Reboot

Hey there,

I’m transitioning this blog into a self-promotion hub. I needed one and this is it. I will shill all of my creations here. I’ve also linked my contact information and Résumé in a new “About Me” page.

I will still write whatever I feel like here, but I wanted to make it clear that this page now serves more than one purpose.

Cheers,

-Tyler

Ryan Davis and my father

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.

So, I’m not going to make the same mistake again.

Review: August Burns Red - Rescue & Restore

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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.

Immersion

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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.

Thank God it’s just a video game.

Image credit: Maciej Kuciara

Review: The Yawhg

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The Yawhg is a storytelling machine.

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.

TheYawhg1The 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.

TheYawhg2Emily 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

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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.

Stop thinking, start playing

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.

Game journalists and the bubble

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 have a new weekly column on SideQuesting

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.

You can read the rest on SideQuesting.