Note: iOS 9 + Facebook users w/ trouble scrolling: #super sorry# we hope to fix it asap. In the meantime Chrome Mobile is a reach around
hot  /  reviews  /  videos  /  cblogs  /  qposts

Andy Astruc

How I learned to stop worrying and die

Aug 09 // Andy Astruc
Few games aim for a meaningful death. Now let me clarify by saying that “meaningful” does not mean you have to cry. It doesn’t mean soft music has to swell and they give you a state funeral. What it does mean is that when you die in a game it should be for a purpose, and that purpose should serve the rest of the game as well as you, the player. A good death contains three things: loss, consequence and the chance of redemption. Coming back to the real world for a moment, the loss component is obvious: your life. Real death is always a loss, especially if you’re the one sodding off this mortal coil. You’re losing everything you have, as well as everything you ever could have had in the future. People will be sad, you won’t get to have sex, you can’t play videogames anymore and your body will continue to rot away long after your brain stops transmitting. In game, this is a tough one, because you’ve generally got nothing to lose. Worst case scenario, you say goodbye to some progress and have to reload, and this is where a lot of games stumble. There’s no reason for me to care if my fictional space marine was just massacred by the alien horde if I hit a few buttons, Superman flies backwards around the Earth and Corporal Johnny Deadface gets up like nothing happened. Imagine how difficult it would be to cry at Gran’s cremation if she was sitting next to you. Look at Fable 2, a game where dying means nothing more than falling over. Take too many hits and your blank-faced avatar will dramatically flop to the ground, then get up a few seconds later, ready to kill some werewolves and fart to impress ugly peasant women. The only loss you suffer is experience points, which explode out of you in all directions, and a permanent scar on your character’s alabaster skin. The experience points, of course, only help with the fighting, which you only need to get good at if you don’t die. Which doesn’t matter because all you lose is experience. Round and round it goes. The scarring is a good idea in theory, as it changes your hero’s look forever more, but in practice it makes little to no difference. Worse, since death is as unavoidable as it is pointless in the Fable universe, getting a myriad of ugly scars is par for the course and no deterrent. Contrast this with the recent explosion of adorable magic and STRING, Kirby’s Epic Yarn, which does not allow you to die in any way. No matter what atrocity befalls the chubby, pink cannibal, Kirby remains alive and the level continues. But there is loss, in the form of colored beads collected in each level, beads which are lost when Kirby gets attacked. They don’t mean anything, of course, unless you care about scores. Or refurnishing an adorable yarn town. And just like that, the game has given you a scenario in which avoiding “death” provides rewards. Sonic games have been doing something similar for years, with their precious golden rings. So has Metal Gear Solid, teasing the player with the possibility of unlockable items and super cool codenames if they manage to dodge mortality. Minecraft feeds on player investment, inviting you to build a magic castle or mine deep into the earth with only a slight chance of it all exploding and being gone forever. Raise the stakes, invest the player and engage them with the situation. Then break their fingers with a claw hammer. Forcing the player to lose something is worthless unless there are direct consequences for their actions. Most gamers know the frustration of being killed in whatever jungle, office building or evil space station, not knowing what the hell happened, reloading and then being murdered again in the same way. Turning off the game in disgust, swearing bloody vengeance on the creators, etc. This is not a satisfying death because we had no part in it. This step in the death process is heavily dependent on how well the rest of the game works -- and random deaths are often a hallmark of terrible games -- but it’s also about how your demise is framed. