After years of reading and commenting on Dtoid, I finally decided to start a videogame blog what I've done with a few friends. We just can't help it-- we just want to talk to people (and women) about videogames!
TG: Jesus, let's not get into this begat business.
YK: I agree. Being borne from God, while also being the God Who gave birth to you is mad messed up. Anyway, Binding. First of all, I am sorry for not crafting you in an image that doesn't suck at this game.
TG: Well excuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuse me, Prince-of Peace! It certainly does not help that the game is built in Flash and on even the most beastly rigs, is horridly demanding. A bit like the Church, perhaps.
YK: Why don't you lower the resolution? And your expectations. Of the Church. They're good folks. Well, most of them. Some. You can tell which from which, in any case.
GODTIP: If you hug the top wall, the red flies can't hurt you. That should take care of, well, 70% of your annoyances.
I expect gratitude in the form of slayed lambs, shekels, and not blaming me for natural disasters. Global warming is totally your fault, jerkos.
TG: I'm especially good at expectorating! My tears. Verily, this game is indeed glooo-ooooooooorious. In excelsis deo! It reminds me of the golden days of my youth, playing Contra, where games needed a perfect combination of skills and memorization for victory. Except this game has randomly generated levels! It's as wishy-washy as the Judeo-Christian deity in the "Old Testament"!
YK: The levels are procedurally generated, yes. But there's a set amount of room patterns the game can draw from. Kind of like some church leaders and their Biblical knowledge! Dohohohoho. Statler and Waldorf were the best, were they not? The Muppets were my most prized creation.
What was I saying? Oh right, Isaac. There's a certain strategy to getting through each room that can only be uncovered through long hours of toil and repentance. Alternatively, you can watch LethalFrag's three-hour livestream recording where he systematically destroys each and every room like he was a pre-Ark degenerate in a house party. Good stuff. Lethalfrag will have a place in my kingdom.
TG: The allegorical references were among my favorite parts of the game. The monsters, the story, many of the weapons and gear, and even the layouts of several rooms were based on Biblical mytholog-- I mean, truth. The Binding of Isaac was a critical revelation when it was first released, although I don't think too many people heard the good news. The developers are proselytizing, though, and releasing a new and improved sprite-based version soonish. Have you heard of it, Master?
YK: What? Sorry, I can't hear you over all this ECONOMY plummeting! Man, these God problems.
Oh yes, The Binding of Isaac was something else. Really rustled the plimsolls of the soccer moms who saw it as yet another infringement of their religious rights. Not that I enjoy all that blasphemy that went on with that game! I mean, that strawman Christian mom who attempted to kill her kid because she was... insane and being brainwashed by televangelists... hmm. Or one of the endings, where Isaac defeats his mom by dropping a Bible on her head. That's a straight up... metaphor suggesting... that, uhh, truly studying the Word will... prevent ignorance li--okay. I guess there wasn't any blasphemy at all! LOL! Humans still say LOL, right?
The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth, yes. Hopefully your sausage-like fingers will be able to better calculate Isaac's hitbox now that you can clearly delineate it from everything else! ZAP. You just been blessed!
TG: Yowza bo bowza! Thank god for you, Jesus!
So the game is being reborn, just like you on this most blessed day.
He lives! He lives! Christ Jesus lives today!
He walks with me and talks with me along life's narrow way.
He lives! He lives! Salvation to impart!
You ask me how I know He lives? He lives within my heart.
Like many people, I first discovered Destructoid through a controversial review by—who else?—Jim Sterling. But it wasn't the incredible Assassin's Creed II or Final Fantasy XIII reviews that first drew me into the site. It was a review for Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars, which Jim gave the impossibly low score of… 8.5.
I was a younger, more idealistic child back then, and an owner of the greatest handheld of all time, the DS. I took Metacritic shamefully seriously as well, and Chinatown Wars— you'll know this if you've ever played it— was superb. It took everything that made GTA fun and distilled it into a Liberty City just as living, and arguably more vibrant, than that in the home console versions. The game understood what made the DS great, and played to its strengths well, with a lush, cel-shaded art style, well-integrated touchscreen mechanics, and unvoiced cutscenes hilarious in their swagger.
In that long-gone era I also rather shamefully took Metacritic seriously, and the scores of Chinatown Wars early on were hovering at around 95, which I took as a validation of the DS as a platform. Here was a non-Nintendo published game, and rated M at that, scoring higher than Ocarina of Time itself. But then popped up an outlier: that rascally Jim Sterling, ooooh that fat bastard, just had to give the game an abysmal 8.5, marking the first time an outlet had scored lower than 9.0.
The review rankled me. How could someone have such a contrary opinion? I couldn't believe that this man had rated this amazing game so low. While that review never sat well with me, something else stuck: their mantra at the time, "Brutally honest game reviews".
