leave you with incredible stories to tell.  Need proof?

Play with friends and you will have some awesome experiences to share later on.  DorisfromNoris and I still talk about some epic games we had over a month ago, and we continue to have epic matches today, ones that are so new and different, regardless of if they take place on the same map. Rush is the new breakout mode of gameplay and has risen to become my all time favorite, opening and expanding the maps to sizes I didn’t think I’d ever see in a shooter.  Amazing vehicle physics allow for some incredible gunfights, and the challenging nature of the jets and helicopters make kills with those all the more rewarding.  The fact that this game promotes teamwork so well, allowing one to get tons of points without even getting a kill, all work to make this game more than just a shooter, and create instead a realistic and adrenaline-fueled war experience.  Add to that that DLC has already been released, giving us 4 more maps with tons of new guns and vehicles, this game proves that it isn’t just another installment, but instead a milestone and an achievement.  The realism and detail of the guns makes for an incredibly realistic game that hasn’t even been approached by other games, and the player base of this incredible game only helps to make it such a wonderful experience.  A free Battlelog on the internet that you can use to track stats helps to allow you to obsess about it even when you can’t play, and all this together adds up to what is the best game of this year.  Though Skyrim is captivating and incredible in its own right, the fact that Battlefield can draw me in more than any other media out there makes this game the true champion of 2011.  Grab some caffeine, pull your chair up close to the TV, turn it up louder than your neighbors would like, and jump into a war that will leave you so pumped up that you’ll be scolded by your optometrist for not blinking enough.  ***And I just discovered that if you have BF3, DICE is giving away Battlefield 1943 for free!

Agree?  Disagree?  Leave your comments below and let me know what you think the Game of the Year for 2011 should have been!

September 29, 2011

Violence, Video Games, and the Law


In June of this year the Supreme Court issued a ruling in Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association dealing with how much the law can restrict the sale of violent video games, specifically to minors.  While I do have a legal background and while this conversation allows for an extremely lengthy discussion, I’m going to instead attempt a brief overview of the history of violence in video games and what the Brown decision means for the future of the industry.  This isn’t going to be a doctoral thesis, I’m sure you can find that elsewhere, and I’m certain most don’t want to read that anyway.  I know I don’t want to write it.  So lets begin.

The controversy over violence in video games is nothing new, and debate has centered around this very issue for as long as video games have had any sort of violent aspect to them, regardless of the quality of the technology or graphics.  The first real rumblings over violent games arose in 1976 over the arcade game Death Race.  In the game, you drive a car and attempt to run over gremlins.  If this doesn’t sound fun to you, just wait until you see the game in action:

I feel murderous already

Concerned that kids would play this game and attempt to kill people consisting of no more than seven pixels, parents and legislators alike began to look into whether violence in the games their kids play would have any effect on their children’s behavior.  They set out to do some research, well armed with preconceived biases and conclusions just needing facts to support them.  See, at that time, and to this day as well, the presumption among many was that video games were a medium solely, or mostly, consumed by children.  In fact, this presumption persists to this day in spite of overwhelming statistics that put the average age of a gamer at 37 years old.  Maybe many of these gamers were kids when they started, but as technology has improved and the gaming industry has exploded with capital, games are now aimed far more at adults than children.  This is because it is well known that males, 18-35, have the most disposable income, i.e. the most buying power.  It just makes good business sense to aim your products at the people most likely to buy them and kids are just not that demographic.  But facts be damned because many still cling to the idea that games are aimed a a young audience, and the violence therein will destroy those young minds.  Just look at the hysteria over the release of Manhunt 2 in 2007.

Not mentioned is the mediocre reception the game received, greatly hindering its sales in the US.  Indeed, and probably because of, the over-the-top and gratuitous violence and gore in games like Manhunt, which focus more on shock than on things that matter, like actual gameplay, the game just didn’t sell that well.  Thus less people played it, and as their logic would go, less people became mass muderers.  The problem with those who think violence in video games is terrible is that they make an assumption, unconsciously, that those who play these games are violent weirdos in the first place, and thus won’t be placated until something more extreme is released, ad infinitum.  Its the assumption that kids only want to kill, thus they buy the most sadistic game possible.  Not only does this contradict their own stated premise that these games turn normal kids into violent people, but it completely disregards the facts that games are popular because they are good games, and gameplay is not judged on violence alone.

Don’t get me wrong, some of the best selling, and in my opinion, most fun games out there are extremely violent.  But they stand alone on their gameplay.  Call of Duty is fun because of the graphics, the dynamics, the community, and the competitive nature of the game.  There are thousands of games out there where I can shoot someone, and some are better, some are worse, some sell more and some fall flat.  Its not dependent upon the violence.  Now, sure, violence is kind-of a must in a game like that.  No one wants to play Call of Duty in paintball mode (looking at you, Goldeneye), but people don’t play Call of Duty because they are angry, bitter, rabidly violent maniacs.  They play the game for the reasons mentioned above, and the violence simply adds to the realism and excitement.  To then make the leap in logic to say that that very violence will in turn make people want to kill or emulate that behavior disregards the very reason those games are popular in the first place, and insults those who consume these very games  by painting them as mindless and malleable.

