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Returner Mike's blog

11:17 PM on 02.01.2013

The Chronic- What? -cles of Valkyria!

So after some confusion with Amazon (and possibly the most amazing customer service experience Iíve ever encountered in my life) I finally got 2008ís critically acclaimed Valkyria Chronicles.

While this game has been reviewed to death, Iíd still like to talk about it, especially for those of you on the fence about playing it.

Very rarely do I get to go so blindly into a major release like this one. I knew that it was an alternate universe World War 2, I knew it was a tactical RPG and I knew that a lot of really different people all want to sex up the disc for a plethora of reasons. That was about it. I had no idea what I was in for.

Starting the game up, youíre treated to the standard demo video, and this is the first time that I truly got to see the game in action... and holy shit. For a game four years old, it looks better than most releases now. The aesthetic, using Segaís CANVAS engine, makes the entire experience look like a living watercolor painting. Paired with the excellently realized anime designs, the developers have made a game that I genuinely canít imagine ever looking dated.

Hardened soldiers? Check. Plucky reporter? Check. Badass tank? Check.

Gameplay is broken into two sections, strategic and combat. In strategic, youíll visit your headquarters, buy upgrades, train troops, select scenes and read through the worldís history. The entire interface is designed to look like a history text, and itís an attractive and functional way to navigate the gameís options.

In combat, the gameplay is turn based tactical combat with slight real-time aspects. You have a limited number of orders per turn, and you can hand them out as you like. If you want to give them all to one soldier, having them shoot the hell out of whateverís nearby, go nuts, though a characterís movement is denoted by a yellow bar that reduces as you move around. Subsequent orders to the same soldier garner less and less movement allowance. Orders that you donít give carry over to the next phase.

Attacking with a soldier pops you into either third person view or, if youíre commanding a sniper, first person view to target wherever you like on an enemy target. Play goes back and forth until either your team is wiped out, your main battle tank is destroyed or you complete your objectives.

The story is deep and vivid and full of fantastic social, historical and political details and itís easy to get lost just reading up on the world. At itís heart, all this aside, is the story of two soldiers, Welkin and Alicia, caught up in defending their small nation and just wanting to go home.

Emotionally, the gameís all over the place, one minute having the characters watching a delirious enemy soldier die before them, begging for his mom, and the next, playing volleyball with their squad and a winged pig. Itís heartwarming, poignant, funny and exciting.

Jesus Christ Iím tripping balls.

All this though fails to convey the flat-out absurd level of detail this game has. I can say how you can read about the histories of the various nations, but until you open the glossary and find pages on native plant life, you wonít realize just how batshit crazy this game gets with itís own world. Perhaps the most impressive feature is the fact that every single character you can enlist has their own voice actors, histories, mannerisms and personality traits that change how they function on the battlefield. Some of these are positive (ĎSadistí is a favorite of mine, the character gets bonuses when shooting people to death.) and some of these are negative (such as being racist or being allergic to, of all things, biomes).

Argh, you make me so racist I canít shoot straight!

Itís a testament to the game that about ten hours in Iíve already started thinking of my soldiers in terms of who and what they like, rather than their stats. And you have to, because theyíre all practically the same besides those traits. A good commander will use this knowledge.

Another thing is the permadeath. Iím not sure how I feel about it in this game. In X-COM, I only play in Ironman, so when someone dies, theyíre gone and thereís fuckall I can do about it. I feel it adds a serious sense of urgency to the game. In VC, you can save all the goddamned time (and you really, really should) so most of the time, losing a trooper is pretty hard to do. The only time I ever considered letting a downed soldier stay dead, it was a 15 year old girl who was drafted into the war. As she lay on the ground, an enemy soldier came up and put his gun to her head. She looks at the camera and says ďI hope I can find my way to Heaven... Iíve never been good with directions...Ē

BANG. ĎSO-AND-SO has been killed in action.í

Fuck that. I reloaded.

