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CONVENTION AGAIN / GRAND THEFT AUTO IV

03 May 2008

This weekend, for the first time in about three years, I'm visiting the Animecon again. This is the biggest anime convention in the Netherlands and for the odd three years I've avoided it because it had the tendency towards totalitarian in its execution. Is it really necessary to hire stewards and guards to keep the pack of criminally insane ex-cons that visit your festival in check? Is it? Is it really? We may be unconventional conventionists, but the oppressive regulations squeezed some of the fun out of it. This is why I and many other friends went to Abunai instead, which always retained its homely laissez-faire atmosphere.

But this year I'm visiting Animecon again, to see if it has changed for the better, or simply to have a good time regardless of its rules (or even, in travesty of them). I'll certainly have a ball there, because I'm cosplaying once more after the success of last year -this time as Mr. Godot from the excellent Phoenix Wright videogames for the Nintendo DS. I had a hard time creating his intricate metallic visor out of Wonderflex plastic, but eventually I succeeded and it's great now. The wig is rather hot and uncomfortable to wear though, so I don't know if I'll run around the entire day like that. But let's see how it goes; perhaps I'll find hidden reserves of dedication somewhere in this body.

More on this most likely next weekend!

I bought Grand Theft Auto IV for the Xbox 360 on its release date on Tuesday, like many others, and have been playing it quite vigorously. I always liked GTA, but had never really played the previous three 3D ones (the 2D originators I loved and played to death). I guess it was partially because I didn't own consoles back then, but also because their protagonists where wholly unsympathetic. I know it's a crime simulator, but I resented the hipster punks that you were forced to play as. Be it the nameless trash from GTA3, the unloveable Italian mobster from Vice City or the arrogant black punk from the 'burbs in San Andreas. Enter GTA4, where you play with a down-on-his-luck, straight-faced Albanian immigrant called Nico. He doesn't want all of this and only reluctantly pursues the ambition of his cousin Roman. He's never truly sarcastic, displaying Eastern European sensibility instead. There's a world of pathos there, making for honest and sharp commentary on the American dream and a rich character that's a joy to roleplay as.

So GTA4 is basically the first 3D game in the series I'm properly playing. I don't know about the flaws and features of the others, but I can see this is one hell of a polished game. There's one thing though that displays probably the worst lack of insight possible in game design: the save system. Now, I'm not arguing necessarily for saving everywhere you want; I can see that saving only on specific places or after missions keeps the tension high. But its flaws come to light on the longer or more dangerous missions. Should you fail (and there's every chance you do the first time because you don't know what will happen or where to drive precisely), what should have happened is that you start over from the point where you entered the dangerous or difficult segment of the mission. Instead, you're forced to start from the point where you accepted the mission. This is more often than not half a city away and frequently entails having to do some tedious, story-riddled part again where you're just driving for five minutes, possibly while some guy blathers on non-stop, the same as he did the previous times. That's not just grating, that's frustrating as hell and disencourages trying to do an arduous mission again.

Why couldn't there simply have been a system of carefully placed checkpoints during missions? What should have been challenging and provoking is now exceedingly frustrating at times and taking forever. Truly a huge oversight on the part of the developers, because it so actively affects the joy you're having in a game that otherwise has so much of it to offer! Such a tiny flaw with such disastrous consequences. This is because of it by no means then the 'perfect' GTA as it was prone to be touted. The sting here is, obviously, that they came so close.

But I'll be enjoying it nonetheless. If you'll excuse me...

Roderick.