My name's Tucker, and I'm this 19 year old dude living in the mountains of Colorado. Some of my favorite interests are videogames, film, and dinosaurs, among other, less notable things.
I'm an aspring developer, already starting to dip my toes in the pool that is game design and development. On this blog, I'll probably just be writing of my attempts to gain insight into game design, and possibly one thing or another about the industry.
I'm mainly on PC, but I also have a PS3 I jump on occasionally. I used to have a 360 and Wii as well, however they've recently departed from my possesion.
My favorites games include: Silent Hill 2, Deadly Premonition, Metal Gear Solid, Kane and Lynch...
Favorite films include: Evil Dead II, Pulp Fiction, Fight Club, Brick...
Favorite dinosaurs include: Compsognathus, Anchisaurus, Megapnosaurus or any theropoda really...
Anyways, I hope you think my blog is cool and all that jazz.
Many people have called The Last of Us another step towards evolved video game storytelling. People have said it's a refreshing artsy triumph from a triple-A developer. Some have even stated it's the best game in recent years with it's heartbreaking, dark, and dramatic story.
I want to start off by saying you can love The Last of Us, I could even see why. Now, at the risk of sounding preachy, it is not a new holy grail for game design. In regards of mechanics, aesthetic, and even storytelling in games, The Last of Us has a lot wrong with it.
I'll argue that the one and only integral device in all videogames is choices. Not in that whole "Choose A for good ending and B for bad ending," but in the sense that literally the only thing separating videogames from other mediums is interactivity, and the choices the player has with such a conduit.
It's much like saying "So-and-so isn't a book about reading" or "This-movie isn't a movie about seeing things with your eyes (and hearing things with your ears)". What the hell is The Last of Us about then? A game about...not choosing? Also the article then devolves into score numbers in reviews for some reason.
Anyways, the article argues it's rather a game about "emotional involvement", of course referring to that between the characters in the story. And yes, that story is well written and frankly good. But it doesn't involve me. The writer of the article even acknowledges this, pointing out the story is about Joel and Ellie. Well...why the hell is it even in a game then?
There's a moment brought up by a critic in the article. A doctor threatens Joel with a scalpel. I had shot above the doctors head to scare him off. No luck. I decided to shoot him in his hand, attempting to non-lethally subdue him by making him drop the scalpel. He died. They obviously wanted this to be a character decision for Joel, killing an innocent doctor. Why the hell am I doing it then? I don't want to kill the doctor.
So are games about playing as somebody else, and forcing us to act out their decisions? I'd rather games at least acknowledge the player as some sort of entity in the story, especially if through the surrogate of a main character.
This story isn't really told in a way that benefits it's medium. The player is really no where to be seen in the story. To make it worse, Joel is such a developed and fleshed out character that (while well written) I just didn't like him. This makes things particularly disconnecting considering that I'm playing as him. The story seems better suited for a novel or (especially considering how most of it is told) a film. There's literally no parts of the game that you actually play where you're doing something integral to the story. I don't mean that filler stuff of "Get from building A to church B to high school C". I mean the shit that matters. The characters, the relationships.
Now about our main character Joel. Let's compare:
The Walking Dead. Some game about zombies I think. You play as the main character and important shit happens in the story between him and other characters in the game. Here's a very prominent difference between Joel and Lee from The Walking Dead. Joel is Joel. He always is, and he's a well defined Joel. He thinks what Joel thinks and he does what Joel does. This fact is very important in many aspects of the story, including it's ending. Now Lee. Lee is the player. Lee does what the player does. Lee says and acts out what the player chooses for him to. Lee as a character is adaptive to the player playing him. It's not weird or dissociating because Lee is a close reflection of us and we feel connected to him because of it. By extension, we are also connected to the story and it's characters.
Now for the opposite end of player characters:
Half-Life. Some game about aliens I think. You play as the main character and important shit happens in the story between him and other characters in the game. Here's a very prominent difference between Joel and Gordon from Half-Life. I'll spare you the Joel is Joel shit and go on to Gordon. Gordon isn't anybody. Gordon is ambiguous. Gordon is really just a template and has no opinions or voice to speak of, even in the literal sense. But that's okay, because we're Gordon, and we don't want to be anybody else other than ourselves (except we're named Gordon now). We can do what we do and act as we act and it's not weird or dissociating because Gordon is so blank we really fill his role.
