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Review: Super Star Path

Jun 29 // Jed Whitaker
Super Star Path (PC)Developer: DYA Games Publisher: DYA GamesMSRP: $2.99Released: June 22, 2015 Flying through tons of enemies to get to a boss at the end of a level is nothing new, but how Super Star Path makes you get there is unique. Enemies approach from the top of the screen and are mostly static aside from some small animations. Shooting them causes them to blow up, taking any adjacent enemies of the same color with them. The final enemies to explode in a chain will cause nearby enemies of different colors to crystallize which then can't be cleared from the screen.  After navigating through the maze-like wave of enemies on every level, a boss will appear. Boss battles play similarly to what you'd expect see in a bullet hell shooter; tons of bullets covering the screen with a boss that requires a lot of shots. Luckily the difficulty of a bullet hell boss can be curbed by purchasing upgradeable ships. After normal enemies are destroyed, they leave behind crystals that are used as currency to buy one of the 10 ships. Each ship has some kind of added benefit -- like being immune to certain attacks or increasing the value of crystals -- and stats that can be upgraded. During each stage, three special enemies appear that, when killed, drop upgrade points; one for speed, health, and damage. These upgrades can then be applied to each specific ship to power them up. Upgrading health allows ships to take up to five hits before exploding and is really necessary for some of the later boss fights, unless you're a veteran bullet hell player. Each level has its own unique twist. Some levels have added enemies flying at you, while others have mines that explode when you get too close or lasers that shoot in straight lines, clearing anything in their way. Figuring out which ship to use for each level feels almost Mega Man-like, as each stage's hazards have a ship that is immune to them. Every level also has three black bat enemies that drop green emeralds that are required for completing the game; thankfully, you can play levels over until you come across them without much trouble. While blasting through each 16-bit-esque level, an awesome soundtrack plays and the main character makes quips about what is happening around him. Something these quips include swearing, which may be off-putting to some, but they are far and few between. Nothing you wouldn't see on Dtoid every day. If anything, the swears add some flavor and character to the game, something most space shooters are lacking.  Super Star Path nails the mixing of space shooter, roguelike, and puzzle genres in a way I didn't even know I wanted. Sadly, the whole experience is over within an hour. But at a measly three dollars, I find it hard to complain -- though it did leave me wanting more. If that's the only complaint I had with the game, it is easily recommendable. I just hope we get to see more space shooter puzzlers in the future! [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Super Star Path review photo
Space puzzles, the final frontier
Space shooters used to be popular. Back in the 8-bit and 16-bit days, everyone knew Gradius and R-Type, amongst others. These days they are few and far between, at least quality ones. Sure Steam is flooded with them...

Goodnight sweet Knight photo
Wow
It looks like Warner Bros. is doing the right thing and pulling Batman: Arkham Knight from Steam. The publisher released the following statement on the game's Steam community: Dear Batman: Arkham Knight PC owners, ...

Steam Summer Sale, an embarrassment of riches

Jun 24 // Nic Rowen
Wolfenstein: The New Order Embarrassment factor: A Neville Chamberlain ass-tattoo From the moment I first laid eyes on Wolfenstein: The New Order I thought “that looks like a great game!” followed almost immediately with a second thought “I'll wait for a Steam Sale.” And so it was. Yes, I know, I'm the kind of scumbag that disincentivizes publishers from backing games like Wolfenstein, and I feel bad about that, really. But I know in my heart of hearts that between work and every other game tugging at my arm, I will probably never find the time to run through a single player shooter, no matter how much fun the nazi-murder spree looks. At least it's there for me now if I ever re-watch Jin-Roh and feel compelled to dump a belt-fed machine gun into a human wall of Wehrmacht. Long Live the Queen Embarrassment factor: Mortified monocle dropping Look, sometimes I buy games because I think they might be fun to play with my girlfriend. Stop judging me. Also, the trailer was cute, and it was $2.00, and sometimes I like nice things, and you're going to stop judging me right now or I will cut off your head and parade it around court on the end of a pike. Iron Brigade Embarrassment factor: Serving with pride I don't think I need to make excuses for wanting to ride atop a glorious mobile trench/mecha, obliterate endless waves of lethal cathode ray enemies with ridiculously oversized cannons, and sport a splendid hat while doing so. If you don't understand the self-evident joy of such things, we're just never going to see eye-to-eye. Sunless Sea Embarrassment factor: Muttering about mutiny Sunless Sea looks like Darkest Dungeon, but on the water, so it's bound to be a delightful time. The embarrassment factor isn't too high here because I'm sure I'll get some play out of this one and I love to support indie devs like Failbetter Games. Besides, any game recommended by our very own Ben Davis has to be worth a look. Borderlands 2: GOTY Embarrassment factor: C:/My Documents/DankMemes Ever hear of the sunk cost fallacy? Well this is it. I loved Borderlands 2, played through the main campaign with my brother, did a bunch of co-op and challenge stuff with Dtoid's StriderHoang, and bought the big dumb fancy DLC pack. Problem was, I did most of that playing during the first three weeks of the game's launch and never quite got back to all that expensive DLC. This is why you never buy the season pass folks. It's always loomed over me and I'd like to revisit those characters and see all that content I missed, but most of my 360 friends have moved on to other consoles and it's not like I'm going to solo another character through the game, that's not how I get down with Borderlands. But, the Steam sale gave me and my brother a chance to grab the game on the cheap on our PCs, so we can delude ourselves all over again that somehow we'll find 30 hours of mutually schedule-friendly time to plunder, raid, and explode all over Pandora again. Look forward to next year when I tell you all about how I picked up the Pre-Sequel Definitive Edition on the cheap and will toootally play through it.. Sometime. Westerado: Double Barreled Embarrassment factor: I aim to misbehave No embarrassment here. Everything I hear about Westerado makes it sound like a hell of a game. Rustlin' cattle, solving mysteries, and laying down the law by whipping out a gun mid-dialog scene, these are all things I can stare at over the horizon and give a knowing nod. Gravity Ghost Embarrassment factor: WHEEEEEE! Mea culpa. I did not do the research before I bought this game and I just assumed that you played as the deer wearing socks that you always see in the screenshots. 100% of my purchasing thought process was based on loving the idea of a deer wearing socks. Sadly, you do not play as a deer wearing socks. On the plus side, it's a beautiful, charming, and magical experience and all that... Sigh, I really wanted to play as a deer wearing socks. The Fall Embarrassment factor: File not found The only embarrassment here is that I didn't pick up The Fall sooner. Seriously, this is a gorgeous indie game about a possibly malfunctioning robot-suit trying to save his unconscious pilot while stranded on a planet populated by insane drones and fascist super-computers. Just saying that last sentence out loud activates my saliva glands. Payday 2 DLC: Clover Character pack, Alesso Heist, and the Butcher's BBQ pack Embarrassment factor: A poster of Waingro in the family room I picked up Payday 2 during last summer's Steam Sale and it was a gift that kept on giving. Surprisingly fun co-op heisting with months of content patches and bug fixes behind it, and I picked it up for a song. I ended up playing it for months before my attention drifted and I don't think I ever spent more than $15 or $20 on it all told. With that in mind, even though I'm living on the straight and narrow now, I thought it might be a good idea to pick up some of the cooler looking DLC bits I've missed just in case the bastards ever pull me back in. See, smooth over the truth enough and you can justify something as dumb as buying DLC for a game you don't even have installed any more. That's the kind of moral flexibility the Payday crew can respect. Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes Embarrassment factor: Listening to “Love Deterrence” by Paz Oretga on loop It's Metal Gear for like $5.00, how could I not? I know, buying Ground Zeroes is essentially paying for the privilege to play a demo of The Phantom Pain (which is not too far away from coming out itself now), but you know what? The demo from Metal Gear Solid back on the PS1 was dope as hell and I ended up playing it over and over again FOR HOURS. That demo was basically a loading dock and the front yard of Shadow Moses, so imagine the kind of fun I can wring out of an entire military base. Again, I miss demo discs. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter Embarrassment factor: Mistaking a shadow for a ghost and making a little yelping noise The Vanishing of Ethan Carter looks like a positively beautiful mystery/horror game that will sit in my Steam backlog with pride. I'll be glad it's there, and think of playing it often. “Maybe around Halloween” I'll say. But then the month will come and some big name title will drop hoping to get a jump on the November rush, or Team Fortress 2 will do some adorable ghost themed event and I'll end up plugging hours into an eight year old game again, and poor Ethan Carter will be forgotten. Left to haunt my backlog forever. More like The Vanishing of my Free Time, am I right? Wait, no, that doesn't make much sense. I'll show myself out. Alien: Isolation Embarrassment factor: Closing your eyes in the theater and hoping no one notices Oh man, I hope I don't lose this one to the backlog, because so far it's pretty great. Alien: Isolation is one of those games I was really interested in at launch, but just couldn't bring myself to cough up $60 for it. Now that I've had a chance to play it, I'd say it probably would have been worth the full sticker price (but I'm much happier paying the $10 or so it ended up costing me). The best part of the game so far has just been noodling around the station, checking out all the little touches and messing with the retro-future computers and technology. It's a lot like Gone Home, only instead of being “a little spooky” it's a full-on assault on the nerves that ratchets up the tension until finally skewering you on the end of a Xenomorph's spiked tail. I'm still holding out hope that Amanda will just find some nice girl to elope with and get out of the station. Marine Sharpshooter 2 Embarrassment factor: Marine Sharpshooter 2 I didn't buy this one. A friend “gifted” me a copy, and oh what a gift. Marine Sharpshooter 2 apparently came out in 2004, but after five minutes in it's muddy, jagged jungles, you'll swear it was 1999 all over again. With what I would describe as a “generous” Metacritic score of 52, it doesn't have many upsides. So of course I immediately installed it instead of any of the other many fine games I spent actual money on. In the clinical world, this is what they call “self hate.”
Steam Sale haul photo
We all have our vices
I still firmly believe that one of the greatest upsides of being a PC gamer are the twice annual fire-sales hosted by Steam. Those sales, alongside the multitude of other deals and bargains that can be scooped up from Humble ...


Review: Kholat

Jun 09 // Jed Whitaker
Kholat (PC)Developer: IMGN.PRO Publisher: IMGN.PRO MSRP: $19.99Release Date: June 9, 2015 Picture this: You're famous Hollywood actor Sean Bean and you're investigating the deaths of nine hikers while stumbling around Russian mountains and collecting letters and pages from their journals. Now picture that as a game and you have Kholat. It would be easy to write this off as another Slender clone, as part of the formula is the same: you walk around finding pages, while occasionally having a run in with a shadowy figure. What sets Kholat apart is that the ghostly figure isn't constantly chasing you, and every page discovered delivers another piece of the story, be it via text or top-notch voice acting. Kholat plays out in three acts, of which the second is the main meat of the game. Act Two takes place in the snowy mountains where the hikers met their demise. You've got a map with key locations listed in longitude and latitude, a compass, and a flashlight. The goal is to visit each of the nine marked locations to discover key pages to give insight on what exactly happened to the hikers. While finding the nine main locations is the overall goal, many other pages can be found throughout the mountains that provide tidbits of information into what happened there. The game saves each time a new page is found, which gives some incentives to find them other than just experiencing the story, as you may find yourself dying often. Gaseous orange shadows will show up in certain areas of the mountains mostly requiring stealthy movement to avoid, though at times running is the only option. Scripted events occur where orange clouds start to close in around you, and a nearby page must be found before the monsters within can take your life, though these are few and far between. If you're like me, you're going to get lost a lot. Turns out when everything is covered in snow, it looks very similar, but at least Kholat is easy on the eyes. There are some varying locations, from caves, to a charred forest, to a giant spooky tree, to a throne of bones. Each one is a unique and memorable set piece where something important is to be discovered. The scariest part of Kholat isn't the monsters that lurk in the dark, but the feeling of anxiety and urgency brought on by it capturing the feeling of being lost in the wilderness. Each location is coupled with realistic ambiance and weather that when combined with the equally realistic graphics really nails the feeling of being lost on a mountain in solitude. At one point I considered muting the game to give myself a break from the dread coming over me, but I pushed on. The voice-acted pieces of the story are very believable and chilling. While some pages you'll find just read like generic journal entries, others are downright horrifying thanks to a well written and acted script. There are various people writing the pages, providing different perspectives on what happened on the mountain over time. Unlike many games with collectible journals, I find these actually worth seeking out. Little to no directions are given to the player -- you're just dropped into the world and expected to figure things out on your own. It wasn't until my second play session that I realized the locations marked on the map were of importance. After figuring out proper use of the map and compass, it was easy to complete the game in just around four hours, which felt a bit light for the asking price of $20, considering most of your time will be spent looking at snowy rocks. Overall an enjoyable experience that has a fantastic presentation but just lacks much depth in gameplay. [This review is based on a retail build provided by the publisher.]
Kholat Review photo
Sean Bean's Mystery Incorporated
Kholat is based on the Dyatlov Pass incident, which is arguably one of history's greatest mysteries; nine hikers go missing and are subsequently found dead in the snowy Russian mountains. The hikers had cut their wa...

Newstoid #3 photo
Get your tentacles ready!
We are back with another episode of Newstoid, your favorite video game news show. On this episode we discuss all things Fallout 4, dogs, and Splatoon takes over. I might be a bit biased, but I think this is our best episode ...

The Silent Hill Retrospective: Silent Hill

May 30 // Stephen Turner
Silent Hill was as much about crumbling economics as it was about night cries and picket fences. Much like Resident Evil’s Raccoon City, the dilapidated lakeside town was undone by greed. America losing its values to modernisation was a recurring theme in survival horror. It was a warning from those whom had lost their own traditions to capitalist growth, not that far removed from the J-Horror zeitgeist at the time. But more often than not, Silent Hill takes its inspiration from days gone by. Old Silent Hill's influences are worn on street names and ledgers, from Stephen King to Sonic Youth to Psycho. Even the intro pops to the sounds of vinyl, its theme song in equal parts Eastern tremolo and Western twang. These influences come together to create small-town America on the slide, full of “mom & pop” stores and tight-knit suburban mazes. But rather than a tourist, you’re a trespasser. Horror in all its forms has this element of invasion. Here, Harry Mason breaks into homes, schools, and hospitals, as he searches for his missing daughter. Though the overall plot ends up becoming more about the Otherworld, his parental fears are always at the forefront. Essentially, it's not Harry's story, but Alessa Gilesspie's. As the player, and as Mason, we're the outsiders looking in. Perception is the key to the story and scares. Memories are skewered to point where friendly faces are misjudged and emotional attachments lead to narrow-minded decisions. Harry falls through the layers of reality, like the waking waves of a bad dream, and sees the town for what it really is. The Otherworld is an abstract place, clearly a concept that reflects its tortured conduit. What could’ve possibly been a new paradise takes a horrific form because of Alessa's abuse and lack of care by her mother, Dahlia Gilesspie, and Dr. Michael Kaufmann. Later games would force the perspective onto the main protagonist, and at times would suffer for it, but few would capture that “traveller in a foreign land” feel of their predecessor. It's because of the Otherworld that Silent Hill is relentless and oppressive. It constantly toys with the audience, waiting to take shape, and gradually stripping away the safety nets. Harry is shown to be extremely vulnerable, early on. He stumbles off steps, puts out his hands as he crashes into walls, has to catch his breath, and is a terrible shot. Our first contact with the Otherworld ends in seemingly death. It’s a far cry from the shrug-it-off antics of S.T.A.R.S. or Edward Carnby P.I. Every attempt is made to obfuscate the audience, either by claustrophobic gaze, location, sounds, or virtual threat. Radio static is both friend and foe; warning us of monsters beyond the flashlight's reach and ramping up the tension just by letting us know that something's there. Ominous, hollow synths give way to industrial noise, punishing and overbearing. Akira Yamaoka’s soundtrack is comparatively brutal to his later work, the kind of unsettling cacophony that would give a pre-Grammy winner John Congleton nightmares. Even at its most calm in the Fog World, the music still sets your teeth on edge. And yet, by the final act, where reality is in actuality nothingness, Silent Hill does an amazing job of drawing sympathy out of horrific circumstances. To many, Lisa Garland is the human face of Silent Hill (both town and title), and our perception of her stems from Alessa’s own memories. She’s seen as this kind and selfless nurse that only wants to help, but as we delve deeper, endure and learn, we discover what lies beneath. The bright smile, the homely uniform, and her position of warmth and care, are all her “picket fences.” By the end, we find out Lisa was a drug addict, terrified of her only patient. Through Harry, she finds the strength to push onwards, only to realise her own fate was already set in stone. Truth shatters the façade, breaks down her body, and we’re confronted with yet another disturbing subject of horror. For Harry, it's too much and he runs away. But for once, instead of the oppressive percussion of Yamaoka’s themes, we’re treated to the melancholic Not Tomorrow. These were people, not monsters. [embed]292927:58733:0[/embed] In a time of hi-five heroics, Silent Hill offered no such compliments. The best ending closes on a bittersweet note. The town is still lost to the Otherworld, though probably not as powerful as it once was, and Harry doesn't quite get his daughter back. In a shot mirroring the intro, and with his cop friend, Cybil Bennett, standing in for his deceased wife, there's the nagging suspicion that for all we've done, it might just happen again. Sure, we saved a young girl's soul, but we didn't really win anything. Only lessons and traditions were learned. Maybe that was the point, considering the start of this article. As a game, the first and only PSX release has undoubtedly aged in the last 16 years. But much like the low-budget horror movies and low-fi recordings it emulated, Silent Hill overcame handicap through inventiveness. The Otherworld, the town, the storytelling, they were all informed by thinking outside the box. Everything we know about Silent Hill – every fan theory, every femme fatale characteristic, run-down aesthetic, social commentary, urban quest, childhood memory, occultist lore, and personal demon – stems from this very title. So it might be a little frayed around the edges, and certain conveyances are needlessly obscure, but for a mainstream horror game that was intended, quite cynically by Konami remember, to chase after that sweet Resident Evil success, it really was a very unique and artistic beast. It's still wonderful to think how something like that could be produced by such a small group of rag-tag developers, left alone to their own devices in a fairly corporate environment. Of course, though we had survived our first trip through the dark side of Americana, the world had been left open for more lost souls and more horrific layers to come…
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What's going on with that radio?
Western horror, Eastern eyes. That was what made Silent Hill memorable for a generation. It was visceral and relentless, oppressive and paranoid, and underlined with a tragic tale that hadn’t been seen on the normally e...

