What do you do when you’re already out, gathering groceries and finishing other miscellaneous errands before the weekend ends? You go to lunch, and since you’re far enough away from home and the usual spots, you check Yelp.
Yelp led me to one of the greatest restaurants in Renton, Wash. area a few months ago. A small barbecue place where the orders—ribs, chicken, turkey, and brisket, usually brisket—meet you at the table as soon as you sit down. The immediacy is a good thing, because the food was tremendous the last three or four times I’ve visited.
Where would Yelp bring me to next? I would say my hunger for Mongolian grill was subconscious, but as soon as Yelp’s local recommendation was a place of the type, the recent lack of it jumped right to the front of my mind. It had been too long since the steam of a salty combination of grilled meat and noodles sat under nose. You have to be practically voracious for the heaps of food you’ll walk away with at a Mongolian grill—and I was. Lunch was decided.
My only comparison to Jasmine’s Mongolian Grill in Kent, Wash. was the two Chang’s Mongolian Grills I had spent the last 5 years of my life bouncing back and forth from. The Mongolian grill is a simple idea, one that I doubt is capable of flubbing. You’ve got a buffet-style line of fixings—thinly sliced meat and poultry, vegetables, noodles, seafood, and an assortment of flavoring liquids—that lead to a massive, circle-shaped, flat grill at some ungodly amount of heat. You slide through the ingredients filling up a bowl or two, soak it in a brew of liquids like soy sauce and garlic that only a true witch could love, and you hand it to the chef as he orbits around the grill.
I’ve learned during my frequent visits to Chang’s over the years that there’s a secret game at play while you listen to your concoction char and sizzle on the grill in front of you. The chefs dump each bowl of food onto the grill in order and you have to remember which one is your’s. The trick is to remember the order, because everyone’s mixture is meat, vegetables, and noodles too. I’ve gotten someone else’s creation before and I was very confused and soon disappointed as I made my trek back to the food aisle with a new bowl. If you want to eat what’s rightly yours, you’ve got to pay attention.
With this elaborate lead up to the actual eating of the food, you’d think it would be full of depth and texture to make it all worth it in the end. No, not really. It’s mostly a confusing mixture of Asian flavors, mostly soy sauce, and noodles. In a lot of ways, it feels like the equivalent of a KFC chicken bowl with its lazy combination of chicken, mashed potatoes, corn, gravy, and cheese. It’s like someone threw a bunch of ingredients into a bowl (heh) and thought what better way to bring this all together with way too many noodles? The result is an overwhelming plate of carbohydrates and grease, not all that different from the drive-throughs that lined the the way home. I can’t say I was surprised; I just forgot.
I’ll give Jasmine’s points for making waddle-inducing food look like it has some amount of class. The place breathes with a high ceiling and wide walkways. Chang’s always feels so needlessly congested with tables and booths behind two imposing walls to funnel you to the grill. I realize the whole concept is not far off of a scientist testing to see if a rat is smart enough to find the cheese at the end of the maze, but it doesn’t need to be that obvious.
What cemented this devious relationship between food and eater is my discovery tonight as I was doing a little research on the history of Mongolian grill cuisine. I found out it’s essentially a lie. It’s actually defined as Mongolian barbecue, but it’s neither Mongolian or barbecue. It’s roots are in Taiwan and its popularity spread into America. This is the second time today that I can’t say I’m surprised. Mongolians typically eat lots of meat because their cold climate doesn’t allow vegetables to grow reliably. Mongolian barbecue is more related to a Japanese style of cooking called teppanyaki, which consists of food fried on an iron griddle. Leave it to Wikipedia to reveal to me the truth of what I gladly put inside of my mouth.
The internet brought me to Jasmine’s and it will probably keep me away. Let this be a personal reminder that there are so many better options out there than a plate of food with a fake ID and the power to make me hate myself tonight. I will not be fooled again.
Writer Walt Williams says there’s a third option to each of the big choices in his game, Spec Ops: The Line. The choice between two horrible things, like killing someone in cold blood or putting your own teammates in danger for example, has an out, one that is available for the rest of the game. It’s the only choice that absolves you of the sins the game asks you to do. It’s simple, and one that is available before you even interact with the game. He was surprised so many players had not chosen it.
He says it’s the ability to quit playing the game.
Stop playing and no more bad can happen in the world. The weird, meta-level choice, which could prevent all of your participation in the horrors of Spec Ops: The Line, isn’t acknowledged in the game. It sounds like a cop-out, like telling someone to cover their eyes if a film becomes extra violent. It still happens, whether you see it or not.
For the players who reached the point where the events of Spec Ops: The Line were too despicable, quitting the game is probably a very powerful decision. But for the majority of players, the decision is only strong in hindsight, after you’ve done all the horrible things.
I thought The Banner Saga had answer to the problem. It was so close.
The depressing world of The Banner Saga is full of choices similar to Spec Ops: The Line. They’re all bad, it just depends on how you look at it. The correct answer is completely subjective.
You have to make these decisions throughout the game as your character quickly becomes the leader of hundreds of people traveling from town to town trying to survive the beginnings of an apocalypse. Lots of people die because of your actions.
The Banner Saga’s grim tale is just as clear in the game’s turn-based combat, where the speed of attack and the number of units outweigh calculative strategy. The game isn’t afraid of surrounding your team with enemies that will almost always take several of your fighters with them in death, which gives the victory screen a unnerving tinge of uncertainty every time.
Near the end of the game, my character had seen the worst. He was exhausted, and in my case, was without food, water, and sleep for several days. The damage to his nerves from failing as a leader and the approaching army of enemies at the gates of the town were driving him mad. He solved a riot in the streets not with the righteousness that his people had believed in him for, but by showering all of them, bad or good, with arrows. A massacre was easier than thinking, because thinking is what led to the mess he was in.
He had cracked and his last hope of redemption was the arrival of a mysterious woman who could save them all. He could continue waiting for her as the walls of the town were slowly overrun or he could escape with hope that she might catch up to them if she was really coming, because even her existence was doubtful.
In severe desperation, and by the game letting me choose to rest the days away, I chose to wait for this woman. I waited until we ran out of supplies. I waited until everyone but my closest friends had left. My character was spent, and he wanted to die.
But The Banner Saga wouldn’t let him. Once it became clear the game wouldn’t support my decision I had to move on and escape the town. I felt lied to. For the whole game, the numerical values that were associated with the warriors and clansmen in my group were false. The numbers didn’t matter. The characters in the game acted like we still had hundreds of people following us. We should have died in the town.
I’m left wishing it would have given me a game over screen like it does when you’re defeated in battle. Why can my character only die by fighting? The Banner Saga is as much about leading people as it is about war, why didn’t it support a death that felt natural given the choices it let me make to define my character?
Instead, I had to see the game through to an authored completion that the developers forced me to see. And it was far less affecting than the one I had created myself using the options I was given. Looking back now, all the choices I made are undercut by the artificiality of the game. It’s hard for me to disconnect the way it damaged the larger themes of the game from my appreciation for everything it was going for.
The third option to stop everything, to essentially have my character kill himself was there, but it didn’t follow through. So, maybe Williams’ solution was speaking to the idea that games don’t like to let you fail. It’s a stop-gap answer to a problem with games not representing their themes through the actual interaction. It’s in protest of the game suddenly disregarding your input. I don’t think alienating me was The Banner Saga’s point, but for now, quitting the game is the only choice left. Hopefully more choice-driven games will come around that challenge that idea.
Dark Souls has made a come back in the last few months leading up to the sequel’s release. Notable people who have dismissed the game from both a distance or after having played it for a few hours, are getting back into it and discovering what it’s really about. It’s like the jocks are discovering that Dungeons & Dragons is actually cool.
Of course, everyone who already gets the game knew that after several hours with it everything clicks into place and the language of Dark Souls switches from being antagonistic to educational, clever even. It’s not like other games. Most games have short tutorials, it’s designed to teach throughout, provided you’re willing to listen.
