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Cronomax's blog

Agency Vs Rails part 1: Action
5:46 AM on 02.13.2013
How Do You Play Video Games?
12:58 PM on 12.13.2012
Darksiders II, a cautionary tale as victimized by my PS3
10:28 AM on 08.26.2012





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I am long time gamer who's more into portables then consoles.
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Gaming is unique as a hobby, as it follows rules, but lets us experience another's story at our own pace and even, in some games, effect the outcome of the progression and story. From its inception, we were able to effect how the story progressed to its end, even if we weren't directly influencing the story itself. An easy example of this is Mega Man; you can chose to beat the bosses in a different order than I do, but we will see the same ending. This game gives you game play agency but the story itself is on rails, undeviating.

Catherine's action is far more linear, but the actual ending chosen from half a dozen depends on your responses to specific situations. The action sections are mostly puzzles and can be considered on rails, so much so that it is possible to actually skip the puzzle sections entirely and enjoy the story.


This guy is clever I swear!

When I play games, I want agency in my game play. I find it absolutely infuriating when I am forced to beat something precisely the one way the developers designed it. A funny example would be when I was playing Darksiders. I got to a circular room filled with water and a door that needed to be blown up at the other end. There was a sticky bomb fruit plant on my platform and a torch that I could use to light and detonate the bomb fruit. Since the fruit grew back, I had an unlimited supply. I proceeded to stick bomb fruit from the blocked door all the way around the circumference of the room and finally, after about 20 fruit, detonated them. As I was making my way to the now open door, I notice pipes on the wall. When struck they let out gas. I immediately realized that you could light this gas on fire and the pipes reached that other side of the room, meaning the puzzle. in fact, required a single bomb fruit. I love that, yes, my solution was impractical and not what the designers wanted me to do but, hey, it worked and I got to watch a very satisfying chain of fruit explode. I'm pretty sure this happened a second time towards the end of the game with a portal gun/weight puzzle, but it was so convoluted, I can't even begin to explain it. This is an example of agency within the action of a world. I put my solution to work on the world using the rules and tools provided.

Although I felt silly about my solutions, I also felt they were clever. Had the game not had the bomb fruit regrow constantly, worse, just disappeared when I picked too many of them or the bomb fruit inexplicably not chained its explosion, I am certain I would have felt anger and frustration about it.


I really wanted this to work.

On the flip side, some games deny you agency over the solving of puzzles. Half-Llife 2 does this. While going to Ravenholm, I came across a ladder that was locked, the unlocked part wasn't too far up and I had a crate, a pallet, an armoire and a brand new gravity gun to try out. Funny thing about the Half-Life 2 engine is that it hates having 3 three things on top of each other. I didn't do anything weird, mind you, I put the pallet on the bottom, then the larger armoire, then the crate, but the crate kept clipping through the other object and the pallet kept inexplicably shifting back and forth in a buggy fashion, causing the other objects to topple. After half a dozen tries, I saw the lock, felt stupid, shot it open and continued on my way. The thing is, my solution should have worked. Yes, it's more round about, but why should it not have worked? Because it was not what the designers had intended, thus it bugged out and failed. I had another solution denied to me in episode 1 involving a strider. For all my criticism of Half-Life 2, episode 1 and episode 2 being said, I massively enjoyed Portal.

When I play games, I want to impose my will over the player character and solve problems the way I see fit. If the solution I come up with doesn't work because my character can't jump far/high enough, can't move something or can shot lasers from his belly button, that's OK, really it is! But if a game gives me a bunch of tools, tells me what I can do and then, when I try to use them as directed, it fails because it wasn't what the makers wanted me specifically to do, then that's bad design; not my fault for not thinking linearly enough. The worst sin, in my eyes, for game design, is to create a puzzle and then make the player feel stupid about solving it.

In part two I will talk about the pros and cons of having the story on rails.

How about you guys? Have any of you ever come up with a solution so clever you could brush your teeth with it, only to stumble upon the obvious solution later? Has a game ever made you feel stupid about your answer to a puzzle?