Through Destructoid I was introduced to my second mainstay Rock, Paper, Shotgun, who in turn led me to places like Critical Distance, Kill Screen, and the wider pool of video game criticism, exemplified by people like Dtoid alumna Leigh Alexander. I began to understand that that video games writing could tap into the heart as well as the mind.
Niero's story, as seen through his Webmaster Dojo column, was most directly responsible for shaping my actions to this day. His espousal of “living the dream” inspired me to try my hand at writing about video games. I started out with a review of Ghost Trick,a revisiting of the true meaning of Ocarina of Time, and an analysis of modern day difficulty in games (with a little help from Jimothy). I later joined the enthusiast site Nintendojo, writing news on all things Nintendo related, as well as reviewing both retail and digital 3DS games—some from the publisher, some bought on my own dime, like Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask. Look, ma, I’m on Metacritic! GAMES JOURNALISM.
These past few months, I’ve branched out a bit. While I continue to write for Nintendojo (Capcom just sent us a copy of Monster Hunter 3 Ultimatefor the Wii U), I decided to pull a bit of a Niero and found a gaming blog of my own: Kambyero, a site I founded with my colleagues and friends that is our own way of addressing the dearth of video games writing in the Philippines.
The Philippines had a surge of games writing in the early- to mid-2000s; the British magazine GamesMaster had a momentary presence here. But they were shuttered after a couple of years, and all that remained were sites that only tangentially featured games, such as tech blogs. At the risk of sounding salvationary like Polygon, we at Kambyero aim to change that.
Filipinos have had a unique upbringing in terms of games. Much like many of our cultural artifacts, our video game sensibilities are a joining of “Eastern” and “Western” culture— my generation cut our gaming teeth on the Family Computer, which was succeeded by the American SNES and the European Megadrive. Gaming here is as social as it is in Japan—the prevalence of internet café culture means that we love our LAN parties built upon Counter-Strike and DotA, and many of us play MMOs people in the States have probably never even heard of. Oh, and Monster Hunter? It’s huge here— the release day of Monster Hunter 3 Ultimateattracted the same kinds of lines that similarly accompanied local releases of Diablo III, Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, and Assassin’s Creed III.
Despite the prevalence of gaming culture in the Philippines, it hasn’t really been talked about before, and neither has the place of video games as an art form. In our first two months, Kambyero has written about the implications of always-online DRM to customers in the “Third World”, how the “street” ethics of our youth manifests itself in e-sports, and a defense of “bad endings” in games, endings where the main character dies and/or the world goes to hell.
And we’ve only just begun. Issues await, such as piracy, games pricing, and the booming ghost development industry here (bet you didn’t know that considerable portions of the Uncharted games were made in the Philippines). Even as most games writing in the “West” has gone to complete shit in a sea of Doritos, Mountain Dew, “misandry”, server-side calculations, masturbatory documentaries, and LIES AND DECEIT, people like John Walker, Jim Sterling, and Niero continue to carry that torch we follow.
Happy anniversary, Destructoid. But in all honesty? Chinatown Wars truly does not deserve an 8.5. You should play it sometime, Jam Starling. YEAH YEAH
What do you do if you buy a game and can't play it? The highly anticipated SimCity released a couple of days ago to excellent critic reviews... but to terrible backlash from people who actually paid for it. This is because the game requires an always-online connection, and EA's servers couldn't handle the onrush of eager mayors, effectively locking people out of their game.
Pictured: The SimCity launch, as depicted by its predecessor that has no such DRM.
This isn't a new thing. Last year's Diablo III is guilty of it too, making you connect to the internet even though you were playing single-player, for reasons known only to Activision-Blizzard. The Assassin's Creed games on PC used to have this DRM, before Ubisoft wised up.
Of course, EA could have been copying its nemesis Activision, who published Diablo III, a game that also added always-online DRM to a franchise that was previously unburdened by it. And they got away with it too-- the game sold over 12 million copiesin 2012. Let's not let that happen again.
The games industry, everyone. Games journalism, everyone. Always-online DRM has no place in single-player games. Always-online DRM does not work if the people providing it cannot provide the infrastructure to handle it. As long as this DRM remains, stay away from SimCity. If this is the future of gaming, we'd do better to stay in its golden past:
Assassin’s Creed, you’ve let yourself go. What have you become?
You used to hold the promise of the next-gen. Remember your trailer from long ago, which showcased gameplay elements impossible during the days of the PS2?
Identify your target, make a surgical strike on your own terms, and then disappear. Be an assassin. An assassin in an open world, with all the moves of the Prince of Persia. This footage from 2006 got me very excited, an excitement I held for four years until I finally got to play your first, glorious entry.