Similarly, I had a difficult time reading Cloud Atlas’ Sloosha’s Crossin’ an’ Ev’rythin’ After chapters, where narrator Zachry Bailey speaks in very fictional, but plausible, broken English. It was a hard turn from the rest of the book’s dialect, which felt pretty historically accurate in my narrow knowledge of the early 1800s and 1900s. It took 10 pages or so before Bailey’s accent clicked and imagery of the words returned. And it was somewhere near the end of the whole book that I realized how brilliant author David Mitchell used language as a tool to teach you about a character and the setting.
In Dark Souls, the point where the game really begins to make sense, just like the words in Cloud Atlas, takes much more time, but when it gets there, it hits hard and re-contextualizes much of the game, which is why I also believe Dark Souls demands a second playthrough. On that second time through the Undead Burg, you’ll see that enemy placement and the complex environment are there to teach you. They probably already taught you, but it was more a cerebral understanding you had before you realized the design was always there staring at you while you fumbled through your early attempts.
So is Dark Souls’ inability to speak the same way other games do a flaw? I think that purely depends on taste. I think it’s stunning that a developer like From Software can escape tradition and make a game so vastly different than others and do it well.
But It’s okay to say Dark Souls could be more accessible by explaining itself better. You shouldn’t have to spent 20 hours with it before you like it. It’s incredibly frustrating, just as it is trying to tell what someone who has a thick accent is saying. Sometimes it just comes down to having an open mind, that’s willing to learn and to change.
It’s assuring for me, then, that many people are giving Dark Souls another shot. They’re trying to expand their knowledge of games. Some works take time to interpret, and games have that ability to let you screw up and misunderstand. It lets you do it for its entirety, I actually think failure in the game is blatantly intentional—but that’s another article. Even if it did take them too long, its inspiring that the medium supports a game that can keep its secrets held tight inside the very design of the game, that the best writing can only barely convey, and still surprise and seduce newcomers years after its release.
I felt helpless. I went in unprepared, which always turns out to be the downfall of people in situations that involve monsters. We went to find some fellow survivors in a farm house down a dirt road. The zombies were light on the drive there. The farmers weren’t happy with our arrival as we pulled up. I took the risk of moving toward the house when they could have shot me. I had nothing to fight back with other than a gun I had only used once before. My stick broke beating a zombie the previous night.
We were just doing what we were told. I didn’t want to be kicked out of the church with the other survivors. I had no way of living on my own, and my partner was badly injured, stuck to a bed for the last day. What else could I do?
I asked, no I demanded they come back with us. Me? Where did the girl who drove with me go? I had only met her the day before. Maybe she abandoned me. We didn’t talk on the drive here. Did she know? How could she know? I couldn’t waste time. It wasn’t supposed to be this complicated.
They told me to get inside. A horde of them were coming. I immediately felt like the odds were against me. Out of my element. I looked around the house, but I couldn’t pick up the discarded wooden boards. All I had were my arms and my legs to fight against these horrors. Hopefully it wouldn’t come to that. They’ve done this before right? They’ve survived for two weeks, surely they’ve done this before. One farmer ran upstairs to tend to a wounded farmer friend or brother or someone. The third was down with me. We tried to board up the windows before they arrived. We had only recently finished before the flesh-eating beasts were tearing down our work.
I used my revolver first, I couldn’t go out there and face them. I shot and shot. My bullets were more dangerous than they were. Each shot tore apart the boards, exposing the safety of the house to them. But I had already begun shooting and it was at least narrowing their numbers down. The farmer with me kept it defensive and tended to the broken boards. I kept shooting. I started to miss and the panic set in. My thoughts escaped my moment-to-moment actions and felt distant. My body kept shooting, missing horribly, but my mind was already planning on the inevitable hand-to-hand battle that was next.
Click. Out of bullets.
My mind returned. Someone outside mentioned a larger zombie was approaching. Was it her? It sounded like a man. I could figure this out. I scrambled around the house in search of a weapon, something, anything at all. Damn my unpreparedness.
The big one was standing outside. I could hear its deeper, guttural noises. I knew it was a problem that needed to be faced as quickly as possible. I couldn’t see it through the boards though. I took a breath and rammed open the front door, not realizing my own adrenaline-fueled strength. To my surprise, and likely its too, we met face-to-face. I had no choice but to start slamming my fists into its rotund form. It picked me up and squeezed. I should have died there, but it loosened its grip long enough for me to wriggle out.
I stumbled back through the door, forgetting to close it. It couldn’t fit itself inside. Thank god. One of the farmers ran up to him and got the same treatment as I had just did. He didn’t make a sound, ran through the door, also forgetting to close it, and went back to work. While it was distracted I had given it a few more strikes. Maybe out of anger, maybe out of hope that I could go out with dignity.
I was quickly distracted by the zombies finally crawling through a neglected window. Too many and too fast. I was caught, and one latched onto my neck. Blood everywhere. This was it.
Wait, I had pills! Hope. I plucked them out of my pocket, but as I tried to fiddle with the child-proof lid—damn those things—I was volleyed between the undead beasts. The pills eventually found my mouth and I swallowed. They couldn’t heal the pain fast enough. I knew these things couldn’t help, those liars. I fell in exhaustion, again and again. Each time, I got back up before they could pile on top of me. I was weaker. I searched through my pockets for something to save me. Nothing but a candy bar.
They bit me again. There was more blood on the wooden floor of the farmhouse than inside of me. I fell again, this one felt harder than the rest. They surrounded me. I felt tension, someone pulling me out from under this savage nightmare. It must have been her. But all I could see was there glowing eyes. It kept pulling and pulling and I looked down as my belly began to tear. I went into shock before I could scream as my body was split in two. Damn my unpreparedness.
I was playing State of Decay and thought I’d try something new.
Tearaway is a lot of things. It’s charming, bright, cute, and novel, often all at the same time. It’s also a lot of other things.
1. Tearaway is contradictory. It’s a world made of paper wrapped around a journey where an animate envelope helps animals in order to eventually reach a You, as in you, the player. It’s a game about helping the wildlife in a world made of dead trees, bent and curled into an artist’s vision. Then there’s the irony of a game built, in fiction at least, with old media on a modern electronic device.
2. Tearaway is a love letter to mechanical games? As the game progresses, the input methods become more and more artificial and gamey. A jump button, then a roll button, then a vacuum weapon. And eventually, the game fully inherits its medium and becomes a tricky platformer, not unlike a modern Mario.
3. Tearaway must be about the loss of the purity of tangible, touchable, art, then? A bit pretentious, maybe, but people like to throw around the word “hipster” a lot these days and it might be the best example in game form. In a way it’s almost as final a sentiment as the ending of BioShock Infinite. Here is a game that fighting against itself, irony be damned. Is it developer Media Molecule’s final work? I doubt it.
4. Tearaway is a tragedy, then. It begins so hopeful and pure and sides with the other end of the argument by the end. Which doesn’t make much sense in a medium that only exists because technology has advanced to a point where we can simulate things with computers. I don’t think that invalidates the game, but it surely is interesting.
5. Maybe Tearaway is about the beauty and complexity of the human hand. It’s so articulate and powerful. It can create and destroy. Two things you’re required to do throughout it. But it never demands you draw a certain thing, it only asks. You could draw anything really, and it would accept that. One key moment had me draw a snowflake. I did, and it doused the snowy landscape in my freakish, blue snowflakes—which were really just stars because I lacked the patience to revise my first draft. As soon as I saw my work replicated in the world, I thought of what hideous things I could have drawn instead, and the game even lets you re-do it too, but again, my patience was too little. It even lets you collect and print out paper versions of the objects inside of it for use in reality. See how intricate all this is? You can do it too, with your hands.
