10:35 AM on 05.12.2015
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?
7:58 PM on 05.02.2015
I don't know quite how to feel about Broken Age. I want to scream and yell and claim it is a terrible experience, but I don't overtly hate the game. I had a partial bit of responsibility for bringing it to life (funding it way back when on Kickstater). As much as I want to say that I helped make this, I'm mostly ashamed that I got sucked into the marketing that Double Fine did.
When Tim Schafer had claimed he was going to make an adventure game in the vein of his classic titles, I didn't quite expect him to literally do that. I figured we would have years of advancement in technology and storytelling play a bigger role with the finished product. I expected this new adventure title to do away with some of the more frustrating aspects of the genre's origins.
Instead, Broken Age is a mess of a second half that fails to capitalize on the potential set forth in it's first act. The setup to this game is brilliant; two teenagers coming to terms with the way their lives are playing out. You have Shay, a boy who has only ever lived on a spaceship, breaking free and looking for adventure. You also have Vella, a young girl in a town that believes sacrificing "maidens" to some monster is the only way to protect their village. Vella is obviously a maiden and has to deal with the fact that she will die.
This plays a lot like most people's adolescent years; the game deals with how one can make their stake in the world. Instead of accepting that nothing will get better and the world is all gloom and doom, these characters venture beyond their comfort zones and explore the world outside.
The puzzles may not have been the most mind-bending things around, but that was excusable for the beginning of a game. You never want to throw the hardest thing at a player right off the bat; using a gradual curve to teach the player how the game works and makes their mind adapt to your particular puzzle schemes is a great way to ensure the gamer is left satisfied.
Instead, Act 2 brings about some creatively bankrupt scenarios. The game essentially goes on auto-pilot and solutions take no longer than 5 minutes to pop in your mind. Maybe this has more to do with me being a veteran of the genre, but Broken Age does away with a lot of needless items that used to plague the inventory of it's predecessors.
In doing that, though, the game's puzzles focus purely on logic. With logic at your side, you simply need to look at the problem, check your limited supply and have at it. Eventually you get to the solution and your brain doesn't feel any smarter. At worse, you feel cheated out of a quality experience.
This also happens to the story. Each character, before some insanely convoluted twist, felt like a person with no understanding of their situation. They knew they wanted change, but they weren't sure from what. Come Act 2, we're now supposed to accept that these characters know each other and have some emotional tie (thankfully not romantic).
Couple that with some other revelations about Shay's life and you're left with a portrait of a boy who looks selfish. That feeling of complacency he wanted to break from feels more like it was self-imposed instead of happening out of bad luck. Vella's family also deals exceptionally well with the knowledge of their old tradition being a farce.
The final puzzles of the game are also some of the worst I've ever had to play. You better like wiring robots and depending on omnipresent knowledge to get through; Broken Age features that in spades. Just quite how Shay should know a pattern that Vella is only able to see is beyond me.
My personal favorite shot of the game. You decide if this is an error or not.
I get that the idea was to have players make the characters interact with each other in an asymmetrical fashion, but the execution feels haphazard. A better approach would be if Vella touched something on the ship and then Shay's world changed a bit. Other games have done this and it works great in making the player feel like their actions matter.
For that matter, why do we only get a few limited areas? Vella goes through the area Shay explored in Act 1 and vice versa. I know this is supposed to make players get acquainted with their environment, but it feels exceptionally cheap. It harkens back to the classic days of adventure gaming where memory was limited and hardware limitations needed to be worked around.
I can only think of Monkey Island and how that game had 4 Acts that all took place in wholly unique environments. The sequels managed to make their worlds bigger, too. Broken Age just feels like the developers started off with ambition and rushed to make their promises half-true. There is no limitation, so why not go crazy?
How about the voice acting? While the cast is assembled of some great actors and their performance in the first act is quite good, the revelations we get in Act 2 should elicit more of an emotional response. Instead, basically everyone reads their lines in a deadpan manner. I think I'd be screaming bloody murder if I got locked in a ship I previously thought was a monster.
You can tell most of the budget was spent on the visual style, because the graphics are beautiful. Everything animates smoothly and transitions feel natural. I'm a bit torn on the slow camera, but it does give you a great look into the detail of each scene. It's like looking at a living water color book; it's whimsical and jovial.
