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7:26 PM on 08.31.2015

Metal Gear and Me

Not many game franchises mean much to me. I blow through games quickly and tend to forget them. As I've grown older, my skill has gotten better and I just have a natural tendency to blitz through games.

Some games buck that trend. Zelda, Mario, Souls, Yakuza; these games are so well made and intriguing that I actively look for each facet of them. I want to experience every minute detail they contain.

Then, there is Metal Gear Solid. There hasn't been many other games that have echoed different areas of my life. My first taste of MGS was with a PS1 demo disc, but I didn't get into the games until the PS2 and MGS2.

I do still remember playing the living hell out of the MGS demo with my sister. We thought it was so expansive and daunting. We were scared to proceed, but interested in what the game held. The graphics were gorgeous and the atmosphere was second to none.

Still, I never did get MGS on PS1. I either was too disinterested in the PS1 (being raised a Nintendo kid) or just plain forgot about it. Whatever the case, when I entered middle school, I found myself without many a friend.

I'm Otacon in this picture. Dave was in love with Snake's name being David.

I met a kid named Dave would introduced me to a lot of great games. Unreal Tournament, Neverwinter Nights and Metal Gear Solid. The first time I hung out with him, he beat MGS in an hour. He knew every inch of Shadow Moses and was able to show me exactly what was so special about the game.

It looked absolutely incredible. I didn't realize that action games could be so in-depth and cinematic. While I didn't actually catch any of the story (since he skipped every scene), I loved the way the bosses were set up and how the game focused on an espionage story.

At that point, I did finally want the game. What prevented me from taking the plunge was the announcement of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. I was a bit of a graphics whore back in the day and that game was easily the best looking game on the market.

I was determined to get it. I tried buffering as many videos as I could online (I had dial-up!!!), but I mostly fell in love with the sound effects. I remember finding a theme for Windows 98 that augmented the task bar to look like MGS font and included every codec sound effect.

Anyway, this was around the time I started to get into reading reviews. I had found IGN64 when I was younger, but my internet access was so limited that I didn't really frequent the site. In 2001, things were picking up a bit, speed-wise.

I favorited IGN and Gamespy and looked to them for coverage on every game. MGS 2 just happened to be the biggest damn thing in the world, so I was ingesting every bit of info I could. When it was announced that a demo would come with Zone of the Enders, I waited patiently to get that game.

While it wasn't a bad game (not great, either), I spent more time with the MGS 2 demo then any human should. I had beaten every difficulty level and found every stupid little secret. I was so blown away by how detailed the "Tanker" was. I needed to know what came next.

At that age, I wasn't ready for the bombshell Kojima would drop on us. I never had an issue with Raiden (seeing as how MGS 2 was my first Metal Gear), but I couldn't understand what the plotline was about. I thought the ending was anti-climactic (it was written in the IGN review!!!) and I was angered that the plotline was mostly mumbo jumbo.

Still, I had enjoyed the gameplay enough to get interested in the series. While I still didn't end up grabbing MGS on PS1, I did catch wind of Nintendo doing a remake of the first game. Since I liked the improved AI and mechanics from MGS 2, I figured getting the first game on the same engine would be for me.

You really didn't mind me? Huh....

While it took a few years to come out, I had spent time online playing Unreal Tournament 2003 and meeting some nice people. The best of those were two younger girls named Mai and Kim. I grew attached to them, despite our distance, and I spent a lot of my time fantasizing about them.

Flash to when Twin Snakes was released and I was now in high school. During my biology class, we began to learn about the human Genome project. Much to my surprised, a lot of the plotline in Metal Gear Solid tackles ideas about how the human Genome can be manipulated.

There was also the curious case of a voice actress having the name Kim Mai Guest. I saw these things as fate giving me hints. There was no way this was purely coincidence. Metal Gear knew exactly who I was and what I was doing.

Hyperbole aside, I really fell in love with the characterization of Snake and his struggles against FOXHOUND. I loved the cutscenes as a child and my growing fascination with Japanese culture and Eastern philosophy seemed to hit a fever pitch.

After completing Twin Snakes, I was dedicated to the series. I didn't want to miss anything else that came out. I wanted more Solid Snake. Learning that Metal Gear Solid 3 was just around the corner, I was ecstatic. How lucky was I to have 2 Metal Gear games in one year?

Oddly, though, that Winter didn't go like I had originally thought. I had been a pretty bad kid in high school. I was falling in with a bad crowd and doing really idiotic things. I had become a thief and was constantly getting suspended. I was treating my own family like shit and manipulating teachers into letting me escape class.

So at the end of sophomore year (in 2004), I had changed schools. I had a growing depression that I was unaware of and ignored. I just felt miserable when I walked into this new school. I spent the first few months before winter break basically alone.

People were interested as hell on my first day and then quickly brushed me under the rug. It was hard to me to come to terms with being an "outcast" and not bonding with anyone. So when Christmas came along, I was gifted two games; Metal Gear Solid 3 and Metroid Prime 2.

Returning after New Years is where my life changed a bit. I had met my current best friend, Jim, at lunch. I'm not quite sure how we managed to get in touch, but our chance meeting was met with lots of discussion about games and music.

Jim's favorite series of all time happened to be Metal Gear Solid. When I told him I had yet to play 3, despite owning it, he told me to immediately do it. He was so infatuated with the game that he didn't understand how I let it slide past me.

Ch-chow!

I still tell him to this day that if he were a Metroid fan, I would have been more inclined to play that series. I didn't want to let my new friend down, so I dove into MGS 3. At first, I hated the game damn. Kojima's decision to stick with the old camera style didn't mesh with how much more expanded the game was.

After breaking a controller in rage and screaming a lot, I kept playing. I forced myself through those opening hours. I wanted to make sure I had something to bond with this kid over. Sure enough, after about an hour and a half, I was enjoying myself.

I also found myself bonding immensely with Naked Snake. The story of the birth of Big Boss seemed to resonate more with me. While Solid Snake was cool, Big Boss had actual emotion. He had talent, skill and passion. He was also a bit of a klutz.

Instead of following in the footsteps of Solid Snake, Kojima decided to flesh Big Boss out more as a human. I understand, now, that this was all deliberate, but at that point, I had never seen a protagonist like this.

My own sadness and misery were paralleled by Big Boss. He had lost everything he ever loved in the world. Worse still, he was put in charge of ending it. The Boss was so brave in the face of absolute death; I wondered why I couldn't be the same way.

After finishing MGS 3, I was in love. I loved the entire experience. It quickly became one of my favorite games ever. It also cemented a friendship that still exists. Metal Gear grew from being the cool, new, flashy series to something more personal for me.

I could just cry right now...

Ever since 2004, I began to take gaming more seriously. I was no longer playing solely for joy. Now I got into how reviewers processed information and what qualities of game design I enjoyed.

I dug deeper into why I played so much and why I felt more attached to Japanese style narratives then American ones. This brought about a new found interest in Martial Arts cinema. This also brought me closer to Jim, who was a bring proponent of kung fu.

While college would see us part for a few years, we stayed in touch and kept similar interested. Music, films and games were what we loved. Every time we hung out, we'd talk about one or all of those.

College sort of mirrored my high school life. While I wasn't committing petty crimes, I was pretty alone. I had made some friends who seemed to bully me more then I liked, so after 2 years, I came back home.

This was in 2008 around the release of Grand Theft Auto IV. If anyone knows the history of Metal Gear, you should know that Metal Gear Solid 4 was on the horizon. Since I was back home and could hang out with Jim, I got to finally get a taste of what the PS3 had offered.

He obviously bought the game and invited me over to play it. Even though he had already finished it, he watched while I played. Under such close supervision, I made a bunch of mistakes, but I was floored with the quality that Kojima had on display.

Quality like a guy taking a dump in a garbage can.

