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Mad replay value

Why you shouldn't play Beyond: Two Souls more than once

Oct 09 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]263299:50845:0[/embed] I only replayed one section of Beyond: Two Souls, and it wasn’t voluntary. I don’t know if it’s actually possible to “fail” in the game (I never did, despite being pretty terrible at some of lengthier fight scenes), but for whatever reason my copy decided to freeze at the end of the chapter called “Homeless” (seen above). During that section’s big action setpiece at the end, my fingers had slipped off the analog sticks during a vital moment and I lost control, causing unfortunate consequences for Jodie. In the ensuing cutscene, everyone was being sad and as the camera started to lift up and survey the scene, it just froze. I wasn’t really sure what was going on -- the dialogue continued, making it seem like this was supposed to happen, but maybe I had hit a game over, “Snake, SNAKE, SNAAAAAKE” style (a connection I make because I was constantly reminded of the Metal Gear Solid series, especially in the latter half of the game).  But I chalked it up to my accidentally putting some paper in front of my PS3’s vents, because the system was crazy hot. I let it cool overnight, and in the morning I was ready to play it again. So I did, and something interesting happened: I didn’t mess up. It turns out there was another few minutes of gameplay and an entirely different end to the scene, but then it froze again. Curious if my copy was defective, I had actually written up an email to the lovely Jim Sterling asking if he had been having that issue (not that he would have answered me, but whatever), when I thought, “What if I just need to clean the disc?” And turns out, despite there being exactly zero visible marks on the disc, that rubbing it along my shirt made it work the third time. And in that third time, I forced myself into the same position I had been the first time around, because that was the narrative I had set for myself the first time around. It turned out that the game was supposed to continue, with the same end result being caused by a radically different event. I thought that was cool, and it showed me that small things can have big changes on a moment-to-moment basis, even though I doubt many of them are meaningful in a broader context. But I also never wanted to experience it again. Earlier in the game, I had done things, chose responses, that I felt were proper (for example, I “shrugged” every single time I was given the option), and I was planning on going through some of these chapters again to see what I was missing. But seeing the way “Homeless” changed, I realized that doing so would break what I remember Beyond to be. What I think Beyond is. The game has a 2,000-page script, and I saw at most two-thirds of it and probably quite a bit less, but aside from the likelihood that the rest of the script isn’t particularly well written, it’s that I wanted to keep my story the way I had seen it unfold. And it’s not just Beyond. In Mass Effect 2, I never went to the Citadel. I skipped a massive chunk of content. I have no idea what happens in that section of the game, and I think that’s amazing. Hundreds of hours of work went into content that I gleefully skipped. The fact that the vast majority of players did go to the Citadel (I told a friend that I had done that and he didn’t even believe it was possible) means they had a very different experience with that game than I did. In my Mass Effect 2 universe, nobody actually knows that Commander Shepard is still alive, and that’s the way I wanted it. I’ll never get the achievements for going both Renegade and Paragon (Renegade all the way, baby), but I have my consistent character that I kept across both games (never played ME3, for various reasons). It’s my little version of the games that nobody else saw in quite the same way.  The rise of emergent systems in games like the numbered Far Cry sequels means that people are having truly unique experiences. They tell stories of games that play out only as they saw them. That kind of unique storytelling is what traditional narrative games can’t really reach, but these choice-driven games give people the ability to have these one-of-a-kind experiences. Over the course of Beyond’s ten hours, I made tons of choices, some of them blatant and others hidden. Sometimes it wasn’t even a choice but a mistake. Because I never quite got the hang of the weird controls, there were more than a couple of instances where I very clearly screwed up, and I knew that if I had just moved the stick properly, things would have turned out differently, though how differently I couldn't say. On a second, third, fourth playthrough I could see many of those slight changes and get a different experience. Heck, there are at least five different endings, but I went with the only one that made sense to me. It’s entirely possible that if I had played through the game differently, those other options would have been more attractive to me.  But the “What if’s are all-but-certainly more tantalizing than the reality, and the reality is that my story was just that: my story. Sure, I was forced to follow the rules predetermined by David Cage and his crew, but just because he knew every possible dialogue choice doesn’t mean he knows how any one experience will affect the player. To claim that the game really draws “emotions” in the way Cage does would be disingenuous, but there’s something about owning a narrative that is attractive. It’s almost like developer-sanctioned fanfiction, except without the sex (maybe other choices could have led to sex, I don’t know). [embed]263299:50846:0[/embed] What I really like is the conversation that can come from these different experiences. If I go back through the game and see it another way, I would lessen my own experience with the game, but not if I talk to someone else about what they saw. In Skyrim, the person who saw a dragon fight a troll and a giant saw something unique (or at least something I never saw). In Beyond: Two Souls, I decided not to get serious revenge on the teens who locked me in the closet, but I did mess with their heads just a little bit. One is the result of interesting game systems and the other a series of player choices, but both represent one person’s experience. Some may have sent Aiden in full force against them, and others may have just walked away. It’s entirely possible some people were never locked in the closet in the first place. I don’t actually know, but if I want to find out, I want to find out from others.  Just talking can keep the illusion generally intact. If someone says to me, “I did that thing!” that I didn’t do, I’m fascinated. There’s no grander context for the moment, unless they decide to give me a verbal “Let’s Play,” so it stays exciting. Were I to see it myself, replaying that choice-driven game would expose the seams in its narrative. Three lines of dialogue will be the same, and then there will be several more that are unique. But what happens when the dialogue becomes familiar again? Games like that can never be completely open, so eventually the branches will converge, followed by the realization that maybe the choices really didn’t matter. And then the magic is lost.
