Sunday, July 20, 2008

What It Takes to be a Good Christian

Heh, this one's kinda weird. I first got the thought from a conversation I was having with my girlfriend, when she mentioned that she was probably more Christian than a lot of the "fundamentalist" types. I agreed wholeheartedly (and still do), but it got me wondering...what exactly DOES it take to be a good Christian? While in church today, I gave thought to looking for that, but I realized I already knew where to find a...checklist, of sorts. I knew because the list is located in my favorite chapter of Bible. (Yes I have one, and as one might expect, its REALLY hard to follow.)

So, what does it take? In short: A LOT of shit that most Christians don't even dream of attempting. In detail, well...

- A immense capacity to love. You are, after all, asked to love your enemies.

- An even more immense capacity to forgive people. You are asked to bless them that curse you, and pray for those that use you.

Most of us can't do either of those. I have trouble with the first everyday. But its this one that's a bit more difficult to deal with:

- Your ability to give should be unparalleled. You are supposed to give not only to *anyone* that asks you, but to give without expectation of being paid back. But to take that a step further, not only are you meant to give to people without expectation of being paid back, you are meant to give to those who are unable to give back to you.

- Your aforementioned capacity for love and forgiveness is needed for this next one: You are not only asked to bless them that curse you, and to help them that have done nothing for you, but you are asked to help those that despise you. (Getting harder, isn't it?)

- This next one's of tantamount importance: You must not judge or condemn. Those that judge and condemn are to be judged or condemned by that same measure, and the truth is, the standard we often hold others up to is a standard we ourselves are unable to meet. Rather than condemning, we are asked to be merciful. (Perhaps even, *gasp*, open-minded!) It is not our place nor our right to judge. Usually, whomever we judge for whatever perceived sin we have noticed, has in fact a smaller sin than the ones we ourselves have.

A few other interesting ones outside my favorite chapter...

- One must have an almost instinctive distaste for evil. (Which, naturally makes you sound like a superhero. But then, I already wrote that Jesus Was A Superhero.)

- Owe no man anything. (Its interesting to see this, considering so many Christians claim America to be a "Christian" country, while America's economy depends on most of its citizens being in debt...)

- Love those around you as you do yourself. The entire list, essentially, comes down to this, as "love worketh no ill will to his neighbor, therefore love is the fulfulling of the law."

- The ability to overcome evil with good, rather than being overcome by evil. (This is more or less the whole "love your enemies rather than hate them" all over again, but it bears repeating, methinks.)

- NOT to be a stumblingblock to brethren who do not yet have the faith you do, or to those who seek to be Christian but have not made up their minds yet. This one has a real range of meaning. From not drinking or smoking in front of those who haven't quite developed their faith as well as you have, to not being a judgemental, condescending ass to those you perceive as not quite as "holy" to you. The goal is to make people want to be like you, not to make them want to be anything BUT like you, after all. I feel too many of us have forgotten this.

And one last one: Once, disciples asked Jesus exactly what it took to be the greatest of them all. The answer is a favorite of mine because it shows the true reason for possessing power. Jesus' answer to them was: "Whosoever will be chiefest among you, shall be servant of all."

Contrary to what most believe, or are led to believe, the purpose of power is not to make everyone your servant, but rather to be the servant of everyone. To use that power to help everyone that is beneath you. This is the one thing that I focus on the most. But not because I seek to be the greatest. Its because I am the greatest.

Still, do not misunderstand. If I said I cleared....half this list it would be a lie. But that's the thing. This is meant to be an endless pursuit of perfection. So if I can't get it all today, I've got tomorrow to work at it a little harder. And I will.

(Oh. One more thing. You notice there isn't really all that much of things *not* to do. That's because, to me, if you focus on this list--I mean REALLY focus--you'll find there isn't much time to do anything that you probably shouldn't be doing.)

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

DC's video games

As I've stated several times in previous columns, I'm both a huge comic book fan and an even more huge DC fan. And as I made clear in the immediately previous entry, I'm also quite the video game fan. And like any other human being on the planet, I like the idea behind Reese's. In other words, when someone combines two great ideas to create an even greater one. (Fusion-HA! ... How many people even get that joke...?)

