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My name is Ken. I have a deep passion for art and storytelling, video games in particular.

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I love Grand Theft Auto Online. I really do. I've spent a lot of time with it, and I love what Rockstar has set out to do. Sadly, they're also ruining it. The mission system is becoming progressively more broken with each patch. Everything in the game is driven by money, yet missions are little more than a waste of time, for a few reasons.

As someone who's looking for a fun cooperative experience with a few friends, Grand Theft Auto Online can be an exercise in disappointment. Everyone has their preferences. Some like racing, others prefer deathmatches, etc., and they're more-or-less accommodated. If you're the type who likes co-op missions, you'll likely be getting the short end of the stick. This isn't because missions weren't given any attention, because there's plenty of content to keep co-op oriented players happy. No, it's how you access that content that's the problem.

Due to the amount of grinding done by repeating short, high-paying missions, Rockstar has opted to halve the amount of money you make every subsequent time you complete a mission. Isn't it a little unreasonable to do this for every mission? I can understand lowering the payout for missions like Violent Duct, because it's so short, and easily completed. However, halving the payout for harder, more complex missions such as Base Invaders and The Los Santos Connection results in a pitiful payout compared to the amount of work that goes into them. Indiscriminately cutting half of your earnings from every mission forever is a terrible solution, and it has some pretty hefty consequences.

As a result, it's easy to dismiss missions as a waste of time, because they fail to reward and incentive the player for doing them. Completing The Lost Santos Connection now nets less than 10,000, which is terrible for a mission of that difficulty. Compared to racing, which can earn you several thousand in less than a couple minutes, missions are a total waste of time. One game of survival pays out $20,000, which feels like a much better time sink than most of the missions.

This lack of satisfaction extends to other activities as well. Pulling off a liquor store robbery seems like a waste of time when your split of the take is only $500. Attacking an armoured truck together is risky, but the low payout and the inability to share the cash you get trivialises that danger. In-game currency is a great way to pat the player on the back and give difficult missions an extra sense of achievement to them. With no way to gain money in the game, is it any surprise people are resorting to exploits and grinding?

Worse than the poor payouts however, is just how inaccessible the missions are. Instead of something sensible like choosing from a list or going somewhere on the map, you have to call one of your contacts, who pulls a random job out of a hat. If you get a job you don't want, tough. You can ask them again, and they'll eventually pick another random job, but only after the game calls you an idiot a few times. This is especially annoying when you have five or six people in a closed crew or friend session, and you want to find a cooperative activity that you can all do. Even more annoying still, I'm getting jobs that take a maximum of only two people. Who wants to volunteer to sit around in freemode whilst everyone else does the mission?

Here's the thing: these missions are fun. I really like some of them. However, unlike every other activity in the game, I have to pick from a grab bag and hope I get what I want. I want to play The Los Santos Connection and Base Invaders again. I'm in the mood for a specific mission, so what do I do? It's extremely frustrating working with this convoluted system when all I want to do is hop straight into some action with my friends, and I can't.

There are ways around this that don't involve a single blanket pay cut for everyone. Here's a few ideas: instead of calling and getting texted a job, you open up a menu for that character, then pick the job you want to do. To prevent grinding, install a time limit that prevents players from hosting that job repeatedly. Let's just say one hour. If I host Flood in the LS River, I won't be able to host that mission again until that time limit runs out. However, one of my three other friends in the game can host it. Of course, to prevent us from going in a circle, you cut the payout for any player who's played that mission within the time limit. So if my friend hosted Flood on the LS river immediately after I did, we'd both get less money that we did before. If a new guy joined in, he could host as well, but he'd get the normal payout, whereas I would still get the reduced one. As I said, this would only last an hour or so. Hell, even an entire day would be better than what Rockstar has done, which is reduce the payout forever.

However, a 50% cut isn't going to cut it. This needs to vary from mission to mission. If I get less than $10,000 for raiding and robbing a military base, why bother? If I stickup some drug dealers for less than a couple grand, what's the point? That won't buy me much of anything, and robbing a liquor store would be more efficient. Because everything in the game is so expensive, this massive pay cut undercuts the missions by taking away the reward. Honestly, our time is better spent in survival and races, until they make those even harder, to prevent the player from actually moving up in the game.

Balancing and maintaining a massive online experience such as this is difficult. There's going to be holes in the design, and I accept that. To say that Grand Theft Auto Online got off to a rocky start would be a bit of an understatement. Though the game as a whole has been a fantastic blast thus far, and it definitely shows a lot of promise, I'm continuously frustrated by flat-out terrible game design, especially when it comes to cooperative missions. I know a lot of this has been done in the name of balancing, but all it seems to have done so far is undermine the player's efforts. Of course, heists could give us quite a large payout, but I can't shake the feeling this is being done to encourage the purchase of GTA$, before it even releases. Sadly, it's hard, if not impossible, to have a balanced economy in a game such as this when you introduce microtransactions.

Rockstar, your mission system is broken. Please fix it. Don't make them feel like a waste of time, and don't make it a hassle just to find something fun for four or five of my friends to do. Just let me jump in and enjoy your game. A lot of these missions are really cool, it's just a real shame I can't play them.
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With Beyond: Two Souls receiving a very mixed reception, I think it's a good idea to go back and pick apart David Cage's previous work, Heavy Rain. It's a game with which I'm all too familiar. Having earned the platinum trophy for it, I know the ins and outs of every scene, every line of dialogue, and every permutation thereof. I'll preface this by saying that I know what I'm talking about when I say this is not a good story, or even a good game. It fails to deliver on just about every level. When it comes to stupidity, Heavy Rain is the gift that keeps on giving.

I don't hate this game. I certainly don't love it, but hate isn't the right word. I'm disappointed. I'm disappointed in David Cage, for holding back the potential of this medium, and in the fans, for taking this garbage as their high standard for art. Sure, no game or story is perfect, but there's a limit. A goof or two or three is one thing. I can understand a discrepancy betwixt shots, or a slight oversight. And Heavy Rain has plenty of those; it's clear David Cage doesn't have any attention to detail.