My greatest gaming regret is never making it to one of those ridiculous BattleTech Centers

May 29 // Nic Rowen
While BattleTech Centers were a video game experience, I'd say they had more in common with a laser-tag joint than an arcade. It was a production; one part video game, one part fantasy. They'd sit you down inside an overly-complex facade of a mech cockpit they called a “battle pod,” complete with WWII bomber-style tail art and mock technical information plastered on the side. Inside were a dizzying array of peddles, throttles, joysticks, and an assortment of quasi-functional warning lights and buttons. The pod was totally enclosed, fully immersing the pilot in the fantasy of actually being in command of a giant war-machine. They'd give you a call sign, have you watch poorly acted in-universe tutorials of how the game worked (staring Jim Belushi of all people!) and print out “after action” military reports (scorecards) of your performance. Mechwarriors would play a networked multiplayer death match, piloting their giant mech against with other real live humans piloting their own mechs from separate pods. All of this in the year of our Lord 1991. It was astounding for the day. In just a few short years, they'd have the technology to allow players in different BattleTech Centers around the country play against each other, likely the first introduction to online multiplayer for many mech nuts. Again, this is in the early '90s! [embed]292997:58730:0[/embed] Even voicing the idea out loud, I have no idea how it got off the ground. It sounds like a pipe-dream. A mad fantasy scribbled down in the margins of a high school notebook during the last few minutes of a particularly boring English class. Not something real people would spend real money on. It sounds exactly like the product of one of the “wouldn't it be cool if...” head-in-the-clouds conversations I'd have with my brother when we were kids. Even at the absolute height of the franchise's popularity, I can't imagine dedicating an entire building to mechanized combat. Nowadays, The Avengers are about the most popular thing on Earth, with their combined movie franchise making more money than some national GDPs. Still, I can't imagine getting any investors jumping on board to make Iron Man Centers where you strap on some fake Tony Stark gloves and a helmet and shoot repulsor blasts at other players. It's insane. Still, BattleTech Centers happened. There was a time when you and 15 or more friends could pile into a couple of vans, drive to a BattleTech Center, and spend the afternoon recreating the 4th Succession Wars of the early 3000s from the comfort of your personal cockpit -- and I fucking missed it. Nothing gold can stay. As the popularity of BattleTech as a whole began to wane, and the general market shifted away from arcades in favor of home consoles, BattleTech Centers around the world began shuttering their cockpits. There were reattempts at the idea. BattleTech: Firestorm came out in early 2000s with improved Tesla 2 cockpits (capable of “Advanced Mission Mode” which actually turned on all of the extra switches and controls in the cockpit, changing them from a cute cosmetic affectation to necessary instruments). But despite a small hardcore audience of enthusiasts, battle pods are on the brink of extinction. There are a few places still running BattleTech pods, but they are scattered throughout the country and operate on a much smaller scale. A few half-functioning pods tucked in the back of an arcade at a Go-Kart track in New Mexico. A small mech cache in Houston that is only open on occasional weekends or by appointment. Or the Fallout Shelter Arcade's wandering BattleTech exhibition that travels between conventions and events, dropping pods in the middle of a show floor for curious attendees. Even with these last few preservationists, the clock is ticking. The machines are getting older, spare parts and the knowledge to repair them increasingly scarce. Soon, the few remaining pods around may suffer the “lostech” fate that befell the advanced Star League technology of the BattleTech series (an end that is deeply depressing to the part of me that still wants to climb into a cockpit, and bizarrely exhilarating to the part of me that is a bone-deep MechWarrior nerd). Look, I know these centers are dead for a reason. I get that they were cheesy as hell even when they were new. I know the games probably haven't held up. The once quasi-mystical LAN multiplayer experience is completely unnecessary these days and there are any number of better mech games and pilot sims to spend your time on. [embed]292997:58731:0[/embed] But good lord, I just would have loved to have gone to one back in their heyday. Just the idea of dragging a few of my friends and family (who aren't obsessed with giant robots) to one of those centers puts a smile in my heart. Sitting through the terrible videos, climbing into one of those big fake cockpits, it's just the right blend of something I would enjoy both ironically and completely sincerely. Of course I would immediately switch it to the so-called Advanced Mission Mode and spend most of the time flailing about trying to figure out the controls and basically waste the opportunity. I know myself, I'm exactly that kind of jerk. I guess I should start planning a road-trip to catch up with one of the few remaining clutches of pods scattered around the country. The big, silly BattleTech Centers of yesterday are gone, and I'll never get the chance to go to one, but their legacy is still around -- at least for now. I don't want to add another regret to the pile. 
BattleTech Centers photo
They'll never bury me in my robot
I've done a lot of things I'm not proud of in my life. I've made a lot of mistakes, missed some opportunities that still feel like a cavity in my heart, know that I've done wrong. But if I'm being honest? My number one regret...

Halt and Catch Fire explores the early days of online gaming

May 28 // Alessandro Fillari
[embed]292774:58672:0[/embed] Twenty months after the end of season one in 1985, the lead characters have essentially moved on from work on PCs and plan on striking out into something new. After the launch of the Giant, the PC they spent all of the first season building, Joe McMillan (Lee Pace) seeks to rebuild his life after ultimately compromising on his vision for what the future of computers could be, and realizing that his methods of success have harmed others. His number two, Gordon Clark (Scoot McNairy), struggles to find direction after departing Cardiff Electric, and Cameron Howe (Mackenzie Davis) and Donna Clarke (Kerry Bishé) have been hard at work on their new start-up company Mutiny, an online gaming network running on the Commodore 64 platform. With users paying a monthly fee to play multiple titles online with a community of gamers, they seek to expand the company and plan to change the way people seek entertainment and communicate with others. Much like the last season, Halt and Catch Fire's attention to detail and faithfulness to the era is as strong as ever. Focusing on the early stages of the consumer version of what we now know as the Internet, there's a lot of ground to cover for a start-up that deals with the state of online gaming. Though there were other (real) online PC services that offered gaming and many other functions around 1985 -- such as Prodigy, CompuServe, and Quantum Link (now known as AOL) -- the fictional Mutiny of HACF is a service that exclusively streams games to users. With such titles as Tank Battle, Checkers, Chess, and Backgammon serving as the basics, much of their attention towards game creation is focused on a title known as Parallax, a MUD (Multi User Dungeon) RPG series that spans multiple chapters. Looking back, the 1980s was a strange time for games. With the console video game market in a crisis, arcades serving as a hub for social interaction and competitive gaming, and the home PC audience gradually expanding, it's certainly a far cry from what we experience now in the present. What I really like from these episodes so far is that we're seeing a sense of  uncertainty during the time. Given that this is set post-video game console crash, games on cartridges are often regarded by characters as inferior to the offerings and potential of PC gaming. During one of my favorite scenes, the coders at Mutiny are discussing what game to work on next, with one of the new hires suggesting that they focus on technical innovation rather than game creation, as the former usually gives rise to the later. [embed]292774:58671:0[/embed] It's interesting to see a television series focus not only on game development, but the building of an online community during 1980s. Let alone doing it in a way that actually depicts realism, and quite frankly, honesty for what the gaming audience is all about. I watch a lot of television. I'm quite used to seeing different programs spout out random catchphrases and obligatory references to popular games in order to connect with gamers. But the brilliant thing about Halt and Catch Fire is that it not only features characters who are hardcore gamers, but they use their passion as the fuel for their creative endeavors. And that is refreshing to see on a television series. I was a big admirer of the first season, and though it felt a bit uneven and had some pacing issues, it definitely showed potential to become something great. And I can safely say that its potential is finally being realized in its second outing. I was impressed with the beginning of this season, and though I may be biased because it's got a deep focus on gaming, I feel that the new change of scenery, and a new focus, has given the series a much needed rejuvenation. It sure feels much more energetic and hipper because of it. If you haven't seen the show yet, the first season is available now on Netflix, and its second season is set to debut May 31 on AMC. If you're interested in the creation of technology, and hearing a bumping soundtrack to go along with it, then I highly recommend giving it a watch. Also, this series has by far the coolest TV intro ever. That alone is enough to deserve it your attention.
Halt and Catch Fire photo
The thing that gets us to the thing
In case you couldn't tell, the 1980s is having a bit of comeback. With so many games and films (Kung Fury is out today!) seeking to emulate the vibrant and lively era, there's plenty of people out there feeling nostalgic for ...

Newstoid #1 photo
The day is finally here!
The moment you've all been waiting for that has been months in the making, Newstoid is finally officially here! We have all the hot scoops, hot hosts, and side-splitting laughter you could ask for. Not to mention the hot bea...

Squid Now Art Film photo
By your favorite person alive, me!
"Better than anything David Cage has been making" - Edgar Velasco (MoonSpiderHugs) "You've gotta be squidding me." - Zainré Fang "So Nintendo hired David Lynch to create a Splatoon commercial?" - quetzalcoat...

Things that the Persona 5 trailer is better than

May 01 // Steven Hansen
[embed]287234:58408:0[/embed] The first thing I did the morning I knew the trailer would launch was paw around in the dark, eyes half closed, for my phone to watch it and it was somehow as good as I expected it to be despite unreasonable expectations. But how good is that? We need context. Here are some things that the Persona 5 trailer is better than: 1) Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones. 2) Having ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife. 3) The love and acceptance of a parent, because a parent is just going to die and leave you alone. Persona 5 will never leave you. 4) The Iditarod. 5) The episode of Seinfeld where Elaine dances badly. 6) When America legalized standing with your feet close together, thus freeing public transport from sweaty, leg splayed wafts. 7) Ants. 8) Some cats. 9) This joke: "Need a friend named Nick so I can say 'what do you call a guy with no balls?' Eunuch." 10) The time 50 Cent's grandma made him take out the trash and he tweeted, "I'm rich fuck this I'm going home I don't need this shit." 11) Brett Makedonski's basketball game. 12) The time when I was like five years old, playing on the top of a bunk bed. I grabbed the guard rail, looked over the side, and the guard rail came loose, taking me down with it. I split my head open and lost so much blood that I had to be carried around the house (no, of course I didn't go to the hospital, what am I, made of money?) 12) List posts.
Persona 5? It's good photo
The Persona 5 trailer is better than a lot of things and here are some of those things
Kyle posted some new Persona 5 screenshots earlier, which got me excited, which got me watching the Persona 5 trailer again, which just got me more excited. I like when a trailer can turn me on (not sexual). I watch a lo...

Great alternative hamburger toppings that wouldn't go so well in a first-person shooter

Apr 30 // Steven Hansen
EGG "Egg" is short for "eggscrement," as it is the foul (hah!) byproduct of most poultry. In America, egg typically comes from the chick-hen, named for being the ladybird amore to the male cock. But just because egg comes from a chick-hen's buns doesn't mean it doesn't belong on yours! A nicely fried egg over easy with a drippy yolk makes for a great treat when biting down on a hamburger. It ain't a burger if you don't have to wash your hand after! Why it wouldn't go good in a first-person shooter? You have to crack an omelet to make a few eggs and executive types are more likely omelet someone work on wall textures than devote the processing power necessary for shell splattering particle effects or new viscous liquid engines -- and that's just in the butt-fresh, pre-cooked state. While the egg would serve as a good "Easter Egg" (hah!) in a grenade lob animation, the only scramble I want in my multiplayer shooters is towards a flag that needs to be captured. TOMATO CHUTNEY Have you seen what's in your grocery store ketchup? The All-American spread has been perverted by some strange new system wherein quality and safety become secondary to profit. And so ketchup becomes a slurry of high-fructose corn syrup, tomato flavoring and "spice." Take beck-up the ketchup! Or substitute it with a sweet, fresh tomato chutney. The onion, vinegar, and brown sugar will get you where you need to be. Why it wouldn't go good in a first-person shooter? Sounds foreign? GUACAMOLE No, not the 2D platformer, Guacamelee! We're talking the foodstuff for which it was named. I wanted to go "avocado" here -- a fine burger topping in and of itself -- but why not go-uacamole all the way! There are quite a few spreads that make surprising burger fixings. I recently mixed guacamole and an even spicier Calabrian pepper spread and loved the unexpected kick to my 'burg.  Why it wouldn't go good in a first-person shooter? The only spread first-person shooters seem to care about it bullet spread when discussing weapons such as shotguns. Also another spread they like are sheets. You know, like for accounting all the money they're making. Making guacamole, even if you throw the ingredients in a food processor, requires some manual dexterity to deseed peppers, deshell tomatillos and garlic. If you tried to make guacamole in the next big first-person shooter, it'd probably end up like playing Surgeon Simulator while the your enemy makes a nice spread of their own -- you! From your gutshot abdomen stirred up by your sucking chest wounds. JETPACKS My co-workers, public transit companions, and dentist have always expressed a universal thought when asked on a date: "Yeah, when pigs fly." The desire for airborne swine transcends race, social classes, and the irresponsibility of my request based on my familiarity or lack thereof with the responder. While not a "topping" per se, eating a hamburger (named for the gentle ham, the most ground-bound of all the lord's creatures) while in the air would be a noble gesture to the beast from which we derive so much pleasure. Why it wouldn't go good in a first-person shooter? No, no, no. Tightly controlled lanes of combat and no-more-than-two-story buildings are the "name of the game," and the game they are the name of is the first-person shooter. Jetpacks would require a complete design overhaul to account for them and do you know how hard that would be? I already know the buttons for shoot gun, aim gun, throw bomb, damn it. Look at Titanfall, languishing with no one playing but Nic Rowen and the "story-mode" robots. They think he's one of them. They don't even know he is alive. They trade self-deprecating asides about their faulty coding and sometimes run menial errands -- oil changes, circuitry hacks, taxes -- like he isn't even there. The idea of putting a jetpack into a first-person shooter is preposterous. That's what the sprint button is for. Are we supposed to just throw the stamina gauge baby out with the we-must-have-jetpacks-and-a-new-gauge-for-fuel bathwater? It's like putting a pineapple on a burger. Redundant, stupid, dunderheaded. Let me know in the comments if you have alternative hamburger toppers!
Hamburger toppings photo
Lettuce think outside the gun!
I recently picked up a controller to play some Mortal Kombat X with my lawyer after we finished working out (not sexual!) in the basement of his hilltop home. While he'd signed, sealed, and delivered (legal jargon) some Morta...

Double Fine Productions aims to rekindle the spirit of adventure

Apr 28 // Alessandro Fillari
"It seems like there's been so many people talking about adventure games, people crowdfunding new adventure games," recalled Tim Schafer, the founder of Double Fine Productions and game director on Broken Age. "It's just that everyone felt that it's okay to talk about it again. We don't have to talk about it like a dead genre anymore, people just throw that word around casually, like 'Oh, you're doing an adventure game?' -- it's become normalized now." With the renewed interest for adventure games in recent years, there's never been a better time to become invested in the once-dormant genre. There was a time when adventure titles were common, and full of optimism, but with a steep decline after the '90s, traditional point-and-click games seemed to have gone by the wayside. But recently, these games have seen a reawakening, thanks in part to developers like Telltale Games and Double Fine outputting a steady flow of titles. And with titles spread across so many platforms (including mobile), they're now more accessible than ever. The development of Broken Age, which is easily the studio's highest-profile project, has been a unique case to watch. Tim Schafer and the team aimed to create a title that was a true throwback to classic LucasArts titles like Day of the Tentacle, The Secret of Monkey Island, and Grim Fandango -- while also taking advantage of today's technology to illustrate visually vibrant and diverse worlds to explore. With the pretty positive reception the first act received last year, people have been anxious to get their on the final part of the game. During my session, I had some time to play the PlayStation 4 version of Broken Age along with Tim Schafer. Though I went in mostly blind, as I opted to wait until the full release was ready to play, I still had a wonderful time experiencing it this way. It felt great with the PS4 on a big screen, and adding to this was a sense of playing with a community that chimed in with thoughts and helped with clues for puzzles. It really added to the fun. Schafer hopes that players who've already cleared Act I will start from scratch now that Act II is out, as he believes many of the references and characters from the first half of the game may have been forgotten by players by now. Though the developers have launched other titles during the three years of Broken Age's development -- such as Grim Fandango Remastered, Costume Quest II, The Cave, and the beta for their second crowdfunded project, Massive Chalice -- firm interest has still been kept on their work for Broken Age. And with good reason. I mean, how many other games in active development have a film crew following them around recording all their successes and missteps for the masses to see? While they had the challenges of their own project to manage, they also had to deal with the high-profile nature of it following the success of the funding campaign. With everyone watching, the developers wanted to ensure they'd knock it out of the park with the completed title and not only live up to expectations but also to set a good example for the future of crowdfunded titles. Because whether they wanted to or not, they essentially became the people to follow and emulate. "We were like, 'We can't obviously walk away from [the Kickstarter project], we made a commitment to fans and to our backers," said the director of Broken Age. "It did feel like the beginning of something, and it did feel like the responsibility to not mess it up, because our game, our studio, and other people's games kind of were depending on it now, and if done well could lead to a whole bunch of things being funded, that couldn't have been funded otherwise. So we definitely felt like there was a lot riding on our shoulders, but we would've stuck with it anyway, because we always finish our games." The success of the Kickstarter certainly felt like a watershed moment for many. During my interview with Brian Fargo last year for Wasteland 2, the success of Double Fine's project sparked a lot of enthusiasm among many of the "old-school" designers looking to explore forgotten genres and franchises. In our chat, Fargo spoke about trust being the cornerstone of the relationship between developers and their community. And I definitely got a sense of that from my visit to Double Fine. There was not only a clear respect for the genre that many of the developers were returning to, but also for the many of backers and fans who have contributed to the title as well. For better or worse, however, the level of transparency has also contributed to scrutiny over the project. While there have been many successes with crowdfunding over the years, there are also many projects that missed the mark, or outright failed to deliver. During our talk, I felt that Schafer was humbled by the process, and even spoke honestly about their own stumbles with limiting content and details to backers only, leaving everyone else out of the loop. One of the important things they wanted viewers of the documentary to see is what exactly the process is like for game creation -- to give them an understanding of the challenges they often faced. "A lot of people make games, and they care so much about what they make," he said while discussing the challenges of development. "There are so many hard tradeoffs they have to make, there are features in the game they wanted but couldn't because there are these other things they wanted even more, and I want everyone to see that process, because I do think that when you ship a game everything you see in it is an active choice by someone, and it is, but sometimes it's a miracle the game got done. [...] I don't know if they need to think about that stuff, but I like to know that at least some people out there know how hard people work, how amazingly difficult or complicated problems are solved everyday, and all the choices they have to make while making a videogame." This definitely struck a chord with me. I'm inclined to think that there are many gamers out there who are unfamiliar with the actual process of game development, and assume many features and key aspects of development can be added in and removed as if they were text on a document. It felt very refreshing to see so much openness about game creation. Though that may be in part to due to the needs of transparency for operating a crowdfunded project, I found that it helped to not only give the developers their own chance to tell their side of the story, but also to humanize the actual process of game creation. While the added publicity of their project added pressure to make sure they did right by fans, it was the kind of pressure they were more than familiar with during their time on past titles from the LucasArts era and in recent years at Double Fine. Over the years, they've developed games that inspire a lot of love and respect from fans, and making sure they deliver was something that kept them on track. "It's definitely pleasurable to succeed and fulfill all those promises, and anyone who's kinda hoping we would fail, it's nice to hear their quiet tears in the night. If you listen quietly you can hear them cry into the night," Schafer said while joking about the messages they get from cynical commentators. "But we always have this pressure of trying to do things that the fans would like anyway, now that the fans are actually funding the game, so it's the same group. But you put that kid of pressure on you anyway so you'd make a good game."   With the complete Broken Age experience available now, this marks the end of a long and unique development period for the studio. Though it has still got another crowdfunded title in the wings, its first is now out in the wild, ready to be experienced by fans and newcomers alike. But as we've seen in the years since Double Fine's success on Kickstarter, there's no shortage of campaigns looking to reignite the same fire that only a few projects can attain. Schafer definitely believes the future is bright for crowdfunded titles. "I think crowdfunding is here to stay," said a confident Schafer. "I think when people realized you could get organized and make things happen that couldn't be made by the old gate-keeper system, I think that'll always be the case. [...] Basically I think things always go crazy on Kickstarter when there's a great story. I think we had a good story that was new, and also people were saying 'Here's this thing we wanted to happen for a while.' Like this new adventure game, and it hasn't happened, but we could fix that and make it ourselves -- and that's really powerful." "But there are a lot of other different kinds of stories, besides old-timers like me going back and doing the genre again. Just people doing projects no one has ever thought of before, but instantly want to happen, I think there'll be these spikes whenever that happens and continue to be more popular. I mean the things about crowdfunding will change and improve, but I don't think it'll ever go away." A good story is important. Whether it comes from a struggling developer looking to strike out on its own with a project that was rejected by countless publishers, or from a group of veteran creators seeking to return to a classic franchise all while doing it their way -- crowdfunding has inspired a lot of people with an idea to put themselves out there and hope to find others who share their vision, and to ultimately realize it. And with Broken Age out now, we're approaching the end of another story from the folks at Double Fine Productions. But as the genre goes, there are always more adventures to be had. It's not often you get to be a part of the revival of a once-dead genre that inspired many to create their own titles, bond with friends and family over the complexity of puzzles, or get caught up in heated debates about what the real ending is for contentious titles. As the name of the genre states, an adventure is an exciting and hazardous journey into the unknown, and the developers of Broken Age experienced just that with their first foray into crowdfunded game development. Regardless of how you feel about Broken Age as a whole, or whether the developers at Double Fine made the right choices, it's hard to deny that it all made for one of the most interesting development periods for a game in years. Whether you view Double Fine Productions as the underdog or not, it still made for an engaging story. And aren't those the ones worth telling?  
Double Fine interview photo
Everyone loves a good story
Who could forget the great Kickstarter boom of 2012? You remember, right? Out of nowhere, this website called Kickstarter suddenly became a focal point for established developers and indies looking to crowdfund the next big t...