Besides this, the game isnít without itís issues. The hit percentages feel wildly stacked against you at times (I swear my anti-tank soldiers graduated from the Helen Keller School of Combat), your troops will waste movement points and get killed because of badly designed geometry or invisible walls and the controls are absurdly touchy for the precision needed at times. Also, sometimes youíll start a mission and due to random mortar targeting will lose either a good chunk of your team or all of your available cover in the first phase.

Tis only a flesh wound!

These are all buried under the sheer brilliance of this title though. If you have even the slightest chance to play this (hell, I donít even own a PS3... Iím just stealing my roommateís) get it. You can likely pick it up for under $20 now and trust me when I say that itís possibly the most stunningly designed and fully realized work on the system. Besides the detail, the lovable characters and the solid gameplay, it also boasts not only a fantastic soundtrack, but the ability to switch between English and Japanese voiceovers.

One word of note though, the translation is probably one of the most interesting, if distracting, parts of the game. The localization teams took a lot of liberties with the text and if youíre using the Japanese voices, what they say isnít always what youíre reading. Not that this is a bad thing, mind you, as most people try to translate Japanese directly into English and it usually ends up sounding like the audible equivalent of a gaping stomach wound, but if you speak Japanese, youíll definitely get a different picture of some of the characters than presented by the text.

Has anyone here played it? What are your thoughts on it?   read

1:47 AM on 01.30.2013

A Payneful Experience

I am nearly finished with Max Payne 3, and have finally come to admit to myself a difficult truth.

I donít like this game.

This was a shocker to me, as MP 1 & 2 are games that I consider to be some of the best that the third person shooter genre has to offer. When MP3 was announced, I was initially turned off by the redesign and changes, but I refused to let that stop me from trying it. Rockstar had not hurt me with this series yet and I trusted them.

It was about halfway through the game that the nagging voice in my head (the one that convinces me that three cookies would be better than one, and that those jeans looked like ass on me anyway) started up. I took a break and complained to a friend, but he advised me: push on.

So I did, and what I found was severely lacking.

Screw working as a temp. I'm going back to bodyguarding.

First off, the game play. I donít know how this ended up so clunky, especially since Rockstar lives and breathes third person shooters. The fourth or fifth time I died because the targeting reticle vanished behind Maxís head I let out a grunt of frustration. How did no one else see this? It happens all the time to me, and I canít be the only one. Did they simply think that his shaven head was just too damn pretty to move out of the playerís view? (It IS pretty though)

The animations were another point. Standing up, crouching and entering/leaving cover are performed too slowly. The number of times I got shot because Max took too long to move away from a wall was obnoxious.

Not having any visual feedback when youíre being shot was also baffling. How the hell did that happen? I know Max is a bad ass, but I would finish a gunfight and think I had just completely danced through the fight unharmed only to realize my lungs were scattered across the wall behind me.

If only Brazilian Air had pulled Die Hard from their in-flight movie list.

These are small fries though compared to my biggest gripe... how rushed everything felt. I feel that the game design process went something like this:

Visionary - ĎWeíre going to make this game so detailed, so beautiful, so jam-packed with hidden items, clues and interactive environments that youíll need like 30 GB of hard drive space.í

Former EA Employee - ĎThat sounds amazing, but youíre forgetting one crucial detail - 80% of the game should have you paired up with a useless NPC who constantly shouts at you to hurry up. Also, it should be utterly inconsistent as to what scenes you need to rush through and which ones will fail you after an unclear amount of time.í

Visionary - ĎYouíre an asshole.í

Former EA Employee - ĎOh, but the other 20% of the time, there should be near constant inner monologue where Max is yelling at the player to keep going.í

Pictured: Max's newest ally. All of them.

Seriously. Itís infuriating. Why would they make a game so detailed and interactive and then constantly force the player to keep moving? Besides the NPCs, just approaching the next scene will trigger a cut scene without warning, throwing you ahead into another fight and stopping you from exploring the previous area. It feels more like Lethal Enforcers than Max Payne.