Even right up to the bitter end...which just happens.
But for as much charm the visuals have, the rest of the game just cannot hold up. I may be taking this especially hard as I have wanted this game for nearly 3 years, but I just get the feeling that Tim Schafer and Double Fine got in way over their heads. Their initial budget was a mere $400k dollars. For them to gross around $3 million before the game even came out is obscene.
Then again, I guess we gamers are partially to blame for the lack of quality. We all funded this with nostalgia on our brains. We loved Schafer's previous work and just wanted him to return to a genre he had long left behind. Broken Age doesn't make me believe that adventure games are dead, just that Tim Schafer should probably turn his prospects on to something else.
We can never get back the past; this is a harsh truth we all learn in life. Broken Age could have been about just that. The premise starts off with a similar idea and then abandons it for familiar territory. If only Double Fine had listened to their own preaching and learned to grow over the course of this games development.
6:07 PM on 04.22.2015
Next-generation gaming has official begun! With the launch of Mortal Kombat X, we finally have a game that was completely impossible to run on Xbox 360 and PS.....
Wow; I couldn't even finish that sentence before noticing MKX on last-gen hardware. Well, whatever. The game is probably terrible on those consoles. Thank god, though, that Metal Gear Solid V is only...
C'mon! Can't I make a statement without getting cut off? It's not like you see Bungie doing...
Really? Well, that one was close to last-gen, so I'll let it slide. It's not like we're seeing 5 years old games...
Okay; this is insane! Where does Next-gen begin and last-gen end? So many games are still getting multi-platform and generation releases that I'm beginning to regret even wanting a PS4. Not only does my PC still manage to play games with smoother framerates than Sony's next best thing, but almost every game I want on the PS4 is available somewhere else.
I'm not even talking like Xbox One; you can get these damn games on PS3. Some even come with cross-buy support, meaning I could wait years before getting a PS4 and finish the game multiple times. What was the point, again?
I know that these multi-generational releases have benefits on next-gen, but I can't remember an era of gaming where developers were so afraid to let the past die. Nintendo, at least, isn't still releasing Wii games.
More importantly, these last-gen versions are only compromised visually. In terms of Metal Gear Solid V, the game is virtually the same. It's missing the realistic lighting and weather effects, but there aren't chopped up game areas or more load screens. Everything is the same as it's next-gen brethren.
I remember when Splinter Cell was first released on PS2; that was a sorry excuse of a port if I ever did see one. Sure, it had an extra level that was pretty neat, but the main campaign had to utilize compromised level structure to even get the engine running on inferior hardware. Don't even bring up the Gamecube release, either.
Sticking with Ubisoft, Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter on PS2 and Xbox was a disgrace to the 360 version. Ubisoft had plopped together something that vaguely resembled a map and called it a day. They didn't even change the dialog to reflect places that were absent in the last-gen versions.
It's so bad, I couldn't find an image without a watermark! Now I'm Capcom!
We are long past those days now. Currently, the main difference is that the last-gen games run at sub-720p resolution. Their target framerates are typically 30 FPS and the textures usually have quite obvious draw distance problems. If you can tolerate that, then the game is functionally the same.
So, why should we as gamers even bother with next-gen versions? At least Turn 10 Studios produced two distinct games with Forza Horizon 2 on Xbox One and 360. The fact that you can get it on either system is dumb, but you do have some benefit to grabbing the next-gen version.
With something like Mortal Kombat X, what could be different? The last game ran at 60 FPS on PS3 and Xbox 360, so why wouldn't the sequel? Unless High Voltage is going to purposely nuke the game code, the game will basically be the same.
About the only real difference I can see with next-gen is the switch to Blu-Ray. I know PS3 always had this disc capacity, but games were hampered by the 360's DVD limitation. Microsoft even had to create a smaller copy protection method to extract more space out of their DVDs.
Now that both next-gen consoles are utilizing Blu-Ray, developers have more free reign to include higher resolution textures or bigger game worlds. Judging by the size of Dead Rising 3's map, though, neither of those advantages are really being utilized.
Even with the release of Borderlands: The Handsome Collection, we're seeing next-gen consoles struggle to produce an experience that is vastly superior. When the original PC release from 3 years prior still looks better, something is wrong.
At least we're in real HD, now!