There's a limit, however. Eventually, those mistakes pile up, and people begin to see through the façade. If you're building an "interactive drama", with narrative at the forefront, plot is twice as important than it usually is (though it's still second to graphics), so it's natural for this game to fall under heavier scrutiny. And when one actually pays attention and uses their brain, they realise that Heavy Rain doesn't just have a few minor mistakes here and there: it's plot is a mangled mess, riddled with holes. The nitpicks I could ignore. Unfortunately, Heavy Rain doesn't just have these minor issues. It has big ones.

Let's start with the little things. I think attention to detail should be extremely important for any artist, but whatever. I might be able to forgive the game when I realise Grace picked up the kids on Saturday, or that Scott never reloads his handgun, or even when chickens are flung at Norman Jayden in an indoor supermarket. In America.

However, dissecting the problems with Heavy Rain's overly ambitious plot isn't just nitpicking. There are huge plot holes too big and too numerous to ignore. This is the game that just keeps on giving when it comes to stupidity. First, there's the inciting incident. For no discernible reason, Ethan's son Jason decides to run away from him. Because, you know, he's mentally retarded. Well, at first, I could forgive him, at least when he got his balloon. He was being stupid, but at least he did a stupid thing for a reason. What follows however, epitomises everything that is wrong with Cage's writing.

After he gets his balloon, Jason runs off, goes through the ridiculously oversized crowd, and runs across the street. Why? Because the plot needs him to be there. When he realises that he's a complete idiot, he runs back across the street without looking both ways. Then, the only car on the road hits him, but not before his father jumps in front of the car, saving him. But wait! He dies anyway. Even though he wasn't hit head on, and the car wasn't moving very fast at all, he dies. Why? Because it's dramatic!

This is quite possibly the worst scene in the entire game, and that's already nigh unforgivable considering the entire plot hinges on this scene. First, he has no reason to cross the street. Now, I could maybe buy this if his son was mentally retarded, but this isn't the case. In fact, had they shown us that he had some sort of mental disorder, this might have actually made me sympathetic, instead of laughing at him when he died.

Second, the entire scenario plays out very slowly. Any one pedestrian could have stopped this from happening simply by stepping two metres out into the road. That's beside the point, however. Even though this car is clearly only going 15, maybe 20 miles an hour. Even though she wasn't driving very fast and stops just as she hits him, and despite the fact that Ethan shielded him from this impact, he still dies. Everything in this entire scene is completely contrived and unbelievable, making the foundation for the entire plot a farce.

Sadly, this sets the tone for the rest of the narrative.

Later on, we get a taste of how certain words were lost in translation. The most prominent example of this is when Shelby is questioning Lauren Winter for the first time. This is supposed to be a serious scene, but the dramatic delivery is undermined both by word choice and the actor's accent. When she says "you don't know what it's like to find your son's body dumped on some wasteland", I'm too fixated on how badly she misused the word "wasteland". A grassy field in the middle of a city on the east coast of the United States is NOT a wasteland. To make things worse, she isn't even the only one who says this. It is later repeated by Scott Shelby and a news anchor, so no, it's not just the French prostitute.

This is only a small part of the story's issue with setting. David Cage really wanted a plot set in America, but he clearly knows very little about the country itself. The actors aren't bad at their jobs per se, they just can't do American accents like say, Andrew Lincoln can. Had this story been set in England, and the actors allowed to actually use their normal accents, a lot of this game's presentation issues could have been fixed.

Later, Ethan goes to a shrink because of how depressed he is, and how that minor bump put him into a coma and caused brain damage. The stand-out mistake in this scene is how the game constantly refers to "schizophrenia", even though it's really referring to dissociative personality disorder. This is a simple mistake that could have been fixed by opening a dictionary or hiring an editor.

After Ethan's child goes missing, he gets a mysterious message and ends up at Lexington Station. After a silly dream sequence with some of the worst voice acting in history, he makes it to the lockers and finds a box. Well, what's in the box? A gun and some origami figures. Nothing out of the ordinary here, right? Well, at least until you realise there's a metal detector on the way in.

Then we have the matter of the "schizo" red herring. This is one of the plot's biggest failures. Originally, Quantic Dream intended to include surreal dream sequences, but later removed these from the game, because they apparently slowed down the pace too much. That didn't stop them from adding in an awkward shark-jumping dream scene in "Lexington Station", though. Thing is, these were supposed to allude to a psychic connection between Scott and Ethan when his son died. Sounds dumb right? Well, not as dumb as removing the explanation, but leaving the false lead. Even though he clearly states he's never made origami, and thus has no way of making them, he ends up with an Origami figure (figger?) in his hand when he comes to from his unexplained random plot blackouts. How is he ending up the killer's home? If he can't make them, is the Origami Killer just stalking him at all times? Well, we know he isn't. This is bad writing. You don't leave unexplained false leads that create plot holes and are completely impossible. That's just thoughtless, ham-fisted drama. Not only is the narrative outright lying to the audience, it's treating them like they're idiots.

And Ethan just rolls with it. This "internal conflict" just keeps on going, even when it's patently obvious he can't be the killer. Even after he cuts his finger off, something which someone had to have seen, he still thinks he's the killer. At this point, they're just hitting the player over the head with this already-ridiculous false lead.

Then there's the Butterfly Trial. After showing up at the abandoned power plant, Ethan decides to crawl inside the dark scary tunnel. After the hatch magically closes by itself, he finds that the entire shaft is filled with glass. Let's think about this for a second. If Ethan can barely fit in there, how the hell could the killer, an overweight middle-aged asthmatic, get the glass in there? The only way this scene could be even remotely possible is if he brought a bag of glass with him, and crawl backwards sprinkling little shards of glass along the way. But hey, emotions, right?

Let's talk about another character: Norman. A lot of his character arc revolves around his virtual reality glasses. As a side effect of using them, he's losing grips on reality. This is kind of an interesting concept honestly, but shoving it into a modern-day murder mystery just doesn't work. Since there's three other playable characters, this subplot isn't fleshed out nearly enough, and the little that's there actually distracts from the narrative. It's a lose-lose situation.

Completely out-of-place cyberpunk elements aside, isn't it a bit odd that no finds Norman odd? Does the FBI not conduct drug tests, or are they the ones supplying him with Triptocaine? This part of the game needed a lot more exposition, either way.