6. Okay, instead, maybe Tearaway is some kind of comment on human selfishness. For the entire game you control a character on its way to you, or a camera feed of your face. You, as previously mentioned, create and destroy. The creatures of the world are never not fascinated by your ability to correct wrongs. It’s all about how great you are and ends telling you about all your accomplishments. Thinking about it this way is gross. Video games aren’t the only thing about you these days though. “What’s on your mind?” my Facebook page asks. Twitter used to ask me something similar, now it’s all about gaining followers. Of course, video games too are about you. RPGs are about your imagination, shooters are about your skills, puzzle games are about your intelligence. I don’t want to get too reductive, but it’s possible it’s almost deviously worshiping you for the length of the game to appease a sickening, modern view of being entitled to everything.
So, in conclusion, Tearaway is secretly some kind of devilish thesis statement against the modern, digital era. Or not.
Maybe I’m reading into it too much. Maybe I have no idea what Tearaway is. I do know it’s good, and it’s worth playing.
People call them “aha! moments”. They’re the moments in games where you figure something out on your own and you feel clever for it. Sometimes it’s applying an item in a new way and sometimes its just finding a solution to a problem you’ve been butting heads with for a while. Good “aha! moments” make you feel like you understand the game better, less good ones feel more like relief.
That’s why I think a lot of people praise the Portal games. Both games have a lot of these moments that make you feel smart. The game is designed around that feeling of discovery. In a lot of ways, it’s a game about learning.
I like games that teach well through their design. It’s rare because throwing up instructional text is safer and easier—which is also two words to describe some fair criticisms of big budget games. We’re told how and when to do things so explicitly in games nowadays that the first 20 minutes are incredibly overwhelming and a real bore for those already familiar. By definition games need to explain mechanics somehow, so I’m not here to fault the games that do it by text. That’s one option. But there’s another way. A more elegant way. And that’s through these “aha! moments.”
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, like Portal, seems designed around these eureka moments. It runs at a much faster pace than previous Zelda games and uses that constraint to emphasize its dungeons. Access to them and their respective items is almost completely open from the start. I spent about a week doing a dungeon a day. Each one was like a puzzle with multiple layers of thought to solve.
The dungeons themselves are incredibly dense. The game uses very simplified geometry and doesn’t get too complex in the arrangement. It works great for the top-down perspective. Any larger and my mental capacity would have failed, and the game would’ve probably been frustrating if I had to revisit areas to simply remember where things were. See, a lot of the dungeons operate on multiple floors. Some require you to jump back and forth from different floors to reach keys and items you couldn’t before. You need to master the whole layout, and in the end, you will. The level design reaches a Dark Souls level of intricacy at times. And I adore Dark Souls’ level design. Absolutely adore it.
In Dark Souls, those “aha! moments” are mental feedback, and Zelda mimics that. Instead of opening a door, which is quite often the case, discovery in A Link Between Worlds also gives you another layer of understanding. It’s almost more rewarding than just progressing further into the dungeon.
When you do finally squeeze the dungeons dry, you get a boss fight. For me, good boss fights are like thesis statements. Even though they go on top, it’s usually best to write them last. They summarize. I think the best boss fights call upon all your previous learning. Bad ones introduce new mechanics, which A Link Between Worlds is guilty of in one particular instance.
Most of A Link Between Worlds’ boss fights are good, although some of them are far too simple for how complex your understanding of an item is. Some of that is the game wanting to be a direct homage to A Link to the Past. Many bosses are very similar to the previous game. I would have liked bosses that really test your knowledge under pressure, but I’m probably a fool to forget how important tradition is to Nintendo.
I should also mention that A Link Between Worlds is the first Zelda game I’ve ever really dug into and finished. It’s very modern compared to the rest of the series. And by that I mean it’s fast and open. It’s crazy to see that a game so different from the others exists, but it’s also great that I can finally have a Zelda game that I find satisfying and incredibly well-designed.
When I finished A Link Between Worlds, I was surprised. I’d like to think I wouldn’t be if I would’ve played any other Zelda before it, but I didn’t so let me have this one. I had many, many, “aha! moments” and I enjoyed every one. It disperses them like some kind of drug I needed a fix on every few hours. It’s just plain fun to explore and conquer the world in a sort of pure sense that was sadly absent from the best experiences I’ve had with games this year. It’s so weird for me to say it considering my history with the series but I like it. I like it a lot.
I wrote down some scattered thoughts about the Burial At Sea Part 1 DLC for BioShock Infinite while I played through it. I’ve cleaned them up and put them below in the same style as freelance writer Brendan Keogh does on his blog.
1. The idea of seeing what Rapture was like before it collapsed is compelling, even if most of it was easy to guess from the many little stories packed into the original BioShock. The playful divide between the people who support Andrew Ryan’s growing objectivism and those who do not is fun to listen to, only because you know what is coming. I feel like it’s too binary, though, maybe even a bit artificial since, at times, it feels like an excuse to develop Fontaine, which leads to the game’s excuse for combat.
2. BioShock Infinite’s ending makes it easy for them to bring back a lot of the systems you use in Columbia to Rapture. Everything from the guns, plasmids, tears, and equipment are at your disposal. Anything goes, really. It’s hard to tell if it’s lazy or acceptable.
3. The combat is poor. There are like five large arenas that have fights that don’t make use of them at all. Almost every fight gives you the upper hand on how you’d like to approach it. On normal difficulty I could kill all of the enemies before they had time to spread out. And because of the easiness, there was little reason for me to use plasmids. I imagine they wanted the one-on-one fight with the Big Daddy to be dramatic. You fight him in a huge room that’s only made for him! But it wasn’t. When he doesn’t stand still, he has the saddest looking move that shoots a drill at you and pulls you in. The Big Daddy fight is robbed of all the ruthlessness they had in the first game. It was incredibly anti-climactic.
4. There’s a new weapon. You hold down the trigger at close range and it explodes enemies. Since I didn’t realize I had the code to unlock the door to it early enough, I barely got to use it. My combat style is to shoot enemies from far away and then whack them like mad when they get close, so I don’t know if I would have used it much anyway.
5. Speaking of codes for doors, the majority of the scenarios have to do with you having to get what is essentially a key to open a door, whether it’s a plasmid or a code. Because of that, the pacing was slow and the combat had no stakes.
6. I feel bad for the people who rushed through it in 2 hours. I dragged it out for twice that (still forgot one damn audio diary) and I thought it was okay. The whole thing would have probably felt a lot more hollow had I just pushed through it. I bought the season pass when it was on sale for like $5. Understand that, so, when I say, purely in terms of the amount of and value of the content, it’s not worth $15.
7. The art design is still stunning. It’s still very grand and awesome. The more I think about what I actually liked about BioShock Infinite, it’s the art. Hearing that Irrational Games built it from scratch makes that $15 price tag make a little more sense, but there’s got to be meat to the all the pretty dressing.
8. There was one really good moment where I was lured by an Infusion, the things that let you upgrade health, shield, or salts—haha, upgrade your salts—, in a room with a bunch of mannequins. You probably see where this is going, but I still jumped when a female mannequin yelled at me and jumped down from the display case with a gun.
9. Believe me, I tried to figure out what happened in the context of BioShock Infinite’s crazy story and I still have no idea. I’m starting to wonder if it really matters. Someone will make a visual guide, right?
10. I can’t tell if the severely limited ammo was not a new thing for BioShock Infinite, a way to make it survival horror-y, or because I am a bad shot. Either way, it was more annoying than tense.
11. There’s still a lot of the weird narrative things where you find ammo and guns in shoe boxes and trash cans. Also, Booker has to have a mask to get into a party and Elizabeth, for some reason, does not. Maybe I missed something.
12. Booker is a bad police investigator. I drank and gambled my way through the whole thing. Meaningful choices in games working as intended.
In Grand Theft Auto 5, you can play tennis. You can play golf. You can play darts. You can walk. You can run. You can swim. You can drive. You can fly. The entire range of activities, both high and low, are available to you. You don’t have to do anything. You don’t have to participate in the story Rockstar Games wants to tell. You don’t have to use the game’s character switch mechanic. There’s a sea of content, of things to do, and it’s all up to you.