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time will kill you. It will kill you over and over again. But most of the time it will be your fault, because you flip-jump-swing-roll-jumped instead of flip-jump-swing-jump-jumping. And most importantly, it gives you an escape. Through the magic of time travel, the Prince can skip back a few seconds and, hopefully, prevent things going south. But even this is dependent on three things: did I bring enough magic time travel sand with me, have I left myself enough time to get back to safety and am I good enough not to fuck it up again. Setting up a possible way to cheat death, then leaving it to the player to pull it off, means they will blame themselves when it fails and not the game. Traveling forwards to 2008 and the Prince of Persia reboot, Ubisoft Montreal took things to the opposite extreme. Dropping the time traveling gimmick completely, the game instead had a magic lady appear to grab your and sit you back on whatever ledge you fell off. As a player, absolutely no input was required. You could actually close your eyes and leap in any direction and it wouldn’t change a thing. It was like having your mother leading you around on a safety leash. Without any consequences for my actions, I honestly don’t care if the magic tree lock has been broken by Brian Blessed and an evil thunderstorm is going to kill us all. Once all of this is in place -- once the player has lost everything they love, been severely punished for it and lies broken and bleeding on the floor -- that’s when games offer a hand. Redemption after death is a concept mostly confined to the videogame realm, aside from the occasional Johnny Depp western film and totally-legit religious experience. Since death isn’t the end of the story, it can be a springboard for players to learn from their mistakes and deal with the consequences. Your average game handles the second chance part well enough -- you die, the game loads up your last checkpoint, you try again -- but falter with the follow through on consequences. Back in the blocky universe of Minecraft, dying means re-spawning back where you started, but without a resetting of the world. For all intents and purposes you are now a clone of the player that just died, forced to deal with his mess. What does this mean? Well your amazing collection of diamond pickaxes, your gold blocks, those delicious mushrooms and the carefully arranged multicolored wool samples you had in your pocket when that zombie appeared and chased you off a cliff are scattered around your corpse. And you are, potentially, a billion magic miles from that location. At this point you have two choices: you can make the risky journey across the right-angled tundra to retrieve your treasures -- hopefully before the 15 minute item vanishing limit -- or you can accept they are gone and start rebuilding anew. Either way, your death has not only affected this local event, but everything you do inside that save file from then on. Your murder has literally shaped the world. Kudos. Not all games work with a persistent world, of course. It would be disconcerting to see piles of corpses bearing your own face, shame dripping out their ears, as you attempt to answer the Call of Duty and save America from beards. There are other options, however. Super Meat Boy is ball-crushingly hard and hungers for your quick death, along with the thousand deaths which follow, but it rewards persistence. Each plunge into the doom pits of fire, each grotesque faceplant into a rusty saw blade and high-speed meeting with dirty needle piles, is a lesson about how bad you are at Super Meat Boy. And they make the win so much sweeter in the end. At the end of a stage the player is treated to a simultaneous view of every attempt they made to pass, a hundred boys of meat racing to their doom. On an academic level this allows people to track their improved progress. On another level it’s bloody hilarious. And that’s it. You’re dead, but you got better. At the genesis of gaming, death was rarely more than a way to make you stop playing -- or put in more quarters -- but leaps in technology and overall quality afford developers the chance to create memorable bucket-kicking moments. If they choose to try. Death should be feared, but not run from. Like everything else in a videogame, it should further our enjoyment of the game itself, not be just another item on a checklist of features. And maybe the next time you die, you’ll think about what you lost, what that means and how you can stop being such a disappointment to your mother.