If Ethan fails to escape the police after the Lizard Trial, Ethan is detained and beaten, even though again, there's no evidence against him. He is eventually broken out by a sympathetic Norman. It strikes me as a bit odd how easily he can facilitate the escape of a high-profile suspect (though he shouldn't be). Is it really so easy for such a notorious person to walk straight out of a police station? And how does no one suspect Norman, when he was the last person with him? Oh wait, this is the same police department that can't figure out Scott is the Origami Killer.

More questions are raised in a later Jayden chapter. If the player looks in the acid bath, they'll find the remains of a police officer. Wait, what? Was no investigation conducted? If a police officer goes missing, don't you think investigators should, you know... investigate? A great place to start would be his last known location, where his corpse is literally just floating around.

In fact, It's obvious David Cage doesn't know anything about police procedure. Throughout the latter half of the game, Ethan finds himself the target of a citywide manhunt. Why? Because of the questionable hearsay about dreams from his ex-wife and nonsensical babble from a psychiatrist that was beaten by a police officer. Both of these things are completely circumstantial, and neither would get any Man convicted in the United States. Also, if there's been more than half a dozen of these murders, what do you suppose the odds are he'd have an alibi?

So in spite of the lack of evidence against our protagonist, they still manage to declare him the killer, start a manhunt, put him in jail, get SWAT to chase him down, and eventually gun him down (provided no one else makes it to the warehouse). Here's the thing David. Suspects are questioned, not shot. Even if the culprit is a corrupt cop, there's no way he would ever have a desk to go back to after ordering a wall of cops to shoot an innocent, unarmed civilian without warning.

Another interesting titbit to ponder: why don't any of the mothers of the victims give those strange boxes and letters to the police? You know, the ones filled with origami figures? And if they did give them to the police, they should still be in their possession, because the case file is still open.

One last thing of note about the police. They're blind. Even whilst Scott and Norman duke it out on the top of a conveyor belt high in the air, exchanging blows and throwing TVs at each other, not a single officer spots them? Not even the ones in the helicopter? No wonder the Origami Killer got away with so many murderers. These people have the worst police department ever!

But wait, there's more! I'm not done talking about America's finest just yet. Why is it that they manage to be constantly on the heels of Ethan Mars (a man they've yet to even question), but they're nowhere to be found when gunshots ring out? The scene in Hassan's shop is kind of short, so I'll let that slide, but what about The Shark trial? Even though half a dozen shotgun blasts ring out (which are known for being quite loud) in an apartment building, which can be followed by a handgun shot, not a single officer arrives on the scene. No one calls the police in in the time frame between the first shot fired and Ethan leaving? Are you serious? But okay. Maybe it's just a bad neighbourhood. I'm willing to let this slide as well.

Even if these two scenes are forgiveable, they're dwarfed by the stupidity of Shelby's rampage in the Kramer mansion. After crashing a car into shooting a couple dozen people with his magical un-silenced handgun that never needs to be reloaded, he just walks away, unpunished. This cannot be rationalised, due to the sheer length of the scene. He even takes his time to have a nice long chat with his buddy Kramer. Meanwhile, even after a prolonged gunfight in the mansion of an extremely affluent and influential business man, the police are nowhere to be seen!

Scott's stupidity doesn't stop there. It would seem that Cage caught Shyamalan Syndrome, putting ridiculous plot twists over logic and proper storytelling. The reveal that Scott is actually the Origami Killer has a more botched execution than Ginggaew Lorsoungnern. First, the unreliable narrator trick doesn't really work when the game includes a feature that allows you to listen to the thoughts of the playable characters. Isn't it really convenient that this serial killer rarely ever thinks about the fact that he's a serial killer? Without a doubt, this is one of, if not the worst example of an unreliable narrator.

However, he does think about them, in a roundabout way. This is much more insulting, as he knows what he's doing, and they game just outright lies to the player again and again. Had we known from the beginning that Scott was the Origami Killer, these plot holes wouldn't exist, and it would have added an actual sense of dramatic irony.

This isn't just poorly executed. It's downright insulting. At best, it insults the intelligence of the audience. It outright lies all for the sake of some stupid plot twist. Let's not forget that Scott murders Manfred, then calls the police on himself. Why tie yourself to the crime? Why would you call the cops before you cleaned up your prints? This entire scene, along with the ridiculous reveal, undermine the "mystery" of the game. Being able to read your character's thoughts was a good idea, and having a playable character be the antagonist was an interesting concept. Sadly, like everything else in this game, the execution is utterly botched.

Later in the game, he traps Madison in his burning apartment building, so she can go up in smoke with the rest of the evidence. There's only one problem with this. The police are sure to come knocking when they find Madison's charred corpse in his old apartment. Seriously, how does he even last this long? Scott can kill half a dozen children, murder Manfred, Madison, and Norman, and gun down a couple dozen bodyguards in a high-end mansion. He can leave prints at the scene of one of those crimes, which is more evidence than they ever find against Ethan Mars, yet the force just lets him walk right out. Despite all of this, he can still get off Scott-free (sorry). I don't care what the trophy says, that isn't the "perfect crime" at all. Scott Shelby is the worst serial killer in history, and the only reason he's survived so long is because he's being perused by the worst police department in history.

Let's go back to our protagonist for a bit. After completing The Shark, Madison finds a perturbed Ethan at the Crossroads Motel. What can follow is the most awkward, contrived, and downright cringe-worthy romance scenes of all time.

Most games cut to black or move the camera away from characters as soon as things get hot. This is done for a reason. This is because kissing, and physical contact in general, is complicated when it comes to animation. I'm not saying it can't be done, but Heavy Rain flops here almost as bad as it does with its awful voice acting.

The hilariously stupid "sex" scene aside, it's the implications of this scene that's irksome. If your only surviving son has been captured by and is mere hours from death, you wouldn't get much sleep. For all his dedication, Ethan seems to completely forget his son is about to die. Hey Ethan! Remember how your son is drowning in rainwater, cold and alone in the captivity of a deranged serial killer? Yeah, me neither. Go ahead and do her. Your dying son can wait. No rush.