Experience Points .08: Persona 4

Mar 21 // Ben Davis
The hard-kicking heroine The best thing about Persona 4 is its huge cast of interesting, colorful characters. There aren't really any characters I particularly dislike, aside from the ones you're supposed to hate (Morooka and Kashiwagi, for instance). Everyone has their own favorite Persona 4 character, but I've always been particularly fond of Chie Satonaka. Chie is one of the protagonist's classmates, and one of the first people he meets at his new school. She's very energetic, friendly, and upbeat. She loves watching kung fu movies and eating all kinds of meat (especially steak!), and she can kick foes into oblivion with her signature Galactic Punt move. Like, she can actually send giant robots and tanks flying into outer space with just her foot. She's amazing! She's also one of the characters the protagonist can date. Chie is so charming that I always end up dating her every time I play Persona 4, rather than seeing how any of the other girls would react. The way she says, "I love you," at the end of her social link just makes my heart melt. You're the best, Chie! I'll face myself Persona 4's shadow bosses are pretty crazy. Chie's shadow takes the form of a yellow-clad dominatrix sitting atop a tower of pale girls, Rise's shadow is a rainbow stripper squelching around on a pole, and Yosuke's shadow... well I don't even know what the heck he's supposed to be. The shadows are supposed to represent the characters' repressed thoughts and emotions, so they can get a little awkward. Arguably the craziest shadow is that of Kanji Tatsumi. Kanji is the tough guy of the group; he shouts and gets in fights a lot, and generally maintains a street punk facade. His shadow is an entirely different story. Shadow Kanji is essentially a homosexual stereotype: feminine, flamboyant, speaks with a lisp, hangs out in bathhouses. It's very unexpected, based on Kanji's demeanor, and he seems to find it very embarrassing and offensive. Unsurprisingly, he denies that the shadow is really a part of him. Then Shadow Kanji changes, taking the form of a massive, muscular dude, decorated with roses and wielding two huge, metal male symbols as weapons, with two other bodybuilders at his side for support. Whoa. It's extremely absurd, super awkward, and yet it was my favorite boss fight in the game. Having dealt with issues of sexuality and being in the closet myself, I sort of understood what Kanji seemed to be going through. It can be a very confusing time, with conflicting ideas in the media and from peers about how a person should or shouldn't behave based on their gender. It creates this amalgamation of bad thoughts and confusing ideas, which could lead to something like Kanji's shadow lingering in the back of one's mind, which they try to hide and push back as far as possible so no one finds out. Even though the shadow was an extreme, ridiculous example of those thoughts, it was still something I could relate to, which is why it left such a huge impression on me. This was the first time I'd played a game that tried to tackle these issues, and I really appreciated the attempt. A game within a game If there's one thing Persona 4 lacks, it's dungeon variety. Sure, there's a bunch of different themed areas, like a bathhouse, a strip club, and a secret laboratory, but they all start to feel like palette swaps for the same basic dungeon layout after a while. However, there was one dungeon that really stood out to me: Mitsuo Kubo's Void Quest dungeon. Void Quest is built to resemble an 8-bit videogame, with chiptunes-inspired music and lots of little references to old JRPGs. There's so many neat little touches in this dungeon that I can't help but enjoy myself while I'm wandering around the randomized floors. The entrance appears as a title screen, with the words "Game Start" and "Continue" hovering in midair. The doors open with this delightfully clunky animation and sound effect. On each new floor, Mitsuo's thoughts read like text from an RPG, and he even "levels up" with attributes like "coolness increases by 3" and "emptiness increases by 8." The boss fight against Shadow Mitsuo even plays out like an old 8-bit turn-based battle, with command menus that pop up whenever he attacks. I could tell the level designers really had fun with this area, and it paid off. Even though it was basically still a palette-swapped dungeon layout like the rest (with the occasional unique floor which required puzzle-solving), it managed to be exciting and memorable just through style alone. Bear-y funny, Teddie Wanna know the main reason to play Persona 4? Bear puns. Teddie is so full of bear puns it's almost unbearable. Every other line is "bear this" or "bear that," but you just have to bear with it. He's a beary useful member of the party, at least. You'll bearly be able to keep up with his bear-sona bearing down on you. If he ever starts going bear-serk, you bear-ter watch out! God, these puns are awful (kuma)... For real though, Teddie is awesome. Bear puns and all. Sensei don't fear the reaper I had no idea the Reaper was a thing in Persona 4 until I randomly stumbled upon it during my second playthrough. While exploring Yukiko's castle dungeon, I came across a suspicious chest. Upon examing the chest, a creepy message flashed across the screen: "You sense an intensely terrifying presence... open this box?" I hesitated, but I was really curious about what that meant exactly, so I said yes. Suddenly, my navigator chimed in, warning me not to open it. It then prompted me again: "Will you really open it?" I was a little too nervous at this point. I expected something powerful and scary, and I hadn't leveled up very much yet. I decided to walk away and try again some other time. The next time I found the suspicious chest was in Mitsuo's Void Quest dungeon. I'd leveled up quite a bit since the castle, so I decided to give it a shot and finally opened the chest. Out popped the Reaper, a creepy, masked monster covered in chains and tattered rags, wielding two revolvers with super long barrels. I loved his design, and his guns were like the coolest looking weapons I've ever seen. Unfortunately, he was way too powerful for me, and he quickly killed my entire team within a few turns. Well, so much for that... I challenged him again in the Magatsu Inaba dungeon, and after an intensely difficult, grueling battle, I finally managed to defeat him! I was rewarded with the Blade of Totsuka, the protagonist's strongest weapon. I later found out it's possible to challenge the Reaper multiple times, in order to get the most powerful weapons and armor for each character. I didn't go through the trouble of finding everything, but I did at least get the best weapons for my three other main party members: Teddie, Kanji, and Chie. They definitely felt well-deserved, after battling such a formidable opponent. It came from the Dojimas' refrigerator There's a lot of things to do in Persona 4 to spend time during the day or increase stats. One such activity involves raiding the refrigerator at home for snacks. Seems pretty straightforward, but the Dojima residence's fridge is a mysterious thing. Sometimes the protagonist will find normal things in the fridge, like melon soda or shortcake. But other times, he'll find things that are quite worrisome... A pot full of grass? Unidentified mushrooms? An alarm clock?! He can also eat Nanako's pudding, like a big jerk. Tasting these weird discoveries can raise his courage stat, but sometimes it'll send him to bed sick, unable to do anything else that night. The best part about the fridge finds is the wording, though, with prompts like, "A single slice of ham lies lonely on a paper plate. Something about it disturbs you..." and "There's a brown spherical object in the depths of the fridge. You think it used to be a pear... Eat it?" I never knew what to expect when I opened the refrigerator door. It's simultaneously frightening and hilarious. I'm not sure I'd be brave enough to eat anything that came from the Dojimas' fridge after seeing some of the things they keep in there... Helping out the hanged man One of Persona 4's biggest draws is its Social Links system. Social Links are the relationships formed between the protagonist and other various characters in the game. Spending time with friends will strengthen the Social Links, granting the protagonist and his party members greater skills in battle. It's also a chance to learn more about the characters and their backstories. All of the Social Links are interesting, but I think my favorite one is the Hanged Man Arcana, Naoki Konishi. The protagonist's relationship with Naoki starts off pretty rough. Naoki is the younger brother of Saki Konishi, who was one of the murder victims towards the beginning of the game. Still coping with his sister's death, Naoki lashes out at the protagonist when they first meet, telling him quite plainly that he hates him. Even though he came off as incredibly rude, I really felt bad for the guy. I kept trying to talk to him whenever I saw him in the hallway at school, even though he didn't want anything to do with me. Eventually, he came around and decided to chat with me, and apologized for his previous rudeness. Through Naoki's Social Link, the player gets to learn about how someone might deal with the death of a loved one, how other people might treat that person, and how their behavior and gossip can make the mourner feel alienated. I felt a lot of empathy for Naoki and just wanted to make him feel better by being there for him and lending an ear to listen to his troubles. Towards the end, he's finally able to let loose and cry, and share some fond memories of his sister, and he thanks the protagonist for being so friendly. It's a really sad story, but sometimes the saddest moments are the ones that stick in your mind the most. That's why Naoki's Social Link was by far the most memorable to me. Past Experience Points .01: The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask.02: Shadow of the Colossus.03: EarthBound.04: Catherine.05: Demon's Souls.06: No More Heroes.07: Paper Mario
Persona 4 highlights photo
I am a shadow... the true self
Experience Points is a series in which I highlight some of the most memorable things about a particular game. These can include anything from a specific scene or moment, a character, a weapon or item, a level or location, a p...

Lots of games are morally bankrupt, we get it

Mar 19 // Anthony Burch
Most games are horrifying celebrations of violence and empowerment that prioritize aggression over compassion, and competition over empathy. And that's completely fine. (So long as the game, and the audience, know that that's what is going on.) We all -- to some extent or another -- are aware that the art and media we engage with can often be full of shit. We often love our art for being full of shit! I love Doctor Who, and it's one of the most full-of-shit television shows of all time! It champions optimism and mercy without ever approaching anything even remotely similar to a real-life dilemma, and -- so long as you know that's what it's doing -- it's a perfectly fine bit of escapism. And so it is with violent videogames. Yes, it's really, really weird that you run around massacring orcs because They're The Bad Guys, and it's even weirder that we were more excited to massacre them in Shadow of Mordor specifically because they felt more human. They felt like people with lives and backstories and that made it way more satisfying to slice their heads off what the fuck. But! It's escapism. It's full of shit, but it's full of shit in a way that is decidedly fun and effective. Should we ask greater questions about why Shadow of Mordor is fun, and consider how its fun-ness might be inexorably linked to racism and classism? Absolutely. Should we stop playing Shadow of Mordor and paint everyone who enjoys it as an enormous pile of human waste? Of course not. Or, to quote Anita Sarkeesian: "It is both possible (and even necessary) to simultaneously enjoy media while also being critical of its more problematic or pernicious aspects." (A quote that, if more people actually listened to, might have resulted in a way goddamn calmer gamer culture over the past few years.) So, it's okay to enjoy sadistic, weird, violent bullshit, so long as all parties involved know that that's exactly what they're doing. The only real problem, to me, is when that bullshit starts pretending to be about something else. Going back to Shadow of Mordor -- which was unquestionably my favorite game of last year -- I loved the over-the-top violence and the multitude of horrific things that you could do to your enemies. I distinctly did not love the story that tried to morally justify those things. The story of Talion's vengeance, and how justified he was in killing all those orcs because they are inherently "vile, savage beasts" (again, you should really read Austin Walker's article), is kind of nonsensical. It gets the player from A to B, sure, but it never stopped feeling weird for the game to paint Talion as a hero with one brush, and then allow you to decapitate an orc who is defined by a very human, relatable fear of fire moments later. But we've heard this argument before, right? Ludonarrative dissonance, blah blah blah. We've heard this argument so much, in fact, that it spawned an entirely new genre of games: the Violent Games That Criticize Violence And People Who Enjoy Violence genre. Anyone who has played Hotline Miami will remember the constant, enigmatic questions posed to the player by its cast of animal-faced murderers. "Knowing oneself means acknowledging one's actions." "You like hurting people, don't you?" "You're not a nice person, are you?" "Do you like hurting other people?" On its surface, these questions -- questions that many games pose to their players -- are deep, interesting queries. Functionally, though, they do nothing but jab an accusatory finger at the player. You fucking caveman, they shout. What's wrong with you? Why do you like this horrible, violent pornography? The answer to these condescending questions is simple: because these games are fun, and you know they're fun, and you spent hours and hours and hours of development time making sure I'd find them fun. These games never broach the actual social or biological reasons we find violence entertaining. Evolutionarily, it's to our advantage to find violence more stimulating and interesting than other aspects of the human experience, because a failure to find violence noteworthy can result in our deaths. Culturally, there are reams and reams of academic papers on violence as a (chiefly male) expression of worth and power that can often poison the aggressor almost as much as their victim. These games don't address that. Far Cry 3 says you like violence because you're a racist, simple-minded tourist (or at least, you have no problem taking on the role of one because, as a player, you're so eager to get to the murdering that your avatar is meaningless). Hotline Miami says you like it because you're kind-of-sort-of-bad-person-I-guess-but-maybe-not-really-I-don't-know. Spec Ops: The Line suggests you've just never given any thought to what the hell you've done as a player of games. These games chastise the player for enjoying consequence-free violence, right before offering them a smorgasbord of beautifully rendered, lovingly visceral consequence-free violence (Spec Ops less so, as it actually gives a shit about the choices you made in the story. Additionally, it forbids the player from being as graphically sadistic toward his or her enemies as FC3 and Hotline Miami). This is kind of weird, right? This is a hypocritical way of having your cake and eating it too -- of pretending you're making a grand statement about violence, without actually saying anything of note beyond -- bizarrely -- blaming the player for buying your game. If a game truly cared about exploring violence and its consequences, wouldn't it bake that into its game systems? XCOM, to me, is a greater treatise on violence and death than any of the other games I've mentioned because its systems force the player to make real, consequential, dynamic choices about the value of life. Should I put my elite assault trooper into the path of a crysalid if it means that he'll be able to save two or three civilians? Is it worthwhile to use my rookie to draw a sectoid's fire, just so my sniper can get a shot off? How much do I care about "winning" versus being a good person? What is the actual, financial cost of a human being? XCOM, while seemingly just a silly game about marines fighting aliens, directly engages with these questions in a way that the Hotline Miamis and Far Crys of the world never do. (And what's more, they do it without relying on gore for spectacle's sake). The answer for that is, perhaps, obvious: because it's hard. Because to do so is expensive, and means you're making a mechanically complex game in a time where it's easier and cheaper and often more profitable to make simple games. But if you're going to make a simple game that casts the player in a simple, hyperviolent role, why pretend to be an exploration of violence when your game mechanics obviously aren't? Why not go the other direction? Why not celebrate the fact that you're, to be brutally cynical, kinda full of shit? That's what Borderlands 2 was about -- from my perspective, at least. (It should probably go without saying, but a TON of people worked on Borderlands 2, and though I wrote about 90% of the dialogue, that dialogue makes up a comparatively small percentage of the overall Borderlands 2 experience. I can only speak for myself, and my own frame of mind when I worked on the game.) Early on, after the player kills a few psycho bandits, I had Claptrap comment on the battle: "Minion! What did you DO?! Those people had LIVES, and FAMILIES, and -- nah, I'm totally kidding. SCREW those guys!" As a joke, this line of dialogue isn't great. It's too long, its punchline is obvious, and it's just plain not all that funny. But nonetheless, this was a line I found myself coming back to as a thematic touchstone for the series as a whole. Yes, you are a murderer. Yes, you only exist to kill people and rob their corpses so you can kill more powerful things and rob more shiny stuff from their corpses. But it's all bullshit, so don't sweat it. Don't forget that you're being kind of a murderous antihero, but have fun with it! It's entertaining to be a murderous antihero. Don't pretend you're something that you're not (a hero), but don't beat yourself up over your antiheroism -- revel in it. There was a bit of internal worry about casting the player as such an amoral mercenary, but by making the bad guy an even bigger asshole, and by surrounding the people with (hopefully) charming, equally amoral good guys, everything basically turned out okay. We didn't, to my recollection, get any letters about how horrific it was to play as an antihero -- if anything, people seemed to enjoy that Borderlands was so jovially honest with its players about what it was and what it asked them to do. Saints Row works for exactly the same reason. The first two Saints Row games can often veer toward the horrifying, as the player upholds "values" like loyalty (which manifests itself in the player brutally murdering Julius, the founder of the Saints who rats on them in an attempt to bring peace back to Stillwater) and justice (which sees the player kidnap an unarmed woman, lock her in the trunk of a destruction derby car, and trick her boyfriend into ramming her to death as a means of avenging one of their fallen comrades). But Saints Row 3 and 4? The games where the franchise fully accepted just how batshit insane its players, characters, and world are? God damn, those are some good fucking videogames. Yes, your only method of interaction with civilians sees you punching or bludgeoning or shooting them. "Fuck it," the game says -- "let's incentivize that kind of behavior by making civilians drop health when you kill them." The moment Saints Row stopped trying to make serious statements about anything was the moment it reached its full potential. It accepted its own ludicrousness, and in so doing became the most honest videogame ever made: you play like a psychopath in these games, so we'll cast you as a mass-murderer and have everyone talk about how hilariously fun it is to be a mass-murderer. Fuck it, we'll make you president because you were so good at being a mass-murderer. Sure, the Saints Row games aren't "deep" (except for the fact that they totally are, thanks to their treatment of sexuality), but they're honest. Their messages, such as they are, match up perfectly with their mechanics. In my dumb, ex-game-dev opinion, XCOM and Saints Row represent the two best ways of actually tackling violence in games. Either build your systems around violence and its consequences -- actually force your players to answer questions of morality and power for themselves --  or just throw up your hands and create a world where the player can have fun being a total piece of shit. Above all, just be honest in what you're doing -- don't pretend your game is about How Bad Violence Is when it's really about How Awesome Pixelated Blood Looks.
Immoral games photo
Now move on, already
With Hotline Miami 2 recently released, I realized I am really, really tired of games that belong in its genre. When I say "genre," I refer not to "action games" or "indie games" or even "violent games," but a subtler, more h...