Don't replay Beyond photo
Or any game like it
Before Heavy Rain’s release, Quantic Dream founder David Cage said that he didn’t want players to go through the story more than once. “It’s going to be unique to you. It’s really the story you d...

Talking to Women about Videogames: What makes you want?

Oct 04 // Jonathan Holmes
Gamers today have come to expect certain things from the game industry and the games they play. These standards and preconceived notions have changed which games people choose to buy, as well as if and when they buy them. Thing is, these standards often go past the point of reason; they are visceral emotional reactions. With reason taken out of the equation, these standards and expectations aren't always to the benefit of gamers. How many people bought the recently released Resident Evil 4 HD just because reading the abbreviation "HD" immediately made them want to buy a game, even though they already own what is essentially the exact same experience in three other formats? How many of us passed on the excellent online Wii title Monster Hunter Tri because we heard the words "online" and "Wii" in the same sentence and immediately felt the urge to run? In short, we feel like we know what we want, but sometimes our feelings are wrong about how we can get it. Worse, sometimes we start whining and picking sides before logical thought even enters the equation. Case in point; a vocal minority of gamers have called out the re-release of The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords for not having online multiplayer. Never mind that the game was designed for local multiplayer but now has a single-player mode just in case you don't know anyone else with a DSi or a 3DS (not to mention that the game is free). The fact that this game doesn't have online play has some people thinking that the game should be cheaper, effectively meaning that they feel that Nintendo should be paying them to play their game. Their instinct to want the game (because it looks fun) and not want the game (because it's not online) cancel each other out to create a sort of mental black hole, where logic and reason are hopelessly lost forever. It's a similar to the thinking that my good friend Jim Sterling has applied to Star Fox 64 3D. He called the game a "tech demo," presumably because it didn't have online play. This is despite the fact that the game offers the exact same high-quality experience that fans paid $60+ for on the N64 ten years ago, only with new and improved graphics, control options, and (local) multiplayer modes. It's like saying that a re-release of The Godfather on DVD is "like a student film" because it doesn't have all-new special effects and deleted scenes. When I first read Jim's post, my instinct was to grab him and shake him. I wasn't mad, just frustrated to once again see a friend pass on a game because of some arbitrary standard of worth. It felt even worse to see that so many people had the emotional urge to pass on Super Meat Boy because it "looks like a browser game," or Mega Man 9 because "it looks like a NES game," or No More Heroes 2 because "it looks like a PS2 game." If you just don't like the way those games look, that's one thing, but it's another to devalue them just because they utilize a visual style that you believe doesn't meet some technological standard. In animation, it doesn't matter if a film's art is hand-drawn, computer-generated, stop-motion, or a combination of the three. What matters is that it's imaginative and evocative. The same should be true of videogames as well, but instead, we have a culture where measuring "how many graphics" a game has in order to assess its worth is more or less the norm. Of course, we all place different levels of value on various aspects of the games we play; there is nothing wrong with that. Where we get in trouble is when we start promulgating a culture in which certain aesthetic styles or gameplay features start to take on a monetary value. Whether you like a game or not, or whether you value its features or not, should have nothing to do with how much you think a game is worth to everyone. Personally, I wouldn't pay more than $10 for any of the Call of Duty games, because I don't really enjoy them, but you don't see me going around saying that Modern Warfare 3 should be a budget release or a $10 PSN/XBLA title. Just because the game isn't worth that much to me doesn't mean I think it's not worth much to anyone, but that's exactly what a lot of gamers are saying about games that don't meet those arbitrary standards. So how did we get here? How is it that five years ago, most gamers would be happy to pay $50 for an eight- to 12-hour-long offline game like Devil May Cry 3, but now a similar title like El Shaddai gets the "this shouldn't be full price, it should have been on PSN/XBLA for $15" treatment? Gamers have been trained to expect more for less. We've been spoiled by free demos, piracy, used games, $0.99 apps, and many other aspects of modern gaming. The fact that some of us a freaking out over the fact that you'll have to actually buy Uncharted 3 new to play the game's free online multi-player just goes to show how much free content we've come to expect from our hobby. If a game comes out that's a new IP