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Hi there! It’s been a while, hasn’t it? True, we’ve let Robot Panic sit relatively silent for a long time now; not out of laziness (at least, not completely), but because we’ve got other plans that we’re not quite ready to unveil yet. So I figured, since the site is just sitting here, why not post the occasional bit of content for the few people who either have us in their RSS feeds or bother checking the site to leave comments on the podcast? I’m not saying this is going to be a regular thing, but perhaps I’ll drop by from time to time as we wait for the new site to launch.
I want to talk a bit about games. We’ve not been a dedicated “gaming” podcast for nearly a year now, and I’d also like to talk about that. I know us moving away from gaming was a disappointment to some of our listeners, and I’m sorry for that. As we explained many times both on the show and here on Robot Panic, we just got tired of limiting ourselves to one field of discussion every week. It’s true that while we lived together all those years ago, one of the things that helped the three of us bond was our mutual love of video games. But would we really still be putting up with one another fourteen years later if all we had in common was gaming? Christ, I doubt it.
But that’s not the only reason we backed off of a gaming-centric podcast. Yes, there’s the issue of our family lives and the fact that raising children and pleasing our fickle brides chews up much of the time that would otherwise be dedicated to gaping at a television with a controller in our hands. But honestly, a major factor – for me, at least – in broadening our podcast format was the fact that the podcast was making me enjoy games less and less. You see, the way we did Team Fremont Live/Drunken Gamers Radio was not sustainable for a group of guys with jobs, families, and lives in general. We liked talking about the most current crop of games, lest we should come off as dated. After all, gaming enthusiasts rarely remember which games were released last week, let alone six months ago, and we prided ourselves on keeping things as current as possible each and every week. For some strange reason, listeners seemed to like our reviews and some even came to rely on us for purchasing decisions. Bizarre, but that’s how it was.
Because of this, we burned through games faster than we could ever possibly finish them, and this became increasingly frustrating for me. It wasn’t just the cost associated with buying the games, it was because more and more I had stacks of games that had only been given enough attention to inform my opinions for the podcast. And before I could go back and actually complete these games, we were on to the next week and the next batch of releases. To put it another way, it was like I was buying one or two new books per week and only reading about a third of them. What a waste!
It’s true that we could have changed the way we dealt with games on the podcast to deal with this problem; and for a while while we attempted to do just that by producing shows that focused on a gaming theme not always relevant to a new release. But as I mentioned, our interest in the subject was waning. And frankly, I don’t regret our decision to move away from gaming at all. In fact, I think it’s the best thing we’ve ever done. Not only are the three of us having more fun now that we can talk openly about any topic we’d like without having to feign interest in a forced discussion, but I’m enjoying playing video games again. In fact, throughout the past ten months, I’ve finished more games than I had finished in the entire five years prior. And fuck me if that’s not a satisfying feeling! Rather than buying games simply to have something to discuss on the podcast, I’m buying games that I genuinely want to play and, in nearly every case, playing them to completion. I know this seems like a no-brainer for many people, but for me it’s a god-damned revelation.
On Monday I purchased the Ico and Shadow of the Colossus collection. I finished it Wednesday night. This game was released last week, and in years past I would have bought it the day of release, probably pounded through the first five or six colossi, dabbled with Ico (I finished that game before we started doing a podcast), downloaded Super Mario Land 2 on 3DS, played as much of that as I could, and then set off to do the podcast. I wouldn’t have been able to get back into Shadow of the Colossus again this week because Dark Souls was released. So I would have frantically played that for a few days and then the cycle would have repeated itself into infinity. Money pissed away, great gaming experiences gone to waste.
So let’s talk about Shadow of the Colossus, shall we? Upon its original release on PS2, I did purchase it immediately and talk about it on the podcast. And no, I did not finish it. Yes, because of the aforementioned cycle of failure, but also for other reasons. First, the game’s controls are completely unforgiving. I believe this week on Twitter I claimed they were “dogshit”, but that was probably said after a frustrating bout with a colossus. The fact is that they perform exactly as they were designed, but because of the nature of the game (gripping the colossus, climbing and platforming on moving objects) they give the player little leeway, and careful precision is the only way to succeed. Furthermore, one must understand the grip meter and how it works. Jumping around while the beast is flailing around only leads to long, frustrating falls to your death. These are things that perhaps I wasn’t fully understanding back then, leading to frustration that could have been avoided.
And then there were the graphics. Shadow of the Colossus has always been a beautiful game, even before this HD remake. But at the time, the game felt like it was perhaps a bit too visually ambitious for the aging PS2. Grainy, jaggy, and somewhat washed out, Shadow of the Colossus in its original form was, to me, a work of art impeded by its platform. As I guided Argo through the spacious landscapes, I strained to see what was on the horizon, and thus had trouble reaching my next destination. Which is funny because I recall at the time arguing against the impending launch of HD consoles, as my feeling was that the current offerings were “good enough” visually. Shadow of the Colossus proved me wrong as the HD version makes the game infinitely more playable. I guess drunken game commentary isn’t always good game commentary.
Back to the subject of completion, finishing Shadow of the Colossus finally answered all the questions about the game that had been lingering in my head for the past five years. Why was I destroying these lumbering behemoths? Who was the girl on the altar? Who was behind the booming voice giving me instructions? What happened to the abandoned castles and cities? Granted, not all of these questions were answered completely, as the ending leaves a lot to the imagination. Nevertheless, it was a satisfying conclusion to an experience I had first begun several years prior.
Shadow of the Colossus works on so many levels, and does so with incredible subtlety. You never know why your character is so intent on reviving the girl, and you’re never given any information about their relationship. Yet the determination he shows at the beginning of the game is more than adequate inspiration to press on. The land you explore is completely bare, inhabited only by the colossi and the occasional bird, lizard, or fish. However, the ruins of a past civilization give you clues as to what it must have been like. And finally, while the game is vast and mostly barren, the simple direction given by the reflection of your sword seems to magically lead you where you need to go.
The movie Reign Over Me used Shadow of the Colossus as a sort of metaphor. Some of it was direct – Adam Sandler wanting his dead family back was directly analogous to the Warrior wanting to resurrect the girl – while the colossi seemed to represent certain emotions or mental demons he had to destroy. I didn’t find that to be how I related to it in the end, though I can certainly see how one would make that connection. For me, it didn’t carry those deep metaphorical meanings. It managed to be a peaceful game, despite the fact that you’re hunting down giant beasts and stabbing them in the head. When it was over, having committed numerous acts of violence, I felt a strange sense of calm, having (mostly) solved the mystery of what was going on. I sat and reflected on the experience for a few moments, wondering about the hero, the girl, Argo, and the game’s world. It was a nice feeling, and one I probably wouldn’t have had if we were still doing a gaming podcast.
So that’s that for now. It felt good spewing out these 1600+ words, Cooking with John style (for the two of you who remember that column). Thanks for hanging around, and perhaps I’ll take it up again soon.
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