Things get even more ridiculous the morning after. It only makes sense that one of the worst sex scenes in the history of the medium is followed by the most ridiculous chase scene ever. Even though the police will gladly gun Ethan down in a later scene for absolutely no reason, they seem unable to draw any kind of firearm when chasing him down in the motel. Should the player choose to jump off the roof, Blake and the entire SWAT team sit and watch as their suspect walks to the nearest taxi and commits grand theft auto. They then continue to sit and watch as he drives away. Darn! It's too bad none of them have cars, helicopters, spike strips, or an entire police force or anything right?

And with zero explanation, they still somehow end up at the abandoned warehouse! How do they get there exactly? It seems unlikely that Norman would say anything to Blake, but he might. But what if he can't find it? Well, maybe they were able to track the taxi cab somehow. That's possible, right? No, wait, that makes no sense. If the police were smart enough to do something like that (they clearly aren't), wouldn't they catch up to him much earlier? Like, when he's parked and trying to figure out the address? Also, they never find him if he ends up at the wrong address. Well, one cop car does pass by, but he does just that. He doesn't even stop. Don't worry. It's not like the target of a manhunt was reported stealing a car matching the exact description of that one.

One could say that the stupidity of these cops is outweighed by Norman's sheer genius. Nahman Jahydahn is capable of following the most ridiculously convenient clues in the history of the murder mystery genre. Let's take a look at the string of "evidence" that can lead Norman to Shaun's location. Most notable is the gold watch. Using his sharp vision, he notices that his assailant is wearing a gold watch. He then makes the connection that some police officers get gold watches when they retire. Since no one else in the entire universe but retired cops can wear gold watches, he deduces that the killer is a retired police officer. This would have been fine as a small bit of foreshadowing, but as the crux of Norman's entire character arc, it just falls flat on its face.

He also tracks down where he lives using the receipts he had in his pocket from a local gas station. Y'know, because no one ever buys gas more than a half kilometre away from their home. Tangentially, there are WAY too many flower shops condensed in one location. Anyone else notice that?

Two more plot discrepancies arrive at the final scene. The first is if Ethan takes the poison. This magical vial of poison makes no sense. We're expected to believe that this liquid somehow kills you in exactly sixty minutes, and that you never feel a thing. As soon as sixty minutes is up, Ethan immediately rejoices, reinforcing the stupidity of the protagonist and the plot. That's not how poison works.

If Ethan makes it there alone, the Origami Killer just lets him go, provided he passed the trials. Fair enough, he got what we wanted; he found a father who loves his son. However, if someone else makes it there, he pulls a gun on Ethan as he's saving his son. Why? This makes absolutely no sense. Why does he want to kill Ethan all of the sudden, when he doesn't want to when no one else shows up? Well, the reason is because David Cage wanted to add more drama and less logic to the climax. If no one else shows up, the Origami Killer is cool with Ethan. If someone does, he magically decides he should kill Ethan, even though he doesn't know anyone else is there. Why? Because it's dramatic! This pretty much sums up Heavy Rain in a nutshell. Inconsistent character motives and ham-fisted drama thrown in without any regard for storytelling.

Oh, and did I mention how screwed up the entire timeline is? The website seems to think Shelby is 45 years old, whereas two contradicting in-game sources place him at 44 and the more likely 48. If it wasn't bad enough that the story contradicted himself, it should be noted that there's no way he could have been more than 10 in the "Twins" and "Hold My Hand" chapters. So when you account for the fact that Sheppard died 30 years ago... that make him 18 in the flashbacks. That's not how math works.

David Cage once said that "We need to forget about video game rules — bosses, missions, game over, etc... are very old words of a very old language". If that statement isn't ludicrous on its own, it's made even worse by the fact that he's the one saying it. Even when he gets something right, I still have trouble siding with him. It's like having Michael Moore as your dietician.

This is why it bothers me so much that people love Heavy Rain. Not because they're opinions are different than mine, but because it drags this medium down. As a movie, this would have failed. As a novel, this would have failed. As anything else, the God-awful writing, script, and voice acting would have made it an abomination, and it is an abomination. It's an interactive drama with a horrible plot. The story is at the centre of the entire experience, and it's completely corrupt to the core. It's characters are all paper-thin clichés designed to tug at your heart strings, the "plot" is a farce, and the voice acting ranges from bad to ear-bleeding.

Heavy Rain isn't a good game, and it's certainly not a good story; it’s a rough draft, and a bad one at that.

Given the amount of exposure I've had to Divekick, it seems inevitable that I would have bought it. What I wasn't sure of though, was whether or not I'd like it. Despite my salt and fighting game ineptitude, I came away with a sense of satisfaction, and will likely come back to it very soon.

Divekick started as a joke: what if you made a fighting game with two buttons? This joke has since grown, becoming a clever deconstruction of the fighting game genre, and it does hold up. Divekick proves that you don't need to memorise mind-numbing combos to have a good fighting game. It's all about precision, positioning, and of course, the mind games. This is a game that gives your mind more of a workout than you're fingers. Quick-thinking is the key to victory, and mashing buttons wildly is guaranteed to end in frustration.

What makes Divekick's mechanics (or lack thereof) work is its simplicity and accessibility. Despite shedding the unintelligible depth of most fighting games, it still manages to be addicting. The rounds go by fast; the maximum time limit is twenty seconds, and every attack is a one-hit knockout. It's a fighting game boiled down to those clutch moments, making every fight feel epic. If time runs low, the winner is decided by whomever is closer to the line (draws only occur in the case of both players being of equal distance from the line or in the event of a double K.O.). This might sound kind of arbitrary, but it makes for an entertaining scramble, as players try to position themselves to the centre of the stage without getting kicked. It's in this desperation that you can strike, further enforcing the "positioning" and "mind games" angle.

All of this makes for a game that you'll always want to play one more round of. The short length of the matches makes it easy to get into, especially when you're salty. When hanging out with friends, this can lead to having a few hours of laughs. When playing online, it can lead to a bad KDR.