Assassin’s Creed was beautiful. Sure, it was repetitive, essentially giving me the same objective nine times, but the parameters were fundamentally sound, and faithful to the trailer. Depending on the approach I chose to take, no assassination was the same. Altaïr was the ultimate badass, and the epitome of the perfect killer. He was a blank enough slate to let me project myself onto him as the player character, but had ample motivation for his work as a member of an order that may or may not have been fighting for the right thing.
The setting was astounding as well. Assassin’s Creed was set during the tail end of the Crusades, and centered around the historic cities Damascus, Acre, and Jerusalem. As a young man raised in the absolutely true teachings of good ol’ Christianity, visiting these places I had only read about, seeing them so lushly populated, and traversing them in such a spectacular manner, made this first game an awesome (the old meaning of awesome, mind) trip through time and space. The 1100s “Holy Land” was a living environment, with each city distinctly different from the last, and gave the game much of the character so devoid in Altaïr. It didn’t take itself too seriously, either.
Assassin’s Creed II took my concept of virtual tourism and multiplied it exponentially. Renaissance Italy was, for the most part, faithfully recreated, and new protagonist Ezio parkoured his way through Florence and Venice. Residences were multiple stories high, and iconic landmarks such as the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, the Torre dell'Orologio, and the Campanile di San Marco could be climbed and leapt off of, providing me with a colorful playground in more ways than one— shocked citizens would often shout Italian profanities, teaching me stronzo and cazzo and merda, like a more exciting Rosetta Stone.
Speaking of more exciting: oh, Ezio. You were the polar opposite of the uptight Altaïr. With your stereotypical Romance suavity, I saw you romp around Florence, making impossible jumps, scoring impossible lays. Even as tragedy befell you, your devotion to your mission was tempered by your charm, making the forty-year journey through Assassin’s Creed II one that I shouldered gamely.
The ludicrous Desmond metanarrative was tolerable back then as well. Virtually nothing was known about the mythology of the Assassins and Templars, so piecing together the myriad factors in this timeless war in the “real” world was an exciting prospect. After the soporific “read emails and walk around the office” Desmond bits in the first game, seeking out virtual clues in the various buildings to find out the Dan Brown-style “Truth” was compelling in a pop trash way.
Then you became a yearly series, like some Call of Duty or NBA Live, milking Ezio’s popularity for all it was worth. Admittedly, Brotherhood was fantastic follow-up, starring an aging Ezio, now the leader of his order, as he recruited new members across Rome. Leonardo da Vinci, an integral character in Assassin’s Creed II, made his return as Ezio’s oldest and most enduring (brotherly) love. It didn’t matter too much that this was only an incremental upgrade over the previous game, because it had Rome and parachutes. What other games let you dive off the Coliseum and the Pantheon?
The sheen wore off for Assassin’s Creed: Revelations. A third game starring Ezio, who by now was so old that he needed bombs to conduct his killin’ work, making him less a ninja and more a period Rambo? That a 55-year-old was even more agile than the youthful man in the previous games was stretching the fiction a little. The new tower defense mechanic was both dull and unneeded—who plays Assassin’s Creed for their Plants vs. Zombies fix? Still, I got to visit the beautiful Istanbul and hang with Prince Suleiman, the fresh setting and architecture a welcome departure from the well-worn Italy.
Despite your innumerable flaws, I loved you, Assassin’s Creed. You were my guiltiest pleasure in gaming, because I stood by you even as you strayed further and further away from your original promise. Until Assassin’s Creed III came along and removed all of the pleasure, leaving only the guilt and regret.
What a piece of shitAssassin’s Creed III is. The two things that made the last few games fun—a likeable protagonist and an engaging setting—are completely absent here. Whereas all of the last settings were bastions of culture, this latest entry takes me to… ‘Murica. Who gives a fuck about Colonial America, with its two-story architecture and endless swathes of empty space, ensuring that freeruns are all but impossible? The game could have been used as a window into Native American life, what with its use of a half-Mohawk, half-British main character, but nope: the heritage of Connor Kenway is all but ignored as he becomes a gopher for the American rebels, inexplicably finding himself a key participant in events like Paul Revere’s ride, the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and all major battles of the Revolutionary War. Oh, and he also forgives George Washington for the massacre of his people, for some reason.
Gone is the cohesion of different game elements working together to form a unified, seamless whole. You’ve gotten fat and bloated, Assassin’s Creed. Connor can hunt wild animals, order his recruits around, and micromanage his estate, things I had no interest in doing, mostly because I had no reason to do so. Even the openness of the assassinations is compromised— the freedom in missions is crippled completely by “optional objectives” that give big black marks when not followed, ensuring the game's linearity. The nonsensical story, even by Assassin's Creed standards, doesn't help.
You’ve become unrecognizable— overweight, overwrought, self-righteous, self-indulgent— a far cry from the elegance that I fell in love with. I wash my hands of you, Assassin’s Creed.
Wait, what? Your next game stars a pirate who is also a ninja? I take it all back. Take me back.