and/or from a smaller developer, we've learned to wait for the price drop, because these games almost always drop in price within six months. If a game doesn't utilize every possible technological advantage of modern PCs and/or consoles, we expect it to be a downloadable game, because so many great downloadable games don't have AAA budgets. If a game doesn't have online multiplayer, we think it's impossible to share our experiences with the game with others, because so many of us have learned that it's safer and easier to keep our love of gaming closeted in our bedrooms. Hearing all that, you might think that today's gamers are just a different breed than those who grew up loving Pac-Man and Donkey Kong. Thing is, gamers today want the same things that gamers have always wanted. Like the guest on this week's episode of TtWaV said, we all want games that are fun to play, that are fun to think about even when we're not playing them, and that are worth sharing with friends. That's the kind of experience that's worth paying $60 for. The problem is that a lot of us think we've learned that the only way a game can meet those conditions is via the current "blockbuster" model. That's what we've been trained to believe by modern game marketing and the online gamer culture that it has helped to create. All this has led fewer and fewer gamers to take chances on "non-blockbuster" games, despite the fact that the games may have cost just as many millions of dollars to create and offer just as worthwhile of an experience. Not unlike how "top-tier" fighting game characters can cause a feedback loop between being overexposed and overused, "top-tier" games are being overplayed and overhyped. With the market becoming ever more crowded, "mid-tier" games have less and less of a chance of survival, even if they're arguably more memorable, more fun, and more worth owning than the next GTA or Call of Duty (just ask the developers of Child of Eden, Shadows of the Damned, the previously mentioned El Shaddai, or more third-party Wii titles than I could ever hope to list in between these meager parentheses). Take the latest game in the Rhythm Heaven series, for instance. It's a Wii title that has pretty much the same amount of content as its DS and GBA predecessors, though when it's finally released outside of Japan, it will presumably retail for the standard suggested Wii game price of $49.99. The game isn't even out yet, and people have said that unless the game "has a lot more to it that the GBA and DS Rhythm Heaven games, it's not going to be worth full price." In my experience, that couldn't be farther from the truth. I've had more fun playing, thinking about, and sharing Rhythm Heaven Wii than just about any other game this year. It feels like a bargain at $50 -- don't tell Nintendo this, but I'd easily pay twice that if I had to. In summation, I implore all of you to not dismiss a game just because it's not in HD or 3D, because it was made in Japan or the United States, because it doesn't have online multiplayer or motion controls, or because it doesn't meet some other arbitrary standard you've been trained to think is important. Those things can be important, but they do not necessarily hold any inherent value on their own. They are not required to make a fun, memorable game that is worth sharing with others. The fact that I have to even say that shows that as a culture, gamers are developing more and more strict standards that we think will prevent us from being shortchanged. Those standards have the potential to shortchange us out of countless worthwhile gaming experiences. Having a sense of what kind of games you enjoy is one thing. Being a slave to a preset idea of all the characteristics that a good game must have is another. If Kung Fu Master had been released today, millions of gamers would likely miss out on the magic of kicking the crap out of bizarre, purple-obsessed, light brown men just because the game doesn't have online play and costs more than $2. That makes me sad, just like it made me sad back in the PS1 era when people passed on Castlevania: Symphony of the Night because it didn't use polygon-based graphics, or in the PS2 era when people passed on Shadow of the Colossus because it was "just a bunch of boss fights." Arbitrary standards have always caused great games to ultimately fail in finding a full audience, though this problem has never been more prevalent in gamer culture than it is now. The more we can see past the many aspects of gaming that have the illusion of intrinsic value and get to what really makes gaming worthwhile, the better time we'll have with the medium as a whole. Metaphorically, the sooner we can stop staring at gaming's boobs, and get to know gaming as a person, the better our relationship with gaming will be. So do your part to help the culture! Spread the word about the games you feel are worth playing, despite the fact that they may not meet the arbitrary standards of quality set by gamer culture today! It will make me glad if you do! Past Episodes: Talking to Women about Videogames: 3DS 2nd nub panic Talking to Women about Videogames: Gears 3 isn't perfect? Talking to Women about Videogames: Sexy vs. sexist?  
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