Destructoid turns nine: Let's celebrate with our favorite articles

Mar 16 // Ben Davis
How Final Fantasy VI saved my life Jordan Devore: One of the hardest parts about writing online, where feedback is fast and fierce, is learning to let your personality show. Putting your true, non-idealized self out there for the world to dissect. It's scary at first. In fact, the fear of failure never fully leaves. But it's also liberating. Former features editor Chad Concelmo exemplified this in his tenure at Destructoid. His writing was just so personable, upbeat, and genuine. Not everyone "got" his brand of dolphin-infused positivity, but that wasn't the goal. That should never be the goal. In one of Chad's last articles for this site, he bravely wrote about how a special videogame turned his life around and set him on the path to becoming the person we know and love. It was, as he says, AMAZING! [Cease and Desist] is coming to the Xbox 360! [Updated for Internet Matlockery] Jonathan Holmes: Look, Ron Workman drinks. He was oftentimes a terror. With him as our public face, many people came to know Destructoid as a "cocks out" testosterone-fueled frat house of a game blog that just may pee on you in your sleep. No site could exist for very long if everyone on staff were like Ron. It would either explode from all the infighting or die of alcohol poisoning.  Still, when I think back on the times when I've been the most amazed with Dtoid, Ron's [Cease and Desist] post always comes to mind. You can't see it now, but when the post first went up, it ended with something like 1200 comments. The amount of energy Ron brought out in people was nothing short of astounding. That comments section was like a living, breathing organism unto itself, all under Ron's direction. While modern Dtoid doesn't have that much in common with the site's "Workmeng" days, I like to think we've worked to keep that underlying energy in play. Unpredictability, honesty, and willingness to take risks. Dtoid does things better than any other game site, in part thanks to the tone set by Workman. Jimquisition: Desensitized to violence Rob Morrow: I'd like to add Jim's feature on the desensitizing effects violence in games has on players where he tests the theory by surprising viewers with footage of a suicide. Holy crap, that was crazy. The Videogame Show What I've Done: Art Games Chris Carter: One of my favorite things about Jim is that he doesn't take shit from people. No matter how many peers were stacked against him on an issue it wouldn't silence him from giving his opinion, and the first thing that comes to mind is his discussion on "Art Games." Virgilio Armarndio was the perfect character to call upon to talk about the controversial subject, and I'm still waiting for his indie masterpiece, Peaches, to come out of Early Access so we can find out what the hell we pledged all of that Kickstarter money for. Why is the question mark on his forehead? Does it represent our lingering, latent need for Peaches to be the best game of all time? We need to know, Virgilio! I miss you. Titanfall tips: Sneaky robot tricks StriderHoang: It shouldn't be a secret I'm a fan of Nic Rowen's type of in-depth, nitty-gritty game knowledge features. I like to dig deep even if I don't actually know the jargon like his Dark Souls talk. But this one is a favorite of mine not just to exemplify nitty-gritty talk, but because it has Gundam pictures. Fun fact, Nic used to be a stompy robot. Now he's a robot trapped in the body of a man who once believed himself to be a robot. A robot that plays games about robots usually. Listen to this circle jerk logic!  Review: Call of Duty: Ghosts Brett Makedonski: To be clear, the content of this review means nothing to me. Honestly, I'm not sure I ever even read it. It's what this review represents that's special. Call of Duty: Ghosts was the last review that Jim wrote before leaving Destructoid. Like many others, Jim was the personality that I associated with the site. It wasn't until I started working here that I truly saw how many amazing people it takes to make this monster run smoothly (sometimes) every day. That's why it hurt a bit when Jim's leaving prompted an outpouring of "Destructoid's dead" comments from the likes of reddit and NeoGAF. We weren't dead; we were losing a great guy, but we sure as hell weren't dead. That nonsense lit a fire inside me and caused me to work twice as hard to prove to all these people that never loved Destructoid in the first place that they were wrong. Fuck the haters. Review: Solatorobo: Red the Hunter Mike Martin: Destructoid is no stranger to epic comment threads. Whether by derailment, controversy, heated discussions and anything in between, we’ve had some epic showdowns over the years. One thread stands out the most to me though. Solatorobo’s review. It had everything you could want: drama, hatred, calling out the reviewer, fighting amongst the community, stupid pictures, staff interaction, salad, Stealth going apeshit and yet somewhere along the way it morphed into something else. After the white hot fire of the review itself died down, we started trying to break 300 comments. Then it became 400 and continued on up to 500 and beyond. Over the course of two days this review became a playground for everyone to just push the comment count higher. There was still some anger (at the review and Stealth) here and there in the end, but it mostly turned into discussions about whether it was worth getting a 3DS yet (Holmes even made a crack about waiting for the two nub version) and just how big of assholes we were being at the time. To me that comments section captured the essence of Dtoid perfectly: We can all be assholes, we can argue, fight, be silly, be sweet, etc. Yet in the end, we still come together as a family to have fun. Staff and community members alike. Review: Saints Row 2 Josh Tolentino: There's so much of Destructoid I'll never forget, but the thing that comes up whenever I try to think of why I love this place is this video review for Saints Row 2. After watching Anthony Burch sum up everything great about that game in a single blast of crotch-kicking and "The Final Countdown", I knew I wanted to be a part of a place that could do dumb stuff like that, all out of a love for games.   The Destructoid battle card game Robert Summa: We all know community is at the heart of Destructoid. So, I guess it's no surprise that one of my favorite posts on Destructoid was this battle card game born out of the forum cesspool. I'm thinking we need to resurrect this idea and actually put out a Dtoid battle card game. Let's do it.  RunMan: Race Around the World is a really good game Patrick Hancock: This is the post that got me into indie games. Like, for real.  I can vividly remember bringing up RunMan: RAtW to a friend of mine at a Halloween bash. "Yeah, it's like Sonic but really flows. It's actually way more about speed than Sonic has ever been!" It quickly became one of my favorite games ever, and helped me learn not to use "good for an indie game" as a qualifier. It's amazing as a game. Period. It's also the first free game that I donated to, because there's no way that RunMan: Race Around the World isn't worth money. Kudos to Tom Sennett and Matt Thorson and of course Anthony Burch for completely changing the way I approach the industry. Adorable (and adoptable!) puppies make our E3 predictions Ben Davis: Remember that time Chad helped a bunch of adorable puppies and kitties get adopted while also entertaining us with silly E3 predictions? I don't think anyone could possibly top this amazing E3 post.  RetroforceGO! Episode 100 Darren Nakamura: Really, I wanted to pick the entirety of the RetroForceGO! run, because it was such a great podcast. The cast members worked so well together, bouncing ideas off one another and even having heated arguments at times. Really, the show could have been about anything and the cast would have made it worth listening to, but the focus on retro games set it apart from all the other shows where random people talk about whatever is happening currently. I miss listening to these shows, and the 100th episode served as a celebration of the whole run. Podtoid 110: Floppy bodies Stephen Turner: Poor Samit Sarkar, forever the butt of the Podtoid joke. He couldn't be cool like Topher Cantler, a cheeky asshole like Anthony Burch, lovable like Aaron Linde, laconic like Brad Nicholson, nor quick-witted like Jim Sterling. He had to make do with the being the sports guy that tried to fit in. And God, did he try to fit in with hilarious results. Floppy Bodies sticks in my mind solely for Samit's "greatest" moment, like Icarus flying too close to the sun. Towards the end, he recounts, nay, rambles his way through a supposedly badass experience he had with Grand Theft Auto IV. Have you ever been to a party where someone has your ear and you just want to walk away, but there's nowhere to go? That's exactly what his storytelling is like. Everybody goes silent. It slowly dawns on Samit, his words petering out, that he's lost their interest. Nothing but dead air fills the speakers. Burch bursts into laughter, followed by everyone else. He really tried, but as Topher once said, "Shut up, Samit." Podtoid 213: A man-horse pooping condoms Jed Whitaker: I could gush on and on about the impact Jim Sterling has had on my life and how I wouldn't be here without his influence, but instead I'm going to talk about Willem Dafoe pitches on Podtoid. Jim, Jonathan, and sometimes Conrad would come up with ridiculous movie pitches starring Willem Dafoe, often voicing Willem himself. There are such classics as Dr. Dickman's Cursed Penis, and Blue Eye in the Brown Eye, but my favorite Dafoe pitch has always been Farmer Animals in which Willem Dafoe is a farmer trying to win the world's best animal with his horse played by Keanu Reeves. Here is the pitch in full, if you can listen to this and don't find yourself asking people, "Hey kids, wanna die!?" then you aren't human. Four years of Destructoid: A collection of wacky memories Mr Andy Dixon: Though I'd already been hanging around pretty regularly for about a year when Dtoid turned four, it wasn't until the man formerly known as Warchief Grim waxed nostalgic that I fully realized how truly blessed I was to belong to such an amazing fucking community. This motley group of gamers -- be they staff, community members, or green-headed robots -- loved each other like brothers and sisters, even though so many of them had never even met in person. It was something I'd never been a part of before, and my life has never been the same since. Not only that, but the fact that this post was being written by someone who himself had risen through the ranks as a community member-turned staffer inspired me to start blogging myself, and by the time the site turned six I would not only meet face-to-face with many of the people who would become my greatest friends, but receive the highest honor of all: a chance to work for the community I had grown so fond of. These have been the best years of my life, and I am so thankful for everything this place and its people have done for me. I <3 you all. Community Interviews Claire Sharkey: I'd like to include the Community Interviews (the directory can be found here). They offer a lot of insight into well known and lesser known members of the community who are active on the front page and the forums. It's great to get to know more about the people we interact with and who contribute to the community. We're celebrating Sonic's 23rd birthday the only way we know how Brittany Vincent: The entire team got together to create this beautiful disaster, and it was one of the most glorious moments of my tenure here at Destructoid. I can't think of another place where my explicit Sonic fan fiction would be welcome. Sonic's "big boy puddle" became a mainstay when speaking about the hedgehog around these parts, and Kyle's legendary fan art was at its pinnacle depicting Darren about to snarf up a Sonic hot dog. Who could forget Sanic Hegehog's Diaper Birthday? When I need a quick laugh, I search for this post when I can remember the name, and it makes my day every single time.  How Destructoid spent Dante's $200 Niero: My favorite Dtoid moments were often off the front page (and in the middle of the street with 30 drunk people singing) but if I had to pick one it was probably Faxtoid. The posts are in the archive, but it was one of those days where you just had to be there.   A lot of my favorites have already been noted here, so I'll add a classic Mr. Destructoid moment: Tacos From Hell. Dante's Inferno sent us $200 and we ran around doing random things giving it away.  [embed]289097:57818:0[/embed] -- What do you think is the best thing Destructoid has done? Let us know in the comments!
Dtoid's 9th anniversary photo
Happy birthday, Niero and Dtoid!
Destructoid turned nine today! Can you believe it? This lovely place full of incredible people has been doing its thing for nearly a decade, and it's not slowing down anytime soon. We can keep this wonderful, crazy community ...

What can save Titanfall 2?

Mar 14 // Nic Rowen
Fine, just go ahead and make a single player campaign As someone who almost never bothers with the single player campaign in a shooter, I applauded Respawn's decision to axe any kind of bloated, roller-coaster ride of narrative mode like I was a 18th century French peasant cheering at the guillotine. I looked at all the stats and figures showing how most CoD players never touch the SP game and thought of my own history of aggressively ignoring most shooter stories since Quake 3 and thought it was a savvy move. A good way to cut down the cost of development while making sure the full focus of the project was placed on the most important part of the game, the multiplayer. And I was wrong. Well sort of. Personally, stubbornly, I STILL think it was a good idea. I was fine with the window dressing of the “campaign multiplayer” mode which added a few lines of story-based radio chatter over the usual MP action, leaving the player to draw in the details. But given the massive popular backlash against the decision, it's clear that the absence of a SP campaign hurt the reputation and perception of Titanfall more than whatever dollars they saved in the process could have. It may be silly, but so many people were offended by the lack of a SP campaign (that they were statistically unlikely to have played) that it killed a lot of enthusiasm for the title. It made Titanfall feel like half a game sold at the price of a full title. Even as just an optics thing, the trade-off wasn't worth it. As much as I hate to admit it, Titanfall 2 should have an SP campaign. Whether it's fair or not, it is something that is seen as part of the complete package for a first-person shooter. They gave it a shot without one and it didn't work, to stick to that stance on principle would be foolish. Besides, I don't know about anyone else, but I could probably stand to learn a little bit more about the history behind the development of the Titans and the lives of the colonists living on those monster-infested planets. Ironically, Titanfall's world is probably one of the only FPS settings that actually could get me to sit through a five-to-eight hour campaign! For God's sake, give us more robots Surprising nobody, the biggest draw about Titanfall was the mechs. I thought they looked cool, had a satisfying weight in the world compared to the pixie-like pilots, and had an intimidating presence on the battlefield. They were powerful and desirable without making the average pilot on foot feel useless. I just wish there were more of them. Three Titans aren't enough. Not by a long shot. I get why, from a gameplay perspective, Respawn might have wanted to keep it simple and stick with “the fast one, the Ryu, and the big one” so players could clearly see the trade-offs of each and easily size up the opposition while wall-running down a four story building trying to aim a rapid-fire rocket launcher. Maybe that was the right call for the first game, but this is the sequel. It's time to add some more wrinkles, some more complexity, some more crunch. I want to see weirder, more specialized Titans. Robots with particular abilities and roles, or weapons that can only be equipped on specific chassis rather than one-size-fits-all solutions. Maybe mechs that can use larger cannons or launchers by deploying in a static position, making themselves an easy target temporarily while they break out the big guns. Or maybe a Titan that has less offensive power but a sophisticated sensor system to compensate, creating a more tactically minded option for coordinated teams. I don't want to get bogged down in imagineering up robots (that's a rabbit hole I could waste an entire day in), but you get the idea. The Titans are supposed to be what sets the game apart against all of the other “hold left-trigger, squeeze right-trigger” shooters out there, they should be front and center and there should be plenty of them. Robot bling  While emblems and custom AI voice options for your Titans were eventually added into Titanfall with a patch almost half a year after release, it was a classic case of too little, too late. It's mind boggling to me that those options weren't in the game from the start and that Respawn was so timid with them when they finally added them in. I mean, one little patch on the shoulder of your three story tall robot? Nuts to that. I want to be able to paint my Titan hazard yellow with orange and gold trim, people should recognize me when I come stomping. I want to be able to select between a few different types of leg joints and shoulder pads, give my robot just the right swagger. I want to be able to adjust the look of my individual pilot characters by class and type, deck out my own imaginary crew of jetpack-wearing badasses. This is a futuristic sci-fi setting, why not have some fun with it? Adding in a ton of unlockable cosmetic gear isn't just fun for players, it also solves another problem Titanfall had -- content and progression goals. While I personally liked that there were only so many guns and attachments in the game and they were all relatively quick to unlock, a lot of players complained that it felt like there was nothing to “do” in Titanfall, that they were never working towards a goal (like you need more incentive to climb into the cockpit of a missile spewing robot? I don't understand people). Cosmetic gear could be used to give progression minded players something to shoot for without messing up the pace of weapon unlocks or stuffing the game full of useless sights and foregrips just for the sake of having them. If Respawn sticks to its admirable “no micro-transaction” policy, fancy helmets and mech bling could be a nice long-term carrot for players that who don't hold robot brawling as a self-justifying reward. What do you think? As I said before, I loved Titanfall, so while I have plenty of suggestions on how to improve the game, maybe I'm not seeing what turned everyone else off. So what do you think? Is there anything Titanfall 2 could do to make you interested in a jet-pack/robot deathmatch, or is Respawn doomed to repeat history a second time out?
Titanfall 2 wishlist photo
I've got a few ideas
I absolutely adored Titanfall, but going by the comments and blogs I've read over the past year, it seems like I'm the only person on Earth who did. Every article, news post, or blog written about the game invariably becomes ...

Experience Points .07: Paper Mario

Mar 08 // Ben Davis
A Boo-slapping good time In Paper Mario, Mario gains the loyalty of several monster partners who join him on his adventure. They're all pretty cool, especially Goombario the Goomba, Watt the Li'l Sparky, and Lakilester the Lakitu. I always like Bow the best, though. Lady Bow is a snooty green Boo with red bow ties. She looks calm and friendly, but she can be quite terrifying when she needs to be. She joins Mario's party in order to save her fellow Boos from a monster that's taken a liking to munching on ghosts. Mario actually gets to witness the horrific act firsthand, as a poor Boo is unceremoniously gobbled up by Tubba Blubba. I wonder what a ghost tastes like, and how you would even go about eating one... Bow aids Mario by allowing him to turn invisible to avoid enemy detection, and also to dodge attacks during battle. The main reason I like her so much, though, is because of her normal attack. She disappears and then pops up right in front of an enemy and slaps the ever-living crap out of them, causing them to spin around like crazy. Her most powerful attack is even a variation of this, where she uses a fan instead of her hand to smack foes around. It's very satisfying and never ceases to be amusing. Just make sure you don't get on Bow's bad side! General Guy and the army of cuteness Shy Guys have always been my favorite Mario villains. Ever since I played Super Mario Bros. 2 as a child, I've been enamored with the hooded little guys. So obviously, when I discovered Shy Guy's Toy Box in Paper Mario, I got super excited. An entire level devoted to Shy Guys? Amazing! I can't even begin to describe how happy Shy Guy's Toy Box made me. There's dancing Shy Guys, camouflaged Shy Guys, Shy Guys on stilts, Shy Guys on fire... they're all so cute and ridiculous! Plus, there's Gourmet Guy, who is severely overweight but surprisingly agile. He's great. The best part, though? The boss fight against General Guy and his army of minions. Wading through the sea of Shy Guys in the dark and watching them squeal and scurry away when Watt lights up the room never gets old. And General Guy in his adorable little military uniform and toy tank is just too much to handle. I really enjoy the battle theme, too. It's got that military undertone while still being silly and upbeat. Honestly, there was no way this wasn't going to be my favorite boss fight. It's just too bad Mario never got a Shy Guy partner... Princess Peach's special ingredient Mario isn't the only playable character in Paper Mario. Princess Peach gets some time in the spotlight during interludes where she sneaks out of the room that Bowser is holding her hostage in to try and gather information to aid Mario on his journey. Peach's stealth sections were actually pretty fun, and included one of my favorite scenes in the game. At one point, Peach enters a room to find Gourmet Guy, the overweight Shy Guy that Mario met earlier. He agrees to keep Peach's escape a secret on one condition: she has to cook something really yummy for him. And so, Peach decides to try baking a strawberry cake. Hilarity ensues. In the kitchen, Peach has access to a variety of delicious cake ingredients, including the essentials, like eggs, butter, flour, and sugar, but also other things a normal kitchen would have, like salt, water, and cleanser. Twink gives step-by-step instructions to make the perfect cake, which are easy to follow. But that wouldn't be very fun, now would it? I honestly spent a little too much time at this point in the game experimenting and making the nastiest cakes possible. Of course, we're using the word "cake" very loosely here. Would a saltwater and butter concoction topped with raw egg and strawberries really be considered a cake? It sure turns out looking like a cake somehow. And baking cleanser into the cake is fun and potentially poisonous and all, but why not go the extra mile and just make a cake out of nothing but cleanser? Cleanser mixed with cleanser, then baked and topped with more cleanser? Delicious! And magically cake-shaped! I wish Gourmet Guy had more than one reaction to poorly baked cakes, but unfortunately his only response is to accuse Peach of learning to cook in truck driving school. You'd think eating a caked made entirely out of cleaning products would elicit a much more extreme reaction, bodily or otherwise. Tayce T.'s tasty treats Peach had her fun baking a cake, but Mario can do some cooking of his own also. Well... sort of. Really, he just brings ingredients to a Toad named Tayce T. (har har), who does all the cooking for him. Perhaps Mario is incompetent in the kitchen. I found the Tayce T. sidequest to be unexpectedly fun. Whenever I found a new ingredient, I would always hold on to it just to see what she'd cook up. Once Mario gets the cookbook from Gourmet Guy and gives it to her, she'll be able to cook with two ingredients, opening up way more possibilities. I enjoyed experimenting with stuff and trying to figure out the different recipes, all 50 of them. What can she make with this lime and this pasta? Can she use this weird leaf I found, or this sheep? How many dishes can she possibly make out of mushrooms? I felt compelled to try everything! She can make some really useful items, like Deluxe Feasts which recover 40 HP and FP, and Jelly Pops which recover a whopping 64 FP. Cooking can be very rewarding! Although if an incorrect combination of ingredients is used, Mario will have wasted some perfectly good items and be left with a Mistake, granting only a single HP and FP. Oops... Who would have thought a simple ingredient-mixing sidequest would be so enjoyable? Penguin murder, she wrote Remember that time Mario was accused of murder? And not just murder, but penguin murder! The crime happens in Shiver City, a quiet town inhabited by friendly, adorable penguins, the last place you would expect a murderer to strike. Mario is invited into the home of the penguin mayor, whose wife leads him into the living room to meet with her husband. Mario enters the room to find... a dead penguin body?! He finds a note with the word "Herringway" scrawled upon it lying near the body, when the mayor's wife pops in to find her husband dead on the floor. Obviously, she thinks Mario did it, and who wouldn't? He's a stranger after all, alone in the room with the mayor. Mario is innocent, of course, and to prove it, he goes out in search of the real killer. The most suspicious individual is a local penguin novelist named Herringway, who has locked himself into a hidden room in his house to work on his latest mystery novel. Once Mario accesses the room and confronts Herringway, they all make their way over to the mayor's house to sort things out. Herringway claims he didn't do it, since he and the mayor are friends. The mayor's wife still thinks Mario did it (she's pretty rude about it, too!). As they're discussing the matter, the mayor's body suddenly begins to twitch, and all of a sudden he springs back to life. A zombie penguin?! Nope... turns out he just fell and hit his head while trying to grab a gift for his friend, Herringway (did nobody think to check his pulse?). Mystery solved! It's weird to think about murder in a game like Paper Mario, and in a town populated by cute penguins no less. Although, Mario does stomp Goombas and Koopas on a regular basis; he's no stranger to killing things. Maybe the penguin murder scenario wasn't so far-fetched... Smoke and mirrors Outside of Shiver City lies the Crystal Palace, a place full of mind tricks. The palace appears to be built with wall-to-wall mirrors, and it's quite beautiful. But something is a little off about the mirrors; certain things don't have reflections like they ought to. These mirrors become the main puzzle element of Crystal Palace. What looks like a reflected room might actually turn out to be an entirely separate room, an exact duplicate of the one Mario is standing in. Mirrors without reflections turn out to be entrances to walk through. Sometimes even the actual reflections themselves can't be trusted.  As it turns out, there actually aren't any real mirrors in the palace at all. Mario's reflections are really enemies called Duplighosts, who are so good at imitating things that they can predict their every movement. Once they are exposed and defeated, the palace's "mirrors" are revealed to be nothing but glass walls. The Duplighosts' tricks don't end there, though. They continue to impersonate Mario and his allies, appearing in hordes to try and confuse Mario into hurting his own friends when he can't figure out which is the real Bombette. The Duplighosts start to lose their edge, though, revealing themselves through weird speech quirks and eventually failing to copy appearances at all. It's actually really funny seeing them try so hard to trick Mario and failing utterly. The Crystal Palace is designed so well that it's almost astounding. The visual trickery is really neat to watch. What I thought were mirror puzzles turned out to be puzzles of symmetry, where doing certain things in one part of the palace would cause the opposite side of the palace to change as well. It was all balanced so perfectly, and I was incredibly impressed with the level designers when I finally figured out what was going on. What a terrific chapter! Past Experience Points .01: The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask.02: Shadow of the Colossus.03: EarthBound.04: Catherine.05: Demon's Souls.06: No More Heroes
Paper Mario highlights photo
Hey Mario! We got a letter from Princess Peach!
Experience Points is a series in which I highlight some of the most memorable things about a particular game. These can include anything from a specific scene or moment, a character, a weapon or item, a level or location, a p...