Never had a game looked so damn realistic. The cutscenes were so flashy and over the top and the action was more manageable then previous entries; Metal Gear Solid 4 was everything a fan could have hoped for.

While I don't really care for the game, presently, that experience of playing it with Jim and seeing this whole new world of PS3 opened my mind to the possibilities of the next generation. I figured things could only get better from there.

In a lot of ways, they did. Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker was the next major installment in the series. When I learned it had co-op, I nearly cried. Jim and I could finally play the game together. We both loved Metal Gear and to be able to help each other made me overjoyed

The only problem was that I didn't own a PSP. Jim has a big problem with spending, so he actually had ended up with multiple PSPs after his trip to Japan. He also really loves collector's edition consoles, so the unveiling of a camo-themed PSP piqued his interest.

In addition to getting the collector's edition of the main game, Jim also got the camo-themed console. It came with Peace Walker, so we were set to play the game. I don't think I ever had as much fun playing co-op with him or anyone.

You guys ready to limbo?

I loved the increased emphasis on gameplay over story. I liked the neat comic panels that took the place of full motion cutscenes. I also loved the ridiculous extras and Monster Hunter missions. Peace Walker was a great game.

When the HD version came out, we beat it a second time. We even made sure to S Rank every mission. Our love of Metal Gear needed to be reflected in that Platinum trophy. I didn't want to stop until every small bit was vanquished.

Now we can skip ahead to the present. While Jim and I were super excited for Metal Gear Solid V, we didn't really play into the idea of Konami splitting the game up. When Ground Zeroes was released last year, we both took a pass on it. While we wanted to play it, we figured it would be better to just wait and get the entire experience.

Neither of us owned a PS4, either. We weren't about to shell out to get a single game (even if Ground Zeroes was on PS3), so we played the waiting game. This paid off as Konami announced a PC port for MGS V.

PC has always been our preferred platform, even if Metal Gear has had a terrible past on it. Seeing Ground Zeroes running on PC was incredibly tempting. We nearly plunged during the 2014 Steam Winter Sale, but the $20 price tag was still a bit high.

Earlier this year, a random sale saw Ground Zeroes dropped to $10. Without thinking, both of us quickly bought the game. We were both amazed at how many touches Kojima thought to add.

Games have had a huge problem escorting people and allowing you to shoot. MGS V not only lets you aim and crouch, but you can flat out sprint with hostages. You can lay on your back and fire any weapon you desire. There is a neat "reflex" mechanic that allows you to silence foes before an alarm goes off.

The control scheme is just so smooth. The scale of the island is massive. Ground Zeroes may not be long, but it is incredibly dense. It opens up so many possibilities that I can't believe other developers didn't tackle first.

In an industry going towards more linearity and scripted sequences, it's refreshing to see a game with near limitless freedom. You are basically put in a map, given a target and told to go. It's intimidating and exhilarating. It makes you feel like you are Big Boss.

Or like Solid Snake being Big Boss; either one.

Our memories or too fresh to really say if Ground Zeroes will stick with us, but we are both waiting with bated breath for Phantom Pain. Since this is going to be Kojima's last Metal Gear, both of us need to experience it.

Jim has even gone overboard and purchased both the Japanese and English collector's editions along with the Japanese themed console and a CE of Ground Zeroes. He is making sure that he does not miss the monumental conclusion to the Metal Gear saga.

And for me; I just want to know how the whole thing ends. What other facet of my current life will Metal Gear reflect? Each game has seen me create incredible friendships or strengthen my inner acceptance.

Without Metal Gear in my life, I wouldn't be half as engaged with gaming as I am. I wouldn't have found my best friend and I definitely wouldn't be a better person. I have Kojima to thank for that.

It will be sad to know that a true Metal Gear won't exist after V, but I'm ready to accept reality. All good things must come to an end and while I really hope MGS V doesn't echo the end of my life, I can guarantee it will be the end of a certain chapter of my life.

  read


11:07 PM on 08.23.2015

It's surprising to hear there is less dialog in Phantom Pain. That makes me really excited.

  read


10:13 PM on 08.23.2015

What's in a Character: Agent 47

There were some inaccuracies with my original post. I've rectified the information so that the plotlines are correct. Thanks goes to Rudorlf for pointing them out to me in a polite manner.

With yet another bomb of a video game movie out, I'm beginning to think Hollywood is picking the wrong games to adapt to film. When I heard of the first Hitman movie, I wondered how the hell it would even work as a film.

For starters, Agent 47 isn't really a character. He has an iconic style and is very precise, but he doesn't show much emotion or development. He is a link from which the player gets to enact their prowess. He exists solely so you don't have to get attached.

That is the basic premise behind his design. He is bald, white and of average build. He is a John Doe if there ever was one. What makes him work is that the game world built around him is incredibly detailed and fully interactive.

The Hitman series is more about how you, the player, approach a situation then how Agent 47 would do it. If you suck and just want to shoot everything in sight, you can. If you actually want to painstakingly follow NPCs and murder by numbers, you have the options and tools at your disposal.

Hollywood seems to think that 47 has something to develop, so I figured that we could take a look at his various incarnations to see if there ever was a chance of him becoming an interesting protagonist.

 

Hitman: Codename 47

The start of the Hitman series is actually rather bland. While it had some cool new technology in the way of rag-doll and cloth physics, the game was a bit of a mess. Sloppy controls, frequent crashes and unstable performance; Codename 47 felt rushed out to the market.

In more recent times, the game's issues have mostly been worked out, but it still remains a rather unremarkable game when placed against it's sequels. I suppose it is more faithful than Hitman: Absolution, but that game is basically a mess.

Anyway, Agent 47 doesn't really get much development in this game. From our actions, we learn he is super intelligent and very detached. His work is what he was bred to do (literally) and he is a master of his craft.

These aren't really personality traits more so than a skill set. I guess 47 is really angry; he does emote that much. Having a single characteristic doesn't really make for a compelling lead. Like I said above, 47 works because he is so bland.

I really love his suit and tie, but he is an efficient killer. There are no hairs on his head because that would leave traceable DNA. He wears a black suit to hide blood stains. He is always wearing gloves to not leave fingerprints (though knowing him, his fingerprints were burnt off long ago).

Even the end of the game doesn't really show off much. 47 kills his creator and doesn't shed a tear or even get too frustrated. It's just another day on the job for him. So is the way of a genetically altered super killer.

 

Hitman 2: Silent Assassin

Hitman 2 is where Eidos started to make this series worth a damn. I can accept that the first game was too ambitious for it's time, but to fail to improve for the sequel would have been a crime. That thankfully didn't happen and Hitman 2 became a genre staple.

Expanded levels with more choices then ever; better controls and smoother flow; smarter AI and greater detail to their path finding; Hitman 2 was an instant classic upon release in 2002.

Was anything done differently for the story? Yes, actually. Agent 47, apparently, had a desire to get out of the game. Faking his own death to get out of the agency, he is now a groundskeeper for a monastery in Sicily.

The plot kicks off when some thugs come and capture the father at the church. Their motive was getting 47's DNA to make their own super assassin. They leave a ransom note for 47 to collect an obscene amount of cash or else they will kill the father. 47 gets pulled back into a life he tried so desperately to escape.

It's a fantastic start to a game that has some great moments, but 47 remains a blank slate throughout. Even if we got a little bit of development during the introduction, nothing else of substance happens. Again, this works in the context of a videogame about killing people, but not so much in making a fascinating lead.

There are some moments where 47 gets in touch with his agency to get an update on the father and those do show a bit of concern on his part. He obviously feels guilty for getting an innocent person involved in his past. He should have been smarter then to think he could escape his rivals.

But other than fleeting moments, the game just ticks along until you kill everyone and get to a dramatic finale. It's a well executed and paced mission in which the thugs from the beginning storm the monastery looking for you and 47 has to stealth around to find equipment.