Call me weird for saying the main character is too developed, but Joel is so Joel that I could never connect myself to him, or reflect myself unto him to connect into the story or characters in a deep way. After all, it's Joel's story, not mine.
I will state one last time. If the stories going to be so much about a main character doing his own thing and making choices in the narrative that very well define him, then why even make it a game? I really would've enjoyed The Last of Us's story more as a movie or a book. And that ending with Joel's last bomb of a decision to make, while perfect in terms of the story, was terrible for me as a player. The last couple of hours, with Joel's intense decisions and actions, essentially shut out any hope of the player being in the story whatsoever. Also, the story wouldn't even exist if you skipped the cutscenes. Essentially, nothing you really do in The Last of Us matters past a superficial level. But that's enough with the story!
Aesthetic, Gameplay, and Harmony
Or lack thereof I should say. It's hard for me to pin what kind of game The Last of Us is (besides obviously not being about actually playing it! HEY-OO). But no I mean the gameplay and the aesthetic of the game brought together by the gameplay. I'd normally just ambiguously say "action-adventure" but obviously it's trying to do something else. At times, it certainly succeeds with fluid gameplay of tense stealth and combat. These times are essentially in the early game and maybe mid game. But a lot of the time, the game seems to have to opposite styles. An action shooter, and a horror stealth.
These two styles combine and blend well for the most interesting parts of the game. These parts usually confront players with relatively complex hostile situations and allow them to approach the situation as they like. Unfortunately, there's some segments that go too extreme in one area or the other. The "action shooter" extreme has some moments that essentially feel like a slower paced Uncharted with sluggish shooting (seemingly meant to mimic Joel's inexperience with a weapon) and less freedom of movement. The "horror stealth" extreme isn't quite so bad, except for some parts where you find yourself dying over and over again from one-hit-kills. Speaking of death, let's look at what aesthetic the game is trying to achieve with this gameplay, and see how it holds together rather un-harmoniously.
I often get the feeling of gritty barebones survival from the game, especially with it's relative "disempowerment" and limited ammo. Some moments have you using all that you've collected to try and scrounge something up just to sneak by. But others have you mowing down dozens of enemies by the second with the armory you've gathered in your backpack, and then some just throw a mini-boss fight at you in an arena. These moments seem to want to turn the game from "barebones survival" to "fast paced action romp", with more empowerment tropes.
The weapon collection system is something of a classic, with an armory building up in the characters inventory. While somewhat nostalgic and neat, it doesn't really fit with the survival aesthetic. Seriously, you get a fucking flamethrower, mini-shotgun, a magnum with a scope on it, and an assault rifle, and you hold them all at the same time. Just seeing Joel with a flamethrower, shotgun, one-shot-scoped-magnum-thing, and mini-shotgun on his back all at once kind of breaks the disempowerment and general feeling of "oh shit" survival. The game has a bit of a survival device in that it still doesn't give you much ammo, but this just becomes frustrating and still brings about the empowered walking-armory trope, as now you just have to switch between your ten guns as soon as you run dry of ammo.
There's also one moment in the game where I mowed down about six enemies in a matter of seconds with an axe, which insta-kills. I explicitly remember feeling like some sort of horror movie murderer with crazy killing powers. While I very legitimately think that's awesome and deserves a place in some game, it feels out of place in The Last of Us. Well actually, by this time in the game I wasn't sure if it was in place and maybe the survival stuff wasn't.
Speaking of survival, this game often loses it's tension and fright factor in some of the clicker scenes. There was a bit of trial-and-error involved in the stealth/fighting sections with clickers. They attempted to make the clickers scary by making them kill in one hit. Rather, they demeaned death as any sort of consequence, employing a sort of player-fail design that's used in games like Super Meat Boy and VVVVV, having the player respawn quickly when they die so they can get back at it. If death isn't meaningful in a horror or "survival" game then it doesn't have much to ride on. Opposite player-fail design philosophies that worked in favor for this sort of aesthetic are seen in Don't Starve, Minecraft, and State of Decay.