Also, what is up with the story? Max gets bored, decides to work a shitty bodyguard detail in a violent hell hole, working for clearly evil people. There are no likable or memorable characters either. Everyone is a walking stereotype of one form or another and they all do their very best to annoy the shit out of the player.

This isn't what I picture when I hear Max Payne. When I hear Max Payne, I picture distinctive visual style. I picture Neo-Noir and John Wooís lovechild. I picture a man torn by the deaths of his family and seeking revenge. I see the deep, intelligent juxtaposition of a New York mob war and Norse mythology. I see a unique graphic novel storytelling style. I see grim humor and self-awareness. I see disturbing, surreal horror. I picture some goddamned color. Not a game that looks like a generic modern warfare shooter with an HD upgrade.


I mean, who looked at the graphic novel portions from MP1 & 2 and said ĎYou know what we need instead? Generic cut scenes.í

Maybe Iím jaded and cynical, but this canít be the best Rockstar can do. This canít be the same game that garnered such strong critical praise. It feels too much like a run-of-the-mill, generic shoot-em-up. It has only the barest connections to anything prior and the whole game I wondered why they even used Max as their main character. The previous two games weren't afraid to be a little out of the box. Itís sad to see this one use that same box as a comfort blanket.   read

6:02 PM on 01.27.2013

Mass Arcade Overview - Xbox Live Five

I find myself in a position Iím becoming rather familiar with (no, not reverse cowgirl)... owning all of the games in an upcoming pack. So now that Iím finally doing this crazy blog thing, I figured Iíd spread some of that knowledge for those of you on the fence about buying this absurdly awesome pack.

Without further ado...

1. Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet

ITSP is a game in the Metroidvania style, where you pilot a UFO and explore an alien world while collecting items, weapons and upgrades that allow you to backtrack and progress further. The best part of this game, hands down, is the art. Itís almost worth picking this up for that alone. The game is gorgeous, and runs like a dream. Itís stylized, acid-trip-like visuals make you feel like youíre in a lost episode of some crazy cartoon.

There are drawbacks. The game itself is fairly short, and at times crushingly difficult. Figuring out some of the puzzles can be very hit or miss and you can find yourself lost or way over your head fairly easily. The multiplayer, too, is another shortcoming. Donít be fooled by the 4 player co-op. Co-op involves running from a massive creature down an obstacle filled hall while carrying a light in the manipulator claw of your ship. Each player gets one, and if the enemy hits them, it destroys the light. Itís frustrating, confusing and you will find yourself often screwed by the physics of the game. Thereís also only one map with very little variety in the challenges you face.

Gir, this is the last time Iím letting you pick our vacation spot.

2. Deadlight

In Deadlight, you play a survivor in a zombie-infested, apocalyptic Seattle whoís trying to find his wife and daughter who he assumes are in one of the areaís refugee camp. The gameplay itself is reminiscent of older adventure games Out of this World, Flashback and Blackthorne, and the controls are for the most part, solid and responsive.

Out of all the games in this pack, to me this is the weakest. I managed to play through this game in less than 6 hours, and while it is visually and atmospherically stunning, many of the puzzles can be unfairly cryptic and youíll find yourself getting killed many times in a way that feels a bit cheap at times (Iím looking at you, Rat).

The developers have packed an unbelievable amount of backstory, history, detail and emotion into this game, and while I feel it could have benefitted from a bit longer run time, Iím glad it doesnít overstay its welcome.

His homeless-fu is strong.

3. Toy Soldiers

The only game in the pack that I havenít had a lot of time with. A sort of hybrid tower-defense, RTS... thing... Toy Soldiers sees you fighting off massive swarms of enemy soldiers with gun emplacements, artillery, tanks (which you can control directly), planes (which you can fly directly) and snipers (which you can take over and shoot with directly). Itís a lot of fun, but tends to drift towards the repetitive side after a few missions. Some missions also tend to be a bit longer than they should, and the lack of checkpoints to restart with means losing can be painful at times.