The background is entirely aesthetic, as it is in similar games (I say similar, but in truth there aren't any games like this one) such as Street Fighter and BlazBlue. However, the characters aren't merely for show. They all approach the diving and kicking gameplay a little differently. Dive and Kick are your Ken and Ryu characters, both of whom are simple, but slightly different in small ways. Them there's S-Kill, who teleports instead of jumping. Of course, there's always Kenny, who is a random character each round, making him impossible to properly counter. My favourite however, is the storm himself, Zubaz. Instead of traditional kicks, he moves through the air (players can control the trajectory by holding down the dive button) and leaves behind a trail of lightning that will K.O. the enemy instead, adding a completely new dimension when playing as him. You have to think one move ahead of your opponent, trapping them in your trail. Jefailey is a cross between Zangief and Dan, moving more slowly than the other characters, and dropkicking instead of truly divekicking. When he wins, his head gets bigger, making him easier to hit. The roster certainly feels diverse, which is saying a lot for a game with two buttons.

There's more to the game than that however, each character can build a super gauge which is activated by holding both buttons in the air simultaneously. Each character has two super: one in the air and one on the ground. Another interesting feature that switches things up is the concussion mechanic. If you score a headshot on the opposing player, they will be "concussed" and will move more slowly for a short period of time.

In addition, players can also use gems, of which there are four. The first three increase either diving, kicking, or super meter fill rate by 10%. In addition to those three, there's the YOLO gem, which increases all three by 30%, but puts the player in a state of self-imposed sudden death, meaning if you get kicked even once, you lose the match. That might sound foolish, but then again, that's what I told my friend before he cleared me Redacted.

Needless to say, we're not friends anymore.

If it seems like I'm ignoring single player, it's because Divekick does as well. The only single player option available is the arcade mode, which takes the player through that character's story, which is mostly parody. However, versus isn't even available unless you have a second controller available, meaning you can't set up quick matches with the AI. There aren't any challenges or trials, either. Though it isn't a huge deal, I would have also liked to be able to pick my stage when playing some of the modes. My biggest complaint about Divekick is simply its lack of features. It feels bare bones compared to other games, and I'm not just talking about the button layout. If you find online more frustrating than fun, and you don't have a lot of friends around who want to dive and/or kick with you, you'll likely get bored quick. That said, I've had a lot of fun online, even though I've lost every game I've played. The single player mode could use a bit of work, and a few extra features, but for those with a few close friends, versus mode is the perfect fighting game for playing with a few friends and a few beers. That's how good Divekick is. It's still incredibly fun to play even when you're drunk.

Especially when you're drunk.

For fighting game fans, this comes highly recommended. Despite its simplicity, it feels like a game made for the fighting game community, who will get all the jokes. This game references everything from Street Fighter to Sp00ky, from Weaponlord to Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. For a lot of people, these jokes will go straight over their heads, but the wacky characters and zaniness of the overall game will still make non-fighting game fans laugh. For those who can't get into them, due to the steep learning curve involved in so many of these types of games, Divekick is a relatively simple game that removes the needless complexity without sacrificing what makes fighting games so great. It boils them down to their most essential components, creating a game that makes every match feel like a clutch moment.
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Games are an interactive medium. It's a medium defined by how you interact with it, and still games regularly employ periods of non-interactive entertainment akin to movies, commonly referred to as "cutscenes" or "cinematics". Many games feature cinematic cutscenes on par with most Hollywood movies. Of course, games aren't movies, right? Well, games are a lot like movies, and borrow heavily from them, so it's not entirely correct to say "games aren't movies". Rather, they branch off from movies whilst adding another dimension to its structure, and we should understand that distinction.

Many reject games like The Walking Dead and Metal Gear Solid 4 as games, because they are seen as "interactive movies" or "experiences", but not games. I believe video games can be both however, and shunning such titles narrows the scope of the medium, weakening it as a whole. If a game takes control from the player too often, this can and should be criticised, but it isn't grounds to revoke a title's status as a "video game". Titles like Max Payne 3 and Metal Gear Solid 4 take control out of the player's hands a little too often, and that can be jarring. Still, I'm hesitant to say these aren't games, I just think they fail to capitalise on what makes a game such a fantastic experience over a movie. That distinction is important to make. These are still video games, they're just flawed.

Even though games are meant to be interactive, "cinematic" is still a selling point for a lot of games, especially the triple 'A' titles. Is "cinematic" a bad thing? Well, if Webster-Merriam is to be believed, the word "cinematic" means "of, relating to, suggestive of, or suitable for motion pictures or the filming of motion pictures" or simply "filmed and presented as a motion picture". Since games aren't movies, could this be seen as a bad thing? That depends on context and execution. Let's use the big dumb chase from act two of Metal Gear Solid 4 as an example. Here, the player is involved in a motorcycle chase through the streets of a nondescript Eastern European city. When the player isn't aiming, the camera reverts to a flashy cinematic angle, which is fun to watch as a viewer, but jarring as a player. This scene is oversimplified, and doesn't require a lot of skill to complete. It feels dumbed-down all for the sake of flashy presentation, and I'm not entirely sure you have to sacrifice one for the other.

Set-pieces don't all have to be interactive cutscenes. It's important to remember that danger of failure and death raises the stakes and ultimately makes the experience more satisfying. Knowing I narrowly avoided a grisly demise by own skill is far more satisfying than having my hand held through a narrow corridor of flashy explosions and close calls. During the famous train-chase in Uncharted 2, a helicopter comes in to ruin your day. Along the way, it blows up the train cars you're riding, forcing you to move fast. There are short cinematic moments in which the camera pans and Drake does something cool, like stick a landing, but they're there to enhance the overall presentation, and never really get in the way. In general, this could be applied to the entire Uncharted series. Basically, the rule of thumb with these moments is to make them short and sweet.

Earlier, I mentioned "interactive cutscenes". These are unlike regular cinematics in that the player is involved in some way. However, these are often very simple, and usually not a lot effort it required; so long as the player puts in minimal participation, they will progress. These are often labelled as "cutscenes in disguise" due to their lack of interactivity, but I think that, if handled properly, they can be an effective way of engaging players. There's nothing inherently wrong with simplicity. In fact, having simpler or easier portions of your game can come as a relief, and help to properly pace the experience.

The simple act of pressing a button is enough to engage the player, because in the end, they still initiated the action, no matter how simple it is. Without going too deep into spoiler territory, I'll refer to the end of Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater and the emotional climax of the third episode of The Walking Dead: The Game, season one. In both instances, the player is forced to mercy kill someone. However, instead of watching this unfold, the game forces the player to do it, driving home that final dimension of storytelling: gameplay. Though simple, this is an effective means of making the player feel like they are truly a a part of the experience.