Have you ever thought of how you play video games? I probably play differently than you do.
Here is how I know: I LIKED Duke Nukem Forever. I also liked Medabots: Metabee, Persona 3 Portable, and Persona 4 Arena.

Now that the people who won't get the point of this article are gone. Here is why I think a lot people don't like Duke Nukem Forever. They played it wrong. That is to say, they didn't play it in a way that maximized their enjoyment of the game. 'It's a video game', you say. You move around, shoot things and solve puzzles. You either win ( you played it right and the credits roll) or you lose (at which point you hit reload). Well, that's only somewhat true. What most people don't seem to factor is the environment they play in.


Here's how I played Duke Nukem Forever and its DLC. Me and my long time buddy would hang once a week from maybe about 8PM till 2AM. We would drink a mix of energy drinks and vodka, and order a pizza. We would take turns, whenever one of us died or the game loaded a new area. It was a good time, the game's areas were varied enough that they didn't get boring and we could laugh at the dumb jokes (valve puzzles, heh). Was the game itself a master piece? No. Did we have fun? Yes. We did the same thing with Diablo III, Singularity,Red faction, and Syndicate (that one was actually bad, though).



I picked up Medabots Metabee (or Core 2 Medabee in japan) a little while ago at a local used shop. It's considered a mon style game, according to TV Tropes. This game was played like I play most other mon games, I put on a movie or whatever TV show me and my girl are currently marathoning, she knits and I play my game. It works great because you can stop paying attention to the game and you'll be OK, even during a fight. It's actually why I like games like Magi-Nation and Pokemon Black 2. They're so light that you can miss bits of the story and it's not a big deal. It's really too bad that more games like this don't come out more often (I'm looking at you Medabots 7). But some RPGs are not like that at all.



Persona 3 Portable shares many similarities with other mon games in the demon collection aspect, but it goes much beyond that. The story, the characters and the battle system come together to form a singularly rewarding experience. To play this game, I play it alone with noise blocking headphones to cover the sounds of the city. It's a game that I find requires the player's full attention to get the most out of. Now, you can play it like the other mon games mentioned, but I find games that thrive on the emotions of the players are best played in solitude, so that no external force influences the player's reaction.



An ironic direct opposite, games that are meant to be played in groups like Persona 4 Arena. These games are are great when you have a few friends over and play against each other using house rules like loser out. I'm sure many of you have fond memories of Soul Calibur, Street Fighter, and Smash Bros.. You can recreate that arcade feel and it's great. You get moments you talk about years after like the time me and a buddy played Soul Calibur 2 (GC) for hours on infinite rounds one night, just to see if the announcer voice would stop announcing rounds (the last round he announced was round 99). Or the time that me and another friend were playing Persona 4 Arena and we both picked the boxer Akihiko and our characters fist pounded before the match and we both sat there for a couple of beats, speechless due to the awesome.

The whole point of video games is to have fun and if you bought a game and find you're having trouble getting in to it, maybe you can get more enjoyment by playing it differently or changing the environment. Now, some games are actually plain bad, but I believe some games get a bad rap for simply not being the kind of game that you sit alone in front of your TV or hand held and play.
These are just a few examples of ways to play video games, so how do you play video games?








This is the story about how Darksiders II broke my PS3.

I first heard about Darksiders when I was working at an EB games. We had just finished the Christmas rush and this curious title was coming out AFTER Christmas. I thought it was strange, then, when I thought about it for five minutes, I realized the brilliance of it. Lots of people get money or gift certificates for Christmas, Hanukkah, Rahmidan, snow flake day, festivus or whatever, they needed something to spend it on. A triple A and a new franchise, none the less, was a good idea, since alot of the gamers that came into our store were the kind that were always hungry for new games. Most people don't buy new franchises over old, so it was a good move.