Iíve made it through about a quarter of the main campaign and have no major beef with the game. Some weapons could stand to feel a bit stronger, there might be more reward to personally controlling vehicles but those are mostly nitpicks.

If you enjoy tower defense and wished it could be a bit more hands on, this isnít a bad place to start. Though compared to the next entry, it starts to look a bit pale.

If youíre captured... itís into the microwave for you!

4. Iron Brigade/Trenched

In this World War 1 aesthetic sci-fi masterpiece, you pilot a ĎTrenchí, a big, rickety mech bristling with guns, missiles and mines. Your enemy is the Tube, a cybernetic life form created by an evil science bent on... you know what? I donít know. Probably killing stuff.

Honestly, it doesnít matter. While the writing in this game is good, the gameplay is like having cocaine shot directly into your eyes. This is an arcade-style mech piloting tower defense game with some surprisingly robust customization options.

My advice? Get three friends to shell out for this, get plenty of the drink of your choice and crank through this baby. It was the most fun Iíve had with a video game in years. No surprise there, being a Double Fine production.

Seriously. This features a general who lives in an iron lung (which has an automated cigar cutter/lighter/manipulator built in for him) and lets you play as a posh British soldier in a tuxedo and tiki mask aboard a walking mech painted solid gold. Itís mad fun. Tied for the best title in the bunch with...

Yes, I AM compensating for something.

5. Mark of the Ninja

Talk about dynamic entry. Inked in the oh-so-iconic Penny Arcade style, this sidescrolling stealth title was one of the biggest Ďholy shití moments of last year.

You play a ninja (YES!) who has received a magical tattoo that allows him to stop time whenever he feels like it. The story concerns the old Ďrevenge for my destroyed claní thing that damn near every ninja has going on, but thatís not the reason to play this.

The absolutely eyegasming visuals, the fantastic sound direction, the solid gameplay and the absolutely knife-edge-perfect stealth mechanics are the reasons to play this.

This game stands in the perfect balance of not holding your hand, but never putting you in a situation that you wonít naturally be able to conquer on your own. Itís empowering, itís fast and itís thrilling as hell. Taking out a roomful of guards hasnít felt this amazing since Arkham Asylum, and youíll find yourself grinning ear to ear as you pull off amazing strategies and destroy your foes.

Fans of stealth games will love the system, and people who arenít major stealth fans might still like it for itís solid controls, beautiful presentation and organic mechanics.

Itís also very flexible on how it allows you to approach a mission. Want to avoid kills? By all means. Itís a hell of a challenge. Want to kill everybody? Go ahead, the gameíll support you all the way through. The only thing you canít do is get caught. Your ninja knows what his job is, and thatís cutting people like fruit while being invisible, and it cements this by not allowing you to kill people when theyíre aware of your presence.

Easily a contender for my top list of 2012, you canít go wrong with Mark.

More like a non-ja.   read

4:03 PM on 01.27.2013

Daddy Issues - Games With a Parental Theme

Awhile ago, Iíd read an article outlining how games are beginning to target older audiences, in an effort to appeal to the finally-aging fan base of our favorite medium. It was an interesting read, and one that wasnít unexpected, but still struck a chord with me.

Recently though, I was surprised to realize that many of the games Iíd been becoming enraptured with embodied this idea. Now, I have no children, nor am I personally sure Iím ever going to, but I was surprised to see just how strongly these appeal to me.

Iíve never been one to shy away from having an emotional reaction to a good story, so when I say that dad movies always manage to affect me, understand that they usually hit hard. Big Fish, Field of Dreams, etc... these movies always hit home. Strangely enough though, itís the role reversal found in the games Iíve been playing thatís having the same effect.

