Friday, May 20, 2016

A Brief History of Role-Playing Games


A role-playing game, commonly referred to as an RPG, is a deep and complicated experience in which players explore a vast world and slowly develop their character. Most RPGs can be expected to run a minimum of thirty hours and it is not uncommon for them to be much longer. When considering side-quests and the freedom of exploration, RPGs often offer more than 100 hours of gameplay.

Outside of progressing the story, the onus of RPGs is to level-up and advance the playable character(s) so that they become more powerful and capable of confronting the increasingly challenging enemies in the game. Stats such as attack and defense usually increase automatically with experience that is gained from winning battles or completing tasks but there are often much more advanced attributes to consider and mold and every game has a unique system of presenting such extracurriculars. Almost universally all RPGs use what is known as a level system in which the numerical value directly corresponds with the character’s strengths and achievements. For instance, a character at level fifty is guaranteed to be much more advanced than a level five character. Items and equipment are other significant factors, with the reward of powerful new armor and weapons routinely being an incentive for tasks and battles.

Thematically, video game RPGs are typically akin to their tabletop counterparts (such as Dungeons & Dragons). While there are exceptions, most RPGs are of the fantasy or science-fiction genres and deal with epic tales of adventure and war. In theory, franchises like Game of Thrones or The Lord of the Rings would be most suited to being RPGs if they were made into video games (and indeed, they have been).

There is a variety of sub-genres in the RPG realm but almost all share some basic elements, including a heavy emphasis on exploration, grand storytelling, and the character customization aspects previously discussed. Action RPGs differ slightly from Turn-Based RPGs which are in turn a step away from Tactical RPGs. Recently, a division between Eastern and Western RPGs has come to represent these distinctions and other cultural differences.

The roots of RPGs in video games can be traced as far back as the 1970s when PC gaming began to try and emulate tabletop games but the gameplay style as it is known today began in earnest with 1986’s Dragon Quest on the Nintendo Entertainment System. A tsunami of similar titles was soon to follow, including The Legend of Zelda, Phantasy Star, and Final Fantasy. These now historic and beloved franchises continued at a steady pace through the 1990s, with each entry advancing and evolving the formula of the previous. Near the end of this generation of RPGs, Nintendo’s Pokemon captivated gamers like few other titles in history have; the Pokemon franchise remains the best-selling RPG of all time.

In 1997, everything changed with the release of Final Fantasy VII on the Playstation. The fifth-generation of consoles was the first to use discs instead of cartridges and it is fair to say that perhaps no genre was more affected by this than the RPG. The new format allowed for much longer and deeper games than before and this is when the trademark depth and complexity of the genre really took hold. The storytelling was also greatly impacted as the new technology allowed for beautiful computer generated “cutscenes” that played out like episodic mini-movies throughout the adventure. Final Fantasy VII is regarded as  one of the most important and influential games of all time and continues to be revived and renowned year after year.
The next big step for RPGs came in 1999 with the online PC game Everquest. While online RPGs had existed for some time, it was Everquest that really pushed them into the mainstream and established the subgenre as its own cultural phenomenon.  The Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game, known as an MMORPG, allows players from across the globe to connect in the same enormous magical world and progress through the adventure together. Everquest and Diablo II put MMORPGs on the map in a big way and the trend continues today with titles such as World of Warcraft.

In the current era of gaming, Western RPGs (WRPGs) have eclipsed their Japanese counterparts. Titles such as The Elder Scrolls, Fallout, and Mass Effect have redefined the genre to mainstream audiences with darker themes, more mature characters, and faster-paced more action heavy combat systems. While traditional RPGs (JRPGs) persevere, and blockbuster franchises such as Final Fantasy and Pokemon persist, their influence has indisputably waned.

RPGs of all stripes remain among the most critically acclaimed every year and developers keep finding new ways to reintroduce elements and evolve the style. Like with anything, the power of direction is ultimately left to the consumer and commercial viability. It is likely that gamers will continue to see a hybrid of traditional styles as well as new growth in the genre as the technology advances. We can only wait in breathless anticipation to see what the game makers of tomorrow have in store for role-playing games of the future.

Posted by Terry Pierson, Programming Technician

Monday, May 16, 2016

A Brief History of First-Person Shooters


In the video game world a first-person shooter, commonly referred to as an FPS, places the player in the eyes of the playable character. As the title suggests, the action is viewed through a first-person perspective and is usually centered around gun or weapon based action. Often the only attributes of the player’s character visible are the weapon and the avatar’s hands or arms. First-person shooters are usually mature, violent titles and have grown to be the most successful and popular genre in the current generation of gaming.