My colleagues and I looked through the pre-order art book, the art was pretty awesome. I draw occasionally, and the art reminded me of Matt Holmberg's art form the Late great Magi-Nation card and GBC game but with way more metal. It gave me a strange sense of nostalgia as I looked over the glossy pages. The designs were similar, with over sized gloves and boots, but the art was altogether more grown up. I could just Imagine four epic games, one for each horseman. I resolved to sell the game and make it a success, and to buy it when I could afford a 360 or PS3.


Magi-Nation art by Holmberg/Gillette/Goodman

Then life happened. I did get a PS3, I waited a year for a backwards compatible one to land in our back room and I snatched it up right away. I lost my job at EB games and I worked briefly for HMV, were I kept selling Darksiders. I worked at a bunch of other retailers and finally, last spring, I picked up the game after getting a job that allowed me to afford the occasional game.

I loved it.

It was exactly what I had hoped it would be. Brutal and visceral but with enough Zelda in it to make you think a bit. Unfortunately, I thought too hard sometimes and came up with far more complicated solutions to puzzels than what needed to be done. I collected the abyssal armor and beat the game.


But there was a problem. The game was glitchy. I only encounterd a few bugs, usually managed to work around them. There are three major ones that did hamper my enjoyment of the game.

The first was against the spider boss. One of the bosses would teleport above you and slam down. While she was doing this I acctivated War's Chaos form, this somehow forced me through the floor to a point I wasnt supposed to reach until I had killed her. Thankfully, there was a floating stone pillar that I activated and could grip that forced me back up through the floor and I could resume the fight, but even better, the stone pillar would periodicly come up through the floor and sheild me from the teleport attack as she would land on it instead of me.

The second glitch I found was against an angel boss. I manged to somehow summon my horse, Ruin, during the fight and the game crashed. No big deal I just restarted the PS3.

The last was when I was looking to complete the abyssal armor. I was in a cave and I noticed I could summon Ruin, I didn't think I could till I was out of the cave. Thinking 'hey, why not?' I did and the game promptly crashed, again I restarted my PS3 and was on my way.

After beating the game, I felt immense satisfaction. I looked online and found that the game was known to be glichy but I felt that although there were a few glitches that I encountered, the good out weighed the bad. Plus, one of the glitches had actually helped me. I knew the next game would be out soon and I was excited. I found the retailer with the preorder bonuses I wanted and the very next day after beating the game, I left EB games with a preorder in my wallet.

Then the game was delayed. It turned out it was coming out a week after Persona 4 Arena. I thought 'man, August is going to be expensive', but I had budgeted for both games, so it was not a huge problem. Persona 4 Arena came out and it was awesome. I couldn't wait for my friend, who is the only other Persona fan I know, to come back from camping so we could have some matches. I vowed to get a platinum trophy in the game and I tought my girlfirend to play fighting games.

I picked up Darksiders II the day it came out. It got a good score here on Destructoid and on Kotaku, though Kotaku mentioned glitches, the thing about developer not being credited came to light and although I didn't agree with it in principle, I relized that many games we play have uncredited developers and that developers do need to wisen up, but I chalked it up to industry growing pains.


The loot!

My days then became like this from a video game stand point: play Persona 4 Arena for a few hours then Darksiders II for as much time as I had left. The first weekend I clocked a monstrous 12 hours into the game in about two days. The game was fun, but it worried me that it would crash for no reason, literally no reason. Sometimes it was leaving an area and the little orange loading symbol would simply stop spining, other times it was in the middle of a fight. Every time I played the game more the an hour, it crashed. Every. Single. Time. But still, I was loving it. The Makers were cool, I got a bonus for having beaten the first Darksiders, and Death was pretty badass. The excutions were the only thing I thought were lacking. War made you feel like the enemy had screwed up, Death just kinda stabbed them.