In fact, a great deal of the games I've been interested in lately have been licensed property games coming from the anime or comic book world. The Naruto: Ultimate Ninja series, DBZ: Budokai Tenkaichi series, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance....the list goes on and on. Sadly though, up until recently DC Comics has mostly refused to participate in the gaming world aside from a few games here and there with DC's single popular "anti-hero" character. (Its in parethesis because he's not really an anti-hero, but explaining that doesn't seem particularly germane to this column.)

Recently, they've been trying to change that, with two new entries in the gaming world. A "crossover" fighting game with the Mortal Kombat universe, and a DC Comics Massively Multiplayer Online RPG.

....Yeah. We'll start with that first one. Who the hell greenlighted that project? I'm still trying to figure out how that conversation went:

Pitch Guy: Hey, we just came up with an idea for a new DC game!

Approval Guy: Really? Well we could use a new LP game on the market. What's it about?

Pitch Guy: Well, its a fighter...

Approval Guy: Yeah? Well we could definitely use one of those...we haven't had one since that awful Task Force game, and that came out back when comics actually made more money than games....

Pitch Guy: We're also crossing over our characters with some from another fighting game!

Approval Guy: Oh that's great! Marvel vs. Capcom was regarded as a classic and a big hit among fans. What's it called?

Pitch Guy: Its Mortal Kombat vs. DC!

(...Now see, what SHOULD'VE happened here was the approval guy should've immediately demanded the guy clean out his desk and told him to get the FUCK out. But somehow, apparently the Scarlet Witch came along and used her probability-altering powers and the answer we got was...)

Approval Guy: Great! Start on it right away! Get some good writers from the comics realm to work on the script* and let's throw these two sets of characters who should never cross even in the crappiest fanfiction stories together ASAP! I'm sure both groups of fans will LOVE it!!!

* 'Cause fighting games totally need scripts, done by actually talented writers. That's what ALL fighting game fans look for. A good story...

Yeah, DC...what the hell? First that Justice League game, and now this? Aw, come on! You're making it really hard to defend you when you make decisions like this. I mean, I'm still giving it a chance. After all, Marvel and Capcom didn't make all that much sense together either but they still pumped out two awesome video games, but come on--you would've gotten MUCH more hype if you'd just said you were coming out with a DC Universe fighting game.

And your other game doesn't inspire that much faith either. DC Universe online? Well from the beginning since its an online game you run into one of two pitfalls, and after hearing info about the game, its apparent you've run into problem two: You don't ACTUALLY get to play as the superheroes. And sure, it sounds cool when you say "Your created character gets to play alongside Batman and Superman!", but ask anyone whether they'd rather do that or actually play AS Batman and Superman, and its obvious which they'd rather do.

No, you're better off doing the best you possibly can to simulate the superhero experience. Open world games like Spider-Man 3 are a step in the right direction, but I think DC could take several more steps with just a few ideas:

- Using the most fleshed out cities as the backdrop. Unlike Marvel, which uses so many real world locations, DC has the benefit of being able to use fictional locations, many of which have personalities as nuanced as the characters they give homes to. Sure, we all know Gotham is all dark and...Gotham-y , and Metropolis is the City of Tomorrow (though they really never take advantage of that), but did you know about Opal and Fawcett City (home to Starman and Captain Marvel, respectively)? The two cities that look like they came through a time machine; Opal from England in the 1800s, Fawcett straight out of the 1950s. The twin cities Keystone and Central are the domain of the Flash family--steelworker towns. Green Lantern Hal Jordan's Coast City would be in a state of repair and building since its currently being rebuilt after being destroyed years back. I could go on, but I've made my point. A big part of video games is the atmosphere that's created, but aside from Gotham (which is easy as fuck...whoo you created a dark gothic city...big deal), nobody ever makes a real effort at creating an atmosphere in DC games.

- Artstyles. I'm sorry, but whenever I look at DC Comics videogames, all I can think about is how goofy the characters look. No matter how realistic you try to make them look...I'm just not impressed. Stop. Seriously. Take a page from anime sim games. (Granted, this is the only page you should take from them, but still...) Has anyone looked at Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm? It looks EXACTLY like the fucking anime! I spent two hours listening to Sony's E3 presentation and they spent at least twenty minutes telling me how bad-ass the processors were--if that's the case, then you can't tell me it can't simulate skins for characters that look like they came out of the comics. I'm not really sure why DC Universe Online looks so much like every other superhero game they've made when they had JIM FUCKING LEE so deeply involved in the project, but whatever. Bottom line, I'd rather have characters in my video games look like this:

Than like this. (The newest Mortal Kombat vs. DCU trailer.)