After you load up, you get to bring the lead to your foes. In a game focused on making you silent, it's cathartic to let lose and give it to some truly despicable people (then again, you could be a psychopath the whole game).

Killing everyone sees 47 saving the father and then giving up his peaceful life. He obviously isn't longed for a world where he doesn't assassinate. Whatever the agency had started, 47 is going to have to weather this burden until he can discover the real reason behind his existence.

 

Hitman: Contracts

Contracts is an interesting game. At the time of release, the game was seen as a bit disappointing following the stellar Hitman 2, but I believe the years have been kind to it. Hitman 2 has some wonky AI, even if it is an improvement over the original game.

Contracts is a lot more consistent with it's enemies. It also remakes some of the first game's missions in a much more refined engine. Getting to redo the assassination in China is beautiful.

The plot line is a bit convoluted, but it starts when 47 retreats to a secluded hotel room after being wounded. In typical Tarantino fashion, the game is starting from the end and working backwards.

47 ingests some pills and begins to hallucinate about his past. Mixed in with missions from the first game are some new levels. This game basically exists as a retelling of the first title. While I can't say I truly understand what the plot is about, the game is fun.

The level design remains vast and diverse and the improved AI makes for a more challenging and fair game then Hitman 2. The game takes a step back, plotwise, and focuses more on gameplay.

47 doesn't get a single hint of development in any facet. He's never really angry and he doesn't explain his feelings towards the past or his present predicament. You just experience a setting and are thrust into his shoes.

The final mission is mind-blowingly awesome (which seems to be a trend with the series). After that, 47 escape into the night and we are left to wait for the sequel. It's kind of a bummer, but whatever.

 

Hitman: Blood Money

Blood Money is, hands down, the best game in the series. While I once argued that Hitman 2 was the pinnacle, time hasn't been entirely kind to it. I'd rather take a game with more complex level design, better set-pieces and extremely proficient AI over what feels like random chance.

Blood Money seems to understand that 47 isn't really a two dimensional being, either. Missions in the earlier portion of the game give you incredibly detailed descriptions of your targets with all of their evil deeds being mentioned.

By the end of the game, your agency contact kind of gives up. You are basically told the target is well guarded and has a few habitual problems. No lecture about how evil they are or whether life is too good for them. You're a detached killer; why would any of that matter to you?

The narrative does at least try to set up some Bourne style intrigue. Apparently the plot in Contracts was more important then one would have believed. 47 was attempting to discover the location of his enemies and take them out.

Having failed at that, his contact at the agency, Diana, devises a plot to fool everyone. She poisons 47 with atropine lipstick and fakes his death. With 47 disposed of, the director of the CIA steps in to brag about his accomplishment and extract 47's DNA in a vein attempt to recreate him.

The game works in a similar fashion to Contracts in that the story is told through the eyes of his enemies. You play out levels that were basically heard second hand by the victim's survivors. It's really neat and the multitude of options makes for playthroughs that are rarely the same.

This game also sets up a sort of mystique about 47. His enemies believe him to be a mystical being with super human powers. He is cold, efficient, precise, brilliant and unrelenting. His targets will die; the question is just when.

We get the most vocal proclamation of 47's personality in Blood Money. When Diana "betrays" him, 47 lets out a, "YOU BITCH!" That is about it. Through that short exclamation, we can deduce that 47 trusted Diana. It's something, even if it's vague.

The finale, once again, is excellent. Diana kisses 47 with the antidote to his fake death and you rise off the cremation table to kill every last witness. I love how the series builds up to some dramatic climax and then delivers better then most action games.

With all of his enemies defeated, 47 is left with questions about why Diana had double crossed him. Unbeknownst to him, she was trying to protect him. Still, he isn't exactly happy and is looking for revenge.

 

Hitman: Absolution

I could go on about how much I loathe this game. I could detail about why I think it is a crappy action game and a terrible sequel to an excellent series. That isn't why I'm writing this blog.

I took the time to detail some of the reasons why I loved the series in the previous game descriptions, but Absolution doesn't deserve that. It's basically a failed attempt to make Hitman and 47 "modern."

With that said, his game is truly where Eidos tried to create a fully defined character for 47. I believe they failed, but that isn't to say there aren't moments where he is given clear motives for his actions and some characteristics to bounce off the scenes.

The game starts with Diana goes rogue from the agency. After the events of Blood Money, she reveals that the agency was corrupt. 47 apparently never got the memo, as he rejoins the agency under a new handler.

This man tasks 47 with killing Diana and bringing in the little girl that was with her. Upon pulling the trigger on Diana, 47 comes to a realization that he is being played (*nudge* *nudge*). 47 then defects from the agency and goes on a quest to figure out why this young girl is important.

There are a lot of Bourne Identity style twists and turns and the game loses a lot of focus as it goes on. Instead of making the central antagonist the shadowy agency, the story introduces some redneck by the name of Blake Dexter. He's wonderfully acted, but he's so unnecessary and goofy in terms of what Hitman is.

The series never really put much effort in establishing villains. That may sound insane for a series so focused on eliminating targets, but the deliberately ambiguous backgrounds to your foes is what made you truly feel like a hitman.

Learning the how and why to a person's actions kind of takes away from your severed connection to the game world. You aren't supposed to be more interested in what makes a bad guy tick. You're just tasked with finding them and killing them.

It's similar to how Grand Theft Auto V included a torture scene. It was purely for dramatic click-bait headlines, but it also tremendously impacted the effect GTA has. The game has never up close and personal about it's violence. Now this one scene came and made the game very intimate.

Anyway, 47 eventually goes through some ridiculous plot points (need to hit that shooting range!) and kills people for reasons unknown and eventually tortures some guy. You make a rudimentary choice that obviously shouldn't even exist (47 kills people for a living!) and then you proceed through more action set-pieces.

Somehow 47 makes a connection with the young girl and won't let anyone take her. It's basically the same thing with Kratos in God of War III and Pandora. There isn't much reason to have this tertiary character other than a shoddy attempt at character growth.

I'm also really baffled why some levels are basically cut-scenes. One has 47 go to a shop and get a new suit. That's beyond pointless; it's padding for the sake of making a "cinematic" game. I don't want cinematic qualities; I want to kill people!

Eventually the game wraps up with a generic action scene on the roof of a building. While the final missions were typically the best of the bunch, Absolution throws a wrench into the mix and makes this one a chore.

If you love quick-time events, then I'm sure you'll dig the closer to this story. Otherwise, we get some anger out of 47 and nothing more. After erasing the villain from existence, 47 drops the girl off at a church and the game ends.

So, what does this whole blog show? Basically, I don't know how Agent 47 was ever supposed to make for a quality movie leading man. As I've hopefully demonstrated, 47 doesn't evolve much as a character.

While that should be a death knell for any narrative driven experience, the Hitman games have functioned on their mechanics. Like how Miyamoto bases his games on ideas first, Hitman is all about the central premise and not much else.

I know Eidos has tried with their "genetically engineered agent" backstory, but all of that doesn't matter much. It's just an excuse to have 47 wind up in shootouts. The ability to avoid those shootouts is awesome.

Still, the series has made some kind of impact on the gaming world. It's surprising how we've seen the likes of 2 movies based on this series and the game is looking to reboot soon. I never thought gamers would gravitate towards a bald, emotionless man.

It speaks to the ingenuity of game mechanics and how gripping gameplay will almost always take central stage. Even if a story is the most dramatic thing ever written, a game is about how you control the outcome of certain events.

Something like Bioshock may have a great story, but I've never really clicked with it due to the gameplay being simplistic. That isn't to lobby a complaint, but I just feel like that series could do a whole lot better.

On the other hand, I think that stealth action games tend to try too hard. Splinter Cell, for how awesome those games are, has a very mind-numbing plot that takes way too much precedent from the 4th game onwards.

Metal Gear Solid is an entirely different beast, basically relying on story more than gameplay. It makes for thrilling and industry defining stuff, but I've never really felt that it was a true stealth game.