Interactive cutscenes can be used to emotionally engage the player moreso than a simple cutscene. Despite its over-reliance on cutscenes, Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots really nails it with its famous microwave corridor sequence. During this interactive segment, Snake must crawl through a corridor radiating deadly microwaves, obviously. This challenge pushes Old Snake to the limits of his mental and physical capacity. Of course, we don't just watch this happen. In order to push themselves through, the player must mash the "triangle" button to progress. Doing so can wear out one's fingers, which helps get across Solid Snake's struggle, in a very small and subtle way.

"Quick Time Events" or "Power Struggles" are the distant, dynamic cousin of interactive cutscenes. I know QTEs get a bad rap, but they aren't all bad. In fact, they can actually be used to good effective. Overusing them, or sticking them where they don't belong, can cause them to become a crutch, and one that will frustrate the player more than anything else.

Compare Resident Evil 4 to Resident Evil 6. In the case of the former, the player must waggle the analogue stick and mash certain buttons in situations that require Leon to exert a lot of force. Doing this so suddenly creates a great deal of tension, as players try to physically overcome their opponent or their environment. Using this sparingly can stimulate the struggles of the player character. The latter example, Resident Evil 6, fails in this regard, asking the player to preform these simplistic, menial button-presses far too often. The difference here is that, with the former, "Quick Time Events" were used to complement the gameplay. In the case of the latter, they served as a substitute for it.

Many are quick to brush QTEs aside, but they have their place. In God of War, this is done to complement the combat. After defeating say, a Minotaur, the player gets the simple joy of ripping off their horns, with the mashing simulating a sense of struggle and triumph. In episode two of The Walking Dead, the player can overcome an enemy and end up on top of them, where they are allowed to deal a flurry of blows to their opponent. By making the player press a button for every punch, they feel more in control of these actions, and they gain a greater sense of agency in the game world, which makes this all the more cathartic.

The Last of Us is a game manages to execute all of these reasonably well. There is a slow crawl in which an injured Joel must struggle to escape a ruined building under pursuit, which is analogous to the aforementioned microwave corridor sequence. There are also plenty of power struggles, all of which are very simple, but actually make the game more tense despite their simplicity. In addition, there are also interactive cutscenes, though these aren't used often. The first time this technique is used, Joel is being drowned by a Hunter. This cutscene is unwinnable, and Joel is ultimately saved by Ellie. Though that might sound pointless, it actually goes a long way to convey Joel's feeling of helplessness and struggle to the player. This is how an interactive cutscene should be done, to immerse and engage the player in a meaningful way that cannot be done through simply watching.

These things are all cinematic by nature. As gaming is a relatively young medium, some may be self-conscious about the use of anything that resembles a different form of art. In this respect, they will claim that cutscenes are a bad thing, because that makes them more like movies. However, consider this: is it wrong for text to appear on-screen in a movie? No, though it shouldn't be overused. Having a couple of sentences appear on-screen at a certain points can be utilised for dramatic effect (take the end of Paranormal Activity for example), and all of the Star Wars movies start out with a text crawl. These things are borrowed from written mediums, but that doesn't make these movies "interactive books". By that same token, whilst some might complain that a game relies on cutscenes, they probably don't have any problem with written notes and files in their game. Games combine the effectiveness of various artistic media to great affect. There's a time for all of these things, provided the developer knows how to balance them all. The player can find time to read a short story and watch a movie in between epic battles and grand adventures.

Games like The Walking Dead and Mass Effect don’t have this same problem, since their "cutscenes" are still very much interactive. Though you may not be as involved or as in control in the game, you are still interacting with it in a meaningful way. People who say "The Walking Dead isn't a game because "it’s just a bunch of cutscenes" are really kind of missing the point. Not every part of a game has to be interactive in every facet of its existence, and every game has highs and lows in terms of interactivity. These games do not have a rigid narrative, so they let the player direct the direction of the story. Games like Uncharted 2, The Last of Us, Bulletstorm, and InFamous 2, let the player handle the action, whilst most of the character and plot development (mostly handled through cut scenes in which the characters simply engage in dialogue and little else) is done through non-interactive cutscenes. Since a rigid narrative doesn't allow the player to alter the story in any way, displaying these dialogue exchanges in a more cinematic format makes the overall experience more entertaining. Either way, both methods are equally valid methods of giving the player a sense of agency.

If you’re going for a rigid narrative, a cutscene can be the most effective way to progress the plot. Forcing the player to slow down to a crawl and listen to dialogue can feel restrictive, so it may be best to do these things in a completely non-interactive way. At first, you might think that telling the player to put their controller down and simply watch something might seem even worse, but if these scenes are well-directed, and you don’t go overboard, the player will view it as a reward, and a moment of rest. Here, it’s perfectly fine to borrow from movies. Despite what people say, it’s okay to have cinematic qualities in a video game. A game isn’t a movie, true, but parts of it can be.

Interaction is ultimately what defines this medium. However, it’s not the only defining characteristic. Games can deliver a wide range of interactive experiences, with highs and lows in terms of player input. It’s important to vary the experience, since games are so multi-faceted by their nature. Are cutscenes a crutch? They can be, but they aren’t an inherent evil. All video games are interactive, some more than others, and carefully deciding when player input is or isn’t required can make any game a much richer experience.

The Last of Us released recently and has since garnered critical acclaim, earning perfect scores from critics across the board. One thing the game really nails is its storytelling, which I've praised highly. Specifically, I want to talk about one facet of this game's pitch-perfect writing: the black-and-whiteness. In a medium inundated with binary "good" and "evil" conflicts, it's good to see a game that leaves us a little unsure as to who's right and who's wrong, and whether or not we're doing the right thing.

Games like BioShock and InFamous paint good and evil as two radically different extremes. You are either Ghandi, or you're Hitler. You're Mother Theresa, or you're Ted Bundy. There's no middle ground. There's no moral ambiguity. In some cases, good and evil are clearly listed with their respective labels, for the convenience of the player. Not so with The Last of Us. Though the player doesn't get any on screen prompts asking if they're a bad person or not, they feel a sense of uncertainty when the term "hero" is put in any kind of context. Joel is a character that I ultimately end up rooting for, but I'm never entirely certain if what he's doing is "right". This is a game that left me with a bad taste in my mouth, in a good way.
Please be warned, there are spoilers below.