It started with Red Dead Redemption. Minor spoilers here, nothing too major, but if youíd rather, just skip down after the image. The game took awhile to grip me, but after it did, I was hooked. I really got into Johnís story, his hunt for these men, his desire to protect his family, it became personal. At the end, after all is said and done, the time you get to spend with your son really got to me. It was a fantastic reward, getting to spend time doing mundane things with your child after all the violence and madness.

My dad can bullet-time kill your dad.

Fast forward to a month or two ago, when I finally stumbled into The Walking Dead. Going in, I knew nothing about this game. The first episode was good, mind you, but the real beauty didnít occur to me until sometime a bit later. Iím talking, of course, about Clementine. For what itís worth, Iíve never encountered a child character more compelling or better realized in a game.

I think it was sometime around chapter 3 that it suddenly hit me that I wasnít making decisions that benefitted my character most or that were the usual choices Iíd make in a game... I was making the choices that I felt were best for Clem. Both Lee and Clemís relationship and watching Kenny fight to keep his family safe really impacted me on a personal level. The moment Clem admitted to putting a bug on Duckís pillow with that mischievous grin, I knew I would do anything to make sure she made it through that game.

Out of context, this picture is sketchy as hell.

Dishonored, which Iím currently playing through, is another game which has a strong father theme. It makes the player question his actions, whether he wants to seek out and realize his revenge for the terrible things done to him or whether he can forgive and let go of these grievances in hopes of not destroying the city that his young ward is meant to inherit. While I donít think Dishonored is particularly well written, the idea is there and it is something I canít help but keep in mind as the Ďchoke a foolí and the Ďstab a foolí options pop up on my screen.

Hit-Girl seems to be collecting screwed up father figures.

I like this trend. I never expected I would, but I like games that put me into this protector sort of position. It feels more real and feels far more emotionally gripping than saving the world or a kingdom or just getting revenge. It forces me to think outside the box. In Far Cry 3, my choices are Ďshoot someone with a rifle from far awayí, Ďsic a bear on peopleí or Ďstab people in the throatí. While an absurdly fun game (emphasis on absurdly fun), these are personal, selfish choices. They donít matter in the long run. Being forced to decide whatís best for another, to weigh my actions according to someone elseís standards... that provides a strong, memorable obstacle for me. I will always remember sweating in front of my monitor, hands frozen on the keyboard, as Clementine looked up at me, patiently awaiting my answer to an absolutely gut-wrenching question.

Well thank goodness there arenít any children around to see this.

How about the rest of you? Do you feel the same way? What moments in games do you remember affecting you due to itís effect not on you or your avatar, but another character?   read

5:32 PM on 01.26.2013

Control vs. Power or Stop Helping Me Dammit!

Recently, I got to play through Resident Evil 6 with a friend of mine, who surprised me with the game as a Christmas gift. Now, this game has received a lot of flak and while admittedly itís earned most of it, I still think it does a lot of things right. Mind you, Iíve been a fan of the series since its debut on PS1.

However, one thing it did was help me get to the core of my biggest pet peeve in video games. Games have one trait and one trait only that puts them apart from other media. Control. Video games are the only entertainment platform where you are able to make decisions for the protagonist (or army, or whatever) and have those decisions produce unique consequences.

Fe Fi Fo Fum, I smell the blood of a minimalistic protagonist.

So... we know this. You know this, I know this, why am I telling this to a person with a controller sitting a few feet away? (And likely without charge. Hook that thing up so you wonít be sad later!)

Well, I believe there are two concepts at war here. Control and power. Control is your ability to move your character, to perform actions within the gamespace that have some effect on your character or the world (even if this is just moving around a bit). Power is how in control of the situation you find your character in. I feel these are important distinctions.