We’ve all died at some point. Hit by a brown sedan while crossing the street, shot in the face by a drug dealer with bad skin, fell into a lava pit, crushed by a rampaging wild horse, vital organs consumed by a skinless...

The world in my hands

Jul 05 // Andy Astruc
Empire City (inFAMOUS) The first time you catch sight of Empire City, it explodes. A giant, expanding dome of electrical death blows everything to tiny bits. The once proud urban island is now a twitching corpse lying cracked and broken. Gangs of criminals run the streets, some of them armed with crazy super powers and antisocial hoodies. Entire districts are on fire.That’s the charm, of course.Empire City brings the phrase “lived in” to new and filthy levels. Because of the explosion, the city has been torn to pieces and cut off from the rest of society. There’s no food, rotten trash is seeping out of every alleyway, the streets are littered with burned-out cars and people are dying.Sucker Punch have crammed a ridiculous amount of detail into all the nooks and crannies, with each building lovingly adorned with dirt, scrawled over with graffiti and outlined with neon.And it’s the neon that really catches your eye. The bright lights shining out at you while you go about your business catching bad guys - or being a very naughty boy. Cole is electrically motivated, meaning each piece of sparkling scenery isn’t just eye candy, it’s power. Every light fixture, telephone pole, fuse box and passing sedan is a potential lifeline.So you’re a parasite, sucking the essential juices out, but you’re also a superhero. As Cole helps the city - via tiny errands like “save these guys”, “kill these guys” and “race across the city for a perfectly valid reason, I’m in the FBI, don’t question me” - it begins to rebuild itself. Block by block, the streets get clean and the bad guys wearing dustbin hats go away. Things return to normal, and it feels good. A feeling of connection grows between you and Empire City as you beaver away, and it instills the same sense of pride I get when I clean my apartment once every six months or so.This is your city. You live in it, you work in it and it’s a damn nice place when it isn’t full of giant piles of sentient garbage and sexy bald junkies with lizard tongues. Liberty City (Grand Theft Auto IV) When you step off the boat in Liberty City, you know about as much as a tortured Eastern European immigrant with an annoying, fat cousin. Grand Theft Auto IV’s city may be based on New York, but it’s a beast all of its own.It’s not a particularly amazing looking place, Liberty. As I said, it’s a softly brown representation of an American metropolis. But it’s in the presentation where things shine. Parts of town don’t just feel like locations in a game, they feel like real streets connected to a real city. Cars pass by and honk their horns for no reason, trash blows by, people buy hot dogs from corner stalls and complain about the prices.The illusion of reality is an engaging performance all on its own. If I step out into the street and block traffic, some jerk-off in a van might decide to introduce his fist to my balls. During the fight some bystanders may start cheering or run away screaming, then perhaps someone accidentally gets violently involved. Now two fat guys in tracksuits are chasing me down the street and they get arrested for assault. On the off chance I have something else to do besides videogames, I sometimes leave the game running and the city becomes my window, so I can watch that prostitute chase a Mexican guy down the street while I cook noodles.All that happens before you even get to the Euphoria Engine, which turns robots wearing people skin into living, breathing, urban assholes. Then you can push them down the stairs. New World (Jak and Daxter) You can take your hard-hitting realism and shove it up your grain filter. If I could live in only one digital universe it would be Jak and Daxter’s home turf. It might not have a name, but just looking at it makes me want to kiss Julie Andrews on the mouth.I mean just look at it.It’s so colorful and friendly and lush and freaking comfortable. It’s like every day is a visit to the carnival, every hill is a free ride and all the people are made of delicious, huggable candy. Your best friend is an otter-weasel, there are magical ruins all over the place and every girl is a cute elf girl.Even when it all goes horribly wrong and you travel through time only to be captured and tortured by an evil baron, don’t despair. The dark future is still brighter than a bag of rainbows, the evil baron has a deliciously comical moustache and the torture actually gave you the power to turn into a half polar bear, half elf hybrid.Everyone you meet has been pulled out of some wonderful pantomime universe where people decided that yes, they will wear hipster jeans and a mini tube top to command the military. Yes, they will shave off their beard, except for two weird strips, and live in the desert with a Hispanic monkey-parrot. Yes, a monocle does make it easier to take over the world.This is a world where it is not at all unusual to meet a morbidly obese man who owns a hover chair and spits smaller hovering clones at you when he gets angry.And there is always some crazy shit going down. If you’re not hover-boarding through the forest smashing evil alien plants, you’re defeating a brother and sister who want to drown the world in toxic waste, or sending yourself back in time as a baby, or fighting giant spider robots. Or maybe the guy you beat in the championship race has become a cyborg, and he’s going to blow up everything with a purple spaceship of death.  