Why do some developers shy away from surrealism in gaming?

Mar 04 // Brittany Vincent
These games are an interesting alternative to the wealth of first-person shooters and survival-horror games that populate the market, and every one of them brings something special to the table. But the big guys remain reluctant to step into the fringes when it comes to worldbuilding. With the incredible power of today’s computers and consoles, there’s a definite push for realism in videogames. Some argue that we are on the cusp of producing photorealistic graphics, and while we’re not there yet, it’s impossible to deny just how good some of these big-budget games look. With that power has come the push for narrative gravity to back it up. In recent years, the story of a game has become a very large focus, with series like BioShock and The Last of Us drawing critical acclaim for the complex and emotional tales they weave. In an industry that seems to be trending toward the use of cinematics in gaming, it likely seems a big risk to try and approach things from a different angle. A title like Playdead’s Limbo, the silent and unsettling tale of a boy lost in the woods, likely doesn't trigger the same mass appeal that more conventional, realism-centric games have. The game industry is a gigantic money-maker. It has grown from a child’s plaything to a behemoth catering to a largely adult demographic. Like any business, it’s profitable to produce what people want. Right now, the trend is heavily weighted toward big-budget titles that cater to online play. These games sell, because mainstream gaming has changed from a single-player experience to a social one. The type of game that sold in 1994 has changed from the normal jumping-off point to a far more niche genre. Games that don’t cater to the online crowd just don’t sell as well. There’s a sort of divide that has developed in demographics because of the wealth of options available. People are playing games for different reasons. There’s base entertainment, yes, but think back to games like Bionic Commando or Super Mario World. They were an adventure and a challenge, just like many other games you experienced by yourself. Neither focused too hard on trying to tell a complex story, or present a moral or philosophical quandary, and they certainly weren’t capable of creating a social network, beyond the experience of eating too much pizza and trying to beat Bowser during a sleepover. This shouldn’t be viewed as a limitation, but a wholly separate experience. That’s what games like Studio MDHR’s Cuphead look capable of capturing -- that sense of nostalgia, wonder, and challenge that came with early video gaming. It may be a rosy perspective, but there’s something undeniably enthralling about the surreal worlds of older games. Perhaps the shift in age demographics has taken a bit of the wonder with it. We remember playing games even as recent as Super Mario Sunshine and Jak & Daxter and being awestruck by the cartoony worlds and the invitations extended to us. No, they were not worlds we could relate to, but they were so much larger than life, and more fantastic and colorful than any place you could ever imagine. Cuphead in particular is doing something practically unheard of, replicating the animation style of 1930s cartoons. The animation is gorgeous, and even has the same distortion and grainy look of old Technicolor cartoons. It’s definitely different, and it’s a ton of work to create. To quote the developer, “There haven't been any even medium-scale projects that use this style in the last 20 years.” Something as cool and different as Cuphead is totally in the realm of the big developers that make games for profit, but it’s the guys who are investing their own savings into their dream that are doing it, because it’s their dream, and not just because they’ve got a profit to make. One of the most interesting things about games developed without profit as the number one goal are the chances that are taken. Take a game like Honeyslug’s Hohokum, described by some as an “art game.” It lacks traditional interface, and there is no “point.” You navigate a serpent through a number of bizarre worlds, completing vague objectives in a completely non-linear fashion. There are no points, no time limit, and nothing in the way of a tutorial. Publisher SCE Santa Monica painted the game as something to simply be felt, describing it as "relaxing in a space and just enjoying the experience and the music, instead of trying to complete it to make progress." Though it was accused by some of lacking substance, it raises an important question: What exactly should a game be? Though the modern videogame landscape feels to many overpopulated with derivative titles and sequels that don’t innovate, it’s a refreshing thought to consider that there are still developers out there who are experimenting. Adding to, stripping away, completely turning concepts on their head. There is no shortage of interesting games to be found away from the mainstream, but right now they are not what is ultimately selling. If the industry is going to grow and change for the better, people have got to start responding more to these developers that are out there taking risks, for better or worse. That’s how they did it in the beginning. That’s how they’ll do it up until the bitter end… until the fear’s subsided.
Surrealism  photo
If loving surrealism is wrong, I don't want to be right
When it comes to crafting videogames out of the norm, there’s one question developers should ask themselves: What are we afraid of? Games are the perfect medium for exploration of bizarre, unnatural worlds, and yet it s...

What was the very first PlayStation 2 game you ever played?

Mar 04 // Ben Davis
Ben Davis My first experience with the PlayStation 2 was at a friend's house during his birthday party. I walked down to the basement to see a group of guys playing a racing game -- ATV Offroad Fury 2. I'm normally not a huge fan of racing games, but it looked gorgeous (compared to the PS1 graphics I was used to), and instead of racing, they were playing some weird tag mini-game where one player has a ball and the others try to ram into them with their ATVs to steal it. It looked like a lot of fun. I asked to play next turn, and once I started driving around, I immediately decided that I needed a PS2 as soon as possible. I got my own console a few months later, and of course, one of the first games I bought for it was ATV Offroad Fury 2. I actually really enjoyed it. Not just the mini-games, but the racing too. Plus, the soundtrack introduced me to Jurassic 5 and Garbage (still one of my favorite bands, actually), so that was nice. The tag mini-game is still my favorite thing about the game, though. I played that mode to death with my cousins back in the day. Chris Carter The first game I ever played on the PlayStation 2 was a launch title from the relatively niche developer From Software -- Eternal Ring. Before it was world renowned for the Souls series, From had crafted multiple sprawling worlds by way of the King's Field series, a personal favorite of mine. Eternal Ring was more of a successor of sorts in that it wasn't nearly as good, but I still got plenty of enjoyment out of it. Although many of you know what it's like to roam sandboxes in recent games like Fallout 3 and Skyrim, I remember the childlike wonder of exploring From Software's creations. Everything was unknown, and the stark difficulty level ensured that you had to adjust quickly if you wanted to actually get anywhere. I wouldn't recommend Eternal Ring to anyone today as it hasn't aged well, but it will always have a special place in my library. Josh Tolentino My very first PlayStation 2 game was a Japanese copy of Dead or Alive 2. I bought it alongside my Japanese PS2 just after the launch of the American version late in 2000. Why would I buy a Japanese edition when the American version was available? For one, it was cheaper, and second, I had heard via rumors that it had been cracked to allow the playing of pirated games. Living in the Philippines back then, you had to go bootleg to get games in a timely and affordable fashion, unless you were some senator's kid using public money to "buy original" and import from the US or Hong Kong. I also sprung for a Japanese copy of Devil May Cry, which came in handy, as it -- not Dead or Alive 2 -- proved to be the Great Enabler, in time. By March of 2001 it could be used alongside an Action Replay cheating device, and a weird little box that plugged into the PS2's front USB port to "hot swap" the legit game for the many bootleg copies that had begun to proliferate. Such were the things you did as a high schooler with a limited amount of discretionary income, and though I don't do it now, I have no excuses...or regrets. Without the bootlegging scene, a great many games of that golden age of PS2 gaming would have been unavailable to me, and not just for reasons of cost. Playing them, however I could, helped turn me from a kid with too much time and not enough money into a full-blown hobbyist. Stephen Turner First PlayStation 2 game I ever saw was Grand Theft Auto III, but the first one I ever played was Silent Hill 2. I'd just moved to the city for a new job and a new girlfriend, and spent my first paycheck on a PS2 bundle. I remember going to GAME, which I think was Electronics Boutique at the time, and specifically asking for Silent Hill 2. So I had that (the last Limited Edition copy), GTA3, and a choice between two DVDs -- one was Reservoir Dogs and the other was a family-friendly movie. Everybody picked Reservoir Dogs. I loved the original Silent Hill for the scares, and right off the bat, I went looking for them in Silent Hill 2. Then I reached the first apartment and made the decision to reset the game. You see, I went looking for something that intentionally wasn't there. Silent Hill 2 isn't really about jump scares or screaming terrors beyond the flashlight. It's a dark, melancholic metaphor for relationships, about moving on to the next woman. I came to realize how it mirrored my own situation at the time. I felt displaced as much as James Sunderland. It spooked me like no other game could (not until Forbidden Siren) because it found surrealism in the mundane. It was the first time I realized that games could be so much more than "shoot the thing." And it hasn't been topped since. Jonathan Holmes I was sour on the PlayStation 2 from the start. I had recently graduated from Art School with a focus on "handmade" animation (hand-drawn, sprites, stop motion, collage) with the dream of someday doing art for videogames. I studied the frames of animation in My Neighbor Totoro, A Nightmare Before Christmas and Street Fighter III like a theologian studies the Bible. The culture wide move during the PS1/N64/Saturn era to make games more like movies using crappy (at the time) polygon-based graphics filled me with fear and resentment. The PS2 seemed like it was moving things even further in that direction. It truly felt like they were "taking away my games," turning a medium I loved into something that felt ugly, bumbling, and worst of all "for somebody else who clearly isn't me." Thankfully, I've grown up a lot since then. So when I saw that the first Street Fighter game for the PS2 was not the beautiful Street Fighter III, and instead was the polygon-based Street Fighter EX3, I immediately resented the console. I also thought the "cheap gimmick" of including DVD playback was a lame way to appeal to "casuals and non-gamers," and was therefore stupid. Shortly after that I ended up dating a girl whose older brother had a PS2, and they showed me Dark Cloud and Okage: Shadow King. They weren't as awful as I thought they'd be, but I still wasn't all that impressed. "Both of these games would look a lot better if they had 2D graphics," I said, and then went back to playing whatever used Dreamcast game I'd picked up that month. I'd eventually warm up to the PS2, learning that every kind of game, polygon-based or not, can be a lot of fun if you let it. It's a lesson I wish I had learned a lot earlier. The only one who could ever stand to lose in my "battle to not like videogames that look a certain way" was me. Darren Nakamura I didn't have a PlayStation 2 at launch, but once Final Fantasy X released, I wanted to make sure I had one. The problem was that I was a jobless high school student, so I didn't have any way to get one. By some strange fortune, my sister bought a PS2 even though she hadn't really played games since Yoshi's Island on the SNES. (I think maybe she bought the PS2 because she was dating a guy who liked videogames.) I remember her telling me, "Just so we're clear, this is my PS2, not yours." Despite that, I bought games for it and played it more than she ever did, until she eventually sold it to me when I went off to college. The first game I played was Final Fantasy X, and it blew my mind how good the cutscenes looked compared to the previous three titles in the series. It didn't end up being my favorite Final Fantasy, but it was still great, and those first few moments with it were incredible at the time. Occams Electric Toothbrush As I walk the cobblestone streets of my mind, I try to recall the very first PlayStation 2 game I played. However, the lights of the city are dim. So let me tell you about the first PS2 game I remember playing. It was called Summoner, an RPG that in hindsight wasn’t particularly impressive or noteworthy except for the fact that you could summon creatures to fight for you. I was immediately drawn to this element as I’ve always been fond of Summoner classes. Something about calling out to some terrible and awesome thing to fight on your behalf just hit all the right power fantasy buttons for me. So all those years ago I am at my friend's house and he had purchased Summoner. We took turns playing it. We became lost in the story and the world and finding every new creature to tame. I think we were just enamored with capabilities of the PS2, capabilities that felt so far beyond what our childhood experiences had shown us. For the first time playing a videogame, the world felt real. We spent hours upon hours with that game. When we finally beat it, there was this electricity in the air. We both saw, maybe for the first time, the potential that videogames held. Andy Dixon I never actually owned a PlayStation 2 until about four years ago, when Dtoider Xzyliac mailed me one of his extras. (Sacrilege, I know.) But just because my name wasn't etched in Sharpie on any PS2 games back in the early 2000s doesn't mean I didn't get plenty of playtime with the console at friends' houses. And my first foray into that world was Grand Theft Auto III. I was a big fan of the original GTA when I played it on PC, but boy did I have no idea what I was in for this time around. The pure scope and vibrancy of the game world was so much bigger and more alive than anything I had ever played before, and I had so much fun blocking intersections and blowing up cars they probably should have had me checked out. It took me forever to actually beat the game I spent so much time just tooling around and listening to the radio, but by the time I was done with it, I had memorized every nook, cranny, and rampage of Liberty City, and there was no going back. Jason Faulkner Ever since the Metal Gear Solid series debuted, it's been a system-seller for me. I bought my second PlayStation (the first was destroyed in a move) just to play the debut title, and when a sequel was announced, I saved for months to buy a PlayStation 2. I wasn't able to get the full $299 together to purchase it, so my mom covered the rest and gave it to me for Christmas. I remember being blown away by the smooth curves of the character models in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, and feeling for the first time that the line was blurring between traditional cinematic experience and videogaming. My mom also forgot to get a memory card, so I got to sit in fear of a power outage destroying my progress. The PlayStation 2 was, in my opinion, the divide between gaming as a niche hobby and a form of mainstream entertainment, and the industry owes its current success to the great games and marketing produced for it. Brittany Vincent I wasn't able to get my PlayStation 2 until a while after its release, when I finally convinced my parents to go ahead and get it for me from a local used game shop. It came with two games upon purchase, and I chose Kingdom Hearts and Final Fantasy X, the two biggest reasons I wanted to get the system in the first place. I eagerly tore into Final Fantasy X after having asked my father to watch the opening scenes, and it certainly didn't disappoint. I was a longtime Final Fantasy fan becoming acclimated with a whole new world of improved graphical presentation and so many interesting things to come, and everything felt so vibrant, new, and exciting. When I tore through Final Fantasy X I returned it to the store for Final Fantasy X-2 and blew threw it as well, replaying the first few moments to watch the "Y-R-P" scene so many times I could practically choreograph it in real life now. I was in awe of how smooth and realistic the CG was then. It may sound bizarre, but I can't remember a time I felt more "in-tune" with what games were and where they would be going. I amassed what would eventually be the largest collection of games from one singular console, and I've never looked back. The PlayStation 2 remains firmly planted within my memory as a massive turning point in my career as a gamer, and I proudly remain loyal to it after all these years. Steven Hansen I keep asking the rest of our staff if they've played Orphen: Scion of Sorcery and they don't even answer me, let alone say no. It's like I'm a ghost shouting at my children to love me. I'm here, I'm here, can't you see me?! Thanks to the magic of "search engines" on the "world wide web," I have been able to confirm that Orphen is a videogame that exists. I didn't dream it up. I can't remember much else about it, though. I remember thinking it was cool 15 years ago, probably because its lead had a red headbanded Domon Kasshu look going on and I also thought G Gundam was cool 15 years ago. But in my Googling I went back and watched some footage from this odd, quasi-realtime JRPG and it's pretty dang bad. But I won't ever forget it! Or I won't ever forget not being able to remember it. -- What was the very first PS2 game you played? Let us know in the comments!
PS2 anniversary photo
The PS2 turns 15 today!
Today marks the 15th anniversary of the PlayStation 2. In those 15 years, we've already had two more Sony console releases, but the PS2 is still near and dear to many of our hearts. The console gave us many of our favorite ga...

Will Bethesda hurry up and announce Fallout 4?