I already mentioned it, but I'll go into more integral detail here: the gameplay has really nothing to do with the story. The closest moments we get are exploring environments with some nice dialogue that includes subtle character development. These are probably my favorite parts of the game, and the closest we get to really "doing" something as Joel.
In another unfortunate return to conventionality a lot of the gameplay and scenes revolve around violence and Joel just kinda killing people. This is normal for many games but it feels particularly out of place with the games unstable aesthetic of survival and for whatever reason the aspect of violence and it's morality is hardly brought up between the coming-of-age girl and her rising father figure. It's just kinda there for no real deeper meaning. Now. About violence.
The "Necessity" of Violence
This section is going to be more about a tiring gaming device rather than about mechanical flaws in the game, so you might want to skip it if somehow you read this far.
You may have or may have most-positively definitely not read my post about how
violence isn't essential in games. I really don't think I'm the only one who's a bit tired of having just about all games be about killing and killing and fucking killing, especially whenever the game itself seems to want to be about something else, possibly something deeper (emotional involvement, according to Forbes).
But it's an action-adventure-stealth-horror-survival game! How can the action revolve around anything else? How can Joel be anything other than a ridiculous axe murderer! I'm going to compare once again, and this example is with a different medium but please bear with me, it's hard to find games that don't revolve around killing dudes and I already used The Walking Dead.
Let's look at the also action-adventure post-apocalyptic movie Children of Men. This is a very tense movie with some impressive action scenes (one is a 6 minute long-take!). It's also about a man escorting a girl across a country to a group of people because she could cure humanity. The main character is Theo, and every single scene in the movie is from his point of view.
Theo never once uses or even touches a firearm in the entire movie, even though plenty of them are around. There's about two times when he attacks in self defense, once with a car door and another with a car battery (both times seemed to fuck the person up but it's unknown if they explicitly died). I compared The Last of Us to Children of Men a couple of times during my playthrough, if just for story and atmosphere relations. But Children of Men's Theo never revolved around violence despite the film being intense. The film didn't need violence to create tense action sequences, and I don't believe games need to use it for the same effect either.
I'm also still waiting for a Children of Men-like game.
So what really is wrong with The Last of Us?
By now you should get my quips with The Last of Us in it's aesthetic instability, unfortunate compliance with conventional third person action tropes, and player-narrative dissonance. But none of these are the "thing" I'm talking about.
A lot of people seem content with enjoying The Last of Us more as a cinematic experience than that of a game (one review even stated "It's more than a game, it's like a movie!" in the up-most positive manner). The problem isn't with The Last of Us's flaws explicitly. Many games have similar design and story-dissonance flaws. The problem more accurately lies in the community and culture treating this game.
I'm not saying that not enough people don't enjoy this game or that too many people like it or some stupid shit like that. But it shouldn't be viewed as some grand step for games whenever the game and even some of its players treat it as a movie rather than an interactive experience.
Now I think there is something to be celebrated with The Last of Us, mainly with it's story, mood, and utterly fantastic visual design (the opening was also tight). However, if we praise a game that's more of a film for being "innovative", then we shouldn't expect devs and publishers to bring us anything different.
Like Allistair, I also live on (or near, or whatever) a golf course. It is very pretty, and I enjoy waltzing around in it. Now, I don't often suffer from derealization or depersonalization thank god, otherwise I might be worried about being immersed in the real world. But as it stands, what makes real life more real than Proteus or Journey is that it's...well, real.
Undoubtedly if I got into a gunfight on this golf course, which would be a fantastic departure from the norm, shit would get real. 'Shit' referring to the world around me. I've never got into a gunfight though, but yet, I know that feeling, of shit getting real. How is that?
Because shit can get real without the assistance of violence. Speeding in a car going over 100, hoping I don't die in each upcoming second. My boyfriend leaving me in the dead of night during a heated, depressive argument. Just finally seeing my best friend after half-a-year of absence. My emotional investment can be greatly raised without the reliance on violence. And so it is with videogames.
I'm not particularly impressed with David Cage's or Warren Spector's keynotes, nor am I impressed with their particular products, however, I agree with one thing they both seem to be resonating. Violence is not the one and only conduit for games.
I can honestly say Journey would be less engaging if it had guns in it, plain and outright. Journey utilized other aspects, and it didn't need to immerse me further. Exploring engaged me, finding other anonymous players engaged me, unfolding the minimal story engaged me.