Though those screaming on the other end of my headset will often lead me on a descent into madness

In the early 90’s when games like Mortal Kombat and Doom were released, it began to really catch people’s attention, as these games had graphics that were far superior to any Death Race.  Inspired by similar moves by the Motion Picture Association, the video game industry created the voluntary self-regulating authority called the Entertainment Software Rating Board, or the ESRB.  Because most retailers, by agreement with the distributors, would not sell non-ESRB rated games, this rating agency became the de facto rating agency and served to restrict sales of violent games to minors.  This move was done in part to stave off legislation that would regulate the gaming industry, out of fear of what public opinion and legislators far removed from the actual games themselves would attempt to enforce on an industry they didn’t quite understand.

And this was all fine and good for a while, but as time passed, technology improved exponentially.  Graphics were approaching realistic levels, games were allowing more freedoms, and with it the backlash against violence in video games increased.  People like ex-attorney Jack Thompson were consulted by various news outlets about games like Grand Theft Auto and Halo, more so after school shootings and other tragedies, as they attempted to tie in real world violence with its video game counterpart.  Jack Thompson, the famously level-headed attorney, filed multitudes of lawsuits against various video game developers and distributors, claiming all manner of illegal things were being perpetrated by the video game industry.  He was later disbarred for those actions, including filing frivolous lawsuits and engaging in slander and libel, not to mention a complaint sealed by the Florida bar where he supposedly depicted gay sex acts in his complaint and for which he was forced to promise not to file any more pornography (I’ll just let that sink in for a bit).

But Jack Thompson aside, many still continued to claim games like GTA would give points for killing prostitutes and other such crimes, exposing the true lack of understanding of video games past the arcade days of the 70s and early 80s.  Though GTA didn’t even include a point system and there were never missions that rewarded such actions, GTA was villainized in the media for those very accusations.  Its true that one could kill prostitutes in that game, but one could play GTA the entire way through without even once engaging in such behavior.  The game was the beginning of the modern sandbox genre, allowing you to do what you pleased, and in some people’s eyes, this allowed too much freedom because it allowed you the freedom to engage in behaviors they supposed the game actively encouraged.

When I play, I like to sit patiently in traffic

Thus in 2005 California introduced legislation that banned the sale of violent video games to minors and required labeling above and beyond what the ESRB had instituted.  This law was challenged by the Entertainment Merchants Association, which represents the video game industry, on the grounds that it violated the right to free speech as found in the First Amendment.  They would go on to win in district court on the grounds that the law indeed violated the First Amendment and that there was an insufficient showing that video games differed from other media.  Furthermore, the district court would find that there was not an established causality between violent video games and violent behavior.  The case would be appealed to the United States Supreme Court.

The case was Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association and the decision was presented in July 2011.  The case in its entirety can be found here.  To surmise, because the decision was announced by Justice Scalia, not known for his brevity, the case was found in favor of the EMA and the California law was struck down.  But what makes the case noteworthy is that for the first time the courts recognized that video games qualify for First Amendment protections.  The court stated that

Like the protected books, plays, and movies that preceded them, video games communicate ideas–and even social messages– through many familiary literary devices (such as characters, dialogue, plot, and music) and through features distinctive to the medium (such as the player’s interaction with the virtual world).  That suffices to confer First Amendment protection.”

Though the court upheld the long standing rule that obscenity could still be banned from being distributed to minors, Scalia stated that video games constituted speech, and speech about violence does not constitute obscenity.  The court further held that the evidence shown did not prove that violence in video games causes violence in children, and that shows like Looney Toons have as much effect on children as do games featuring guns.

This may be no big deal to some who are 18 or older and no longer have to worry about the ESRB or the California law.  But it actually does have long-reaching consequences.  Consider the rating system in Australia, which has the power to outright ban games from the country.  Recently, they found the modern iteration of Mortal Kombat had excessive violence and lacked any redeeming quality, thus banning the game from the country.  Not just for minors, but for everyone.  The fact that our Supreme Court has found that video games constitute free speech means that we are assured that no such outright bans will take effect in the United States (though in fairness, games that fail to receive at least an M rating will in effect be banned in America, at least in as much as retailers will refuse to sell it, and thus developers will refuse to create it).