So honestly, I don't believe the next-generation has started. Until I see a game that is virtually impossible without next-gen hardware, I'll just let out a sigh when I notice a PS3 or 360 release alongside the "new" and "superior" versions.
It's also really sad how Nintendo was able to make a game run at 1080p, 60 FPS with 8 players on screen. That console is basically an Xbox 360.
11:16 AM on 03.29.2015
Game developers have made great strides in providing gamers with multiple choices for a game's story. This has resulted in many critics and players labeling games as "non-linear" or "open-world." They all allow you to tackle events in any order of your choice.
An idea occurred to me over my vacation; as time seemed to stand still while I relaxed in the sun and heat, I thought about the Futurama episode where the Professor creates a time machine. In that plotline, he actually moves so far forward in time that he ends up seeing the creation of the universe.
Good news, everyone! We made it to Destructoid!
Time was on an indefinite loop. While the Professor could not move backwards, he could go to any point in history as long as he kept proceeding forward. This line of thought then lead me to the game Virtue's Last Reward. In that game, you deal with a similar phenomenon.
While the game talks a lot about Schrodigner's Cat and the Many-Worlds Theory, it allows you to skip between different parallel dimensions to progress farther in the game. Effectively, the game gives players a non-linear control over time.
I'm truly surprised that we haven't seen more games attempt this idea. While developers are so anxious to showcase their graphical advancements and claim their game is "innovative" and "cinematic," they never really deal with the way time affects our world.
Some other notable examples would be Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, Braid and (weirdly enough) Forza. All of those games have a rewind function that will let you undo simple mistakes. Braid and Forza aren't really concerned with challenge, so their mechanic is unlimited (though you can thankfully turn it off in Forza for realistic effect).
Sands of Time incorporates this time shift into it's story. The dagger which the Prince holds can only store a certain amount of time altering sand before being worthless. This deftly explains why one cannot simply undo every mistake.
As much as that may be total dominance over time, those games are still set on linear paths. That quick rewind can only go one direction; resuming control only allows one path. None of these games question whether or not your different choice truly deviates from a pre-determined course.
No no no. My story included more paths...and naked women.
Virtue's Last Reward revels in that type of manipulation. Characters will refer to your physical appearance as "strange" and "decrepit" before you get to the final twist. Certain elements in the background will stick out, but have no real meaning until you swap to a different dimension.
The game crafts a tale in which every single possible choice is the only true path. It gets the mind thinking about every decision you've ever made. What if I said yes to that girl or what if I studied harder in school? (or as Peter Griffin said, "you don't want to spend your life wondering what if".)
I know the predecessor to that game, 999, had many similar themes. The mechanics of that game only allowed you to see one path through before exchanging consciousness and charting a new course. The sequel seems more concerned with granting access to every possible experience.
The closest I can think of a game coming to this type of focus is with Papers, Please. While that game doesn't place emphasis on you having knowledge from multiple timelines (or even acknowledging that different universes may exist), it does let you move backward in time to live out every possible outcome.
Papers, Please bases its gameplay on multiple choices. Every time a new person comes up to the border, you can either quickly let them through, tag them for search, properly check their ID or even forge their documents. All of these decisions result in a distinctive conclusion.
The game features multiple endings, even if most of them are not satisfactory. As with life, you may not like where your course of action has brought you. Unlike life, you can always undo the change (and without reloading a save file). Now, I realize there are more games with this style of gameplay, but even Papers, Please isn't fully non-linear as far as time is concerned.
To me, I wouldn't mind seeing more games like Virtue's Last Reward in terms of narrative structure or gameplay. How about an adventure game in the vein of L.A. Noire where you get to switch dimensions to figure out clues? Maybe a shooter where allowing key characters to live can result in various conclusions?
All of these ideas don't really nail non-linearity of time. Maybe the real reason we haven't seen more games tackle this style is because everything has to move forward. You cannot undo time, no matter how hard you try. Our lives are set on linear courses from the day we are born.
Given that power to move backwards, I think most of us would just stick to a single day or two in our childhood. Why move on when you can always redo? This might ultimately be what gaming is trying to tell us; the choices you make are the ones you must deal with.
I could also be misunderstanding my own point of time flowing linearly. Maybe I just never pieced together that games allowing you to flow in reverse are really non-linear. If that is the case, then a game like The Bouncer is the most non-linear a title can get.