The world Naughty Dog sets up is bleak, brutal, and unforgiving. After the prologue, the narrative skips ahead twenty years to show us what the world has become. Joel is now living in a quarantine zone under marshal law. It's easy to finger oppressive military regimes as wholly "evil", but the game does a fairly good job showing us why living under the military's scrutiny could be seen as a necessary evil. These circumstances are dire and, as the player later discovers, the alternative is an anarchic dog-eat-dog world. That doesn't mean the military can be viewed as heroes of the hour, however. Rations are running low, people are starving, and people aren't being treated fairly. Despite these struggles, people are still desperate to sneak into the city, as we see, and Tess comments on, after the first infected fight.

The story wastes no time in letting us know that Tess and Joel are "shitty people". They are survivors. They realise that sitting in line waiting for food isn't going to get them anywhere. In order to make it in their world, they have to break the rules, and a few bones. True, the military police are ruthless and aggressive, but so is Joel. The difference here is that the military is trying to hold on to the last semblance of societal order they have left, and Joel is just trying to stay alive. Joel hurts and even kills dozens of people, all for his own well-being. The framing of it doesn't make it feel outright evil, but looking back, it's hard to say what you do in the game is always justified. One of Joel's character flaws is his selfishness. Everything he does, at least at first, is for his own well-being. Later, when he cares for Ellie, he's doing so not for the greater good, but because of his emotional attachment.

Joel is characterised as a human being, with flaws and weaknesses, which ultimately makes him one of my favourite characters in this medium. From the get-go, we see how he would rather leave a family on the side of the road than risk harming coming to his daughter. That selfish attitude is only amplified as Joel spends twenty years hunting, killing, and looting. He's killed innocent people, but isn't that what it takes to survive? Maybe.

Based on this depiction of Joel, you might get the impression that he is unlikable. Thing is, he isn't. Naughty Dog did a superb job here nailing the characterisation of Joel. He's a character that is morally ambiguous at best and downright terrible at worst. At the same time however, the player can still feel perfectly fine playing as him, and rooting for him, because they can sympathise with him. Joel might do bad things, but what really matters is that we understand why he does those things.

Part of what makes Joel work as a character and a playable protagonist is how players understand his motives. The prologue shows us Joel's personal tragedy, which leads to the development of his character flaws. Joel has put up an emotional barrier between himself and others. It's clear he and Tess have an implied chemistry, but Joel won't allow it. He doesn't want to get attached to people, because he doesn't want to get hurt again. Joel and Ellie's journey isn't about saving the world or redeeming the human race. It's about Joel's emotional development, and how he learns to put his guard down, and learn to care again.

Caring for another human being is another character flaw. Joel's final decision, to save Ellie from the Fireflies, isn't necessarily done because it's the "right" thing to do. Joel does it because he cares too much for Ellie to let her go, no matter the cost. I know there are some who felt the game would have benefited from multiple endings, but I disagree. The rigidity of the narrative works well, because we have a clearly defined protagonist. I wasn't always sure if I agreed with his actions, and sometimes I almost felt a little guilty, but I never outright rejected a scenario, because everything Joel does fits with his character.

That isn't to say we couldn't have seen some element of player choice in this game, however. There is one small moment where a moral decision is left up to the player. When the player first encounters the trapped man (just outside the Boston QZ) with a broken mask, he begs Joel to kill him. Tess asks Joel what he thinks they should do. This is really just a quick tutorial to acclimatise the player to the shooting controls, but the player can simply walk away. I'm not saying the game is lacking in any respect, but I do feel that this could have been interesting had this been fleshed out some more. I would have loved to see a similar moment later in the campaign, when the player might be really hurting for ammunition or supplies. Finding a survivor in need of help could put the player's moral compass under strain, as they associate helping other people with a loss. In the future, I want to see more games that aren't afraid to punish players for doing the right thing.

Small, organic decisions such as these are fine, as I can understand the wiggle-room in our protagonist's characterisation. However, there is one set ending, and it works. It works not because it's the best possible outcome, but because we know why it happens. At the end of the game, Joel learns that the potential cure for mankind would come at the cost of Ellie's life. This isn't so clear-cut, however. Audio and text logs reveal that they've had other candidates, and that even though Marlene doesn't like the idea of killing Ellie, she does it because she believes it's for the good of mankind. Even though the Fireflies are basically freedom fighters, they cause dissent and chaos, and are willing to do anything to restore the old world, no matter the cost. Here, the player is asked to ponder if the ends justify the means. Regardless, Joel doesn't believe it does, and even if he did, he doesn't care. He only cares about Ellie.

What makes this so compelling is that there is no good and evil here. It's just different people doing different things, because they have different upbringings and motivations. Joel cares about Ellie so much that he's willing to risk letting the cure go just to save her. The framing helps players participate. Yes, Joel is going on a rampage, killing these people who could potentially bring humanity back from the brink, but they are also going to kill a little girl. However, Joel is doing this for his own selfish reasons. He's doing this because Ellie has become the new Sarah. She's become his surrogate daughter, and Joel is too weak to allow himself to lose another little girl. The fact that Joel carries her in his arms, much like the prologue of the game, punctuates this. Regardless, there's a lot to consider here. There's no guarantee that Ellie's death will grant us with a cure, and even then, there's no guarantee that we can pick up the pieces of society and put it back together again. There's a lot to consider here, which leaves us with a moral dilemma for us to ponder, instead of insight or an overall message.

In The Last of Us, notions of "good" and "evil" are cast aside, and replaced with characters and their motivations. Most games are afraid of giving us complex and morally ambiguous characters. Earlier, I said this game left me with a bad taste in my mouth, but in a good way. By that, I meant I was left a little unsure as to whether or not Joel's decision was justified. He possibly snuffed out humanity's last hope by going on a rampage, even going as far as to execute a doctor and an unarmed woman. There's a lingering doubt that hangs over the ending of this game, and that's what I like about it. There's no clear "good" guy here. Just characters and motivations.

