[Interview] Five: Paul Semel

Five questions, five answers. Simple as that.
Author: Marc N. Kleinhenz
Published: November 1, 2010

TotalPlayStation's Five interview series takes the brightest minds from the journalistic and game development worlds and asks them to expound on their personal benchmarks of the videogame industry, exploring the crucial components of narrative, music, gameplay, graphics, and character.

Paul Semel has been involved with gaming journalism since the tender age of 16, when he would review games for his Atari 800 support group that would meet at the Bell labs near his house. (Heís been a gamer since even before that, when he would steal quarters from his dadís dresser to play Asteroids at the Ground Round.) Since then, he has covered videogames for Incite, FHM, Maxim, TV Guide, and Entertainment Weekly; now, heís the previews editor over at the new EGM, a position heís held since earlier this year.

If you ever meet him, be sure to ask about Adam Sesslerís wife.

[Plot Point/Character Beat/Story Twist]
Itís probably been mentioned before, but the twist in the first BioShock was rather impressive, mostly because it hadnít been telegraphed like so many plot twist are in movies, TV shows, and games. Maybe itís just because Iím old, or people are bad at it, but you can usually see a twist coming a mile away.

[Song and/or Soundtrack]
Iíve gone on record as to how I feel about music in videogames before, but it bears repeating: I usually turn it off Ė which is ironic, given what a big music fanboy I am, and my past history as a music journalist. Part of it is because the music they put in games usually sucks. No oneís going to just stick in Black Rebel Motorcycle Clubís "Beat the Devilís Tattoo" in as their soundtrack; no, theyíre going to mix in a bunch of crappy rock and metal as determined by the marketing department.

But most of the time, the problem with game music is it doesnít fit whatís going on or distracts you from whatís going on. If youíre trying to sneak into an enemyís hideout, it doesnít make any sense that youíd blast the new Robert Plant album on your iPod. You canít hear an alien zombie sneak up on you if youíve got AC/DCís "For Those about to Rock, We Salute You" cranked up.

Can you tell what Iíve been listening to a lot lately?

Having said that, though, I was big on the score from the first couple of Halo games. It was only used sparingly, which made it rather effective. Though it kind of lost some of its appeal when I went to this Microsoft press conference, and they had these high school kids come and play the main Halo theme song live. Out of context, I realized that music is really this kind of crappy, overproduced, overwrought, orchestral rock, kind of like Manheim Steamroller or Trans-Siberian Orchestra Ė kind of ruined it for me.

So I guess the short answer would be that Guitar Hero: Metallica is the game with the best music. But only because I love Metallica.

[Gameplay Mechanic]
The first game that really had mechanics that jumped out at me was Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. But it wasnít one mechanic, but how inventive, varied, and deep that gameís mechanics were. There were so many different little things in that game, it was kind of amazing Ė just all the ways you could distract someone or hide from them. Youíd never use most of them, but it was cool that you could. And thatís since become something of a hallmark of the Metal Gear Solid series, but that was the first game where I really saw it at work.

[Graphical Effect]
I like it when people play with focus to make it seem like a real-world situation or a movie, like how some games will blur the background while youíre talking to someone in the foreground, or they use some blurring effects. I think Mass Effect might do that in the cutscenes. Though, having said that, I hated the camera-like effects in the second Kane & Lynch game.

Itís funny: as much as I love stories in games, think theyíre so much better for it, and love the stories in the Halo and Gears games, I usually donít get too attached to the characters. Which doesnít explain why Iíve read the Silent Hill, MGS, and Halo comics, but whatever.

Still, there are some characters Iím big on. First is my version of Sheppard from Mass Effect, who is a redheaded Chinese-looking lady with a spunky streak. I got really attached to her and her relationship with the blue lady Ė so much so that, when I was playing Mass Effect 2, I fucked some guy so I could get that achievement, but then reloaded my save file and didnít fuck him the second time, just because I didnít want to screw up their relationship.

Though it also helps that the woman who voices her is quite excellent.

I also really like Lara Croft Ė always have. I like strong, spunky women. Which is probably why I have a total faux crush on Trip from Enslaved.

[The Five Archive]

Andre Segers

Chris Roper

Dave Zdyrko

Micah Seff

Sam Bishop

Crispin Boyer

Rus McLaughlin

Chris Dahlen