While the roots of the genre can be traced back even further, 1992’s Wolfenstein 3D is generally credited as being the origin point of the style as it is known today. Wolfenstein 3D was released on the PC and thrust players into the role of a captured spy trying to escape from a Nazi prison. In addition to what would become the trademark style and pacing of the genre, Wolfenstein 3D established the perimeters of challenge and success with metrics such as health percentage and ammo count.

While Wolfenstein 3D pioneered today’s first-person shooter, it was 1993’s Doom that put the genre on the map. Doom built off of and evolved the foundation laid by Wolfenstein and expanded the style’s appeal to the mainstream in a ground-breaking way. In Doom, players take control of a space marine fighting waves of demons and monsters invading Mars from hell through a dimensional portal. Doom upped the ante on everything Wolfenstein had established and was a true cultural phenomenon that was investigated by journalists, protested by religious groups, and played by untold millions of gamers. Doom spawned a legion of copycat titles, popularly referred to as “Doom clones”, and irrevocably influenced and changed the video game landscape forever.

One of the main innovations and advancements in Doom was the multiplayer deathmatch mode, in which players competed against one another in human vs human shootouts. This feature exploded to new popularity with 1997’s Goldeneye 007 on the Nintendo 64. Having friends over and staying up late to battle it out in fast paced first-person mayhem became a way of life for gamers of all ages. This was probably the zenith of local multiplayer before the evolution of online multiplayer changed everything.

In the 2000s, competitive online multiplayer has driven the first-person shooter scene to the top of the totem pole in video game genres. Titles such as Counter-Strike, Call of Duty and Halo are among the best selling of all time, thanks in large part to their online “deathmatch” offerings. Players can team-up with friends to compete with other gamers from around the world, earning rewards and rankings to increase their attributes and status in the gaming community. Halo has given life to deeper, more immersive FPS experiences such as Borderlands and Destiny, while the Call of Duty franchise has churned out a new entry annually since 2007’s Modern Warfare, each surpassing the last in new features and sales figures.

The first-person genre has also seen advancements in the diversity of its essence and concepts. Titles such as Half-Life, Metroid Prime, and Bioshock have taken some of the focus away from frantic “run and gun” gameplay to provide new spins on elements of physics, puzzles, and storytelling. These games, and others like them, prove that the FPS scene doesn’t have to be one dimensional mindless violence and can offer as much depth and complexity as any game type.

Even as their critical reception wanes, the enduring commercial viability of first-person shooters ensures that there will be plenty of new titles for the foreseeable future. The direction the genre takes is largely in the hands of gamers, as sales figures will dictate what gameplay style is pursued and produced by studios. In any case, the FPS genre has already crowned itself in video game history and has plenty of wind left in its sails.

Posted by Terry Pierson, Programming Technician

Monday, May 09, 2016

Top Ten Reasons We'll Miss Barb and Theo

Library Clerk Theo Tate and Executive Director Barbara Rhodes will both be saying goodbye to the Mississippi Valley Library District this month, as they head for greener pastures. In honor of their departures we have made a list of the top ten reasons the library will miss them.

10) Our staff now has zero women's basketball experts.
09) One of these two is known as "the Lon Chaney of Librarians".
08) Three words - Angry Birds Party!
07) At every staff meeting Barb would spend ten minutes defending The Life of Chris Gaines.
06) They were the A.C. Slater and Principal Belding of this place.
05) Actually, they were the Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope of this place.
04) Our annual Oscar pool will be a lot less exciting now.
03) Advantage, Advantage News.
02) We've grown fond of Barb's insistence that everyone refer to her as the Grand Panjandrum.
01) Obviously, the Ladies' Night.

Posted by Grahm Underwood, Library Clerk

Friday, May 06, 2016

Sponsor Spotlight - Miller & Maack General Contractors

Q. How long have you been in business? 
A. Since 1971. 

Q. Have you always been at this location?
A. Yes. 

Q. Why do your customers choose you? What sets you apart?
A. Hands-on work, local business with high quality work. 

Q. What's your biggest service/product?
A. Remodeling residential and commercial. 

Q. Do you have an online presence you would like to share? 

Q. What's your favorite book?
A. "Pillars of the Earth" by Ken Follett 


The Collinsville Library is demonstrating our gratitude to our wonderful sponsors with the "Sponsor Spotlight" blog series. Our deepest appreciation goes to these businesses whose contributions ensure that the library can present even better service to the community. If you would like to become a library sponsor, contact us today at 618-344-1112.