Gaming has changed. It's no longer about art, expression, or fun. Games development, and its consumption of our cash, has become a well-oiled machine. Gaming has changed. ID tag gamers play ID tag games on ID tag consoles, use ID tag controllers. Everything is monitored, and kept under control. Gaming has changed. The age of games as art has become the age of control, all in the name of averting catastrophe from pirating and used games sales. and he who controls video games, controls the living room. Gaming has changed, when your console is under total control, gaming becomes routine.....

Hey all, it's me again. I thought I'd talk a bit about my fears for the future of the video game industry, and how the recent Xbox One unveiling has rekindled those fears. In fact, Microsoft has done a pretty excellent job of taking every gamer's worst fears and turning them into a reality. This is hardly a problem exclusive to Microsoft, however. As short-sighted corporations compromise the artistic integrity of developers and gouge their games to make a quick buck, it's the consumer who will have to pay in a few years down the line.

Put a cartridge into your old SNES or N64. You might have to blow on it a bit, but odds are, if you've been taking care of your console, it's still working. When you boot it up, you aren't greeted with a message saying "sorry, our servers are busy, try again". You just get in and play your game, the one you own. It's as simple as that. Right down to the durable hardware, these games were built to last. 

Compare this to the wonders of modern-day gaming. AAA releases almost always ship with several special editions, meaning you could end up blocked off from certain in-game content unless you buy from multiple major retailers at once. Entire portions of our games are being sectioned off and sold to us separately in the form of day-one DLC and online passes. Some games have content that a lot of players will never experience, because they did the smart thing and chose not to pre-order. Sadly, things only get worse from there. In order to better monitor their customers and control their products post-purchase, publishers have adopted the idea of forcing you to be online... to play offline. 

Some simply shrug off Microsoft's Internet requirement because they think everyone has Internet. Truthfully, not everyone does. It's not fair to completely disregard that demographic entirely by saying they don't deserve to use the console at all simply because it isn't connected to the Internet all the time. When I first got my PS3, I couldn't connect to the Internet with my set-up at the time. I eventually got Internet, but had my console been incapable of performing its primary function without it, I wouldn't have bought it.

To further elaborate on "always online", I think most people have this misconception wherein they believe simply having an Internet connection is enough. Sadly, there's two sides to this problem. We're still at the whim of our Internet provider. Your Internet will go down, and when it does, you can't play. Sometimes this will only be for a few hours, sometimes for a day or two, but when that happens, you're not allowed to use your property. As the SimCity launch and PSN Outage has shown us, their servers won't always be up either. You know, if there's one good thing I can say about the PSN Outage, It'd be that my console wasn't rendered inoperable for the entire duration of that fiasco. We are at the whim of both Microsoft and our Internet provider. Essentially, you only play your games when they say it's okay. That's not right.

Another problem this poses is that it puts up another barricade between the player and their games. When you buy a new game, you have to input a code if you want to play online. Then, you have to install a patch (or patches) of varying length, because it's become acceptable to ship games in a near-broken condition. These things are annoying, and do require an Internet connection, but without one, you can simply forgo those things and enjoy your single player game. Now Microsoft has come in and made this worse. Now you'll have to log in and register your game, just to make sure you aren't a filthy pirate or worse... borrowing the game from a friend. The first two things are annoying, but negligible. This new thing however, locks you out of the game entirely.

Apologists might cite multiplayer games and MMO’s as examples of why an always-online policy is perfectly acceptable, but this logic is severely flawed. Those games are multiplayer. When the servers shut down, it's a shame, but there's no way around that. The problem we face is different. When the servers for the original Xbox went down, it was a real shame that people couldn't frag and teabag each other in the first two Halo games. Of course, they are both great games, and one can still enjoy the campaign to this day. Now imagine if they took the single player along with it. Not only would that suck, it'd be unjustified. Multiplayer servers are shut down because they can't justify keeping them up with small user bases. A single player game doesn't (or should I say, shouldn't) need a connection, and thus can be played on your own terms, until the end of time, for all they care. The inherent difference here is that the parts of the games that needed a connection, whereas single player games do not. Let me give you an example of a game made better by multiplayer that isn't forced on you: Dark Souls. Despite being a single player game, there are multiplayer aspects seamlessly woven in. These features being present don't hinder the single player at all, and if you aren't connected at the time, those features are obviously inaccessible, as they need an Internet connection by their nature. However, single player doesn't need Internet, and it never will. The Xbox One wants to take the industry a step back by imposing an all-or-nothing restriction on all their games.

Consider this. Since Microsoft wants to control what I can do with my games and when I can play them, shouldn't we have the right to tell Microsoft how and when to spend the money we gave them? No, because the transaction is over. We own the product, they get our money. That’s how it works. This isn't a loan.

This does not enhance the console. In fact, instead of creating a console With potential, Microsoft has decided to take the low road and create a console with more restrictions than features. Kinect could have been a cool addition, but that's overshadowed by the fact that you aren't allowed to play your games without it. Notice I didn't say you couldn't. You aren't allowed, because Microsoft put that arbitrary limitation there. This is a console held back not by technological limitations, but greed. Internet access is great for enhancing your experience, but again, forcing it only causes your console to become weaker. Give us innovative online features, but at the same time, understand that Internet access isn't a guaranteed constant, so requiring it will only weaken your console in the long run.

Contrary to common belief, not everyone has Internet readily available to their console. Shrugging it off by saying “everyone has Internet” displays an egregious amount of wilful ignorance that is simply unfair to those people. Ask yourself: what do we as consumers gain from this, and does it really merit excluding a sizeable portion of the fanbase and punishing the rest?

Simply “having” online isn't enough. When your Internet goes down (and it will, trust me), you shouldn't be forbidden from using your property. When Microsoft’s servers go down (and they will, trust me), the consumer shouldn't be the one getting punished. When Microsoft’s fails to hold up their end of the bargain, we have to suffer another “Error 37”, only this time, on a console-wide scale.

An always online console would mean that console would essentially become dead in matter of years. Once they have your money, they don’t need to remove this needless restriction. Why should they? They clearly don’t care about their fans or their public reception, so I see no reason for them to remove this. Of course, this is long-term, so buying this console means putting a ridiculous amount of faith into an amoral corporation that treats you like a criminal instead of a customer. Why put trust in Microsoft, when they don’t trust you enough to play your own games without asking their permission first on a daily basis? Something to think about.