Personally, I believe that some games out there are not made for children.  Tons of games include some serious language, violence and other things that just aren’t appropriate.  But so do movies and books.  Video games shouldn’t be treated any differently.  Moral panics about violent video games serve to do nothing except produce free publicity for those game manufacturers and generate interest among potential consumers.  Forbidden fruit is always more tempting to those told they can’t have the games, and their efforts are counterproductive.  Moreover, their worries are unfounded, considering that most games today, especially the violent and blockbuster games, are not aimed at kids, but instead adults with disposable incomes and the capacity to purchase these games themselves.  Not to mention that adults have the ability and experience to objectively evaluate games, and will mostly buy games that are reviewed well and actually have good gameplay.  Kids lack that experience, plus are blessed with the ability to be more easily entertained, so why try hard to make good games for them when the industry knows they will buy Pixar tie-ins and other crap.  The big money is spent on games adults will buy, and that is where the violent video game market is.  And with all that said, I must say that my favorite moment from Black Ops involved this scene:

There are shards of glass in his mouth, and you get to punch him. Nuff said

September 28, 2011

Mortal Kombat – 19 Years In


One of the few game franchises I absolutely love, to the detriment of all other games in that genre, is Mortal Kombat.  Some people are Street Fighter types and that’s fine, but for me, a fighting game isn’t worth playing if it isn’t the ole’ MK.  And on October 8th, Mortal Kombat will become 19 years old.  There have been tons of sequels and spin-offs, movies and a mini-series, and one awesome song that have sprung from the original game.  Some were bad, some were good, and few were great.  But when they were great, damn, they were great.

I don’t remember what year it was when I first played Mortal Kombat.  I was young to be sure, probably around 8 or so.  My friend had gotten the game on his Sega Genesis and we would all get together in his refurbished basement and play it.  He was the go-to friend when it came to violent video games.  We would also play Doom together and his parents would yell at us when they found out.  I’m not sure how a kid ended up with those games if his parent’s didn’t want him to have them, but regardless, we whooped some Goro ass in our day.  Some would favor Raiden, some would choose Kano, but I was a Scorpion man myself.  I learned quite quickly that duck-kicking opponent’s ankles over and over was not only a great way to win matches, it was also a great way to get your friends to stop playing with you.  Before the days when 13 year olds in Canada would scream at you over PSN for spamming the moves, you simply had your friends get mad and turn off their systems.  What could I do?  Go home and play my Power Rangers game on my own Sega?  Yeah right, I’d rather play outside.

Garbage

Some will say that Mortal Kombat was revolutionary in that it used actual images of people as sprites.  I always thought the graphics were shitty, even then.  Some will say the blood and gore was extreme for the day, some may still consider it extreme.  But when an enemy simply ‘explodes’, and red-looking pixels and what I assume are bones just bounce around, it had no effect on me.  Maybe watching the Gulf War unfold desensitized me (kidding, I was desensitized by Ren & Stimpy) but then, and especially now, I just don’t see Mortal Kombat being the vile game that Joe Lieberman saw it as.  It just doesn’t seem like this warranted the formation of the ESRB:

As gory as a game made in MS Paint can get


But regardless of how some kid felt about it all, Mortal Kombat was certainly onto something.  A movie would be made in 1995, one that blew me away.  The theme song alone was worth it, and produces an intense effect when enjoyed over a gallon of Surge.  I remember even buying the sound track, and subsequently having it taken away when my parents discovered one of the songs had the word shit in its lyrics.  Scorpion’s weird snake-like chain, snaking through the trees while chasing Johnny Cage, was an amazing cinematic achievement, or at least I thought so at the time.  (And to be fair, I watched the movie recently, and while certainly not a good movie, its not bad, at least for nostalgia’s sake).

He would later go on to become the poster child for cataracts

And then life moved on.  We tossed aside Mortal Kombat for other games (like Primal Rage.  Sigh, no one remembers Primal Rage).  We grew up.  And while I knew there were new iterations of MK being made, I also knew they were derivative and crappy spinoffs, too far removed from what made the game great in the past.  They made games that only had new characters, a game that focused on Stryker (ugh), a game where the fighting style was in 3D, thus making getting hits nearly impossible, and a game where you could fight Batman.  For God’s sake, where was the controversy, where was the innovation of the first one?  Even though I wasn’t shocked and appalled as a kid, I still loved the first two games, but had near zero interest in revisiting this franchise.

Then last April, bored of Black Ops and reading the news, I stumbled across an article saying that a new Mortal Kombat had just been released that day.  It was a reboot of the series, a return to its roots, in all its HD glory and promising extreme violence and gore.  I headed to Gamestop and bought it on a whim, actually pretty pumped to play it.  Indeed, maybe absence had made the heart grow fonder, or maybe the fact that I had not played the crappy games in the interim allowed me to still have hope for this floundering series.

The game blew.  Me.  Away.  The mechanics were back to basics, fighting was easy and a challenge at the same time.  There were tag battles, the good old arcade towers, all the old characters and some new ones, a great online play system, the graphics were insane, and the violence was dialed up to 11.  The perfect game.  For months it was my go-to game of choice, whether I was having friends over (indeed, those same friends from back in 1992) to play some local matches, to tagging up to play online, to grinding it out myself, yearning for that platinum I never achieved.   Fighting online was tough; maybe its because my reflexes aren’t as great now that I’m 26, maybe because I had taken such a long break from fighting games, but whatever it was, it made winning all the more satisfying.  We would fall to our knees and scream when we lost and we would drink everytime there was an X-Ray.  It had reclaimed all that had made the original game so great from my childhood.  Honestly, it probably lands in my top three games of this modern generation.  Not only that, but I could finally say that I was shocked by the gore, and I loved it.

A real man's uppercut