This sandbox, this open world, worries me. There’s so much to do in GTA 5, the meaningful parts of it can get clouded. The parts that aren’t just increasing numbers and bars on a character to make them drive or shoot better. The parts where the game is serious about something, whether it’s the act of torture, a character’s frustration with life, or another character’s anger and betrayal. They get lost in the density of the world.
Or worse, they break apart under the reality of your actions. The reuniting of a family with a serial killer isn’t relieving, it’s terrifying. The hesitation of a character when asked to kill someone isn’t dramatic, it’s confusing—I remember the bloody corpses in my wake not an hour ago. All three characters can fly planes, helicopters, operate cranes, forklifts, evade the police, the military, kill without getting caught, and all they want are normal lives? Please.
The open world doesn’t always serve the story. Most of the time, it ruins it. And when games are finding new and interesting ways to tell stories, some not possible in other mediums, I worry that games like GTA 5 set a bad example.
In Gone Home, you never leave the house. You can’t read the books, you can’t take the board games out and play them. Your character has a goal, and she doesn’t stray from it. In Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, you move forward in your journey and never look back. You don’t have time to ride goats for hours or sit idle on a bench. In both games, there’s importance to the linearity to the smaller scope, there’s a craft to the illusion of a world just beyond your reach.
Open world games lift that illusion. They give you an abundance of options, and there’s detail in the most granular things. In GTA 5, San Andreas is amazing, beeming with creative talent. From the architecture, to the street design, to the traffic flow, and the various vehicles that pass by. There’s precision to the handles on a glass door versus a wooden door.
Think about the time and the money that created those things. Think about the time and the money that went into Gone Home or Brothers. Are we spending too much on the wrong things?
With $800 million in the first 24 hours, GTA 5’s sales and popularity worry me. I worry that it sends the wrong signal. I worry that creative, affecting game design is being overshadowed by an abundance of content, of things to do. I worry about the open world game.
My Gone Home review was challenging to write. How do you write about a game that only asks you to observe? It was difficult not to spoil all the best moments of The Fullbright Company’s debut effort. In the end, I think I did a good job, although I do hope to improve at explaining how the game works in future reviews.
Michael Abbott’s Brainy Gamer podcast with the game’s writer Steve Gaynor is touching and you should listen to it.
Jason Killingsworth is writing a book about Dark Souls with Press Select. I’m jealous. I want to write a book one day. At least it’s a goal now.
My feature on the independently developed game Richard & Alice was published at Pixel Enemy. I spoke to the game’s writer Ashton Raze about creating probably one of the best five-year-old characters in games. I actually interviewed him a few months ago, but family complications and job transitions caused the story to be late. I regret that a little bit. I think the story would have been better closer to the game’s release. But it’s up, and I can move on to whatever’s next.
I’m mulling over giving freelance writing another shot. I’m already sitting on some pitches. I just need to send them to some editors. Maybe Monday.
I purchased my first smartphone this week. My previous phone couldn’t handle calendar appointments, let alone “4G” internet. I think this thing will come in handy once I get deeper into freelancing. It turns out, Android is pretty great, if a bit overwhelming.
Oh, and I was also on the Pixel Enemy podcast this week where we talked a lot about pizza. And video games, of course.
I took a long break from writing reviews. Partly out of frustration with my own writing ability, and partly to explore other forms of writing. My first real return to proper review writing was at GotGame last month.
That said, 400 Days creates five distinct characters to return to in season two with more baggage and nuance than games ten times the length. We learn about its characters just by their body language and their cadence. And Telltale doesn’t stop at its main characters. One example, because it’s not worth revealing the other weirdos you’ll meet, is a rock-and-roll loving, truck-driving, sexist who is also probably an alcoholic. Telltale asks you to trust him with your life for five minutes. He may have turned out to be a cold-hearted murderer, but I kind of liked him.
Spartan Assault struggles to sustain the back-and-forth of Halo’s combat loop, the rise and fall of its territorial and kinetic battles. The overhead perspective ruins the surprise of a flanking enemy, the adrenaline of confinement, and the small environments choke the wide-open dynamism of the series’ signature firefights. Enemies often rush toward you or sit behind cover, admittedly a potent tactic in the game’s bottle-necked level design.
It was fun breaking back into the rigid structure of reviews. Which is a relieving reaction to have, because I’ll be contributing a lot of them to Pixel Enemy in the coming months. For now, though, I’m writing news there with the occasional feature article.
I’ve also gotten back into playing Guild Wars 2 for some reason.
After listening to almost all of the Dark Souls season of Bonfireside Chat, I’ve started looking through hosts Gary Butterfield and Kole Ross’ other work. They do a similar podcast about retro games called Watch Out for Fireballs! I just finished the Silent Hill 2 one and now I’m starting up the Call of Cthulu: Dark Corners of the Earth episode.
The first time I really talked to him was on the subject of podcasts. Norm and I were new at Whiskey and we had no fucking clue how little we knew about the REAL internet. Ryan taught me how to produce and then host a podcast. It began with a…
I should have walked up to Ryan Davis and said hello last year at PAX, but I was too shy. Davis was a personality in my mind, a charming, affable personality that I couldn’t believe existed in a real human being. He was the voice and the figure I had spent hours listening to and watching on Giant Bomb. I didn’t want to ruin the image I had of him.
My only interactions with him were small. He “blocked” me on Twitter for revealing that I liked the banana-flavored Runts exclusively, and he private messaged me once to inform me I had won a copy of Dragon Age 2. The private message’s subject was simply, “dragons,” because that’s how he rolled—reduce the most arbitrarily complex things into what they really were about.
That’s something I took away from his (too) few reviews on Giant Bomb. His ability to choose the perfect, perfect words to express specific things about a game, left me feeling inadequate. I can only hope to one day write at a level he did.
And that was just the writing. His personality reminded me of my father’s. (They both even had the same beard!) My father, like Davis, didn’t understand the concept of “breaking the ice”. For him, the ice was broken for everyone. He would talk to anyone like a long-time friend, grounded and humble. My father spent the last few years of his life in and out of a hospital. You’d think it would be constantly depressing and stressful, but not with my father. Every nurse would know him by the end of his stay. Like Davis, he would pick on people, call them out, but never in a mean way. I think he used it to bring people down to their real selves, to ease them from any kind of social anxieties.
Unlike my father, I’m quiet. Yet, he never tried to force me to open up more. Instead, I wanted to be like him by example, his personality was contagious, and I can’t think of anyone that didn’t like him. That’s special, and I wish I had that ability.
I had been listening to the Bombcast a few years before my father passed away. When he did, it was Davis that reminded me of him every week on the podcast, and eventually every day as I consumed more and more of Giant Bomb’s content.
When I glanced over at Davis and Jeff Gerstmann at the Double Fine panel during PAX last year, I wanted to get up and meet him. But I couldn’t do it. I don’t know if I was scared or nervous, or both. It would be like seeing my father again for the first time in two years and I didn’t know if I could handle that. I had planned to get over it and meet him this year at PAX.
I never met Davis, but he still had a considerable impact on how I view games and in many ways, life. Like my father, I admired him by example.
But I’ve made a mistake if I let him stay an example. Ryan and my father would have went over to say hello. They wouldn’t have anything to regret.
August Burns Red’s Rescue & Restore is a compromise. It finds a space between the impact and speed of Constellations, and the inventiveness of Leveler. What you find in that space is a band that still sits at the forefront of the metalcore genre, finding a complexity in tempo shifts and quiet moments.
What they gain in sound, they lose in messaging. Rescue & Restore sees the band preach about typical Christian themes of forgiveness and acceptance without the universal metaphors that defined earlier albums. “Animals”, a shocking, savage song that feels nothing like August Burns Red, is where the album trails off. What follows is an anthem in the wrong genre and a concussion of blatant lyrics and jarring noise. The better album ended 12 minutes earlier with “Creative Captivity”, where the band encapsulates their sound into one, dense journey, with little words and a lot to say.
