I used to love Japanese role-playing games (JRPGs). Phantasy Star II on the Sega Genesis was the first to completely possess me. Soon after, there was Lunar: The Silver Star, the Evangelion-inspired Xenogears, Final Fantasy IV and VI and VII. These were demanding games, consuming games, games that usually required a minimum 40-hour workweek to complete, back before I knew what such time commitments could do to a person.
But even in the JRPG heyday of the ’90s, there was a central element I never liked. I could go along with the melodramatic plots, the broad characters, certainly all the maps and amazing music. But not the one thing that actually took up the most time — the random encounter battles. One minute you’re exploring a new continent, right in time with the swell of the overworld theme, poised to plumb the depths of some hidden chasm, when suddenly: breach. The screen blurs and in come the patient, turn-taking servants of the Dark Lord.
Before Angry Birds, there was Wii Sports. There was the stunt ramp of Grand Theft Auto, the big air of SSX, the power slide of countless racers. There was the lob of Halo’s plasma grenade, the rocket jump of Quake. And throughout it all, the man of 10,000 jumps: Mario, king of the video-game arc.
It is a primal video-game pleasure, the arc, so common as to be practically invisible. Yet it was there at the beginning, with Spacewar!’s lonesome sun luring players into strategic curves through its computer space. It has persisted ever since in nearly any game with reliable physics. The entire platformer genre, in fact, owes its continued existence to the arc’s inexhaustible joys. We launch, we linger, we land.
Before I had my first console, a Nintendo that came bundled with the Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt cartridge, I would spend hours in front of my mom's off-white cube of an Apple Classic, playing Treasure Mountain. (It's still the greatest game of all time. Just know that.)
The Electronic Entertainment Expo, commonly called E3, takes place over the course of three days in two giant exhibition halls and a series of scattered booths in downtown Los Angeles. E3, despite its reputation as that other Southern California mecca for high-powered geekery, is a trade show, a place of business. People here are on the clock — no fans allowed! — indicated by the ominous placards outside every entrance forbidding anyone under 17, “including infants,” from entering. (Ya hear that, babies? No pre-blogging Resident Evil 6 for you!) Which is why it made complete sense for me, not only a first-time attendee but also someone who hasn’t owned a game console since my Final Fantasy VII days on the original PlayStation, to try to take it all in over the course of what was essentially an extended lunch break.
Look at this thing! The trailer for Rockstar Games' Grand Theft Auto V was posted moments ago at the company's website. As predicted, the game will be set in Los Angeles (or some photorealistic simulacrum) and feature an all-new cast of playable malcontents and murderable civilians. Here's hoping that Rockstar remembered to include Grantland HQ in its model of the city. No word on a release date yet, but we're already standing in line.
New York. Los Angeles. Miami. And back again. Are we discussing the migratory habits of the Video Music Awards? Or the perpetual travel itinerary of Rick Ross’s torso stylist? No, it’s the dismayingly familiar pattern of Grand Theft Auto games. Since the dawn of the series back in 1997 while the gameplay and creativity have improved by leaps, bounds, and stabbings, the geography has remained stagnant. Sure, the names are made-up (“Liberty City,” “Los Santos”) but the landmarks and the relative filth of the sidewalks make the actual identities of the city obvious and familiar. And so, the news that the upcoming Grand Theft Auto V will be set in “some version of LA” is hugely disappointing. There are so many other metro areas deserving of illicit terrorizing! Below, just some of our suggestions.