Mar 03 // Nic Rowen
Love takes time to grow. I got about six hours into Fallout 3 before abandoning my first run. Something wasn't clicking. Trekking around the wasteland as a leather-jacketed hard case set on righting every wrong he came across was proving to be a snooze-fest. As was stopping to help every quailing citizen of post-apocalyptia who was having trouble with their computer, or needed a few more iguanas for their stew. I spent most of those first six hours bumbling around in Megaton, the first settlement you discover, running errands for “survivors” who seemed utterly incapable of keeping themselves alive and resenting them for it. I felt like Dudley Do-Right cosplaying as Mad Max. What was worse was I was incompetent at it. I didn't have a clue how to fix their flipping computers. I built my first character like an Olympic athlete who could field strip an M-16 in the dark and catch bullets out of the air with his freakishly tough and unnaturally quick hands. Computers were for nerds, not wasteland avengers. I didn't make a character who could sneak around picking shitty desk locks looking for a password, or charm his way out of a confrontation. I made the kind of guy I thought the wasteland would need – an asskicker, a soldier, a rebel with a heart of gold. And it was so terribly, terribly boring. I went back to the drawing board. I restarted the game with the kind of guy I thought the wasteland would need the least. Another lunatic set loose on the skeleton of the old world. A lanky freak who was about as tough as a ten-year-old with progeria. A man whose talents included small engine repair, skulking about in the shadows, and an unhealthy interest in explosives. Someone who was likely to rebuild something just to blow it up again. I gave him a mohawk the color of corn-silk and a face too long for its own good. Big bulging eyes that jutted out a little too far from each other, just this side of gonk. His S.P.E.C.I.A.L. stats could truly be considered “special.” Barely any strength or endurance, moderate charisma and intelligence, but preternatural powers of perception and a wild dash of luck. Maybe it reflected being born under a good sign? Or maybe it was just the natural canniness of the criminally ill. Instead of playing a man driven by a sense of justice and righting wrongs, I gave my new character a spirit of raw curiosity. A person less interested in the right or wrong of something, but driven to explore and experiment, regardless of the outcome. I stopped choosing my words based on what I thought was right, instead just going with whatever dialog option I liked the best at the time, even if it made him occasionally contradictory or less than helpful. He had his mind shattered the moment he was cast out of the only life he ever knew and exiled into a poisoned and dead world. Or maybe there was always a spark of madness in him, fanned into a blaze by the VaultTec door swinging shut behind him. He had a mild phobia of guns, preferring to dive into melee swinging a baseball bat or knife with his skinny arms, or better yet, to just toss grenades at his problems. I found the Vault 101 Utility suit with the red converse sneakers in the opening tutorial and kept him in them the whole game. Fuck leather jackets and metal knee braces, I was going to face the end of the world looking like a hipster janitor. I had one guiding principal for this run: I would only do things that interested me. If a quest-line looked boring, I'd skip it. If something caught my eye, I'd abandon what I was doing and go check it out, I would always follow my curiosity. I would never bother to check my karma level, or spend time worrying about my character build (no amount of meta-gaming would ever repair his broken stats anyway). I got over my fear of sequence breaking or wandering into an area that was too tough or advanced for my character. I just assumed it would all work out eventually. What I'm describing might not seem like much to some people. I'm sure this is how a lot of people already experience big open games like Fallout and Skyrim. But for me, it was a revolution. A complete rewiring of my mental pathways, a total inversion of how I usually approached those sorts of games. It cured me from the paralysis of choice. The self-defeating spiral where there is just so much to do and explore that you spend more time fretting about what you “should” be doing, or what you could be missing, than actually enjoying the experience. Making a character who couldn't or wouldn't use most of the best loot in the game freed me from worrying about completing quests the “best” way. I was free from making choices based on what would get me the best laser gun at the end of a story arc to making choices that would bring me satisfaction. I dove back into the wasteland with my funny-red-sneaker-wearing weirdo, and I didn't come back out until 120 hours later. Forget about chasing down Dad or following up on the main quest; I picked a random direction from the door of Vault 101 and started walking. It wasn't long before I came across an abandoned shack and a big ol' combat knife called the Stabhappy. It was like providence was telling me I was on the right track. I explored what was left of The Mall, stumbling over historic sites while trying to dodge super mutant patrols as a puny level 5 wanderer with distressingly few combat skills (landmines and re-purposed booby traps became my best friend). I got the vague sensation that I was probably supposed to end up in this area as part of some epic quest-line later in the game, but so what? I was curious, plus it was more fun having to sneak by all the mutants than it would have been to just hurl plasma at them. Much later on, I was tasked with escorting a teenager named Sticky from the child-only settlement of Little Lamplight to Big Town, where they exile all the chumps who are getting a little too old for their own good. So I did what any responsible adult would do when saddled with an annoying 16-year-old who has the mental competency of a 13-year-old: I gave him a suit of cybernetic war armor and a gigantic mini-gun. When I got him to Big Town, it seemed weird to let him wander about in his powersuit while the rest of the town's residents wore rags and were trying to defend themselves with rusty bolt-action rifles and lead pipes. So militarizing Big Town became my pet project. One of the many quirks of the Gamebryo engine Bethesda uses is the ability to reverse-pickpocket items into an NPC's possession. If you have a high enough sneak rating, you can (somehow) covertly place a flamethrower in a random NPC's pocket, and they'll equip it next time you load up the area. Same with clothes and armor. The items are persistent, so they'll stick with the characters and over time, Big Town became my own living museum of all the cool gear I couldn't or wouldn't use. Custom power armor from The Pitt DLC, named weapons like the Blackhawk magnum and Lincoln's Repeater. Big Town went from a squalid little town of sad-sack victims to the most lethally armed collection of mentally compromised teens in the wastes. That's just a sample of the kind of dumb shit I got up to. I made the Capital Wasteland my sandbox, and Bethesda provided me with all the right tools and set dressings to play in it. It is a rare and precious thing to lose yourself completely in a game, and Fallout 3 provided me with some of the most memorable and potent moments I've ever had the pleasure of experiencing. I want to feel that excitement again. Skyrim was great, but for as much fun as I had with its dragons and necromancers, a part of me was always wistful for the nuclear ashes of America circa 2277. Obsidian’s New Vegas was a good dose for keeping the shakes at bay, with some welcome mechanics that made soft-skills more important and some colorful characters (all hail “kai-sar”). But its endless brown deserts and frustratingly lethal wildlife left me cold. It felt like the game was always trying to punish me for going off the beaten trail and trying to explore it like the Capital Wasteland. I want to see what the A-team can do. I want to see what Bethesda has learned from Skyrim, what ideas it can poach from New Vegas, and what it'll leave on the cutting-room floor. I want to return to the wasteland, see what kind of stories it has left to tell, what kind of characters are still rattling around in the grave of the old world. I'm hungry for it, ready to chomp down on any scrap of news, hell, I'd be happy even for the meager crumbs of a teaser trailer, anything. It's been almost seven years since Fallout 3 came out and Bethesda has been stubbornly, frustratingly silent about the future of the series. Will the studio finally have something to say about it this GDC? Doubtful. But at this point, I have no choice but to hope.
Fallout 4 hopes photo
The wait is worse than the radioactive cannibals
GDC is here, and as is the case with any big trade show or splashy industry event, I'll be on tenterhooks waiting to hear the one piece of news I care about -- When is Fallout 4 going to happen? For years I've expected the an...

Experience Points .06: No More Heroes

Feb 28 // Ben Davis
You've been a bad girl Bad Girl, the second highest ranked assassin: a cutesy, foul-mouthed, beer-chugging psychopath who definitely lives up to her nickname. Travis first finds her beating random dudes in gimp suits to a bloody pulp with her wooden baseball bat, just for fun. She's insane and incredibly dangerous. After tossing back a few beers, she challenges Travis to a duel with nothing more than a bat against his deadly beam katana. She can certainly hit hard with that thing, though. Even her standard attacks hurt like hell, so watch out. After a while, she starts using those gimp dudes she was smashing earlier as projectiles, hitting them home run-style right at Travis like giant, living baseballs. She even takes a second to drain a flask she was hiding in her dress, spitting the alcohol onto her bat and lighting it up in flames like a badass. Don't be fooled by her occasional daintiness, either. She likes to fall to the ground and pretend to cry, which may seem like a good opportunity to slash her up, but for the love of God, don't fall for that trap! If Travis even so much as approaches her at this point, she'll trip him over, jump on top of him, and proceed to beat his face into the ground with her bat. It's an instant kill... Bad Girl is hard as hell, and she killed me too many times to count. But everything about this fight is amazing. Her frighteningly cool demeanor which clashes with her frilly style, the sinister atmosphere, the thumping battle theme which sounds like something from a seedy, super threatening strip club... it all fits so well together. It may be frustratingly difficult, but it's still my favorite fight in the game hands down. The waggling One of the most surprising things about No More Heroes for me was just how great the motion controls felt on the Wii. I think I can honestly say that this is the only game I've played where I actually enjoyed the motion controls and felt like they added something to the game. Probably the biggest reason they work so well here is because they're specifically relegated to special attacks. The A button is used to attack normally, so players don't have to swing the controller every which way constantly during combat, looking like a fool. Waggle is required when Travis locks swords with an enemy, and the Wiimote and nunchuk are swung around while executing wrestling moves. But the best feeling is when Travis kills an enemy with a finishing blow. The grand slashing motion paired with Travis shouting, "go to hell!" actually feels really great to perform. And of course, who could forget the motion for recharging the beam katana? Players basically have to jack off with the Wiimote, while Travis does the same thing with his sword on-screen. Ahhh... stay classy, Nintendo! Thunder Ryu's rigorous regimen When he's not busy slicing up assassins or working to pay for his next big thrill, Travis likes to spend his free time at the gym. Gotta stay fit to pull off those sweet wrestling moves, right? That's why it's usually a good idea to visit the Thunder Ryu building on occasion and lift some weights. Something is a little off about this gym, though... Upon entering the building, the owner, Thunder Ryu, makes some rather unsettling demands of Travis. "Take your clothes off. OFF! I will teach you THAT technique. Make sure your ass's clean." I uhh... what?! I... I think I'm in the wrong place... If Travis agrees to do "THAT" training, he's taken to the gym room, where he can lift dumbbells, bench press, or do some squats (What? That's it?). These exercises will increase his combo time, strength, or vitality, so they're quite useful. Of course, it's probably not what anyone was expecting, based on gym owner's greeting. So why did Travis have to take his clothes off back there? And why so much interest in the cleanliness of his butt? Who knows. Thunder Ryu is either a super horny old man, or he's just joking around to make his clients uncomfortable. Either way, I started going to the gym a lot more frequently after that exchange. ... ...What? Postal worker by day, total asshole by night No More Heroes is all about the boss fights, so it's hard to pick just one to talk about. There aren't really any bosses from the first game that I dislike. Even though Bad Girl is definitely my favorite, there still plenty of other awesome assassins like Shinobu, Holly Summers, and Speed Buster (special shout-out to her theme song, Mach 13 Elephant Explosion, for having the coolest track title of all time). But there's one boss that always makes me laugh. The seventh ranked assassin is an angry jerk who works for the postal service, although his true persona is the idiotic supervillain known as Destroyman. He employs underhanded tactics to try and get ahead, like attacking Travis when he has his back turned and electrocuting him when they shake hands. What a dick. Destroyman has a partly annoying, partly humorous tendency to shout the names of his attacks as he's about to use them, so during the entire fight all you hear is, "Destroy spark!" "Destroy cannon!" "Destroy beam!" At least he gives fair warning this time, I suppose! He also has a super deadly attack called "Destroy buster" which fires a massive laser beam right out of his crotch. After he uses this attack, he starts laughing like an imbecile, giving Travis plenty of time to smack him around a bit for firing crotch lasers at him. Oh, and don't forget the nipple machine guns he uses right before Travis kills him. This guy has the best attacks. Aside from being an absolutely ridiculous battle, I think the best part about the Destroyman fight is just how good it feels to beat this guy up. I mean, he's constantly acting like an asshole, so he kind of deserves it. Plus, he occasionally lets out the silliest, high-pitched screams whenever he gets hurt. It makes me laugh every time. Dumpster chic I wish I had Travis's wardrobe. He has so many cool t-shirts that I could easily see myself wearing in real life: the giant squid, the luchador masks, the weird doodle designs and logos, the king stag beetle (actually, I really did buy a shirt with the beetle design on it!). He can keep the anime girl shirts, though. Those are a little much. The craziest part about his clothing, however, is that he finds most of his shirts in dumpsters. Travis can also buy new clothes at the Area 51 store, but they're a bit pricey, and dumpster shirts are free! Not to mention some of the dumpsters are apparently full of money, so he's getting paid and expanding his wardrobe at the same time. Now, I've never gone dumpster diving myself, but I'm pretty sure the chances of finding a really cool shirt in the trash are slim to none, and the chances of finding lots of money in the trash are probably even lower than that. Travis is a lucky son of a gun. I wish it was that easy to find cool tees for free, but I guess thrift stores are the next best thing. Cute kitty overload Is there any better way to unwind after a tough day of slashing up thugs than by playing with fluffy, adorable kittens? No. There is no better way. While resting at his apartment between jobs, Travis can choose to spend time with his tiny kitten, Jeane. He can feed her, tease her with toys, pet her, or nap with her on the couch, while Jeane lets out the cutest little mews. There's no real benefit to playing with Jeane; it's purely therapeutic. That didn't stop me from cuddling with her at every possible opportunity, though, because "oh my gosh KITTY!" There's also a side job that Travis can take called "Meow Meow." The job involves catching runaway kittens by distracting them with foxtail and grabbing them when they pounce, all the while listening to a ridiculous song featuring a man meowing in a deep, seductive voice. If that's not the best job in the world, then I don't know what is! Saving in slot number two I like when developers think of creative ways to implement game saving, rather than just going to a plain old menu. There are many great examples of unique saving mechanics in other games: contacting Mei Ling in Metal Gear Solid, sitting on the couch with Yorda in Ico, calling your dad in EarthBound... Saving in No More Heroes is the best, though. The option to save becomes available whenever Travis goes to the restroom and sits on a toilet. It even shows him pulling down his pants, as a bunch of toilet paper rolls by to cover up his junk. It's so unexpected and hilarious, and somehow brilliant. Many people use their bathroom time as a chance to relax and reflect for a moment, so it makes sense that Travis would do the same, recording his memories of all the crazy shit he's been up to. Apparently, Suda51 actually came up with the idea for No More Heroes while he was on the toilet himself, so that's how the toilet-saving mechanic became a thing in the first place. And I'm sure it's not just Suda51 coming up with great ideas in the bathroom. Imagine all the world's creators and inventors, who probably came up with a lot of the stuff we use and think about every day while they were pooping. That's just science. Past Experience Points .01: The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask.02: Shadow of the Colossus.03: EarthBound.04: Catherine.05: Demon's Souls
No More Heroes photo
Strawberry on the shortcake!
Experience Points is a series in which I highlight some of the most memorable things about a particular game. These can include anything from a specific scene or moment, a character, a weapon or item, a level or location, a p...

Experience Points .05: Demon's Souls

Feb 21 // Ben Davis
Ben and the Giant Knight The Tower Knight was my very first foray into the Souls series' notorious difficulty. It's true that Phalanx is the first boss, but beating Phalanx is a test of patience more than anything else. Taking down the Tower Knight, however, requires strategy, planning, observation, and skill. If you just waltz up to the Tower Knight with your shields up or your swords swinging, you will die so quickly. Like many other players, I'm sure, my first encounter with the Tower Knight went a little like this: I entered the fog door, walked forward a little bit in awe and apprehension due to the sheer size of the boss, and was almost immediately hit square in the chest with the Tower Knight's giant lance, which killed me instantly. Well... damn. I tried again and again to beat him, or even so much as damage him sufficiently, but kept failing. I wasn't thinking like a true Souls player yet, and kept recklessly charging in to my death. Then I stopped playing, for like six months. I was so frustrated, and figured I just wasn't good enough to beat Demon's Souls. But I kept thinking about the Tower Knight and how badly I wanted to defeat him, how good it would feel to emerge victorious. So I finally picked it back up and tried again, this time being more careful and observant. I still died, but I soon figured out a reliable strategy. And then suddenly, after a particularly good run, victory was mine! I let out an audible roar of triumph, and it felt absolutely amazing. I felt like I could do anything, like I could actually beat Demon's Souls. And so I went on and did just that! Looking back now, the Tower Knight fight is actually pretty simple. I might not even rank it in the top twenty most difficult Souls bosses. But as a beginner to the series, it was hard enough. It was a hurdle I had to overcome in order to better understand Demon's Souls and what the game expected of me. Because of that, it will always remain one of my favorite boss fights of all time. The tower of terror The Tower of Latria... a dreary prison tower of unsettling sounds and Lovecraftian horrors. You begin in a prison cell, navigating your way around the other cells through cramped hallways and trying not to fall into the seemingly bottomless pit in the middle of each room. Mindless, sickly prisoners meet you at every turn, shackled to the walls, stuffed into urns and iron maidens, and otherwise being tortured to insanity. Mind Flayers patrol the halls, flexing their tentacles and ringing their eerie bells, the sound of which sends shivers down your spine. Descending down the tower, you'll find more unspeakable horrors: a massive, terrible machine that fires an unending volley of arrows and a deeply disturbing pile of prisoners, crushed into a spherical shape and moving around on several arms and legs. As you travel further up the tower, you are greeted by gargoyles, who fly about and pester you endlessly as you teeter across narrow walkways hundreds of feet above the ground. Up ahead, you can see a giant beating heart which is chained up to another tower and must be cut down. Eventually, you take a ride to the very bottom of the building and must trek through a swamp of disgusting pinkish goo riddled with huge, pulsating tentacles. The swamp is crawling with the most horrible abominations imaginable: these large, crazy, centipede-like creatures with multiple human faces. They lunge at you and make the most awful gurgling sounds when they're killed. Latria is disturbing to the max, and it's utterly amazing. The sheer amount of creepiness and creativity put into this level easily makes it my favorite area of Demon's Souls. The hunter becomes the hunted Demon's Souls introduced an intriguing new multiplayer mechanic which I'm sure you're all familiar with by now: invasions*! While playing online, at almost any moment during your adventure, another player could invade your world as an enemy Black Phantom. The other player could hunt you down, in your own game, and kill you. As someone who has never been very good at player vs. player duels, the thought terrified and excited me. My first encounter with an invader scared the crap out of me. A red message flashes at the bottom of the screen, saying, "Black Phantom so-and-so has invaded!" My heart skipped a beat, and I tried to search for a hiding spot while desperately scanning the area for the enemy. Of course, they were way more skilled than me. They managed to sneak up behind me for a backstab, which practically made me jump out of my seat. The next several invasions didn't go so well either, but eventually I got the hang of things and was able to hold my own. Nothing feels better than slaying an invading player. I'm sure many of them are decent people just trying to have some fun (after all, I've done my fair share of invasions too), but I always envision them as bullies just trying to kill other players so they can sit back and laugh at their misfortune. This makes killing invaders all the more satisfying. "You thought you could screw me over? Well take that! Muahaha!" Of course, it's all in good fun. Invaders may seem scary to new players, but they're just another threat that must be dealt with in a world where everything is trying to kill you. Sure, they may be more skilled than the NPCs you come across, but even if they kill you, it'll just send you back to the last bonfire like any other death. And you should be pretty used to death if you're playing a Souls game. * - Pictured above: not really an invader... it's Satsuki, but let's just pretend it's someone dressing up as him (finding quality images of this game is harder than you would think!). Heir to the Old Monk's throne Invasions were such an ingenious idea that From Software decided to use that potential to create one of the most unique boss fights around. The Old Monk is the final boss of the Tower of Latria. He's a decrepit old man, dressed in a ridiculously large orange robe and sitting atop a huge pile of chairs. You don't get the chance to fight him though, because he withers away and dies before you can even reach him. But with his final breath, he casts a spell to summon up a demon to fight in his stead. His orange robe swirls around the demon's head like a weird, tornado-shaped turban, passing on the Old Monk's powers. For some players, this duel will be a lot like fighting the other invading Black Phantom NPCs, which can be kind of underwhelming. But for those playing online, they actually got to fight other players who were summoned to their world to fight for the Old Monk. The boss fight essentially became a player vs. player match, forcing some people to go toe to toe with an invader. The invader also gains the Old Monk's Homing Soul Arrow attack, which is cast automatically throughout the fight, giving them a bit of an edge. But even so, it all comes down to skill. The better player will emerge victorious. The first time this happened to me, I was so confused and terrified. I was still at that stage where invaders scared the heck out of me, so I dreaded entering the fog door. Later, when I became more comfortable fighting other players, I started to realize just how great of an idea this boss fight was. I even played a few sessions as the Old Monk's phantom in other peoples' games, and had a bit too much fun slaughtering the various hosts. From Software revisited this idea in Dark Souls II with the Looking Glass Knight, and I actually enjoyed that boss fight even more! Transient souls Aside from invasions, Demon's Souls also introduced some other unique multiplayer mechanics which were a bit more subtle. During your adventures through Boletaria, you would occasionally catch glimpses of ghosts. These fleeting specters were actually other players traversing Boletaria in their own games, like shadows of parallel universes. You weren't able to interact with them, but their mere existence was somehow comforting. These ghosts made you feel as though you weren't so alone in this dangerous world full of enemies. Other people were dealing with the same things you were. Perhaps they could see a shadow of you as well, giving them comfort and hope. You would also occasionally come across bloodstains on ground. Sometimes it would be your own blood, from where you died last, allowing you to retrieve your lost souls. But many other bloodstains would litter the ground, which were clearly not left by you. These were the spots where other players perished in their own worlds. If you interacted with them, a red phantom would appear, reenacting their last few moments before death. These could be useful as warnings of danger up ahead, an opportunity to prepare for traps or ambushes. They were also comforting, much like the ghosts, because you got to see others players failing and dying right alongside you. Some of them were also pretty damn funny to watch. For the really mysterious ones, I liked to try and imagine what could have possibly happened to them. How could they have died here, of all places? Some of them were so crazy that I watched them over and over, seeing their spectral bodies smashed into the ground and flung this way and that before they'd finally had enough and toppled over dead. Poor guy must have had the worst luck, but at least it was entertaining! One sword to rule them all I didn't really have any favorite weapons in this series until Dark Souls. I mostly just ran through Demon's Souls with a winged spear. Not too exciting, but it got the job done. However, there was one weapon that really stood out to me, even though I only used it for a few specific moments. At the end of the Shrine of Storms, you have to fight the Storm King, a gigantic flying manta ray that shoots spikes and creates thunder. He flies in a large loop in the sky way above you, so the only way to reach him is by firing arrows or using magic. I've always preferred melee characters, so I was kind of screwed during this fight, and resorted to casting wimpy soul arrows to try and take the beast down. It took forever. During my second playthrough, I dreaded having to fight him again. When I returned to the Storm King's arena, I spent a lot of time goofing off and searching for items rather than fighting the boss. That's when I came across the Storm Ruler, a sword sticking out of the ground in the Storm King's domain. Stats-wise, it wasn't as powerful as my winged spear, but I decided to fool around with it, since I was trying to delay the boss fight anyway. I always like to test out the movesets of any new weapon I come across. So I tried the heavy attack and... WOOSH! Something shot off the sword! It looked like an intense air current cutting through the sky, and it went pretty far. I tested it out on the Storm King as he flew by, and sure enough, it hit him square in the chest for decent damage. So there IS a way to defeat this boss using melee tactics, and I had no idea! The Storm Ruler took the boss down in no time, and I sat there thinking about how long it had taken previously when I was using Soul Arrows, and felt completely foolish. Unfortunately, the Storm Ruler's special ability only works in the Storm King's arena. Otherwise, it behaves like a normal sword, albeit one with lots of knockback. I went back to using my winged spear for the rest of the game, but I still found occasional uses for the Storm Ruler. I utilized the sword's heavy force by knocking some enemies off of cliffs with it. I even used it to kill Old King Doran once, by continually knocking him back further and further until he eventually fell down a long staircase and died on impact. Take that, Doran, you evasive bastard! Past Experience Points .01: The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask.02: Shadow of the Colossus.03: EarthBound.04: Catherine
Demon's Souls highlights photo
Let strength be granted, so the world might be mended
Experience Points is a series in which I highlight some of the most memorable things about a particular game. These can include anything from a specific scene or moment, a character, a weapon or item, a level or location, a p...