Yesterday, I was playing the game and I picked up a possessed glave in the first dungeon of the dead lords. 'Sweet' I thought, I haven't gotten a possessed weapon in a while and if I can make it good enough I should do better in the crucible. While looking at what weapon to feed it, the game crashed. That's right, it crashed in a menu. I restarted my PS3 for the second time that day and I got a screen telling me the PS3's hard drive might have been currupted and it needs to be checked. A minute later, it was done with no problems found. I got into the game, I chose my save file and hit continue. The screen's colors went crazy and it crashed. I restarted the PS3 again, and I heard the familiar opening tune, but it didn't start. I restarted it again, same result. And again, same. I turned it off at the switch in the back, and on again, same result. My heart sank, my PS3 was broken.

I went online and I found a trouble shooting guide on how to start the thing on safe mode. I did that and... it worked! I chose to do another scan of the hard drive and I got a message that it was ok. I went into the game and played for about 10 minutes I was disappointed that the glave was gone but it was ok, it was working again... then it crashed.

Now I was pissed. I removed the disk and had to start it in safe mode. I did another scan... except the scan never initialized, it just kept saying "preparing" for an hour. Beyond frustrated at this point, I started the system again and got greeted by a screen saying that the system needed to be scanned! I got it scanned and managed to boot up persona 4 arena. I started up score attack mode and... it crashed again in a diffrent game.

After much fiddling I managed to start the system and transfer much of my save files to my PSP (excluding the 20 hour Darksiders II save file) and decided to do a full hard drive wipe. Everything. It took over four hours. When I came back I started the machine again and got to the "please put in the date" screen, the colors flickered on screen then nothing worked. Frustrated, I turned it off and on again and it worked. I set everything up, transfered my save games. and played a few rounds of Persona 4 Arena with my girl. I was cautiously optimistic, I knew it had crashed on the date code, but it worked well for an hour. This morning, I decided to boot up the PS3 to play some P4A, and it crashed after the tune. I tried again, same. I booted it in safe mode and tried a disk scan and was greated by a screen that is mostly purple and green.


Today's screen is blue. Yay variety.

Thanks, Darksiders II, you broke my PS3.

I don't have money to spend on a new PS3 right now. My seasonal job is about to come to an end and those two games plus whatever I was going to receive for Christmas and my birthday were supposed to hold me though until I get a new job. I was thinking of getting a Vita sometime next year as my big purchase for the year.

This is a problem with the industry these days. They ship games they know are broken. There is absolutely no way they didn't know about this. Sure, they could patch it later but no patch is going to fix my PS3. I went out of my way many times to help this game out, not only as a consumer but as a sales person. THQ and Vigil have shipped a broken game that broke my PS3. Now I can't enjoy, not only Darksider II, that I PAID for, but all the other games I paid for. The game insutry needs to be brought up to the standards of other industries. When there is a manufacture's defect in a product that causes harm to people and/or the property they own the product gets recalled.THQ and Vigil are far from the only ones guilty of this. Bethesda holds responsibility for the acceptance of this mindset as well. The video game industry mentality is now something along the lines of 'we'll fix it later in a patch if we aren't too busy making horse armor'.

It's funny, though, because one generation ago this wasn't the case. Even now there are companies that release games that work when you put them into your system. Out of the box.

I have internet, so I can download a patch but what about those who don't have internet? They are stuck with a broken game that they can't fix forever.

THQ and Vigil probably won't do a thing for me. They know about the problem, I posted it to their facebook page. They most likely will ignore a consumer like me, but I've learned my lesson. If I hear of game crashes, you can count me out.

Final thoughts for those who are about to tell me stuff like "your PS3 is broken, not the game", you should know a few things. I have an old PS3 (backwards compatible), so if the machine was broken it should give me the Yellow Light Of Death. It does not. The other thing is, besides the first Darksiders, my PS3 has crashed a total of one time when I was playing Fallout 3 GOTY. Of course there is the "your PS3 was on it's way out anyways, it just happend to die when you were playing Darksiders II". Well that would be a vailid argument, Mr Strawman, but I was also Playing Persona 4 Arena with absolutely no problems. So empirically the only thing that has changed is this one game.

In summery don't buy Darksiders II. It breaks consoles.
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