Several times while I was playing Naughty Dog’s latest game The Last of Us, I stopped playing and went outside into the warm air of Washington state, where I live. It’s summer, so the sun is obligated to make a few appearances. When I was out there, standing on my lawn, I heard the many familiar sounds of life. Birds and dogs and bees and cars and people. After a few minutes of listening, the life that had been drained out of me returned, and I was ready to play again.
I went through this routine every few hours as I made my way through Joel and Ellie’s journey to find the Fireflies. I felt like I had to. The things that happen in The Last of Us aren’t triumphant like in most games. There are no high scores or flashy loot. There are empty clips, broken bones, pools of blood, shattered glass, and dirt. My emotional state mirrored that of The Last of Us’ world: drab and hopeless.
I have a limit, the characters in The Last of Us don’t. I could go drink some fresh water, eat a banana. Joel and Ellie could check for leftover canned foods in an abandoned cabin, risk being shot, and end up finding nothing. I had the freedom to leave their world, to take a break, and I took advantage of it. I felt for them, but I physically couldn’t live what they were living.
Games let us interact within the world of others. They let us feel what it’s like to do something, happy or sad. I buckled under the weight of The Last of Us’ post-apocalyptic America. I chose to stop feeling what Joel and Ellie felt. It was too much.
Yet, I never stopped when I killed a hundred men. I never stopped when Joel was torn apart by the infected. I never stopped when Ellie was stabbed to death. I never stopped when the man staring at the end of my shotgun screamed, “Please don’t!” I never stopped when I saw those piles of burnt, dead bodies.
It was never a single thing that forced me to stop. It was like everything added on and on and on until it reached a tipping point, and then I paused the game and walked away. I don’t know if it was that I had seen too much or done too much. I wanted to leave that world as fast as I had entered it.
Imagine what it would be like if you could never leave. Imagine what it’s like for Joel and Ellie. When they wake up in the morning, they don’t get the chance to cook up an egg and some bacon, watch a video, pet a cat. They wake up and keep going. As Joel said, “”No matter what, you keep finding something to fight for.”
I feel guilty, like I gave up too easy. I wouldn’t last a day in their world.
An independently developed choose-your-own-adventure game, The Yawhg weaves a different story every time you play it. How each story plays out depends on your choices and some amount of luck. Its blend of tragedy and triumph keeps you engaged long enough to see several 15-minute-long stories through. But The Yawhg has a pre-determined life span. Eventually, you reach a point where you’ve discovered everything there is to see, and the mechanics behind the stories are revealed, losing the novelty.
The Yawhg is best played with friends. Its four main characters have no backgrounds or motivations, they are defined by the decisions they make throughout the game. Alone, you can play multiple characters, but it’s tough to maintain up to four separate narratives by yourself. With friends, on the same PC, each of you can create unique stories and feel the effects you have on the way it plays out, for better or for worse.
The Yawhg has a simple and grim setup, ripe for stories of defeat and victory. An impending danger is six weeks away from destroying a town, and its fate depends on your choices. You can try to prepare yourself for the end or disregard everything for pleasure. Not every decision is simple though, sometimes what you thought was doing good, turns against you and dooms the entire town.
The Yawhg is structured into six rounds, representing the final six weeks before the mysterious Yawhg decimates the town. Each round, you choose locations to visit from an overhead map screen. Once selected, you’re presented with two actions, one selfish and one selfless. For example: If you visit the slums, you can either fight crime or pickpocket. One will earn you wealth, and the other will help clean up the streets and possibly affect a later decision. Where your decisions have the most impact are the randomized events that occur after you choose one of the two actions. These events can affect the entire story, like infesting the towns water supply with deadly leeches or rendering the palace inaccessible after your failure to disarm a bomb. The repercussions of your choices can be as small as a single event, or they can happen throughout the story.
How successful you are at each decision is based on a set of attributes increased and decreased depending on your actions. Stats like strength will help you battle in the arena, mind will let you solve complex problems, and wealth determines how much money you can spend. It’s not always clear which attributes can affect a given choice, sometimes you’ll need to put yourself in your character’s shoes and make the decision purely on your own terms. These types of questions deal in moral grey areas and are rare, but they’re what keeps you coming back to The Yawhg for subsequent playthroughs.
Emily Carroll’s Scandinavian-styled art gives The Yawhg life. Each drawing compliments the emotion in a given scene. They’re detailed enough to portray an action, and vague enough for you to fill in the blanks. Combined with the folk soundtrack that ramps up as the story progresses, The Yawhg soaks you in its themes until you exit the game.
The Yawhg is built to be played multiple times. But there’s a hard limit. Eventually, you start to see the systems underneath it all. The Yawhg is at its worst when you play it like a game, focusing too hard on the attributes and not going with your gut. After enough playthroughs, in my case five, you start skipping through it just to get to something new, and the game loses almost all of its novelty.
That’s the most disappointing thing about The Yawhg. I wanted more, pushed too hard to find it, and soured myself on the game. But that’s doesn’t render the wonderful stories I created with it moot. Some left me stunned, and others had me laughing and theorizing what might happen next with friends. The power of The Yawhg is its ability to tell an exciting story filled with both highs and lows based on your input, and to leaves you wanting to go right back in and do it again.
E3 2013: An exciting year for games, both big and small
New technology brings new ways to communicate and connect to each other. That was a big theme we saw at this year’s E3. Games are getting bigger, open-world, and to fill that space, is not computer-controlled characters, it’s other people. That’s big. We don’t traditionally think about games as single- and multiplayer in one. Games like The Division, Need For Speed: Rivals, Destiny, and Titanfall seem to be making decisions that will change how we think about games, and I hope how we talk about them too.
Even smartphone and tablet integration, however secondary to the console experience it may seem, was being pushed pretty hard this year. The idea is sound. Instead of a cheaply made, sub-par version of a game, mobile devices can actually interact with the bigger games. It makes sense for developers and publishers to want to do this stuff, tablets and smartphones are huge, and only growing. I’m not sure if we’ve found the best implementation, but it’s a strong one that seems to have its uses.
It’s pretty exciting to see games from smaller developers make huge appearances at this year’s E3. Games like Below, Transistor, Galak-Z, and Hohokum show the influence indie games have had on the industry, and I think it’s a sign of growth. When I hear that Supergiant Games’ Transistor had seven or eight booths right next to big, triple-A games, I get the feeling the label of “indie game” is going away, or at least, losing its meaning. These games can stand right next to the biggest, most expensive games this year. We don’t need to position them as anything lesser, they’re all games, and we should treat them that way.
E3 2013 cannot be mentioned without bringing up Sony and the PlayStation 4. Sony spun a powerful narrative beginning with its next-generation console unveil in February. PlayStation 4 is all about the games. For the people who will likely buy that console on launch day, that’s an effective message to portray. What does that mean for the future, when our consoles need to do more than play games? I don’t know. But, when compared to Microsoft and the Xbox One, Sony is speaking to a specific audience, and that audience happens to be very vocal. Microsoft’s audience, or demographic as Gameological Society’s John Teti so excellently describes in his piece, isn’t as much, and it’ll be interesting to see how the company responds to both Sony’s attitude and price in the months leading up to November. This “console war” is far from over.
When I play games, I think too much. I think about the writing, the presentation, the graphics, the animations, the narrative consistency, the mechanics, and so much more. It’s exhausting.
I think about these things because I’m a writer. I tell myself I should have something to say about every game I play. I should be able to write about it. So, I end up pushing myself to pay attention to everything, and of course, I forget things anyway. When I do, I’m disappointed. I didn’t get the “full experience”, I tell myself. I feel incomplete, and unworthy of writing about it.
This kind of attitude ruins my experience. I think too hard, get lost in some kind of up-front thought process that clouds everything the game wants me to see. I’m talking to myself the whole time and I never let the game get a word in. I’m not analyzing the game, I’m ignoring it.
When I watch movies or read a book, if I try to think about it too hard, like I do with games, I don’t understand anything. But, when I finish a film or a novel, I am able to articulate my feelings about it just as good as I could when I force myself to be constantly critical of it. I make the journey worse, when the destination is the same.