Hitman, though, nails it. It even allows you to forgo stealth if you want. That makes for a rather short and unfulfilling game, but the option is there. There is more than one solution to any given problem (something that Absolution forgets).

So while the games will continuously be enjoyable, I don't think 47 is ever going to make a great protagonist in a film. Removing the connection a player makes destroys pretty much everything that makes Hitman fun.

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8:08 PM on 08.10.2015

Comparison - Demon's Souls Vs Bloodborne

With the release of Bloodborne, I finally believe that the true "next-generation" is here. While the game may not be dramatically different from it's predecessors, the attention to detail and general streamlining of game mechanics makes it an extraordinarily engaging game.

Everything about the limited story, combat system, upgrades and level design is polished beyond what I could have expected. I've always been a big fan of the Souls games, but Bloodborne really does take it to an entirely different level.

Is it really that insanely good, though? How does Bloodborne compare to the grandfather of souls, Demon's Souls? Both were made under the direction of Hidetaka Miyazaki and they share a lot of aesthetic choices. They also both have similar structure in world design.

Now, to point out something like graphics would be asinine. Since Bloodborne is a PS4 game and Demon's Souls is a fairly early PS3 game, there is already a clear winner in terms of graphical fidelity. You can look at other aspects, like art design or graphical density.

Bloodborne has so much going on in various levels that the game cannot push more than 30 frames-per-second. While this is a bit disappointing, the game runs mostly smooth throughout. Certain actions can trigger slowdown and co-op often hinders the refresh rate, but the game works damn fine by itself.

Demon's Souls was not so lucky. While there are a bunch of areas that are flawless, when you run into any densely packed area, the game shutters. I've seen framerates as low as 15 frames-per-second a couple of times. They never seem to crop up in the middle of a boss fight, but they do occur randomly in levels.

Fluidity is what makes Bloodborne so damn addicting. The combat is kicked up to a different gear and is hard to grasp, at first. Everything goes so fast that you need lightning quick reflexes and proper knowledge of your character's limitations and advantages.

Demon's Souls was the first in this series, so it obviously doesn't have as many options. What it does have is purity. Enemies are not given crazy attacks that you will never block and all of your moves are limited enough to give you clear control. You will precisely know what to do and will rarely hit the wrong button.

Having said that, the options afforded to you are vastly different between the two games. Bloodborne is absolutely a melee game. While there are some ranged options, they will not be the linchpin of your arsenal. Your assassination of targets will require you to get up close and personal.

This is facilitated by the silver bullet system and firearms. While that sounds like it would be a tremendous boon, your firearm is only able to carry 20 bullets (disregarding upgrades). This gives you extremely limited amounts of ranged capability.

You can find other items, but they also require bullets. One item even utilizes 12 bullets, only being able to fire a single shot before going away. This change from diverse ranged options coerces  players into fighting the beasts hand-to-hand.

It also eliminates any "cheese" tactics or glitches. You cannot rely on developmental oversights to see you through a rough challenge. It makes every victory solely yours. Even with co-op, you still need to pull your own weight.

Demon's Souls is not so lucky. Being the first of it's kind, obviously something was going to go unnoticed. Bow and arrows allow you to tackle enemies from a distance, but with their cost being so low, you end up being able to carry 500+ arrows very shortly into the game.

There are also some problems with level geometry that will allow you to shoot arrows through walls. This nearly eliminates the challenge associated with certain encounters. While you could make a point of saying this is similar to old-school game design, the legacy behind the Souls games looks a bit fabricated with these glitches.

There are also a host of magic attacks in Demon's Souls that nearly become dominate over other weapons. Since the AI of the enemies is fairly slow, you are able to shoot off a lot of magic attacks with ease. You can restore your MP, as well (via rings or items), so you don't ever need to stop if you've prepared correctly.

On my first playthrough years ago, I never even saw a few of the bosses. While I was a coward, I was still able to "cheese" them out with fireballs and arrows. It trivializes some levels. Practicing self-caution does make the game more enjoyable, but one of the basic tenets of game design is lacking.

Bloodborne has seemingly fixed that by not including magic or ranged weapons. It also fixes the AI by making them far more aggressive. Instead of passively waiting for attacks or walking off of cliffs, the AI will rush down the player and keep them on edge.

This allows little time for healing or flicking through inventory. Your strikes need to be quick and your recovery planned. The infamous running away tactic from the souls game is mostly fixed, too. Once you aggro an enemy, you (9 times out of 10) will have to kill them to stop their pursuit.

As for healing, Bloodborne follows in the vein of Dark Souls by making healing a dedicated button. Instead of putting it to an item and allowing different levels of healing, this ensures that you will always have a way to get some kind of health boost.

What it does away with is the unlimited refills. You need to keep killing enemies and collecting blood echoes to get more vials (or you find a bunch in the world). Dark Souls and it's sequel would always refill your supply of healing flasks upon dying.

Demon's Souls relies on consumables. This bloats the inventory by having various types of grass that do differing amounts of healing. It also arbitrarily inflates the difficulty level. If you happen to run out of grass and have no souls, you won't be healing.

That might seem like a personal opinion, but Demon's Souls is a bit difficult. Many players have vanquished the steep learning curve, but the game can often times be frustrating. Instead of dying of your own ineptitude, you end up failing because you cannot get ahead.

Bloodborne does go back to that a bit, but your foes drop a lot more blood echoes then any enemy ever dropped souls. Level ups also require more, but most items are fairly cheap while the enemies have plentiful blood echoes.

Speaking of leveling up, Demon's Souls employs 8 different stats to give to your character. Bloodborne cuts out the fat and only asks you to deal with 6 of them. It may be more fulfilling to govern magic with 2 additional attributes, but the gains start becoming obscured and the process feels more daunting then it should.

Bloodborne clearly explains it's skill points and allows you to power up faster. This doesn't inherently make the game easier, but it does allow one to have a more gradual difficulty curve instead of hitting spikes along the way. Bloodborne does seem more well-rounded in that regard.

Demon's Souls is uneven in difficulty. The first area is overwhelming and even the next level you choose will be threatening, but you tend to get the hang of it after a few times. Then the middle sections of each world become a bit easy before ramping up with the final boss.

The only problem is that the final boss of the first world is hard even at extremely high levels. You never get the feeling that your stat distribution was worth the investment. The False King can still one shot you, so it comes more down to raw skill.

Skill is what makes the Souls games work. While it would be nice to actually feel your character power up in Demon's Souls, the unbridled sense of success has never been topped. Even if Bloodborne ends up feeling fairer, Demon's Souls has a better sense of accomplishment.

Co-op can make things dramatically easier. Bloodborne suffers a little in that you can summon more players to your world, but it also allows you to directly summon friends. Demon's Souls is very specific in it's execution of multiplayer.

The invasion mechanic is frustrating, but it does also keep you on your toes. To eliminate those invasions, you have to play in soul form, but that reduces your total health. It makes for a strategic element that is absent in Bloodborne.

Bloodborne changes that by actually giving you a way to stay connected, but forego invasions. You won't actually be able to get invaded in early levels; as you progress, a bell maiden will appear that summons invading players.

Co-op also makes that maiden appear, which then gives you and your cooperator a reason to explore the world. She is often hidden quite well, so finding her is a small reward unto itself.

It still is revolutionary in that it makes single-player minded people actually want to participate in multiplayer, but the lack of an ability to get together with friends is a big fault to me.

I get that the point was anonymity, but Bloodborne becomes a lot more enjoyable when you grab a friend to suffer with. You both can directly talk and feel like you're bonding with each other over such a dark world.

Speaking of worlds, the design of both games is truly remarkable. While I personally prefer the way in which Bloodborne's paths weaver together, Demon's Souls truly feels labyrinthine at times.

