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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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6:07 PM on 04.22.2015

Next-Gen is Finally Here!

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.

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11:16 AM on 03.29.2015

The Linearity of Time

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.

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7:54 PM on 03.11.2015

The Convention that Changed it All

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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