I’m done with that. I’m done with forcing myself to be critical of games for every single second I consume them. It’s tiring and unnecessary. I struggle to believe in myself from time to time, and I think the way I play games is a part of that. It’s time I change that and start enjoying games for real again. They’re not a product that must be valued or measured. They’re way more than that and they deserve to be treated like it.
I write about games, an exceedingly frustrating line of work if you’ve not worked at a GameSpot, an IGN, or a Joystiq. For the many writers like me, our voices are not heard anywhere as far as someone who has written for a large publication before. It’s even harder for us to find a job writing…
Ayo, a bit of grounding for you, possibly.
Even though we’re now in an age where internet and the general concept of blogging has produced an environment where ‘anybody’ can be a journalist, being an Actual Journalist is hard. Very Hard. It’s actually something you need training for, and there are official qualifications to go with it.
As things are, most large-scale publications won’t look at you unless:
You have some kind of personal tie with the paper, and can have your work experience arranged.
There’s an internship competition, and you’re both skilled and lucky enough to win.
You have the qualifications to back up a (very likely inflated) sense of competence.
The qualifications ain’t bullshit, either. At the very least, the UK NCTJ diploma says that you have a solid understanding of media law, subediting (skills at using publishing software is less important for online gigs, but your skills at proofreading and adhering to word count are useful everywhere), a knowledge of shorthand, and a portfolio of varied and well written content.
This means that any publication worth their salt (and especially newspapers) won’t touch you, unless they know for sure you have those skills. Copyright law and libel are both complex and incredibly fucking expensive to lose to, and if an employer knows you won’t get them sued; you’ve made a good first impression.
To aim for the games journalism scene specifically is aiming too low. Go write more technology journalism. Go write more arts and entertainment journalism. Go and write a wide range of styles because I sure as fuck didn’t when starting - and my initial 3 years of writing nothing but reviews and features in university did not prepare me at all for how to write a good news story.
It sucks when people get jobs and you don’t, but in industries like this, it’s because they have skills and achievements you don’t. Grabbing talent from ‘outside the bubble’ is always a risky venture, because editors won’t bet on anything less than a sure deal.
So, like, go broaden your horizons, fill out your CV, build a varied portfolio, and come back. Or don’t - I’m cool with there being less competition in the market~
This writer brings up great points about my article. Admittedly, I wrote it in a moment of frustration, so I feared my points wouldn’t come across well, but apparently they did.
I’m going to take him or her up on the “write other things” part. I think a varied portfolio is an excellent idea, as mine is mostly games writing.
That’s not to say games writing is bad. I think there’s incredible value in good games writing. I try to write news in a way that’s rare in this line of work, and I endorse and try to learn from writing that stands out from the regurgitated press releases and copy-and-paste news posts.
I write about games, an exceedingly frustrating line of work if you’ve not worked at a GameSpot, an IGN, or a Joystiq. For the many writers like me, our voices are not heard anywhere as far as someone who has written for a large publication before. It’s even harder for us to find a job writing for one of those websites.
My SideQuesting friend Steven Strom puts it best. Game journalists work in a bubble. They rarely, rarely, ever grab talent outside of that bubble.
We are silent, but that doesn’t mean we’re not talented. I’ve met some writers, some even writing for smaller sites than I, that are either talented, or have the seeds that could grow into something great. Some of these people write better than what I read everyday on the larger outlets.
It’s frustrating having to be jealous every time an unknown writer gets lucky and lands a job somewhere big. That can even grow into resentment, which is a horrible thing to have in a community that benefits from friendships.
At times, I’ve felt like giving up on this dream of mine to write about games for a living. It’s been nearly 3 years and I’ve only been teased with the opportunity to move up on the ladder. It’s worse if you’re someone who specializes in news reporting. Freelance work demands features writing or reviews.
That’s not to say I haven’t grown as a writer in those years. I sure have. That’s why it’s even more frustrating now. I’ve got a pretty good feeling I understand how most of this works now. I’m also pretty confident in my ability to do the job. I’m just here waiting for someone on the inside to open there eyes and look out.
I’ve started a new weekly column over at SideQuesting. This week it’s all about BioShock Infinite’s use of violence, and why I think it’s important to it and games in general.
Here’s an excerpt:
I don’t think that’s the story Irrational Games wanted to tell. I believe in some ways, or at least for a short time, the violence in BioShock Infinite communicates how brainwashed Columbia really is. The people of Columbia fight for their beliefs. They’re afraid of Booker, afraid of someone questioning everything their city is built on. In Rapture, you felt isolated by the thick glass and the miles of sea above you, here, it’s the people. The raffle scene with the couple is the first hint that Columbia isn’t all beauty and ambition. It was just as unsettling for me as the opening moments of the first BioShock, only it said everything I needed to know in the span of a few seconds, in broad daylight, surrounded by non-violent characters.
A few years ago, I felt it important to stand up for video games. It was a time when I had to make an important decision in my life. I had to choose whether or not I wanted to write, and whether or not I wanted to write about video games. It was a time to put my foot down and make a future career choice, to begin my training.
This spark came from the comments of Roger Ebert, a name I’d heard throughout my lifetime. A film reviewer, he was the easiest example I gave to those who couldn’t grasp why anyone would write about games, of all things. My parents, my teachers, and my friends, all heard his name to describe what I thought I might do.
When Ebert said video games are not art, I felt compelled to prove him wrong. I furiously wrote a rebuttal, which I doubt he read, and posted it on the internet, where it still sits today. Today, I’m embarrassed by it, but then, I was strengthened by it. I’d proved to myself, video games mattered to me. They were what I would spend my life with. I suppose the article was actually addressed to myself, rather than Ebert.
And although I’m embarrassed by my lousy writing, my weak arguments, I am still proud of myself for making that choice. For having the courage to stand up to someone with years of experience, to write about a thing that I loved, and to discover what I was truly passionate about.
I also found a mantra I follow to this day. Write with courage. Write like you’re proving someone wrong. Write strong. In those few hours, I slammed out incredible, declarative sentences. I’d built a foundation for every word; they could stand a tsunami. I’d published a stone tablet.
That’s what Ebert made me do. He encouraged me to write with power, and to believe he was no different than I. To not be afraid. Sure, I made mistakes, but they slip under the message I wanted to convey. I wrote like I had something to say.
The player casts her or her line and the first step of Ridiculous Fishing’s three-step gameplay loop begins. As the line descends, the player dodges left and right to avoid fish and other sea creatures. Once a fish or creature touches the hook, the line begins to ascend to the surface.
The chainsaw allows the player to descend faster, and to destroy fish or creatures that would have otherwise been hooked, collecting money (or losing it if it’s a jellyfish) as they are killed. The player can upgrade the chainsaw’s duration and speed. The chainsaw has two uses. As a brute force method of descending without the danger of hooking a fish, until it runs out, or as a last-second save before a fish or creature touches the hook, used sporadically throughout the descent. Some fish and creatures are immune to the chainsaw and will cause the line to bounce off of them, therefore, they must be avoided.
The player can gain two second chances by purchasing the toaster and the hairdryer. Both act like extra lives and are used up when a fish or creature hits the hook, prolonging the descent. Eventually, the player can purchase an ability that kills all fish and creatures on the screen when each of the chances are used. This lets the player hit a fish or creature on purpose for a burst of cash.
The earlier parts of the descent can be skipped with an item that starts the player deeper in the ocean. This speeds up the process for faster money accumulation.
2. The Ascent
The slowest stage of Ridiculous Fishing’s gameplay loop, the ascent is like coin-collecting in a Mario game. Here, the player’s goal is to collect as many fish and creatures for the next stage. The only skill required is to dodge jellyfish that detract money when killed, although, it’s nearly impossible for the player to finish the loop with less money than he or she began with. Along the ascent, fish and creatures are swimming in different speeds and directions, forcing the player to maneuver back and forth to collect them. If the player has gas left, he or she can use it to slow the ascent and either dodge jellyfish, collect faster or difficult-to-hit fish and creatures, or slow down the ascent after collecting a fish that speeds it up. 3. The Finale Once the line breaks the surface, the fish and creatures are shot up into the air. How far they’re shot up can be increased with items. The player has an arsenal of firearms to shoot each fish and creatures to gain money. The trick is to juggle the fish and creatures and keep them from falling back into the water. The camera will stop ascending into the air to follow the lowest fish or creature (not jellyfish).