That sense of being lost makes the exploration very palpable. You aren't always finding anything, but you feel compelled to look. Some of the dead ends can be frustrating, but the game remains fun despite it's shortcomings in structure.

There are far less realistic touches and more of a sense of game construction. Not every area is brimming with content to discover, but the roads all lead to a specific point. Figuring out which road will take you there is the hard part.

Bloodborne makes it's central city feel real. There are better indications of where a path ends via large gates and there is limited use of bottomless pits. There are even tons of shortcuts for the player to discover and use. Trekking down an unknown walkway will usually lead to something worthwhile.

Demon's Souls just doesn't have that. It's secrets are vague and limited in supply. Bloodborne has a secret in nearly every area. Backtracking even comes into play, but feels more organic then most games can muster.

This works in conjunction with how buildings are set up. The classrooms in the middle of the game have hallways that only lead to doors. There is no other purpose, but it is built to feel like an actual school.

The mountain peaks have caves that sometimes contain nothing. It looks enticing, but real life doesn't always have a prize at the end of the rainbow. Sometimes, just the simple act of looking brings joy, which Bloodborne captures.

As for enemy design, both games are basically equal. After a few playthroughs, the general enemies may seem boring, but their first impressions are terrifying. Both games also start off with humanoid opponents and then expand into various creatures from some nightmarish vision.

The only reason I would say that Demon's Souls falls short is because of it's controls. The enemies in each title are menacing and not easily conquered (except for a few). Demon's Souls is a slower game then Bloodborne, so it's combat doesn't pack the same punch. That doesn't mean the enemy design is lacking.

If anything, the bosses have great build-up, better than Bloodborne in a lot of cases. Demon's Souls also has a tremendous spark to introducing new enemies by clouding their appearance with environmental cues. Bloodborne doesn't rely on that tactic.

For Bloodborne, you can basically see every foe before you kill them. Their design and size are what fill you with fear or confidence. Their movesets are all distinguishable, so you never leave wondering what happened. Bloodborne doesn't rely on jump scares, either, something the Souls games have perfected.

Quite honestly, that area is a tie. The combatants fit each game world to a tee. You won't leave either experience feeling like you disliked an aspect of it's enemies. Some of them will piss you off, but you will learn to respect their attack patterns and strike with efficiency.

This all adds up to the end game. I understand that not every final boss has to be a ball buster, but Demon's Souls lacks a true closing battle. The lore surrounding the final encounter is very detailed and interesting, but the battle is basically a gimmie. You walk in, slaughter the guy and leave. Game over.

Bloodborne also brings tremendous attention to detail in it's lore, but the final encounter isn't a push-over. If anything, it's last boss is the hardest thing in the game. You square off against one of your kin and it becomes a battle of skill over style.

Facing off against a literal equal makes the last moments of Bloodborne truly memorable. After all these years, I remembered the difficulty of Demon's Souls last boss, but I could barely muster an image of him in my mind. I don't think I'll ever get over how emotional I felt after Bloodborne.

But both games do offer truly compelling narratives. Their ambiguous approach to storytelling makes their moments seem unique. Each second of the game is your own. Even if the developers have a concrete story, you've carved your own path in their work.

That allows every player to fantasize about what piece goes where or how a particular NPC fits into the role of things. That nothing is spelled out also makes discovering any detail more rewarding.

At the end of it all, both games are worthy experiences that I would tell anyone to play. Demon's Souls was more unique in it's time, but it hasn't aged poorly. Certain aspects are outdated, but the game doesn't overstep it's boundaries. Every mechanic and design choice is deliberate and counter-balanced (apart from Magic).

Bloodborne is the culmination of surprising success taken to it's max level of polish. I do truly wish that the game ran at 60 frames-per-second, but the sense of speed and precision is unfounded in any of the Souls games.

It also has intricately laid paths that have no set order. It makes for an experience that truly will be solely yours. It may have taken 6 years to happen, but I finally believe that Demon's Souls has gotten the sequel it deserved.

Also, you can make randomly generated dungeons in Bloodborne. You can literally play it forever and never see every combination. That is fantastic.

Side Note: I do love Dark Souls. I was just disappointed with it's technical failings and more grandiose map design. It was an amazing world, but Demon's Souls had unrivaled freedom of choice for it's time.

Dark Souls seemed to limit that. Regardless, I would still say that Dark Souls was a worthy successor. I just always wanted a more true sequel to Demon's Souls, something that I feel Bloodborne delivers handsomely.

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5:03 PM on 07.26.2015

Waste of Time

Even though I vowed to look on the bright side with my return blog, I never stated that there wouldn't be sad ones. Sorry if this sounds dark and evil. You have to expel your demons from time to time.

Video games have may risen into pop culture as an accepted form of entertainment, but there still exists a generation that looks at them with disgust. I wish I could enlighten these people, but it seems my own failings in social etiquette have made a mess out of me.

During my bass guitar lesson, my teacher began complaining about how rap music is garbage and video games are a complete time waster. For clarification, the man cannot be more than 55. I don't even believe he is in his mid-fifties, but I've never asked him to specify.

Anyway, after having a rousing weekend at SGC and feeling like my personal favorite hobby was worth a damn, I spouted back with, "Anything can be considered a waste of time."

My teacher is always in a sour mood. His life truly sucks and to see his talent be wasted makes my heart ache. Then I remember that his personality is so twisted and defeating and I wish the worst for him. After my little proclamation, suddenly the practice became frivolous.

He said I should "waste time" on my bass instead of anything else. He told me that he was basically "wasting time" and getting paid for it. Then he demanded I pick something to learn as his ideas were a "waste of time".

When I chose a song and he began transcribing it, I felt empty. His man was going mad over the "epic" song I picked, but I just felt like I did something wrong. I've already learned to keep my damn mouth shut around him, but a fire inside me wouldn't let him vent. I couldn't stand back and let him ridicule something I love so much.

But it just struck me that maybe he is right. Maybe gaming is a tremendous waste of time. Then again, as I had said to him, what isn't? If we're going to get so vitriolic about hobbies, then what would be worthy of someone's undying attention?

Unless you're making money, apparently enjoying yourself is futile. To me, music has always been a source of comtemplation, limitless energy and a showcase of talent. One can master their instrument in silence, but those people are apparently "wasting their time".

So by that understanding, me sitting in my room and finishing System Shock 2 in one sitting was a total wash. I would have been better if I developed a new mod for it or created my own version of the game. Without that, I'm just pissing away precious time.

My teacher even said film was a waste. While I disagree, I suppose he's right about that. I've seen film as a way to experience something you can never be. A superhero, a drug lord, a rapist; even Christ Jesus himself. In seeing those realities, I guess you're just getting closer to death. Nothing is learn, but your time is gone.

I know I should fight back, but I just don't have the energy anymore. Whenever I walk into his studio, I feel drained. He gets to complain about how "shitty" his life is and how "stressful" his week was, but my problems can't be brought up. Every time I mention something, he counters with, "Why don't you try and teach 15 students a day, then talk to me about it."

When I thought I was out of the storm, he still got a last jab in. Packing up to end the "lesson", he said to me, "Whose gonna want to play Ghost?" Well, I do. I'm sorry that the things I enjoy are esoteric and unpopular. I've always been that way.

Why play Ghost when you can listen to this?!

I'd love to throw in his face how I might be autistic and how my depression has diminished my courage and self-worth to virtually non-existent levels, but I just don't have the fortitude for it. At the end of the day, it's his studio and he's in charge. He is right about it all.

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5:40 PM on 07.15.2015

Forget Me Not

A funny thing occurred after I finished Remember Me recently; I didn't like the game. I couldn't come to terms with the sluggish combat and I was generally annoyed with how much exposition there was in the dialog. The game seemed to have it's head thoroughly up it's own ass (to quote Jim Sterling).