Posted by Terry Pierson, Programming Technician

Monday, May 02, 2016

Welcome to New Staff!

Say hello to three new staff members!

Vicky Hart takes the helm today as the new executive director of the Mississippi Valley Library District.  Vicky has a variety of experiences in public libraries, including as past director of the Tri-Township Public Library in Troy, IL.

Ginny York is stepping in as the district-wide youth services technician, a position she held previously at the Collinsville Memorial Library Center.  Ginny enjoys sharing a love of reading with children of all ages and will be leading and coordinating children's activities.

Trevor Wood is our newest clerk.  You'll be seeing him around the building at various stations, and perhaps you can ask this film buff for recommendations and reviews.

Join us in welcoming these great additions to our library and community!

Posted by Kyla Waltermire, Branch Manager-Collinsville

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Staff Haiku

In celebration of National Poetry Month we invited staff members to write a haiku. There were no thematic restrictions. Please feel free to tell us what you think the next time you visit the library!

Pizza is so good
I had to write a haiku
Professing my love
- Terry

Not shaving my beard
It is playoff hockey time
Let's Go Blues, cup time!
- Matt

Tornado warning! 
Another meal eaten with
Toilet lid table
- Kyla

Spring season is here
Celebrate March, April, May
With rain and sunshine
- Theo

The kids are anxious
Two more months until summer
California bound
- Theo

There is nothing quite
Like the sound of ducks walking
Wet across thin ice
- Tara

Cheese is my main squeeze
It's the bees knees, you agree?
Get me some now, please!
- Stephanie

Ice cream is my friend
Oh how I love you, ice cream
Get in my belly!
- Ashley

Writing this haiku
Didn't seem like it would be
Quite so difficult 
- Megan

Who invented rules
For a poem that can only
Have three little lines?!
- Megan

Posted by Terry Pierson, Programming Technician

Monday, April 11, 2016

21 Underrated Books

GQ recently asked several authors to share their favorite "underrated" books--books that they adore and want everyone to read, but for whatever reason haven't gotten much attention.  Here are some of the suggestions (the full list can be found on GQ's website):

The Man Who Loved Children by Christina Stead
Recommended by Jonathan Franzen

"As in a dream where I’m shouting at the top of my lungs and nobody can hear me, I’ve been advocating for Christina Stead’s The Man Who Loved Children for 20 years, describing it as the greatest family novel ever written and one of the greatest 20th-century novels of any kind, and waiting for even one person to tell me I’m right. Only in Australia, where Stead was born and lived until she was 25, do I regularly encounter people who’ve even heard of it. But here, I’ll say it again: For psychological depth, for indelible characterizations, for savage humor, for muscular prose, for disciplined insanity, The Man Who Loved Children has very few peers in world literature. Please, will someone who is reading this get back to me and say I’m right?"

Random Acts of Senseless Violence by Jack Womack
Recommended by William Gibson

"Basically this book feels, today, like a novel set in the unending nightmare aftermath of a Trump presidency, and in the meantime, here in the real world, we have come to have the dystopian coming-of-age narrative as a hugely popular form. Random Acts is exactly that, but scripted in the mode of Cormac McCarthy, set in New York City, and narrated via the heartbreakingly convincing point of view of a young girl."

Buffalo Soldiers by Robert O'Connor
Recommended by Adam Johnson

"When it was published two dozen years ago, Buffalo Soldiers flashed neutron-bright into my literary vision. Its savage humor and scabrous story line follow Ray Elwood, a jaded U.S. soldier attempting to navigate the corrupt and carnivorous nature of America’s war machine in peacetime Germany. Heroin deals go bad, tanks are stolen, and a beautiful one-armed woman free-falls from the high dive. As timely as ever, this dark and blistering novel is an important antidote to all those feel-good tales of human triumph."

Good Morning, Midnight by Jean Rhys
Recommended by Lauren Groff

"Jean Rhys is most famous for her stunning Wide Sargasso Sea, a blistering retelling of Jane Eyre from the perspective of the Creole “madwoman in the attic,” but her penultimate novel, Good Morning, Midnight, is one of the most troubling, moving, nightmarish, and strange narratives I know, a modernist masterpiece that’s not nearly as celebrated as it should be. In an era when autofiction feels like a new discovery, it’s nice to remember that great prose stylists like Rhys mastered the form a very long time ago."

Happy reading!

Posted by Kyla Waltermire, Branch Manager-Collinsville