Renaissance Era Italy (Assassin’s Creed II) Let’s get this out of the way first: I think the Assassin’s Creed series is a big wad of rubbish. A festering clod of shallow drivel. A ball of wet dog hair masquerading as golden twine.You’re an assassin, but not really, because stabbing people in the face and yelling “I have just killed this person, I am a killer!” at a crowded party is the work of a deranged twat. You can expertly navigate busy streets and towering buildings by holding down one button. You’re a 12th century bastard, now a Renaissance nobleman, now it doesn’t matter because it was all the dream of a bartender. A dream he was forced to have by a nefarious troupe of chartered accountants. But I was wrong. Assassin’s Creed isn’t a game. It’s an interactive museum!Meticulously crafted recreations of Renaissance architecture are handed to you on a silver platter. Suddenly the ridiculously simplistic movement system is actually a positive, as you climb all over Italy like an archaeological monkey-man.Important cultural and historical landmarks are helpfully pointed out to you by the tour guide system, and Europe has no shortage of history bubbling under every brick. More than once I’ve gleefully stopped saving the world from evil Italians because I needed to read about how the building nearby was where the Pope used to wash his socks. The Planet (Final Fantasy VIII) Every Final Fantasy game has a sprawling overworld, dotted with fantastical cities and terrible dungeons, just waiting to be explored by an unlikely band of po-faced teenagers on magic steroids. They aren’t the friendliest of worlds, though. Most are at the point in technological development where a steam train is mind-blowing, literally every country is at war, or a giant fish is vomiting fireballs from the stratosphere.Final Fantasy VIII, on the other hand, is like a warm hug.Aside from a little political unrest - and that one time when a sorceress tried to compress all space and time into a single moment, thus giving her ultimate power and destroying the universe - things are pretty chill. Even the biggest of cities feel like small towns, with friendly people and nice bars around every corner. If you’re lucky, Ma Dincht will invite you over for some delicious hot dogs and then you can go sit on the beach.Don’t misjudge. It isn’t a land of hillbillies, bogans and chavs. Electric cars, elevators, computers and orbital defense bases are ubiquitous thanks to a high level of technological advancement. But everything stays bright and happy and ruthlessly pleasant wherever you go. There’s no shortage of activities either, with lavish parades every other week, a full TV program schedule and a city made entirely of glass and grey plastic. If you’re a student, your afternoon class will be learning advanced combat with whips and a gun-sword, followed by a fight to the death with a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Then the entire school will rise out of the ground and fly away so everyone can go fishing.The whole place is so drenched in happy sunshine and friendly people you barely even notice the persistent “monsters descend from the moon to kill us all” problem. Unnamed City (Mirror’s Edge) Okay, so technically this is more of a dystopia. Mirror’s Edge paints an orderly and bleak picture of the near future. Big Brother clamps down on all freedoms in order to ensure a safe and clean society. A few thousand protesters are slaughtered occasionally. People can’t express themselves. The usual shotgun approach to eliminating human rights.You have to admit that the Nazi regime had some swanky uniforms, though.I know you’re supposed to be appalled by the sanitization of the city. Outrage and personal indignation should well up in my kidneys as the cries of oppressed children ring in my ears. But I can’t hear anything but digitally remastered David Bowie blasting through my ergonomically designed stereo system. I can’t see the protests because I’m inside a style-optimized apartment and everything is amazing.It’s all so white and so clean and so damn perfect I want to lick it. There’s no garbage and no dirt, and I’m sorry to all those gasping freedoms, but I really like my plush leather cube couch and matching armchair. They even color coded my walls and doors, so when I stumble home drunk after a night at that mathematically symmetrical night spot with the shiny glass roof I know the red room is the one I should puke into.Life is comfy. What was I going to use that liberty and freedom of choice for, anyway, if not to buy conspicuously trendy furniture?

If we're being preposterously basic, videogames are about universes. An unmatchable chance to step into another world and be someone else for a while. It might be fighting against the evil empire or not letting the terrorists...


You got some of your film in my video game

Apr 20
// Andy Astruc
[To cutscene or not to cutscene? That is the question posed by Zwuh; not so much posed as answered vehemently. Want to see your own writing on the front page? Write something awesome and put it in the C Blogs. -- Kauza] Welco...

Auto-loading more stories ... un momento, corazón ...