I was a little ticked off with seemingly having wasted my time. Even the conclusion to the game felt forced and out of left field, robbing me of a satisfactory closer. I took to the internet to see if people had any theories as to what happened and stumbled upon an interesting article.

On the website VenturedBeat, writer Leigh Harrison made the statement that, "Remember Me undermines it's story to be a video game." After skimming through his thoughts, I realized I felt the same way.

For starters, why is there a mad scientist type character that gets finished off half-way through the story? How come there are so many weird creatures that make no sense in a game that focuses on memory manipulation? Do people really mutate when they lose their minds?

I couldn't get over these basic details. It didn't help that most of the dialog was borderline satire, but delivered with such earnest feeling from the actors. To their credit, they aren't bad, just the writing is. At one point, an enemy taunts you with some big bad wolf bullshit and your character responds with, "This red riding hood has a basket full of kickass."

There isn't a hint of irony with her yelling that, either. You're just supposed to accept that she's a woman who can kick ass in a man's world. I don't take an issue with Nilin being a woman, just that we still can't have a game that doesn't bring attention the character's gender.

YOU GO GIRL!

Another villain, who is basically captain mcguffin, approaches a locker room and proclaims, "Hello beautiful ladies! Time for your cavity searches!" Why does he utter that? I know he's supposed to be an utterly unlikable guy, but a line of dialog like that is basically written to make you hate him for disrespecting your character's gender.

It doesn't feel natural. It's a cheap way to garner hatred without describing the guy further. That the game then shifts into a fight scenes makes less sense, too. Nilin proceeds to take out a locker room full of guards because you're in a video game. We see her steal memories from a distance before, but I guess you just can't now.

The ending boss is also something I take issue with. I figured finding your target and remixing his memory would be enough, but you are then shoved down a pathway to shut down the mega-computer that runs the game's plot.

He asks you to shut him down and end his suffering. Upon reaching him, though, he suddenly wants to do battle. He then states, "If you do not kill me, I will destroy you." You literally just asked me to kill you and now there is a battle? The hell?

Without me, this game is only 7 hours long! THAT CANNOT BE!

After seeing that article, I began to wonder about other games I've played that left me feeling empty. A lot of times, there seems to be basic plot structure getting thrown out the window to facilitate an action set-piece.

I noticed this a lot with Ghost Recon: Future Soldier. I had never pieced it together as being contrived for the sake of gameplay, but that suddenly makes sense. The final mission has the Ghost Squad stating they can't be seen and must take caution, only for them to miss a shot for no reason, slide down a mountain and brandish their pistols for a running duel.

There was even a section far earlier in the game where the Ghosts retrieve a hostage and during transit, take out their pistols and slow-motion action scene their way out of the armed facility. Why not stealth your way out? How about using those automatics you packed?!

We have cloaking devices, but his is way more efficient!

As video games become a more "serious business", it seems developers are finding more ways to up the ante in regards to cinema. Since action movies basically have fight scenes every 15-20 minutes, a game must have that as well.

I truly believe Remember Me would have made a stellar movie. It has certain narrative choices that are beyond pointless, but it's insistence on delivering an action game environment reverses a lot of the good will it's story sets up.

Not only that, but the game basically never allows you any choice. You are compliant with the script and only change your understanding when the story says you can. It basically rips control from you when it should be empowering.

I also don't like how many references they make to the word "Remember." Then again, I did say I didn't like the game.

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6:49 PM on 07.10.2015

Better With Age: NIN In Your Face!

I remember the first time I tried Quake. It was at a friend's house during a sleepover. His brother and I got addicted to the deathmatch part of the game and began exploring the levels. We uncovered hidden pathways, secret weapons and all sorts of hilarious animations.

That was in the year 2001. Five years after the release of the game, Quake was interesting and cool, but seemed to be lacking in modern panache. It had a really detailed gothic setting and tight gunplay, but there wasn't much of a story or any voice acting.

Funny how in 2015, I prefer Quake to any modern shooter. Shooters have grown progressively simpler in recent years. The labyrinthine level structure and focus on skill versus loadouts makes Quake feel more engaging and involving than any Call of Duty or Battlefield could ever hope to.

For starters, it's incredible how iD Software utilized an episodic design to take their games into different realms. While this isn't exclusive to Quake, iD certainly understood that making vastly different locations would lead to a more intriguing game. It also foreshadows how companies like Telltale would begin their own markets on serialized games.

While Quake may be uniformly dark, it's levels all have distinct features. Mechanical space stations like Doom usher players into a world that takes a note from author H.P. Lovecraft. You eventually wind up in volcanoes, demonic churches and ancient castles.

Even the enemy selection is unique. Floating corpses, mutated grunts, the abominable snowman and viking creatures will stalk you until you drop. The bosses aren't slouches either, with the expansion featuring a god damned dragon.

Just tell me he's not a snowman. You can't.

The arsenal may seem limited with today's options of literally everything, but I prefer function over pointless bloat. The shotgun has a fantastically quick shot, the axe is just brutal, the nail gun is fiendishly awesome and the lightning gun is super cool to look at. It also kills everything in water, beating Bioshock to the punch on it's plasmids.

The soundtrack must also receive mention. Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails fame composed the score long before he was getting famous from The Social Network. While some tracks feature the heavily distorted guitar riffs that Reznor is known for, there are a lot of atmospheric and eerily slow tracks that bring a sense of dread to the proceedings.

The chunky graphics are even super clean looking on modern displays. While that may be thanks to the Quake engine allowing for unlimited resolutions, the game has a specific style that adds a lot of charm to the game. It's like an old school Minecraft with better animation and enemies.

This is basically hell in Minecraft.

The speed at which your character moves in Quake is unheard of in modern games. I'd argue that the Quakeguy is faster than Sonic the Hedgehog. You can zip through hallways and dodge enemies with ease. That brisk pace must be why the character is so thin.

I must also give attention to the deathmatch mode. While I wasn't playing it upon it's original launch, I have had plenty of LAN parties over the years; the variation in levels and unique weaponry give Quake a feel that hasn't ever been replicated.

Vertical structures, booby traps, lava pits and castle interiors combine with teleports and jump pads for high flying, adrenaline pumping fun. Valve even thought so as they ported the Quake multiplayer to Half-Life as Deathmatch Classic.

Bringing up Valve, Quake is also the reason we have Team Fortress. Not a whole lot of games at the time allowed custom modifications. iD Software trusted their fans with tinkering around in the Quake engine. You may say this has nothing to do with the game aging well, but you can still find custom Quake campaigns and multiplayer areans being made to this very day.

Not only that, but Quake servers are still active. It obviously doesn't have a player base in the tens of thousands, but you will never go long if you search for an occupied room. People still love the ebb and flow of Quake combat and how well it feels in the modern age.

Developers really should look at Quake and see how unique and mindblowing the experience is. Not every game needs an epic tale or worthless gimmick to be relevant. Sometimes crafting exquisite maps and offering weaponry that focuses on quality over quantity is all anyone truly wants.

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12:04 PM on 07.03.2015

Portal Stories: Mel - Review

With Valve having seemingly given up game development, fans of their IP's have been wondering what their next game will be. Instead of waiting, Prism Studios decided to craft an unofficial prequel to Portal 2 in the mean time. The quality of the level design may not always be top class, but Portal Stories: Mel ends up feeling like a full retail product, despite being a free mod.

While a lot of that credit has to go to the prior work Valve did with Portal 2, to even craft puzzles or a story close to as engaging as Valve's work is a true testament of Prism's skill. A lot of the ideas get borrowed from Portal 2, but the character of Virgil ends up feeling alive and cheery.

The exploration of Aperture's past is also highly intriguing. While we got a lot more of an in-depth look at how the world of Portal comes to be in it's sequel, we now understand a bit more of how Cave Johnson ended up running the company into the ground and what helped GlaDOS ressurect herself.