Taking away power from a player can be a, well, powerful thing to do in a game. Think of the time you fight Pyramid Head in Silent Hill 2, trapped in a flooded stairwell with him. This is a great example of taking away power, but not control. You could try to attack him with your pipe, shoot at him, run away or bleed on him heroically, but this was Pyramid Head. He was huge and terrifying. He never showed a reaction to your attacks. The game specifically refused to give you feedback in the form of health bars, flinches, flashing red enemies or the like. You felt helpless. It wasnít frustrating, it was terrifying. You were in control and the only one you could blame for your predicament was yourself.

James regrets not taking his pills that morning.

Shadow of the Colossus, without going into too many spoilers, used the gift of control and the denial of power to great effect in its ending to richen and strengthen the experience.

Resident Evil 6, however, flips this on its head, and like a similarly-handled toddler, the result isnít very pretty or functional. There were countless times in the game where the player is forced to look at some item of interest. Occasionally this is an important enemy or clue to a puzzle, but more often the camera is hijacked to show a door or, worse, something the other player is doing. What really makes these events special is that not only can you not skip or avoid them, and not only does this pull your targeting reticle with it (yep, potentially making you miss a shot with your valuable, valuable ammo... or blowing yourself up) but it doesnít pause the game.

At least half a dozen times throughout the experience I would return from a cutscene revealing a door or switch to find myself surrounded by enemies. This is particularly egregious during a forced stealth segment, where you are mostly unarmed and being guided by your ally in a security room. When my ally opened a door, the camera jumped away to show him doing that... opening a door. When I returned to my character, a few seconds later, the alarm had been tripped by a wandering guard that saw me and I was already surrounded by foes.

ďWhy canít I quit you?Ē ďThe cameraís been hijacked.Ē ďOh.Ē

This isnít an occasional thing... this happens all the time. I canít imagine this made it through testing without at least a few broken controllers. Even worse, there are mandatory chase sequences where the camera will switch angles, and will switch your directional input with it. Youíll suddenly find yourself running towards the giant monster.

This is bad game design, and there is no excuse for it. Gears of War implemented this elegantly by allowing you to press Y to optionally look at the important thing the game wanted to show you. If you were too busy chainsawing people, you could ignore it. More recently Journey used the background and level design to naturally bring your attention to points of interest and scenery of note. Resident Evil 6 has no excuse.

Itís like when you see your powerful, experienced hero captured by one guy with a pistol. Your avatar has survived hundreds of bullets and can likely out shoot his captors, but the story demands you submit and a cutscene makes it happen. Itís annoying and breaks the illusion that weíre in control of the character.

Take Spec Ops: The Line. If you have not played this game, you should. Itís an incredible, unique experience that Iíve never seen replicated. In that game, youíre often presented with questionable situations and surprisingly (besides one major exception) the game allows you full freedom to react to those situations however you like with the abilities you have. The best part is? It doesnít tell you that you can do these things. Itís organic and natural... you never feel cheated or like youíre not in control of your character. You just react and the game responds exactly as youíd expect.

David Carradine was a bad example on Dubaiís youth.

Capcom could learn a thing or two.

How about the rest of you? What are some moments in your experience that have removed your power or control, and how effective were they as game elements?   read

2:31 AM on 01.25.2013

Can A Video Game Be Sexy?

Well, I suppose for a debut post, this isnít a bad place to start.

So, sex in video games. This is a topic that has always been on my mind, one Iíve felt gets an awful lot of attention but doesnít actually benefit from this attention in any meaningful way. Iíll avoid the whole Ďitís fucked that you can blow off 36 individual parts of a person in Soldier of Fortune 2 but nipples are SATANí discussion for now though.

Can video games be sexy? Of course they can. Hereís the secret folks - no one drew Minerva Mink or designed Blood Rayne so that their character design reflects their deep, well-written character. Someone, somewhere, (probably a few someones, that shit gets expensive to produce) found the traits that they decided to gift these characters with sexy. Some artist discovered that he got tingly in the nethers when he looked at girls in leather and figured that maybe, just maybe, someone else would appreciate this.