Maybe I'm weird, maybe I'm a visionary. We'll see after I graduate from Full Sail and get a job as the game design head for a DCU game, won't we?

Sony @ E3

As everyone (apparently except me, 'cause I had to look it up yesterday) interested in games knows, this week is the week of E3. Y'know, the week where all the big gaming developers get together and announce to the press (who announce to the public) all the big games for the upcoming year.

This year, I managed to catch Sony's E3 presentation live on G4. (If I could, I'd make a Battleship joke here...) For those who DIDN'T see it...well, honestly? It sounded like damage control more than anything else.

Sony's CEO spent more time telling us how awesome the Playstation brand-name is than he did showing us actual GAMES. On and on about how many units they've sold (we're not your board of directors, man), how "impossible" it is to make the games that are on the PS3 on ANY other system, and Sony's large number of exclusives. Which, actually, would be perfectly fine if Microsoft hadn't totally cockslapped them yesterday with the announcement of Final Fantasy XIII going multi-platform. This in addition to DMC4 (one of Sony's few non-shooter killer apps) being released on the 360 as well as the PS3, Square-Enix deciding to go with the 360 for its newest entry in the Star Ocean series, as well as releasing one of their few brand-new titles Infinite Undiscovery on the Microsoft system, and you get the feeling that...well....Sony's full of shit, and they're trying REEEEEALLY hard to hide that fact.

Unless I'm mistaken (doubtful), despite the "downsizing" of the convention after the record size it held in 2006, E3 is STILL a big event in the gaming world, so it looks bad when people look over your presentation and realize you spent most of it announcing how the sinking ship Sony is not really sinking. At best, all you're going to get us to think is that its not sinking as fast as we thought it was.

Of course, that's just me speaking on a general level as a gamer. On a more personal level...ugh. I feel like I wasted two hours that could've been spent on my usual ritual of watching Law and Order and back-to-back Scrubs episodes. I'm starting to see what Grant Morrison meant when he said that the world post-9/11 seemed to be obsessed with terror and death and depressing shit of that level. The gaming world certainly is. Too many American games can be narrowed down to games where you're either a criminal dealing with cops, stuck in some post-apocalyptic world, or in an army of some sort. To me, they're starting to all look the same.

The only game I saw that really interested me was inFamous, and even that one kicks the story off by blowing up a big chunk of the city you start in and leaving the entire game world in utter chaos. Know what we call that (technically, at least)? Yup. A post-apocalyptic world. At least with that one though you're given the chance to play Hero and clean up the place. Still. One wonders why we, as a country, seem to be so obsessed with fighting not just a losing battle, but a battle we've technically already lost. Is it representative of our country's record in wars for the past half-century? Or are we, in some sort of weird, hive-mind fashion, collectively preparing for/predicting the future as a culture? (That thought disturbs me, greatly.) I'm not sure, but I will say I don't care to take any sort of great part in it.

(By the way...for those who are curious, I'm commenting on Sony's only not merely because that's the only presentation I caught. I've never been a fan of the idea of Microsoft in the console world, and Nintendo by and large is seemingly doing its best to abandon any hardcore gamers outside of their first-party titles, nearly all of which have already been released.)

The only other game I saw that actually grabbed me was DC's new MMO, but the problem with that game and even the idea behind really best left for another column.

The other problem with Sony's presentation was that mainly, it seemed to focus on merely what was coming out this year, purposely leaving us to wonder about "Year 3 and beyond" for the PS3's release cycle, even going so far as to point out that some of the better games on the PS One and PS2 came out after the first two years of their releases. Again, it would be a good idea but given how many games they seem to only get because they're multi-platform, and how many exclusives the competition seems to be stock-piling, it reads more like a hopeful smoke screen, leaving Sony loyalists (and, by "loyalist" I just mean anybody who went to the trouble of giving Sony the exorbitant amount of $$$ the system costs) to hope that the next few years for Sony will be better than the one we're having now. A more cynical person (not me, but I was cynical once so naturally the thought occurred to me) might even think Sony themselves are thinking the same thing.

In the end, I think I'm going to end up more satisfied by the announcements at the Tokyo Game Show in October. (I hope.)