Of course, this is all non-canon, but the sheer quality of it all is very engaging. After finishing the game, I almost wish this were an official part of the Portal storyline. We may be removing a bit of the mystery behind GlaDOS and Cave Johnson, but at least it all remains interesting.

As for the puzzles, they start off strong and begin to get repetitive near the end. The last few chapters are some of the best designed in the entire mod, but they come too little, too late. The boss encounter is very reminiscent of the original Half-Life and even a few levels take some ideas from Black Mesa.



The soundtrack is also incredible. For a fan project, I'm surprised we got an entirely original score, but it fits the mood extremely well. I was always partial to the atmosphere sounds of the original Portal and I'd say that is the only place where I felt Portal 2 did not live up to it's predecessor. I guess Prism thought so, too, as this score blows Portal 1's out of the water.

The slight alterations to the Source engine since Portal 2's release have yielded some better lighting and incredible looking water. Since PC's are also a bit more adept, extra foliage is present in the "Overgrown" segment. It looks worse for wear than in Portal 2, which kind of screws around with the idea of this being a prequel.

If it weren't for the middle section of the game, I'd say this is a homerun. Portal 2 had a strange reliance on ending most platforming/story segments with a half-open door that required you to portal out of. Portal Stories: Mel also does that quite a bit.

From the beginning of the middle until the intro of the finale, we also get treated to an incredible amount of block puzzles. The gels do make a return (and water gets utilized, which is nice), but a lot of the ideas are just more obtuse setups than what Portal 2 had.

I did have fun, but I can't deny that the ideas stopped being creative and exciting after awhile. The last 2 chapters really were a standout as they feel completely different from the official Portal series.



Still, at the price of free, why aren't you playing this? It's an easy recommendation and is quite well made, too. I hope the team at Prism Studios can someday make an original project. I'm sure they'll come up with something wholly awesome.

8/10

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6:48 PM on 06.22.2015

Hadouken To Win (Short Blog)

Fighting games are a curious beast in the modern era. Since the internet is prevalent on every gaming platform, you'd think developers would be adding characters left and right into their titles. We haven't really seen that.

Capcom routinely makes up excuses for releasing retail discs of newer versions of their games (though they have let up a bit with Street Fighter IV), Arc System Works took a once original idea and dug it into the ground (Blazblue has 6 different versions) and SNK Playmore once had a yearly update to their crossover series.

Nintendo seems to understand DLC. They know when their games should have expanded content and don't throw it into every little thing. While Super Smash Bros has some costume DLC, there aren't a whole lot of characters up for purchase. The few that are, though, are really damn good.

My question is whether or not this makes for a good game. I find it hard to believe that anyone would pay money for an intentionally bad character. Since we can already throw that idea out, then what is there stopping Nintendo from making these DLC characters the best of the game?

Before getting some time with Ryu, I was convinced he would be the best fighter in the roster. He has the largest moveset and even includes some new mechanics ripped straight from Street Fighter IV. For the insane price Nintendo was charging, Ryu damn well had better be good.

To my surprise, Roy ended up being the best of the bunch. While he was a fan favorite from Super Smash Bros Melee, I never found him particularly good. He's now the best fighter in Smash 4 (according to EventHubs).

For that matter, all 4 DLC characters are in the top 14 of the game's roster. This might be the cynic in me, but Nintendo is essentially running a pay-to-win scheme with Smash. You can actually get good with the default roster, or you can pay $5 and get a head-start with a better character.

When a customer is paying for an extra character, though, should they expect something crappy? Would you honestly want to fork over extra cash to have a character as a joke? That would be like Nintendo adding Dan Hibiki into Smash; nobody would even bother.

While I appreciate extra content for a game I love (and I do love Smash), I just don't know how long Nintendo can keep this up. If they finish somewhere around 10 extra characters, that will be about 14% of the roster that is objectively better than the rest.

I suppose this theory can be applied to racing games as well. In Dirt 3, the DLC cars are far superior to the normal car list. Since I have the PC version, I was upgraded to the "Complete Edition" and I didn't realize the cars listed at the front were DLC.

I began the game in cars that far outclassed the circuits I was on. Somewhere in Season 2, I realized my error. I switched back to vehicles that I recently unlocked and leveled the playing field, but there was always the temptation to slide over to the faster cars and tear up the competition.

Better than you can ever imagine.

To gate off DLC just seems weird. If you are forking over extra currency to acquire different content, why should the developer or game stop you? While I wouldn't mind seeing extra challenges to unlock the content, I also remember playing Forza 2 and being aggravated that my DLC was locked behind an obscene in-game price point.

How else should that be implemented? And if there really is no better way, should DLC always be better than the base content? If that's the case, why even bother with the regular game? All of these questions just from Ryu being in Smash.

I may not be as eager for more characters in Smash as I once was, but I just hope Nintendo doesn't continue to make their gigantic roster obsolete. We don't need a game as glorious as Smash becoming a pay-to-win fest.

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7:55 PM on 06.08.2015

REFUND ME!

Valve recently decided to implement a refund policy on Steam. For a year or so, this was the only thing EA had a leg up on Valve. Their platform, Origin, allowed a refund for any reason within 48 hours.

Even the website, GOG, allowed users to request refunds for games they felt weren't good enough. For some reason, Valve fell behind on such a basic free market idea. While I could use this blog to fling feces at Valve, I feel that should wait for a time when I'm angry with them.

As it stands, I'm more angry at some of the comments I read on a recent post. Jed had reported about developer Qwiboo and their game Beyond Gravity. According to some very small charts, the developer had seen a 72% decrease in sales in accordance with Steam's new refund policy.

What got me, though, were people claiming that Qwiboo should, "Make a game that lasts longer than 2 hours." Not only is that side stepping the issue, but it is a truly destructive viewpoint to take with any art form, especially games.

How about a game that can be finished in 6 minutes?

For someone to place a restriction on their idea means they are no longer being true to their original vision. Imagine if Peter Jackson had to cut each Lord of the Rings film to be an hour and 40 minutes instead of the 3 hour epics we saw in theaters. That would have a tremendous impact on the final result.

Doubly so, have you played any of the recent console Zelda games? While I may love Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword, they certainly have a lot of ridiculous fluff added to their worlds. There really isn't a need to collect tears of light, apart from making a 20 hour game into a 50 hour one.

For developers to start looking at Valve's refund policy on Steam and then skewing their vision to fit it's parameters is insane. Not only will consumers start seeing crappier games, but developers will end up walking away from their dreams because consumers expect some arbitrary time frame.

If I were to make a change to Valve's current policy, I would just remove the time restriction. As with most retail chains, you should be allowed to return the product within 7-14 days, no questions asked. I know Best Buy certainly doesn't give a crap if you used the product, so why should Valve?

Even Juliet couldn't last more than a few hours.

Another change I would make is that people who return a game should not be allowed to review it on the Steam reviews page. People already go out of their way to destroy the reputation of games they don't like, so having people who refunded the title slander the game doesn't seem right.

If that feels like too much of an encroachment on free speech, then allow users to see which people have requested a refund. That should be enough to know that their opinion may be a bit skewed from yours.

The biggest thing I wonder about is how games in bundles will work. Do gamers get a full refund on a game they grabbed in a bundle for cheap? If so, why should anyone buy a game when it first gets released? More to the point, how will Valve determine the value of the refund if the game was cheaper than it's sale price?

I'm not sure that us gamers will ever have an impact on what Valve does with this new change to the Steam platform. It is nice to believe that they are listening to our concerns, but it seems like their policy just has too big of a restriction.

Getting any kind of system that allows dissatisfaction to be reimbursed is a plus; I won't say that Valve made a mistake in seeking out a refund policy. Even so, a better situation does not equal a good one. Valve really needs to rethink how their refunds work before we truly get a system we can trust.

I'd also like it if we gamers wouldn't put so much value on time. One of the coolest indie games around, Thirty Flights of Loving, can be finished in 15 minutes. To say it is not worth buying because of it's length is ludicrous.