I find it very interesting Dishonored was brought up a couple of times in Allistair's argument. Not because of it's narrative choices, but mainly because I have played through the game about one and a half times, plugged eleven hours into it, and have yet to kill a single person. Violence is a button away the whole time, but I'm not invested in that. I'm invested in playing though this game in my own way, a mechanic that Dishonored capitalized oh so well on, and a mechanic that drew me oh so much into this game.
Many of the games I've played and loved don't rely on violence to immerse and entertain me. Amnesia revolves around running and hiding from monsters and solving puzzles. Don't Starve is about resource collecting and surviving. Deadly Premonition is one of my favorite games ever, and my least favorite part that I also find most disengaging is its shooting sequences.
How can we define 'immersion'? Is The Sims not immersive whatsoever because you don't play as one character, don't experience any set story, and don't kill anyone? I'd disagree, I can get super-fucking engaged in that game. And no, I've never set up torture house to starve my Sims. Sounds neat though.
Considering our medium offers far more interaction than all other mediums combined, I'm positive our potential for immersion is endless with our current technology. Unless I'm constantly fumbling over the game's controls, or the game's controls have no real set groundwork to be fluid with (Heavy Rain), I never think about the controller more than the game. Whenever I have to press a button to do something in a game I don't think about the button I'm pressing, and if I am, then it's coming second to what's going on in the game. Whenever I have to flip a page in a book, I don't lose all my investment in the story.
Speaking of literature, that medium also started out with an abundance of content that refused to branch out to original ground. Starting with epics like Beowulf and the Odyssey, literature eventually found it's way to fantastic innovative stories, furthering the medium. This took roughly 1500 years. New technology was introduced that helped this movement; it was the printing press. It did not bring revolutions to the way literature was crafted, but rather made it easier to distribute and create. For one, I think videogames are an exceptionally young medium, and for two, I don't think videogames are waiting for its printing press.
Also, I'm staying the hell away from VR, that seems arguably less immersive than games in their current state. A subtle thumb or hand movement to perform an action can pass less consciously than the action in the game, but whole body movements rarely do the trick, evidenced by today's motion controls. What's more engaging, Half-Life or (for the lack of a more legitimate game) Dance Central?
And I know it wasn't mentioned in explicitly Allistair's argument, I feel I should still mention 3D vision, as it's a large feature of the Oculus Rift. Many people also consider this another great step in immersion, both in film and games. I'm not sure what to think of it, considering I'm stereo-blind and can't see 3D in any medium, yet still find myself immersed and engaged well enough.
I don't believe new technology is required to continuously transcend videogames into greater expressions. I don't think we're even close to finding what's possible with our medium as it is. I think the last thing we should do is jump the gun and find how new, expensive technology can further our creativity (because, in all likelihood, it can't).
Now that I've written an entire counter argument against Allistair, I'd just like to mention that I don't mean anything against him personally. He's got a cute picture and has a Tim and Eric reference in his 'About', so he seems pretty tight.
So, on the 8th of September, 2010, a little over one year ago, I posted a blog here about the use of the word "overrated" in the gaming community. I still stand by my stated views, however, it might have been a better idea to post this intro BEFORE that first post. Either way, a year into the future, I've figured I should more properly introduce myself before continuing to post blogs. So if you decide to read ahead, prepare to learn a bit about me. The short version is something like "I like games and game design", although I'm sure you could've guessed that. Anyways hey look a picture of me.
If you haven't read the "About Me" shennanigans on the right side, my name's Tucker, and I'm a 17 year old Coloradan guy living in the mountains who loves videogames, film, and dinosaurs. I tried to cram that all into one sentence, I think I succeeded well enough. What I missed: I have a PC and PS3, although I generally favor the PC for everything. Another important thing, I'm a huge aspiring game developer, and I'm currently trying my hand at development and design. So alot of what I'll be doing on this blog is sharing my story of trying to squeeze what experience on game design I can out of games. I'm pretty sure that isn't new to anyone around here, but in my good hopes I'll benefit from it.
