[Interview] Five: Paul Semel
Five questions, five answers. Simple as that.
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. (He’s been a gamer since even before that, when he would steal quarters from his dad’s dresser to play Asteroids at the Ground Round.) Since then, he has covered videogames for Incite, FHM, Maxim, TV Guide, and Entertainment Weekly; now, he’s the previews editor over at the new EGM, a position he’s held since earlier this year.
If you ever meet him, be sure to ask about Adam Sessler’s wife.
[Plot Point/Character Beat/Story Twist]
It’s probably been mentioned before, but the twist in the first BioShock was rather impressive, mostly because it hadn’t been telegraphed like so many plot twist are in movies, TV shows, and games. Maybe it’s just because I’m old, or people are bad at it, but you can usually see a twist coming a mile away.
[Song and/or Soundtrack]
I’ve gone on record as to how I feel about music in videogames before, but it bears repeating: I usually turn it off – 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 one’s going to just stick in Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s "Beat the Devil’s Tattoo" in as their soundtrack; no, they’re 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 doesn’t fit what’s going on or distracts you from what’s going on. If you’re trying to sneak into an enemy’s hideout, it doesn’t make any sense that you’d blast the new Robert Plant album on your iPod. You can’t hear an alien zombie sneak up on you if you’ve got AC/DC’s "For Those about to Rock, We Salute You" cranked up.
Can you tell what I’ve 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 – 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.
The first game that really had mechanics that jumped out at me was Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. But it wasn’t one mechanic, but how inventive, varied, and deep that game’s mechanics were. There were so many different little things in that game, it was kind of amazing – just all the ways you could distract someone or hide from them. You’d never use most of them, but it was cool that you could. And that’s 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.
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 you’re 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.
It’s funny: as much as I love stories in games, think they’re so much better for it, and love the stories in the Halo and Gears games, I usually don’t get too attached to the characters. Which doesn’t explain why I’ve read the Silent Hill, MGS, and Halo comics, but whatever.
Still, there are some characters I’m 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 – 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 didn’t fuck him the second time, just because I didn’t 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 – always have. I like strong, spunky women. Which is probably why I have a total faux crush on Trip from Enslaved.
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