The available guns vary from machine guns to rocket launchers. Ultimately, machine guns are the most effective because they are the closest to a 1-to-1 with the player’s tapping, provided he or she can tap fast. Some guns have larger delays between shots, some kill fish and creatures in one, precise shot, and others unleash a barrage of bullets as the player drags a finger, or two if dual-wielded.
The orbital ray is the most complicated weapon. When the player holds his or her finger down, a circle grows underneath it. Anything inside the circle will be shot. The player can move the circle around the screen. Once the player lets go, the orbital ray will fire. The circle can be released at any point, and therefore the player must choose between creating a larger circle, at the cost of being slower, or a smaller circle, which is much faster.
All the weapons are rendered moot as soon as the player purchases the bazooka. The bazooka is 1-to-1 with the players taps and its rockets kill clusters of enemies. It’s almost guaranteed to never miss a fish or creature.
The finale’s progression is so fast, this stage of the loop is essentially a release from the tension of the earlier ones.
Ridiculous Fishing is available on the iOS App Store for $2.99.
One of the many brilliant things about FromSoftware’s Dark Souls is its ability to please different types of players. For those who seek punishing, third-person, action games, Dark Souls offers that. For the friends who want to play together in co-op, Dark Souls offers that. And for those looking for a strong player-versus-player experience, Dark Souls offers that too. But Dark Souls doesn’t only reward a mastery of its combat mechanics, it rewards players who sink into its rich lore. And it’s still doing it today, two years after it was released.
It would be an understatement to describe it as simply as an attention to detail, because Dark Souls’ in-game reflection of its lore is fascinating. Almost everyone the player encounters in the game is there for a reason. Some are good, some are bad, but most of them tried to do something and failed, and what’s left is a broken husk of their former selves.
Most players don’t recognize the significance of the lore the first time through. Anor Londo is the most blatant hint that something bigger is going on. Without the knowledge of its history, Anor Londo is just a beautiful, vacant, golden city. On the second playthrough, provided the player has paid enough attention to the item descriptions and dialogue, or has bookmarked the wiki, it tells the story of how a god once lived. The scale of the buildings and the towing knights that still guard them represent his power, the stone statues depict members of his family, and inside a specific, painted picture hides his greatest fears. The identity of one of his sons, who he stripped of his powers and disowned, is still debated in the community today.
Other tales of a sorceress mother who tried to artificially sustain a prosperous age of humanity and failed, creating the first demons and warping her children into molten monsters, and of a revered knight who sacrificed himself to stop a darkness from spreading, whose companion wolf can be found protecting his grave in the game, provide a backstory for the otherwise faceless demons the player fights in the game.
Like its enemy encounters and mechanics, Dark Souls’ lore is just as deep. As more people piece together fragments of the story that the game provides in item descriptions, character design, and environments, more interpretations and discoveries arise. Ongoing discussions in forums, YouTube videos, and Reddit threads continue to analyze what went down before the player entered the game.
Once one uncovers the lore, the role of the player in Dark Souls feels insignificant. The player is more like an archaeologist, less like a hero. Sometimes the player’s actions inadvertently harm characters who are trying to survive in the remnants of the once-great kingdom of Lordran. And in the end, the player only delays the inevitable doom of Lordran and its inhabitants.
Dark Souls contrasts modern games’ three-act, hero’s journey structure with a story that’s dark and draining. It’s full of detail and vagaries that leave it open to speculation and discussion, whereas many others are cut and dry. Thankfully, the PC version, combined with a trainer to modify the game, lowers the obstacle created by the game’s difficult combat for players to see the lore and its subtle integration into the gameplay. No matter how you tackle it, though, Dark Souls returns the amount of attention the player gives it in spades.
According to the post, publisher Electronic Arts offered Polygon’s reviewer, features editor Russ Pitts, to fly out to its studio in Redwood Shores, California to participate in a review event from Feb. 28 through March 1. Review events are often met with unease in the games press, because the situations are controlled, and not representative of the readers’ experience playing the game, the men and women who use the review as purchasing advice. Polygon declined EA’s invite due to time constraints and notified its readers that the SimCity review would not be available prior to its release, via Twitter.
“What followed were extended conversations with EA PR about what we would need in order to properly review SimCity,” Gies wrote, “and to EA’s credit, they were willing to work with us to make new arrangements to play the game for the review.”
SimCity represents a growing trend in video games that complicates the review process. It requires an online connection to play. “Russ played from his computer at home, on development servers used to test the game prior to launch, and as such I must strongly reiterate that our current assessment of the game is provisional on those grounds.”
When Polygon launched last October, it introduced what it calls “The Bump,” a dynamic score for its reviews. It’s review policy states that it sees games as “platforms,” “not only because so many games have a regular schedule of downloadable content built into their business model, but because at their most basic level, games are often very different even a month after their release,” and that it will update the review score if a game “changes in a substantive way.”
“The original review score will never vanish or go away, but our readers will be able to better understand where our opinions as a site reside over time for games we review.”
Polygon issued an update to SimCity on Tuesday in response to the widespread problem with EA’s servers that caused frequent errors preventing both players and reviewer Pitts from consistently playing the game. The game’s score dropped from a 9.5, to an 8.
The update reads:
As many worried, today’s launch of SimCity has brought a number of server woes and instability with it. Some players are unable to connect to EA’s servers to download the game. Others are unable to sign into SimCity’s always-online service to start a game. Others are suffering from disconnections while in-game, which often results in lost progress and bizarre glitches. Our own reviewer, Russ Pitts, has suffered disconnected sessions this afternoon that resulted in lost progress, corrupted avenue placement, and twin monster attacks.
After speaking with Russ and Polygon Managing Editor Justin McElroy, we are in agreement that the current state of SimCity merits an update to the game’s score on Polygon, per our reviews policy. While not every player is experiencing these problems, members of our staff, other members of the press, and an anecdotally large portion of our readership are having moderate to severe difficulty playing the game. This likely-temporary scenario nonetheless affects our recommendation of SimCity, and we advise caution for the time being before diving headfirst into the game. - Arthur Gies, Polygon Reviews Editor
Many questioned Polygon’s decision to update the score. The problem being the strength of the number below the review’s text. If the number can be updated at Polygon’s discretion, a reader might be confused when they see the list of updates below the review several months from now, or worse, lose confidence in the site’s reviews.
As games like SimCity begin to release digitally the same day they’re made available on store shelves and as publishers continue to rival Steam with their own online storefronts, the barrier to buy a game lowers, adding weight onto the review. And titles with an always-online requirement, like massively multiplayer games, could begin to see content patches that drastically change the game, rendering the static review, in some cases, false.
Polygon chose to try and find a middle ground between assessing a game critically and technically. SimCity will be an important test case to show if their decision was the right one.
The press can’t tell you that Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flags is the next title in Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed franchise because they’ve signed a non-disclosure agreement with the publisher to keep quiet. They did not, however, sign a contract to avoid thoroughly reporting on the images and information that leaked out on Tuesday.
Then, Kotaku got the ball rolling. Slyly titled, “Assassin’s Creed IV Is All About Pirates, According To This Poster,” the post presents an image of what looks like a promotional poster for an “Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag,” provided by an anonymous tipster. The tipster says the poster will appear on store walls Monday, March 4. Kotaku cites the last Ubisoft earnings call when CEO Yves Guillemot said another Assassin’s Creed game will launch in the company’s fiscal 2014, and the Reddit post where a user caught a glimpse of a powerpoint presentation that read the game will launch holiday 2013.
