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11:07 PM on 08.23.2015

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

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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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7:58 PM on 05.02.2015

Forsaken Age

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.

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