Although I play all sorts of genres of games, I seem to stick to shooters, although I really just particuallarly enjoy story driven games. I really like horror games, but they've been getting incredibly few and far in between, especially with the current dominance shooters hold. Now, even though I've said I play all sorts of genres, I just simply can't manage with RTS's. I believe the whole "everyone has a certain genre that's unplayable to them" thing has been discussed on D-Toid before, and often times it seems RTS's are a common genre in that group. Also, to say it specifically I'm currently trying to design/develop for shooters and survival horror, not that both of those can effectively be in one game, mind you.
I've been on Destructoid for quite a while, actually. Since, maybe 2008 I believe. I'm a pretty quiet guy, both in our real world society and on the interwebz, so I haven't said much over the years. But don't take that the wrong way, I really love D-Toid. It's been my homepage since I've found it, and I certainly can't say I'd be the same without influence from the likes of Anthony Burch and Jim Sterling. On that note, I cried when Anthony left, and then cried again when I realized I actually like Sterling. But really, I love this place and those under its name.
Anyways, I hope that's a proper enough introduction. I'm sure you've got a better idea on who I am now, but, you know, me being the quiet person I am it's a bit tough to get myself out in one page. Doesn't really matter though, you know I'm here and why I am. I'm sure I'll have a good time writing and reading blogs here, and hope I actually write some stuff people enjoy reading.
The word "overrated" should come as no surprise to most of you. It's incredibly common in our community and odds are, you've demonstrated it's use once or twice. I'm no exception, either. In fact, I use it so regularly that I've come upon an interesting find.
When Shank was released, I knew nothing about it other than D-Toid's anticipation. I peered into Nick Chester's review of it to see if the game was worthy of a trial download. He gave it a friggin 8.5. Of course I threw the trial my download, after all, everyone else at Destructoid liked it too.
After the demo, I was left with only one thought. Game was totally overrated. I just couldn't take it. Everyone liked this game? I didn't hate it, but it certainly wasn't a great game. I decided to see just how overrated it is by checking XBLA's rating of it. It was four stars based off...six thousand votes?
Some people think Shank is underrated because it didn't receive enough attention. I felt it was a little underrated as well, as in not enough people "noticed" the game. Shortly after, I found out I wasn't the only one who didn't love Shank. But the idea is, that at one point in time, I thought Shank was underrated and overrated.
Let's define these words. Here are the Dictionary descriptions.
Overrated - To praise too high, to overestimate the value of a something
Underrated - To praise too low, to underestimate the value of something
Pretty simple right? We, in the gaming community, use "overrated" to define something that was not as good as they said it was. They being either the top game critics, a group of friends, or whoever it was that said the game was good. However, we use "underrated" a bit differently. Saying a game is underrated usually implies that the game deserves more attention, rather than implying that the game was "hated" too much. That's fine by me though, we all know what someone means when they say "underrated". Keep on using underrated, I have no problem with it. I have decided, though, that overrated is bullshit. Complete bullshit.
So I decided that Shank wasn't overrated after finding other reviews that I could agree with. Then I wondered, why was I labeling it overrated? Was it because I thought everyone else loved the game? Was I just jealous that they found joy in this game? Probably, but that's not the point. Point is I said a game is overrated because the majority of people disagreed with me. That's bullshit.
So we don't even really use the word overrated right. When we say it, we throw away all respect for freedom of opinion. We say "Not enough people have the same opinion as me, and too many people enjoyed this game". Some people might say "BUT WIAT!!11!! thts jsut my opnion tht its ovrrated." Oh...I'm sorry. Let me restate it then. You say "In my opinion, not enough people have the same opinion as me.." Or, to make it sound even more evil. "In my opinion, your opinion is wrong* and you shouldn't have the luxury of enjoying this game".
I use to think some games where overrated. Now, I just have opinions that are different from many others. GTA IV isn't overrated, I just didn't like it a much as everyone else. I think Halo 3 is an average game, but in no way is it overrated. And Shank sure as hell is not overrated, although I didn't really enjoy it. There are respectable ways to use the word "overrated", it's just that our community is no where near them, nor do they need to be.
So please, stop saying games are overrated. Unless you don't believe in free opinion, or your some asshole who always thinks his opinion is right. However, if you have a counterpoint to mine, please, let me hear it.
*Use of the bold word is only to further demonstrate the evilness in the example.