Examiner, an outlet who recently made an egregious mistake in its reporting on this very topic, posted a screenshot of what it believes to be of the game, along with more information, this time with no source. It’s difficult to believe a site that couldn’t perform a simple Google search about an image from a comic book, but by then, it was becoming obvious the smoke was coming from somewhere. According to the post, Ubisoft Montreal’s Darby McDevitt is lead scriptwriter on Assassin’s Creed 4, the new protagonist is named Edward Kenway, the game is set in the Caribbean, and while it’s running on an Xbox 360 now, it will appear on the PlayStation 4 and the next Xbox as well (note: I later found that McDevitt’s LinkedIn profile lists an unannounced game under his role as lead scriptwriter for Ubisoft Montreal). That’s quite a bit of information with no source. Something’s going on here.
Then, IGN published this report on Kotaku’s poster leak. It repeats everything the Kotaku post had, except for one thing: “The poster, illustrated by Todd McFarlane, also clearly showcases a new assassin in a pirate-themed era.” The lack of a source as to where it learned McFarlane did the poster is one thing, but it never mentions McFarlane has been involved with Assassin’s Creed before. His toy company McFarlane Toys, helped create a series of Assassin’s Creed 3 figurines. It’s IGN’s job to report information readers should know. Oops?
As the news broke, I stumbled upon a Polish website (translated with Google Translate) that said the press embargo for Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag lifts Monday, March 4, the same date Kotaku’s tipster mentioned. If true, it would line up well with MCV’s earlier Tweet. Hmm.
It wasn’t clear until more than a few members of the press complained about embargoes, and vaguely commented on the leaked information on Twitter. Most of them can’t say anything until March 4. NDAs suck, but a lot of the time they are the only way to see a game early. I can’t fault the outlets for that. But what I can fault them is for writing vague reporting on the subject, doing their readers a disservice.
This is a perfect case for why embargoes hurt reporting. I don’t know if reporters are afraid of breaching the contract, or simply lazy, but I’d like to think many of them are better at their job than what today’s Assassin’s Creed posts show.
I’ve never watched a company die. I’ve read about it in a Game Informer, or an EGM, but I’ve never witnessed the buildup to a video game company’s death.
Now I report on the games industry. I don’t get paid to do it, but I act with as much professionalism as possible when covering a story. I write about stuff that I’ve seen time and time again. Release dates, cancellations, delays, and rarely, if I can help it, meta drama. I like to think I’m starting to garner some insight into how these things go down.
But when the time came to sit down and wait for news from THQ’s auction, I had no idea what I was in for. You wake up in the morning, make a pot of coffee, and wait. Twitter is a good moment-to-moment gauge of what various folks involved with games are thinking, and on that morning, it couldn’t be quieter. We were all waiting for something to find its way onto the internet, and confirm to us that THQ would be no more. It was as if nothing else happened that day.
Eventually something did leak out, via Twitter, of course. NeoGAF jumped on it, some blogs jumped on it. And suddenly, the bustle was back. My Twitter feed sped up and maintained a constant speed. The great F5ing began.
Which franchise goes where? Which developer goes where? What happens to that franchise? Will that company ruin that series of games I love? Does anyone lose their jobs?
It’s a bunch of information that’s difficult to parse as it trickles out from different sources. It was more information than I’ve handled before, and my post on SideQuesting shows it. I could have done better, much better in fact. And it’s something I’m going to work on.
Breaking news is tough. It calls for clarity in the eye of a storm of information. Information that is subject to change at any moment. It’s easy enough when it’s a new trailer, or a new game announcement, but it requires a great amount of skill to accurately report on one of the biggest stories in this generation of games.
I was bummed when I realized THQ was gone, but I was even more bummed to see a good developer shuttered because of it. Reading this letter from a Vigil employee was heartbreaking.
“… so maybe you can imagine what it feels like when you read the list of who bought what only to discover your name is not on the list. Why? Did we do something wrong? Were we not good enough? Were we not worth ‘anything?’ Imagine that.”
That particular quote did me in. At the time it was a little shocking, because hearing about each developer’s acquisition was slightly reassuring, and just when it seemed like almost everything would be alright (or as much as it could be), the news of Vigil came out.
Vigil’s fate reminded me how much I care about video games. It’s not rare for people to lose jobs because of something out of their control, but when it affects people I deeply respect, I remember why I do what I do, and why I try so hard.
I learned a lot while watching a company die. I learned how terribly quiet it gets before it goes down. I learned how difficult reporting on it can be. I learned how to see the good in it, and the bad. And I learned what it really feels like for your company to die.
I started the week off reading this excellent piece by Eurogamer’s Simon Parkin about his meeting with the father of Final Fantasy Hironobu Sakaguchi. Parkin’s writing style consistently makes me jealous of his talent. Read it, it’s a fun one.
By the end of the conversation, this treasure trove of anecdotes and facts feels almost untouched. Worse, when prompted by the Nintendo rep to bring things to a close with a final question I ask Sakaguchi (50) what he hopes to achieve with his remaining 15-odd years of working life. He pauses a dull pause.
Leigh Alexander returns to her youth and examines the reaction to Chrono Cross. Fans of the original Chrono Trigger largely met the sequel with disgust, Alexander provides her rebuttal.
While Chrono Trigger dealt with the pleasurable brain puzzle of imagining how the world can change with the passage of time, Chrono Cross explores the identity of the individual: What would your world look like if you were the only variable that changed? What would it be like without you in it, what would your house look like if you had died when you were young? Or if you’d never been born at all? If you wore someone else’s face, the face of your enemy?
Gunfire patters behind me, so I go in that direction. Before I get there, I run into a zombie, who greets me with the typical zombie moan. I turn until the moaning is balanced equally between the left and right cups of my headphones. Then, I shoot into the darkness.
The Sunday Three is a collection of stories that I curate out of a pile of articles from around the internet I read every Sunday morning.
Eurogamer’s Damien McFarren travels through the rise and fall of Sega with the help of Scot Bayless, a former Senior Producer at Sega of America. He details the company’s missteps and blind confidence in the Mega-CD and the 32X.
'There's an old bit of racing wisdom, “What's behind me doesn't matter.” At least at an institutional level, Sega seemed to be living the exact opposite. Strategically, we always seemed to be focusing on what the other guy was doing instead of inventing the future as we saw it.'
Have you played The Love Letter yet? It’s playable in your browser, and it won’t take you more than 15 minutes to complete. Martyn Zachary analyzes its school setting and how it plays on the emotions inherent to that time period in everyone’s lives.
In addition, The Love Letter is also a little marvel of economy in design: Not only does it very convincingly, effortlessly and fluidly tie in a) setting, b) narrative exposition and c) gameplay to each other, it also manages to use them, co-operatively, in conveying to (and thus actually reproducing in) the player emotions such as pressure, hurry, constraint, annoyance and relief.
I’ve stayed quiet on the player entitlement and hate stories sprouting up everywhere after BioWare’s Jennifer Hepler fell victim to a storm of internet bullying. It’s depressing that a community could be so vile. If you would allow me to cheat a bit and provide you with two stories that I think put an end to this in two different, important point of views.
And if the sole substance of your commentary is that you wouldn’t fuck me, or that I’m fat/ugly/old (see also that bit about not fucking me), that I should be raped to death (anally seems to be the preference), or that the only reason I’m currently employed is because I fucked someone, then I know immediately that you are either a troll or a fool and I needn’t waste any time paying attention to you. It would really, really help me thin the herd if those of you incapable of verbally grappling with a woman without resorting to referencing her physicality would just keep on going that route. No, really, I’m serious. It’d be a real time saver.
Is it good enough to say ‘let morons be morons’? Is it something we should have to ignore, or can we change their attitudes for the better? As someone who has been bullied and insulted online, and has bulled and insulted myself, I don’t think it is acceptable. We can’t just let morons be morons. No one pointed out to me what an idiot I was being online; I had to come to the realisation myself, but not before I’d said a lot of unpleasant things and probably upset a fair few people.