Tingle is the heterosexual hero that gaming deserves

Feb 19 // Ben Davis
Except he's not gay. Now, he could be straight, bisexual, or asexual. We don't really know. But I'm going to assume he's straight, because I think that would be great. Some of you may be thinking, "But Ben, videogames are already saturated with heterosexual male characters as it is." True, but how many of those heterosexual male characters are unabashedly effeminate and completely willing to break gender norms? I can think of a few characters who fit that description: The King of All Cosmos from Katamari, Ebisumaru from Mystical Ninja, possibly Ghirahim from Skyward Sword. It's still something I'd like to see more of, though, because I'm all about seeing gender norms tossed aside in favor of variety and more interesting personalities. Others are probably thinking, "Ben, why the fuck should we care about Tingle's sexuality?" Well, you probably shouldn't, unless you have the urge to browse some Tingle fanfiction. His sexuality is not at all important to the games' stories, with the possible exception of Freshly-Picked Tingle's Rosy Rupeeland, where he seemed to be all over the beautiful ladies in the game, especially the busty Pinkle (Tingle is clearly a breast man). But for the most part it doesn't matter, yet it's still fun to think about. If Tingle ever appears in another Zelda game, or if Rosy Rupeeland gets another sequel like we all know it deserves, I hope to see him in a relationship with a gorgeous fairy girl. Maybe he could even be a family man, with several fairy children running around. As long as he keeps on being his fabulous, flamboyant, totally heterosexual self, then it's all good. We could use more characters like Tingle in games.
Tingle photo
'Hey ladies.'
In a recent Kotaku interview with Eiji Aonuma, the longtime Zelda producer confirmed that Tingle is, in fact, not gay. He's "just an odd person." This isn't exactly riveting news, but it is interesting that so many people see...

Experience Points .04: Catherine

Feb 14 // Ben Davis
Drink and be merry Every night at the Stray Sheep, Vincent has the option to get borderline blackout drunk at the bar. You can order cocktails, sake, beer, and whiskey. Or you can order one of each. Or 50 of each. Drinks are free and the bar apparently has an unlimited supply, so go crazy! Surprisingly, drinking only has positive effects on Vincent. Alcohol makes Vincent move faster in his nightmares, which is very useful since the puzzles are on a time limit. It's always a good idea to drink yourself into a stupor before taking on the block towers of your dreams. Too bad alcohol doesn't work that way in real life. If I drank as much as Vincent did in my game, I'd be dead. Even if I drank a fraction of what he did, I'd still be waking up in a puddle of my own sick on the ground outside of my apartment, if I even made it that far. Let alone the hangovers... does this guy even get hangovers? What is his secret? [embed]287657:57340:0[/embed] Back to Bach All of the music in Catherine is great, but the best tracks are definitely the songs that play during the block puzzle segments. Composer Shoji Meguro used classical music arrangements for the soundtrack, remixing them with his own style to create these really nice modern takes on classic compositions. Some of my favorite classical scores are featured, such as "Mars" and "Jupiter" from Holst's The Planets, Bach's "Little Fugue", and Chopin's Revolutionary Étude. The soundtrack also introduced me to some great music that I hadn't heard before, but which quickly became favorites of mine, including Mussorgsky's "The Hut on Fowl's Legs" and Dvorak's New World Symphony. I don't know how much average gamers these days know or care about classical music, but I'm glad that there are still avenues through which young people can be exposed to the classics. You'll occasionally hear classical arrangements in other games as well, like Tetris, Mega Man Legends, and Earthworm Jim. I always appreciate a good reference to the great composers of the past. Another round of drinks, Erica! Erica is a waitress at the Stray Sheep. She's a childhood friend of Vincent and his buddies, and loves gossiping with the group. She also has a weird Ronald McDonald color scheme going on, but that's okay. She's way cooler and way less creepy than Ronald. Toby, a recent addition to the group of friends, has a pretty big crush on her. It's no wonder why; Erica is always super kind and charismatic, and attractive to boot. Eventually, the two get together for a night of passion. At the end of the game, if you get the True Lover ending, it's revealed that Erica used to be "Eric" back in the day. This comes as a huge surprise to Toby, but rather than getting all freaked out or weird, he just sort of jokes about it in a friendly way. The rest of the guys obviously already knew this about Erica, since they were childhood friends, and they treat her normally during the entire game. There are also a few subtle hints about the revelation at various points during their conversations. I think it's great to see a transgender character handled so respectfully in a videogame. Her gender identity is revealed in a natural way, and it's treated like a perfectly normal aspect of everyday life. She was my favorite character in the game, even before I learned about her past. A wet dream gone horribly wrong Most of the bosses in Catherine represent aspects of Vincent's relationships that he worries about during the day. The Fist of Grudge symbolizes Katherine's controlling personality and Vincent's fear of commitment. Doom's Bride alludes to Vincent's uncertainty of marriage. The Child with a Chainsaw implies Vincent's apprehension about having a child. And then there's the Immoral Beast. The beast takes the form of a gigantic butt with legs that tries to kill Vincent. It has a mouth with a huge tongue that waggles all about, and blue eyes that resemble Catherine's on each cheek. It appears in Vincent's nightmare after he has an affair with Catherine. It's pretty clear that the butt beast represents Vincent's shame due to the affair, but it seems like it's also telling us something more about the specifics of their sexual encounter. Catherine even comments the next morning that she's never done something "like that" before. I'm sure you can all use your imaginations to deduce what that means. Regardless, the Immoral Beast is one of the most bizarrely grotesque bosses I've ever encountered in a game, and I can't help but admire that. Feeling a little sheepish Those who haven't played Catherine might not know that most of the characters in the game are sheep. Well, technically they're men, but in the nightmare world they appear as sheep to everyone but themselves. That means, to all the other guys, Vincent appears as a sheep wearing polka dot boxers. The sheep-men are all so freaking cute, especially since many of them are dressed up like people. One sheep is wearing a tie, another one has a cool jacket and glasses, one has a pompadour hairpiece or something, and another one's got a police hat and nightstick and is a little larger around the belly (he's my favorite). Most of them represent male characters from other parts of the game. Their outfits are a little strange, though. Like, shouldn't they be dressed as though they're in bed, like Vincent in his boxers? Does that means Morgan, the policeman, sleeps in nothing but his hat and nightstick? And some of the others sleep in their jackets? That's kind of weird, but I guess it's possible. I mean, hey, whatever's comfortable. I'm not here to judge! Saving lives one conversation at a time If you make a habit of talking to the various bar patrons at the Stray Sheep, you'll start to recognize some of them as the sheep you meet in your nightmares. The more you talk to them, the more you learn about their love lives and why they're being haunted by these bad dreams. You'll find that most of them are rather depressed and worried about the way they've been treating the women in their lives. By speaking with them regularly and answering their questions, you'll give them hope and more incentive to stay alive in their nightmares. On the flip side, if you ignore them or give them unsatisfactory responses, you may notice that they stop showing up to the bar at night and you won't see them in your dreams anymore. This means they've lost the will to go on and died in their sleep. How awful... The most touching story to me was that of Morgan the police officer. You learn that his wife was killed a long time ago by a criminal he had been investigating. He blames himself for her death, especially since they had a fight the day she died, and the last thing he said to her was, "Get out." His depression has left him with suicidal thoughts. The reason he's been having nightmares is because of his tendency to lead women on with no intention of a relationship, which he sort of views as cheating on his deceased wife. If you help him stay alive, he decides to focus on finding his wife's murderer so he can finally enact justice. All of the other men's endings involve them asking their girlfriends to marry them, or trying to make things work with their wives, which is great. But Morgan just wants to avenge his wife so that he can visit her grave and tell her all about what he did. I always thought that was really sweet of him. Past Experience Points .01: The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask.02: Shadow of the Colossus.03: EarthBound
Catherine highlights photo
Love is over
Experience Points is a series in which I highlight some of the most memorable things about a particular game. These can include anything from a specific scene or moment, a character, a weapon or item, a level or location, a p...

Which videogame makes you the happiest?

Feb 08 // Ben Davis
Ben Davis For me, that game is Katamari Damacy. Everything about the Katamari series makes me happy. The bright, colorful graphics, the quirky, upbeat music, the crazy character designs, the fast-paced gameplay, the rainbows... so many rainbows! The King of All Cosmos literally pukes rainbows! Simply turning on the game and watching that opening cinematic immediately brings joy to my heart. It also helps that the gameplay is so fun and simple. Rolling a ball around to pick up random junk as the ball grows larger and larger the more you pick up... it's such a bizarre idea, yet it somehow makes total sense. And that music! How can you not be happy while listening to tracks like "Cherry Blossom Color Season" or "Lonely Rolling Star"? There's seriously nothing about the Katamari games that doesn't make me smile. Chris Carter Very few things make me happier than a session with Jumping Flash! 2. While the little bunny robot is adorable, the rush I get while leaping in the air is pretty much unrivaled in gaming. Gameplay consists of nothing more than jumping around giant landscapes and blasting enemies, but the way the mechanic itself works is incredibly fun, mostly due to the unique first-person perspective. Sometimes I'll just go into the first level and jump around a bit if I need to clear my head -- it's that relaxing. While the visuals haven't aged all that well, the gameplay still stands up. If you're a fan of 3D platformers, be sure to check it out on the PSN. Jason Faulkner This is a super hard question because pretty much every game makes me happy to some extent. I complain about them just as much as anyone else, but deep down, I am happy with any game that makes it to light because that means someone, somewhere is probably enjoying it. The game that comes to mind though, even 13 years later, is Freelancer. I've been a huge space opera/sci-fi buff since I was young, and 12-year-old me was super pumped when this game came out. Sure, it wasn't as in-depth as the Elite or Freespace series, but it was palatable and easy to digest, while still being super expansive. I spent hundreds of hours in that game over LAN, exploring its universe with my then best friend. I've never really gotten that feeling since then with a space-based game. The focused and nuanced universe is in stark contrast with the sprawling goals of Elite: Dangerous and the upcoming Star Citizen, and the focus on the single-player experience made it all the better for me, as I am not a huge MMO fan (my schedule is too erratic). I attempted to play the X series, but it was a little too unfocused for me, and ended up being a bit of a disappointment although I enjoyed it. I've got my fingers crossed for No Man's Sky though! Rob Morrow When I think about which game "makes me the happiest," it becomes impossible to select one particular title. It's easier to perhaps pick one that I tend to return to the most, the game that I can always rely on when I can't quite decide on what it is that I want to play. If I reframe the question like this, Torchlight 2 would immediately spring to mind. I've spent hours and hours tinkering with Runic's ARPG without ever becoming tired of it. It's one of those "Forever Games," or as the lovely Mike Martin has put it -- a "Desert Island" title, that's always a joy to play, no matter how tired, sick or overworked that I may feel on a given day. Robert Summa The game that consistently makes me happiest is the NBA 2K series. It's not so much the game in and of itself that makes me happiest, but all the moments within it. Since I'm past my dunking prime at this point in my real life, there really is no better feeling than driving down the court and dunking on someone virtually or sitting back on defense and blocking someone's shot into the stands. These are the moments I play this game for. Those moments are amplified when you can actually get into a good online game with friends. Working as a team and working to dismantle a rival squad can bring some of the most satisfying experiences that any game can offer Brittany Vincent I don't have a lot of time to myself these days to play what I really, really want to. Sometimes I'll load up something out of laziness on Steam because I don't have to jump through hoops to play it. Most of the time, I feel compelled to play Um Jammer Lammy, but I don't have a PlayStation hooked up, an emulator configured and set up, or the desire to play through again on PlayStation 3 because of the many sound issues I've had with it since I purchased it via PSN. I'm not even sure if I can play it on my Vita, and I honestly don't care enough to clear off my already-packed memory card to play it anyway. So I keep my original game pristine in its case and watch YouTube videos of it. It's enough for me to feel like I'm playing when accessing it for real is too much trouble, but on the off chance I really want to jam on a water hose or take care of a baby caterpillar being, I'll sneak on the PS3 and complete the entire game. I know it's a really hot trend to hate things because of their nostalgia factor, and that's whatever, but that's one reason I love this game so much. Um Jammer Lammy is one of my favorite games of all time. Nothing feels as good as tapping the PlayStation's face buttons along with the music on-screen that I could sing along to forever. I'm instantly transported to my grandma's basement on Christmas Eve years ago when I opened presents and knew I had the full game to look forward to. I remember staying overnight and going down to the "playroom" area in the basement to watch Pokémon VHS tapes for the rest of the day waiting to get home and try out my brand new game. I realized that, unlike in the original demo I played to death, Lammy wasn't playing in hell anymore and was being sent to "an island." I marveled at how catchy the music was. I knew I'd probably never see another game like it, at least with Lammy at the helm. And I was right. I guess I never will. [embed]287381:57232:0[/embed] Jonathan Holmes A lot of people complain that Nintendo's lower profile franchises like Pikmin and Rhythm Heaven don't get enough love, but they ain't got nothin' on Sony Computer Entertainment Japan Studio. The Last Guy, Ape Escape, Patapon, and of course Loco Roco are just a few SCE Japan Studio franchises that have been criminally overlooked in the past ten years. Nathan Drake, Ellie, and Kratos are the faces most people associate with the PlayStation name these days, but for me, the heart of the brand still lies with Parappa, Robbit, and the Loco Roco. Loco Roco is similar to the upcoming Kirby and the Rainbow Curse in that you take indirect control over a relatively ineffectual blob stuck in a dangerous world. Indirect controls can be a turn off for a lot of people, as they can lead the player to feel less like they have inhabited the body of someone else, and more like they are hanging out with someone else. I love hanging out, so that works for me just fine. Loco Roco seems to be aware of this. It puts constant effort into making our time spent with the Rocos as wonderful as possible. Case in point, all the Rocos sing along to the game's music as you play. It's a small touch, but that's exactly why it goes such a long way towards making them feel real. Like Luigi's "Mario!" button in Luigi's Mansion, it's a small detail that doesn't draw attention to itself, and that's exactly why it comes off as genuine. More so, we all know what it's like to make up our own words to a video game song, and so do the Rocos. They're like little fat, limbless Brentalflosses, overcome with passion, improvising as they go. It's all silly and fluffy and that's great, until you hit the pure drama of Blue's level. That baritone! That gravitas! It's downright operatic, worthy of Mozart, and it only gets better from there. The key changes that hit further in, the backing vocals, the church bells... it's making me a bit dizzy just thinking about it. What I'm trying to tell you is, this game makes me incredibly happy. Also see, Christmas NiGHTS, Animal Crossing and We <3 Katamari Josh Tolentino It's pretty tough to answer just "what game makes you happy" because what makes us happy can change from day to day. But if we use how much time we've spent with a game as something approaching an objective measure, then Star Trek Online has made me happier than any other game...ever. My Steam clock claims I've spent nearly 1600 hours playing STO, and that doesn't even take into account the fact that STO went a year or two without being offered on Steam. But with my critic hat on, it's hard to find truly redeeming reasons for the time spent. The game's been operating for five years, and yet sometimes feels like an Early Access title when it comes to technical stability. The balance is all over the place, and pervasive levels of monetization make a mockery of the Federation's socialist ideals. And yet...I've no desire to stop playing. I'm not even that huge a Star Trek fan! If nothing else, Star Trek Online has helped me let go of that nerdy fixation on having the things we like also be the "best" things, which tends to lead to all kinds of unfortunate attitudes. Mike Martin There is one game that has always brought me joy, no matter what was going on in my life. Gunstar Heroes is that game. The grabbing, the tossing, the combining of weapons has always engaged and occupied my mind. The beautiful sprite-work is icing on what (for me) is the perfect side-scrolling, action cake. Treasure has created many amazing games throughout the years, but this one helped a little guy through a lot of tough times. They gave him a chance to go on an adventure with his twin brother and save their sister and older brother. It offered a kick-ass experience and was centered on family. To say that struck a chord with me, is an understatement. Gameplay is king though and Heroes action was (to me) unlike anything else out there. Whether I was taking down the Seven Force or fighting my way across a flying fortress, I was constantly challenged and surprised. Taking down that scumbag Colonel Red at the end was bittersweet though, as I then had to watch Green sacrifice himself to destroy Golden Silver. Sounds dark for a game that is supposed to be my happy place right? Well this game helped me have hope in family, in doing the right thing at any cost, it let me adventure with my brother and taught me the joys of combining lightning with homing. Wrap all that in beautiful colors and explosions, put a bow on it and you have something that brings me joy to this day.  Patrick Hancock So many games make me happy! Wind Waker, Jet Set Radio, Starseed Pilgrim, Dota 2, the list goes on! But if I had to settle on one, I think I'd go with Final Fantasy VII. It was my first introduction to the series and holds a very special place in my heart. The cast of characters feels like family to me. When I'm in that world, it feels like a second home. The battle system is still one of the best in the genre and will always hold up. Then of course there is the Golden Saucer! That location alone is why I chose FFVII for this list. Arm wrestling, snowboarding, CHOCOBO RACING?! Brings a huge grin to my face just thinking about it! AVALANCHE 4 lyfe. Darren Nakamura I've talked about it before, but Tomodachi Life makes me happier than any other game right now. Even though it's a little shallow, there's something about visiting old friends who I don't get to see often in real life, hanging out with them, and watching them do absurd things that never fails to make me smile. It's a world where my mom and Aerith Gainsborough can have a rap battle, where my college roommate can date my fictional adult daughter, and where Jim Sterling can dress up in a bear costume and spy on me while I ride a carousel. It represents an ideal existence. Sure, there is heartbreak and infighting, but it's nothing that can't be solved with a favorite food or a nice bubble bath. I can think of no better life than to be on an island with all of the friends and family I have made over the course of my life. Just pretending for the few moments I play each day makes me incredibly happy. -- Which games make you incredibly happy? Let us know in the comments!
Happiness photo
Happy, happy, joy, joy!
Whenever you're having a rough day, there's nothing better than sitting down and putting on a game that makes you happy just to play it. Something that makes you laugh and smile, helps to relieve stress, or gets you to stop w...