Is it exploitative? Sure. Is it degrading? Thatís debatable. Is it arousing? Sure, it could be. Why not? Thereís an absurd idea floating about that people should be ashamed of what theyíre aroused by. I grew up on cartoons and video games, and some of my earlier crushes were Terra Branford, Gadget and Zelda. Why not? They were a part of the things I enjoyed, they were important to me in the context of the hobbies I had and they were designed to appeal in some way to their audiences.

Human beings do not control whom or what theyíre attracted to. Heterosexuals, homosexuals, asexuals, furries, pedophiles, foot fetishists... no one sits down and checks off what they want to find arousing (it would save me a LOT of money and effort if I was sexually fulfilled by Pepperidge Farm Goldfish). No one wakes up one day and says ĎI canít wait to be a social pariah for my personal urgesí. We just make do the best we can. ĎWhatever floats your boatí indeed.

So when we talk about arousing moments in video games, the focus should be less on Ďcan video games be arousingí and more Ďwhat makes a scene arousingí. Itís the same with Hollywood, (and to be fair, in the context of realism, uploading some knuckle children into Cortana and hooking up with Emma Stone are both pretty damn unlikely for pretty much everyone) some sex scenes work really well and some... donít. Two words: Showgirls, pool. To some degree, itíll always be a personal preference thing, but design figures into it too.

So... what makes a good video game sex scene? To be honest, they havenít really nailed that down yet. Personally, I remember Shepard and Taliís love scene from Mass Effect 2 affecting me, but emotionally, not necessarily sexually. It wasnít explicit, but neither was it awkward or poorly animated, likely thanks to the overeager cut-to-black.

On the other hand Fahrenheit/Indigo Prophecyís sex scenes were more explicit and didnít feel too shoehorned in, but didnít really rev my motor. Maybe it was the uncanny valley, maybe it was the bad animation, who knows.

More recently, Far Cry 3 received some attention for having one of the first mainstream first person sex sequences, and while it wasnít all that long or graphic, I found it to be more effective in conveying realistic sex than many games have in the past. The characters are climbing the far end of the uncanny valley, and while the scene itself was pretty out there, the sex wasnít over the top.

Itís hard to talk about sex in games without discussing eroge, which for those who donít know means Erotic Game, and originates in Japan. Often in the form of visual novels, these games are only marked as eroge if they feature graphic sexual content... regardless of how much there actually is. Now, these really donít do sex any better than other media, and in fact probably do a far worse job in many cases, but one title Iíll mention briefly is the US produced, free-to-play Katawa Shoujo.

Now, regardless of your thoughts on the subject matter and quality, one thing that really stood out about the experience is how it flat-out nails the first-time sexual experience. Anyone who has had sex will immediately grimace, grin or squirm at (most of) the scenes, and to me, that makes them fantastic. All the poor communication, the lack of satisfaction, the uncertainty... they really captured it well, and I think it goes a long way towards its charm. Its relatable and grounded, not idealized and clean, which sex rarely is.

You often hear the argument that these scenes in games donít need to be as explicit as they are, but Iíd like to put forth the argument that as technology improves, we should be pushing to be more explicit. Why not? In Mass Effect, you watch friends and children die, make decisions that condemn lovers, comrades or entire races to horrific fates, and in the middle of all this madness, we should cut away from the one moment of love? Why?

Human sexuality has always been something of great interest and great importance to me. Itís always shocked me how something so important to life, something that is of such an interest to nearly all of us, has become such a knee-jerk taboo throughout much of the world. Film, literature and music have made strides, for better and for worse, in exploring these important matters for years now... itís about time for gaming to be a bit less shy about doing the same.

What do you all think? Tell me about a scene in a game, sexual in nature, that made you feel something. What was the scene? What did you feel? Arousal? Warmth? Embarrassment?   read

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