Whatever the case, I feel like developers should try to focus more on continuity and time. Shake things up with your franchises by allowing us to skip forward and backward at whim (but not pre-determined). The worst that can happen is we erase the history of Resident Evil 6. =)
I will gladly pick no.
7:54 PM on 03.11.2015
Absence makes the heart grow fonder; while the origin of this quote is unknown, the impact of those words can be profound. Removing yourself from your favorite place can be quite difficult. Sometimes the change is needed, other times the change is made from an irrational viewpoint.
About two years ago, I asked Andy Dixon to remove me from Destructoid. I noticed I was getting into fights in the comments section and writing crappier blogs in some vein attempt to get noticed. I just wanted to be liked, if not help people view games in a different light.
I still visited the site, but I refused to comment or make any blogs. I wanted to be done with the community and everyone around the site. I felt like I had failed them by being a petty child. I didn't want to stain the good name of their community.
After returning to the community blogs over on Screwattack, I started to realize a lot about myself. I had changed over those few years. I was more level-headed and less angry. I was more willing to discuss instead of assert my opinion. Most importantly, I missed the communities that helped me fall back in love with gaming.
I just wasn't ready to return to Destructoid. On Screwattack, I actually never lost respect. People accepted that I was on hiatus and the crew members looked forward to my appearance at their yearly cons. I ended up volunteering and feeling empowered and happy. I was glad to give back to a website that kindled a passion in my heart.
I never got that chance with Destructoid...that is until this past weekend. I never expected that PAX East would be the place that I would finally understand what I seek from my writing, but funny things happen to us humans. One minute can be a mundane cycle of repetition while the next is the catalyst for the fire in our minds.
After a hectic first day, my friend clued me in to a DToid meetup for Saturday night. While I skipped out on the photo in the afternoon, I made damn sure that I was able to get to the planned restaurant for that evening. I never expected to be the only person there, but life likes to throw funny curveballs our way.
When the crew ended up being late, I began to panic. I thought I had either wasted my time and money or just misread the location. I didn't want to say no to the whole situation, so I decided to put myself on the waiting list and get food.
About 10 minutes later, Jed walked in with some friends. Seeing his Twitch shirt, I figured asking if he knew Jonathan Holmes would be a safe bet. Not only was it safe, but it was rightfully founded; Jed was with him for that evening.
This began a very surreal night for me. While I'm not afraid of meeting "celebrities" and talking to them, I never expect to get into a more personal conversation with them. I was also caught by surprise when we sat down for dinner.
This is how it looked like in my head!
Nothing felt out of the ordinary after the talking got started. It was almost as if I were a part of their crew. It seemed like old friends catching up with their non-stop lives. We talked about games we had seen that day, films that were interesting to us, how stupid Cliffy B is and awful interviews.
I also volunteered myself to hand out community awards on the show floor. For all you guys who voted back at home, know that your voices were heard. I went around with the motley crew of DToid members and we handed out those little foam cards with pride and joy.
While the award for the Witcher vanished mysteriously, everyone else was genuinely surprised and happy to be getting these plaques. Seeing their smiling faces and getting to speak with them made me feel accepted. For once in my life, no one looked at me like a psychopath; now I was the bearer of good news and a "golden" trinket.
After we managed to tear up the PAX show floor, we needed food (as most humans do). So, who could turn down a bit of lunch with Mr. Holmes? Not only did I end up meeting and dining with him the night before, but I got to do it two days straight.
Really, what more could a DToid member ask for? I finally got to put faces to the people I have been following for years. Their words and analyses have given me hours of entertainment and introspection that I am thankful for. I cannot imagine myself being alive without such a website.
So while I may have neglected DToid and been an angry little basted for a few years, I feel that I've finally matured into the person I wanted to be. Seeing the struggles and challenges that these people go through to give us the content we take for granted really put a lot into perspective for me.
LIKE A BOSS!
So thank you Holmes, Caitlin, Jed, Kyle and Rob. Shout outs to Jared and that partially Asian sounding guy (I'm very sorry! I forgot your name). While I may never become a full fledged friend, you guys certainly made me feel like I was important for a few days. For that, I wish you all the best of luck.
P.S. Remember to name your child Jim, Holmes!
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