Jacob 'Humble' Browe talks Minelands: Call of the Border

Feb 07 // Brittany Vincent
Minelands: Call of the Border, from Triple-A Developer Entertainment, is Browe's baby, the product that's single-handedly responsible for his rise to prominence. It's received dozens of perfect 10/10, 5/5, 3/3, 2/2, and 1/1 scores from outlets just like this one, and none of us have even gotten to play the game yet. It's a thrill ride to be sure, but the game isn't the only reason he's becoming a household name. After putting out a series of daily developer diaries, a photo documentary series with stills from each minute of his day (including videos from each of his Starbucks jaunts), Browe has gained a following with fans as well. His Twitter features up-to-the-minute news and opinions sponsored by now-defunct "energy" soda Vault, where he speaks only in lowercase, using bizarre syntax and phrases like "v cool" and "p sure." When it comes to the industry he grew up shunning to ensure he could still impress vapid women in high school, no detail can go overlooked. Browe was the picture of patience and humility during our chat in the Gaylord Hotel suite he so lavishly recommended that I reserve with my credit card. I had requested my own room, but he was gracious enough to suggest we share the executive suite because, as he put it, "There's way too much space in here for one lonely guy." He spent much of the interview posted up at the minibar alternating between downing shots like a fish desperately seeking the glistening life force of water and checking his iPhone 6 Plus, making moves on his fantasy football team roster. It's like I wasn't even there, which actually allowed me to capture an even more intimate portrait of one of gaming's rising stars. When he did talk though, I definitely felt a sort of camaraderie I hadn't felt in some time from other devs. Chatting in the dimly-lit suite's makeshift "living room" area felt a lot like, well, home. Over a steaming cup of hotel brand coffee, Browe opened up about Minelands: Call of the Border, and why he thinks it has struck a chord with reviewers, who were privy to fifty 30-second trailers over the course of a three-month period before release. "Obviously everyone's excited because my game is taking creative risks like no other company out there. Minelands is doing something completely and totally new," Browe gushed, with a twinkle in his eye that could have been all the booze he had taken in before and during our talk. "For the first time in history, players can use two weapons at once. So if you're trying to kill an enemy and make sure he's dead, you could use your shotgun and your AK at the same time to dual-wield. You can even reload independently. And you don't even have to hold two weapons at a time if you don't want to. It's not required at all. " Technically, Browe reminded me earlier on when we met, Minelands is a first-person shooter, but its host of envelope-pushing features ensure that it defies classification. For instance, you'll be able to save your progress anywhere in the game. Rather than waiting for checkpoints, you can go to the menu at any time -- whether on PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, or N-Gage -- and save. Female characters, I was told, would play a major role as well.  "Commander Hua Wei is a fellow operative from China, and as you play through the game as Captain Guardevoi she's by your side every step of the way. She'll give you waypoints from her command center, and appear before you as a hologram of sorts for in-game interactions. This is the first time there's ever been a female commander in a shooter, let alone one that gives you orders as you go along. Of course, there's still plenty of time for romance in the game. Hua Wei may be your colleague as you trek across the Minelands to defeat the nefarious Hangdog Mack at the Border, but there's no battlefield too big to let love in." Though he didn't share much else regarding the title that's launched him into the gaming celebrity stratosphere, Browe did invite me out for dinner next week, where he's ordered that I come dressed in heels and a revealing dress so that we can talk about his creative process. But what about how the players feel about the actual game? I'm dying to know myself. Minelands has been released to the public already, but technically won't be going on sale for another couple of days, and then only at retailers like GameStop and Bed Bath and Beyond. Some members of approved media outlets who've seen the multitude of trailers are keeping mum about the game thus far other than the quotes okayed for the promotional materials: "Fantastic!" proclaims a prominent games magazine. "Brilliantly!" exclaimed a digital publication. Browe had quotes on hand, but he wasn't so forthcoming about sharing them with me, keeping silent so as not to give anyone a taste of what's already being called Game of the Year material. I did see something along the lines of "Brilliantly terrible," but I'm almost certain the "terrible" was a typo and it was something like 'Brilliantly, terribly genius" from Video Diversion Educator Magazine. But they wouldn't get the last word on things. That pleasure belonged to Browe as he gave me his parting words to pass on.  "Please subscribe to my Patreon and support independent video game development. Buy me a vanilla bean frappuccino if you end up liking Minelands: Call of the Border. I also accept major credit cards. It's all for the fans, and I'm planning on making something even bigger soon involving player choice. Two words: Branching dialogue options." Browe had wiggled his eyebrows seductively toward me after divulging this information, and even as I pen this piece now I'm astounded. Truly, Jacob "Humble" Browe is a visionary.
Minelands photo
A rising star speaks
Jacob "Humble" Browe is a visionary. He's just shipped a multi-billion dollar game to hundreds of retailers across the United States and Canada, with additional release dates staggered across the world. After running a succ...

Experience Points .02: Shadow of the Colossus

Jan 31 // Ben Davis
Bird of prey Let's start things off with my favorite Colossus, Avion! Avion is the fifth Colossus you fight. It's a giant hawk-like Colossus with a long, trailing tail, and it makes its home above some ruins which have been flooded to form a lake. The first thing you'll need to do during any Colossus battle is figure out how to climb onto it. Since Avion is either flying around or sitting perched high atop a tower, this makes things difficult. The only way to reach Avion is to get it to come closer to you, which means disturbing the peaceful creature by shooting arrows at it to get its attention. With its feathers ruffled (well... I guess it doesn't actually have feathers, does it?), Avion flies into the air and goes into a dive, heading directly towards you! What happens next is one of my favorite moments from a game ever. Your first instinct when you see a giant bird diving right at you would probably be to jump out of the way. I mean, that thing could kill you! But wait... if it's diving at me, then it'll get close enough to jump onto it, right? As the giant bird rushes you, the choice becomes obvious. Rather than move away, you jump towards Avion, meeting the bird in midair and grabbing hold of its wing as it rises back into the air, where it proceeds to flap and corkscrew through the sky, trying to shake you off. Then you'll have to carefully move around its wings and tail, looking for weak spots to stab, all while speeding through the air several meters above the ground and trying desperately not to fall off and into the lake below. It's one of the most exhilarating moments from a game that I can think of! I want to fly like an eagle Speaking of flying around on birds, there's actually another way to get Wander soaring through the sky (aside from Phalanx, the other flying Colossus, who is awesome). You'll probably notice some hawks flying around while you're riding across the Forbidden Lands on your horse, Agro. Ever wonder why they're flying so close? You'll most likely just ignore these hawks (or try to shoot them down with arrows, if you're mean!), but there is a way to interact with them that you probably wouldn't expect. If a hawk soars low enough, Wander can actually jump up and grab hold of the hawk, and the bird is somehow strong enough to carry Wander's weight as it escorts him a short distance, slowly drifting towards the ground. You can do this by jumping off of Agro once the hawk flies close enough, and there are also a few areas where you can climb on top of a rock and jump up to grab a hawk as it passes by. The inclusion of this mechanic is bizarre. It doesn't really serve any purpose other than the simple fact that you can do it. It's so weird and unexpected, though, that I can't help but love that it exists! Not the beard! I feel like the sixth Colossus, Barba, doesn't get much attention whenever this game is being discussed. It's one of the many bipedal Colossi you have to fight, and it may not seem too special at first glance, especially when compared to some of the others. However, the method in which Wander climbs onto him is actually one of my favorite moments in the game. Everyone probably knows Barba as the bearded Colossus, and for good reason. In order to climb onto him, you must lure him to the back of the temple and hide under a small overhang. Since Barba is so tall, he'll have to bend down to look into the alcove you're hiding in, waving his big, shaggy beard around as he tries to locate you. As soon as he did this, I knew exactly what I had to do, and I laughed out loud. I ran towards him, jumped, and grabbed hold of his beard as he stood back up, using his facial hair to climb onto his shoulder. As an owner of a beard myself, this part of the game was really funny to me. I kept imagining what it would feel like to have some little dude climbing up my beard, and it just made me smile. If I were Barba, I would've just combed Wander out of there. Forbidden delicacies The flora and fauna of Shadow of the Colossus is sparse. There's so little of it that when you do come across an animal or a lone tree on your way to find the next Colossus, you can't help but stop to look at it. Like, whoa, there are actually living things in this world apart from myself? Even something as insignificant as a tiny lizard will immediately catch your attention. If you try to pick it up, you may accidentally kill it with your sword (oops, sorry little guy!), leaving behind a sliced off tail that just sits there as the rest of the lizard disintegrates. Weird. Might as well just eat that tail, I guess. (Wander is a strange dude.) So you ate the lizard tail, but nothing seems to happen. Why would they even put this in the game? Well, there are two types of lizards in the Forbidden Lands: regular black lizards and white-tailed lizards. If you happen to find a white-tailed lizard, kill it, and eat its shiny white tail, you'll notice your stamina gauge will glow slightly for a bit. The game doesn't really tell you what that means, but the lizard tail essentially boosted your stamina, so now you can hold on to Colossi a bit longer without falling off. You can also find fruit in the scattered trees and bushes which will boost your health. I kinda like that the game doesn't ever explain this to you. It makes it feel like you discovered a secret, and it's reassuring to know that your exploration of the relatively barren wasteland wasn't completely fruitless. Remember me Aside from the lizards, there's another hidden feature in this game that I happened upon by accident. During maybe my second playthrough, I was making my way to the fourteenth Colossus and took a path through the geyser field when something caught my eye: a sort of mound or something that hadn't been there before. When I got closer, I realized it was the remains of Basaran, the ninth Colossus, which I had killed previously. Basaran's corpse had begun to decompose into rock and rubble, blending in naturally as if it had become just another feature of the environment. This discovery took me by surprise, because I didn't realize before that the bodies of the Colossi stayed behind and became a part of the world. I thought that was a really neat touch. I climbed around on Basaran for a bit, and then went to visit some of the other defeated Colossi. When I got to Avion's remains, I absentmindedly hit a button which made Wander bend down in prayer. A text box popped up that said, "Begin Reminiscence Mode?" I didn't know what that meant, but I said yes anyway. And then I got to battle Avion again, with a sepia-toned, old film-like filter over the screen. I thought this was the coolest thing, and I went back and fought all of my favorite Colossi. There's no real benefit to be gained from fighting them again, but I thought it was a neat addition nonetheless. Hang in there Did you ever have those moments where you're on top of a Colossus, doing great, when the Colossus jerks suddenly and flings you off, and as you're falling, out of sheer panic you desperately jam down the grab button and manage to grab hold of a leg or something at the last moment? God, that always felt so amazing! This happened to me a lot while fighting Gaius and Malus, and some of the other more vertical Colossi. It was always such a relief during the encounter with Malus, the final Colossus, because having to start all over from the ground in that fight can be such a pain. It takes forever to get back up to his head. But being flung from the top and grabbing onto his hand or shoulder blade as you're falling through the air just feels incredible, and looks really awesome too! Leap of faith Speaking of moments that feel incredible, there's a move that I learned and perfected for beating Gaius in Hard Time Attack which made me feel like the biggest badass ever. The technique is called the "sword jump." It requires you to jump at just the right moment while standing on Gaius' sword as he pulls it up out of the ground, so that the momentum flings you sky high, allowing you to jump right up to his shoulder, or even his head, without having to climb. Pulling this trick off definitely feels as cool as it sounds! Simply beating Gaius in Hard Time Attack is no easy feat. You only get 5:00 to take him down, and given that you normally have to wait for him to break his armor, then get him to swing his sword down so you can climb it and up his arm, you aren't left with much time to actually attack him once you finally get to his weak spots (which there are three of in Hard Mode). You can probably beat it the normal way if you're lucky enough to find those sweet spots where Wander never loses his balance while stabbing. But if you want to beat it somewhat easily, you pretty much have no option other than using the sword jump technique, because it means you won't have to wait for Gaius to break his armor, and you won't have to waste time climbing up his arm. This leaves you plenty of time to stab, stab, stab. Plus, when you finally pull it off, you'll feel like the coolest dude in the world. So, win-win! Past Experience Points .01: The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask
SotC highlights photo
Thy next foe is...
Experience Points is a series in which I highlight some of the most memorable things about a particular game. These can include anything from a specific scene or moment, a character, a weapon or item, a level or location, a p...

Majora's Mask 3D bosses are considerably different

Jan 27 // Kyle MacGregor
The change wasn't immediately obvious. Odolwa remains a jaunty tribal blade dancer, an imposing figure that towers over Link. That is, until you knock Odolwa down, at which point a large Queen Gohma-like eye is exposed for you to wail on to the tune of massive damage. It seemed like an odd, fairly minor alteration, a thematic link back to the piercing eyes on both Majora's Mask and the sinking moon. The differences didn't end there, though. Upon returning home I picked up my copy of the original game and battled Odolwa while referencing some footage shot by IGN. I noticed a handful of subtle revisions, such as the disappearance of Odolwa's ring of fire and moth attacks. Perhaps they were deemed too frustrating and were removed to create a more streamlined experience. It seems something similar happened with Gyorg, the fishy lord of the Great Bay Temple, who also exhibits a large new eye and distinctive attack patterns in the new game. YouTube channel GameXplain has shared footage of the boss battle, wherein Gyorg swims along the surface of the water, as opposed to deep below, thereby eliminating a frustrating camera issue present in the N64 version. Moreover, the platform at the center of the room is submerged at the battle's climax, forcing Link to transform into a Zora and take on Gyorg in its element. It's likely other tweaks exist elsewhere. At least we needn't wait much longer to find out.
Majora's Mask 3D bosses photo
Odolwa and Gyorg kitted out with new patterns, weird eyes
The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D is more than just a simple port. The portable remaster introduces sweeping changes, like adding fishing holes, apparently. Other things too, probably. We can't divulge everythin...

Experience Points .01: The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask

Jan 24 // Ben Davis
Green around the gills One of Majora's Mask's most unique features is Link's ability to transform into various races by wearing certain masks. Link's Deku and Goron forms are both really awesome for their own reasons, but my favorite has got to be the Zora form. As a Zora, Link can swim quickly and gracefully through the water, gliding around and leaping above the surface like a dolphin! He also gets an electric shield and boomerang fins, which are both quite useful, plus a sweet guitar made out of fish bones. He makes a pretty rad Zora! Swimming in the Zelda series usually becomes a tedious task (I'm looking at you, Ocarina of Time!), but the Zora form makes swimming so much fun that I sometimes went out of my way just to go jump in the water. I spent way too much time in the Great Bay area just goofing off in the sea. I perfected the art of leaping cleanly onto the dock of the marine research lab, tried to see how many dolphin jumps I could do in a row, swam around admiring the coral and seaweed, and generally had a wonderful time. I wish I had a Zora Mask in real life. To the moon The moon is easily Majora's Mask's most striking feature, so I'm sure it comes as no surprise that I'm including it. It's always looming overhead with its unusually creepy face, getting closer and closer to its eventual collision with the town you're staying in. Wherever you are in the game, you can look up into the sky and see this unsettling monstrosity, a constant reminder that you're running out of time. Eventually, you get to travel to the moon's... surface? Insides? I'm not really sure, but wherever it is, it's one of the most disturbingly serene locations in a videogame ever. The area consists of a single, giant tree on a bright, sunny hill, with a group of strange children running around wearing the masks of the bosses you've defeated. The first time I saw this place, I was taken aback by the simple absurdity of it all. I didn't know what to make of it, but I was also so enraptured by the sudden peacefulness that I ended up just wandering around in awe at the beautiful landscape, yet I couldn't shake the feeling that something was off about the place. It's so unexpected and surreal, and I absolutely love it! Papers, please! If you happen to be staying at the Stock Pot Inn and need to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, you might be in for a nasty surprise. The inn's toilet is residence to a mysterious, nocturnal... hand? Surely there's a body that the hand belongs to, but you never see it. The grimy hand gropes around the bathroom asking for toilet paper, which you can bring it as part of a side quest. Surely this person needs more than just toilet paper, though. I'm sure they could probably use some help getting out of the toilet and directions to the nearest shower, for example. The toilet hand is so mysterious that it leaves me with way too many unanswered questions. Who does the hand belong to? How did they get into the toilet? How has no one else at the inn noticed this yet? Why is there only one toilet in the entire inn? I mean, I REALLY had to use the restroom, but I guess I'll just hold it until morning... Giving Link bunny ears Anyone who has played Majora's Mask probably spent the majority of the game wearing one mask in particular: the Bunny Hood! Not only is it adorable to see Link wearing bunny ears, which sway back and forth whenever he moves, but it also doubles his running speed. And in a game where you're often traversing large, open areas, it's insanely useful. Most masks are meant for specific situations, but the Bunny Hood is useful for just about any part of the game. I almost never took it off while in human form, unless I had to. If only more open-world games had Bunny Hoods... Whenever I replay Majora's Mask, I always make it my first order of business after leaving Clock Town to go track down the Bunny Hood. Luckily, it's not too difficult to acquire. You just have to wait until the third day to access the farm so you can play with the cuccos while wearing the Bremen Mask, which you can get by talking to Guru-Guru at the Laundry Pool. Then you can speed around the world to your heart's content! The Dance of the ReDead ReDeads are arguably the creepiest enemies in the Zelda universe (save for maybe the Dead Hand). Their horrible shrieks freeze Link in place, allowing them to slowly amble up and give him a big old hug of death. The sound alone sends shivers down my spine, and their frightening appearance only makes matters worse. In Ocarina of Time, you had to run around them quickly, and pray that they didn't see you. Luckily, Majora's Mask offers you a way to sneak past them and avoid detection, and it just so happens to be the most hilarious thing in the game! If you don any of the three monster masks (Gibdo Mask, Garo's Mask, or Captain's Hat), the ReDeads will apparently see you as one of their own. With no heroes of time in the vicinity, the monsters will drop their guard and suddenly break into dance. It's shocking to see such terrifying monsters suddenly become so carefree and jubilant, while their faces remain hollow and soulless. Though I must admit, they've got some nice moves! The soothing sounds of the Song of Healing All of the music in Majora's Mask is pretty great, but my favorite song by far is the Song of Healing. The Song of Healing is one of the tunes Link can learn, which you play throughout the game to heal tormented souls, usually granting you a new mask. It's such a beautiful, calming melody that I can't help but linger in certain areas a bit too long just to listen to the music. I probably stood around in Pamela's house a good ten minutes after healing her father because the music was so lovely, and it made the moment that much more powerful. It also plays inside the clock tower, where the Happy Mask salesman stays, but then you have to hang out with the Happy Mask salesman, and nobody wants that... Oddly enough, the song can also be used to fix broken signs, in case you carelessly slice one in half with your sword. I guess inanimate objects need healing sometimes, too. Anju & Kafei This is likely everyone's favorite side quest, and for good reason! It requires you to spend all three in-game days focusing on this one quest, and it doesn't end until there are only a few seconds left (or one hour, in game time) until total annihilation as the moon collides with Clock Town. But it results in one of the most memorable, emotional scenes in the game. Once you've acquired Kafei's Mask, you can begin the quest by speaking with Anju, a friendly woman who works at the inn. She asks you to deliver a letter to Kafei, her fiance, who has disappeared. Eventually you find Kafei, who appears to be a young boy hiding behind a mask. You learn that he was once an adult, but the Skull Kid cursed him to make him look like a child. A thief also stole his Sun Mask, which is an important part of the wedding ceremonies in Termina. So out of shame due to his appearance and lack of a Sun Mask, Kafei decided to go into hiding. After a series of events, you will recover Kafei's lost mask. With the mask back in his possession, Kafei finally comes out of hiding and returns to Anju at the inn. Even though he's much younger now, Anju recognizes him immediately and forgives him for disappearing. The two exchange masks and officially become a married couple, with Link as the sole witness. It's just about the happiest moment in the game, yet also bittersweet. Sadly, you only have a few seconds to admire the union before you must turn back the clock, erasing the moment from history. That is, unless you're ready to book it to the clock tower and beat the game right then and there, so that Anju and Kafei can really live happily ever after. And let's face it, that's really the only correct way to beat Majora's Mask!
Majora's Mask highlights photo
You've met with a terrible fate, haven't you?
Experience Points is a series in which I highlight some of the most memorable things about a particular game. These can include anything from a specific scene or moment, a character, a weapon or item, a level or location, a p...


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