Our good buddy, Mega Man, would be SOL with the Steam refund policy.

I can understand that not every person would want to drop $5 on it, but there are people who enjoy even the most insane of ideas. To act like their thoughts are somehow less than yours is truly a disaster.

Don't let the restrictive nature of Steam refunds cloud your acceptance of people. Be open to different, shorter experiences and realize that a developers life was spent on creating something.

Then again, people wasted time on making Rock Zombie, so maybe I'm just being too naive.

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6:48 PM on 06.02.2015

Frame of Reference

So Hatred is out and nobody really seems to care. This game sparked a huge controversy over it's content and now the game is old news. Having seen some footage of the final build, even I am left wondering what the big deal was.

While I didn't particularly hate the game upon it's announcement, I was shocked at how quickly people blew up over the supposed concept. Killing civilians in games is hardly new, but even brutally murdering opponents is old hat. Does anyone not remember Rockstar's State of Emergency?

In that game, you could blow people up and use their body parts as weapons. It certainly wasn't expansive, gritty or hyped up as some vile, teenage emo simulator, but you were rewarded for killing innocent bystanders.

This got me thinking about how we, as gamers and as people, will accept grotesque situations based on how they are framed. In a game like State of Emergency, it is exceedingly easy to see how cartoonish and hyperbolic the violence is.

With Hatred, it is hard to know the intentions behind the game. While I choose to believe the developers wanted to make a quick buck off of a fabricated controversy, maybe they are just angry dudes who hate the world. We will never know what another person truly thinks.

Rockstar has made a living off of games that are similar in execution, but framed in a different light. Grand Theft Auto may allow one to murder the masses for their own sadistic pleasure, but the games slowly made a shift towards player urgency.

No urgency here, just Emergency.

Starting with Vice City, your motivation was no longer to cause chaos. Now the main character had a name, a voice (by a celebrity, no less) and a goal. He was certainly a slime ball, but his main desire was not the destruction of humanity.

Even Trevor Phillips in Grand Theft Auto V isn't driven by human casualties. Trevor wants revenge on Michael for betraying him, even if that means stringing him along for awhile. Again, he is no saint, but he doesn't really care about torturing civilians (even during the torture scene, to which he just shrugs it off as business).

A game like The Darkness has players brutally murdering their foes. Why did that not cause an uproar? I guess because Jackie is killing the mob, but he seems to dole out punishment in ways I've never imagined. The Darkness 2 actually made me sympathize with his victims, because I would never want to split someone in half.

Now to remove your spine.

Gamers have also never had a problem with the gore factor in Mortal Kombat. We all grew up wanting to viciously eviscerate our friends and now it is expected. If Mortal Kombat X didn't get bloodier, we would have rioted. Those fatalities are shocking in their visceral intensity.

Again, that series is framed as an escapist fantasy. Even though you destroy the remains of someone like Liu Kang, he comes back in the next round without a scratch. Nothing that happens in those battles is for real; it is just adding salt to your opponents wounds.

Without an established backstory, more people would probably be outraged by those games. To just see simulated acts of violence and have no reference point is discouraging. I guess the big deal with Hatred was that gaming seemed to be gaining more legitimacy with the world at large; now we had this juvenile idea springing forth and threatening to ruin our good will.

Even in context, Hatred is a pretty stupid idea. As one gets older, you begin to realize that your fellow man is not an enemy. There may be institutions and laws set in place that can ruin your day, but the average person does no more harm than you do. You both just want to live a peaceful life and protect your family.

To see a game that accuses the world of being miserable and terrible just sets itself up for vitriol. The framing is set as cynical disgust and the audience doesn't want to be a part of it. We feel the need to crush this thing, even if we become monsters in the process.

The roof is on fire.

I remember reading a comment on Destructoid awhile back that said, "The developers for Hatred should just license the entire Linkin Park catalog and have a bit of fun." Honestly, taking the game in a less serious manner might have gone a long way in getting people onboard with the game.

Then again, reviewers don't seem very pleased with the final result. Even without the controversy or set up, it looks like the game just isn't good. That could be why the original trailer was so awful to begin with.

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10:35 AM on 05.12.2015

Nostalgia Goggles

Nostalgia can be a cruel beast. We often have fond memories of games, movies or places from childhood that just do not hold up in the present. This doesn't mean that those memories are worthless, just that our perception changes as we grow.

What if nostalgia keeps those memories fun? What I mean is, what if despite knowing that something can be better, you still enjoy it? Yesterday, Nic Rowen reviewed the Early Access release of Black Mesa. In that review, he reminisces on how he never managed to finish the original Half-Life and how he remembered the game being smarter.

In the comments, InebriatedGnome clued me into a retrospective article from RockPaperShotgun about Deus Ex. The writer questioned whether his memory of DX being "the best game ever" was actually valid. He then went on to play through the game and come out a bit disappointed.

Maybe because I played both of those games at a much younger age (around 13 years old), I have a better appreciation for them. It could also be that I'm 27 now, not old enough to have seen the harshness of reality or know the vast span of experiences that can befall a human.

I feel, though, that context is everything. Nostalgia isn't some infallible creature. Often times, you can remember a section being better, but still enjoy what is transpiring. I usually remember games for what they are and how they made me feel. I don't try to intensify their gameplay mechanics.

If something doesn't work, I usually note that and move on. I can't say that I've never felt disappointed with a game I previously loved (Quake 2 comes to mind), but those experiences are rare. For all intents and purposes, I love older games because of their mechanics.

Still intense and amazing.

Half-Life, to me, is better than it's sequel. I love the level design, the handling of the weapons, the fact that each gun has an alternate fire mode (why did developers forget about that feature?) and that the A.I. is still better than nearly anything now a days. I don't care that the floors feel like ice or that the jumping mechanics aren't stellar; I love exploring Black Mesa and battling the Xen creatures.

Hell, I don't even loathe the finale of the game. While the final boss fight is a bit stupid, it is wholly unique. No other shooter really has a battle that is staged in such an arena or requires the dexterity that Half-Life does. I even like the underwater sections.

I also recently replayed Ocarina of Time 3D in preparation for my playthrough of Majora's Mask 3D. Now, I have a bias towards Zelda and love pretty much all of the games, but I don't see the issues people bring up about Ocarina. The game is a classic; it's cutscenes are iconic, grandiose and well shot. The pacing is great and even the "padding" is fun. It is a great game, even with the finicky Z-targeting and Water Temple (which I think is quite fun).

I even like and remember the chunky graphics.

Nintendo improved a bit of it with the 3DS re-release, but I've since played the N64 original and the Gamecube release of Master Quest. Just because there is a better version doesn't mean I can't enjoy what the original release did. In some ways, I even prefer the N64 masterpiece (the Fire Temple music is too good).

Then again, I grew up with these games. I learned to appreciate the mechanics on offer. I was impressed at how much the art form of gaming was changing. Open-worlds felt so real and alive because they were brand new; it didn't matter if nothing populated them.

Contrast that to newer releases like Grand Theft Auto V where the game space is vast and filled to the brim with life, but it comes off as soulless. The games that intrigue the most to explore their nooks and crannies are ones with impeccable atmosphere (I love the Souls games).

I just don't care...

Honestly, I don't think nostalgia is any factor to do with why Nic Rowen wasn't too fond of Black Mesa. I won't deny that Half-Life has some problems, but I think Nic is just into different genres now. He has grown as a human and moved on.

That doesn't make his opinion less valid. Maybe Black Mesa really isn't that stellar (I have yet to play it). But to call something dated as a criticism just makes little sense to me. I like the fact that Half-Life was made in 1998; that is why I still have so much fun playing it to this day.

Even if the reason I enjoy myself is because nostalgia tells me everything is great, I don't see how that is wrong. Who cares if the game hasn't aged well if you can still find value within?

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