Here's a gaming habit I hope to break. I often find myself racing through beautiful, meticulously crafted environments just to complete some objective, progress the story, or collect some thingto upgrade some other thing.
But there was totally a set-piece back there. Somebody spent hours, days, months working on it and I blew right past it. The artists in this industry are incredibly talented, and their work deserves more than a passing glance.
Next time you're gaming, do yourself a favor:
1. Stop doing the thing
2. Look around.
Check out the art on the walls. Note how the environment is lit. Observe some minute detail you think the artist never intended anyone to look at. Take it all in and just exist in the world for a moment. It seems obvious, but too often I find myself just flying through checkpoints, forgetting to stop and take notice.
I'm starting to realize that this is hugely important for the sake of enjoying games, and not merely playing them.
Consider Exhibit A. The Pittsburgh Apartment in the The Last Of Us. Here's what you find in the living room.
Naughty Dog Pittsburgh Apartment
The Last of Us
Yeah, ok. It's a decoration on a wall. At the risk of waxing intellectual I actually found this sun/face wall-art remarkable. It looks like a Pier-1 Imports find, or something from the home decor section of Target. Something someone would actually buy and hang as a center-piece.
The environment artist could have copped out, thrown a generic Bob Ross-esque painting in a damaged frame and called it good. Instead, he spent time creating something more real to draw the player in. And it worked. At least for me. The visual storytelling couldn't be clearer:
You are in someone's apartment. The people who lived here bought this tacky, metal Sun and hung it up. Now they're gone, most likely dead.
It's the details that make a setting believable, and this detail totally hooked me.
Exhibit B. Here's another, albeit larger scale, stop and stare moment from recent memory.
Sony Santa Monica The Trial of Archimedes
God of War: Ascension, 2013
Modified God of War III engine
The Trial of Archimedes floored me. It's a surreal mechanical fantasy and the perfect dream-like counterpart to the Lantern of Delos before it. The elaborate detail in the floor and columns, the frosted glass and whirring gears. All of it. Gameplay-wise this section was a bit of a chore. Aesthetically, though, it was a marvel.
It's the reason I'll buy anything SSM releases. I can't help it. Their environment design is some of the finest in the industry. The Realm of Hades from GOW 3? The Labyrinth? These guys build worlds that demand to be seen. Period.
I love it when gamers take time to stop and identify true greatness in games, be it character design, environment art, music, what-have-you. Recognizing kick-ass work is equally important as criticizing what sucks when it comes to moving the medium forward.
I could have gone on at length here, we have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to phenomenal art. The floating city of Columbia. The deteriorating test rooms of Portal 2. Pretty much anywhere in Dark Souls.
What environments have left you awe-struck recently? What little details have pulled you in? What studios consistently impress you? Clearly I'm a sucker for level design and aesthetics, so I want to know if I'm missing out.
Lost all your lives while playing Contra? Just steal some of mine. That goes for any Mario game, too. Got your ass handed to you by that last horde in Left 4 Dead? Here, use my first aid kit. Yeah, I know my health is just as low as yours, but just take it. What's that? Now you're being strangled by one of those stealth ninja douchebags in Uncharted 2? Worry not, I just bear tackled him and broke his neck. You're welcome.
Call me selfless. Call me a martyr. Call me a team player. Call me Jesus. Call me whatever you like. I'll be the one saving your ass.
I may not have the highest kill count at the end of an Uncharted 2 co-op match, but I will always be the one keeping my teammates alive and in the action. One particular survival match on the Village level comes to mind in which my teammates consisted of an experienced Level 40 player and a Level 1 noob. The L40 acted like he was playing single player, focusing solely on racking up kills and generally ignoring the two of us. This left me to babysit the noob, and babysit I did. The poor kid was running around on ground level getting consistently dropped by the flooding enemies. This meant I had to continually endanger myself to bring him back up. After a while though, I was having to snipe those strangly ninja fucks off of both of them in addition to reviving the noob every so often.
It's definitely a thankless job. I've noticed especially in U2 that some people never seem to extend the same courtesy.
Hyperbolic image intended to better illustrate my point
Another time during a 5 player Killing Floor match, one of my squadmates was attempting to reach the safety of the bottleneck we had created when he fell from our 2nd story base into a pile of specimens lingering on the first floor. I didn't think twice. I jumped down into the fray with him (losing around half my health from the fall alone) and opened fire. They were everywhere, and back-to-back we emptied our magazines into the gnashing wall of flesh until we were both killed.
I will rescue you or I will die trying.
While that may sound noble, it's actually quite neurotic and borderline stupid behavior. Again, with Uncharted 2 or Left 4 Dead, I'll always save people even if they don't return the favor, or don't share their first aid kits, or if they continually act stupid and repeatedly get killed. Sure, I'll be pissed about it, but I'll still do it. This is more masochism than nobility.
While I'd like to claim that it's just my good-samaritan nature, I'm not actually sure why I feel compelled to always be the one rescuing people. Maybe I'm like an autistic kid and it's the control that I desire. Or it could be that annoying idiosyncrasy where I need to make sure everyone is having fun or I won't have fun. Or perhaps it's just an attempt to make up for my lack of skill in other areas. I'm an above average marksman in any given FPS, but can't compete with the twitch masters.
Maybe If I can keep my teammates alive and functional, and we still lose, then I can say that at least I did everything I could.
Regardless of my reasons, saving other players is a metagame at which I excel. So if you want to stay alive, I'd best be on your team.
I have not yet had the pleasure of making your acquaintance, so please consider me a humble fan. I'm writing you today on behalf of myself (and likely others) in order to rectify a most troubling situation. For reasons I shall expound upon shortly, it has become quite evident to me that the online portion of your remarkable shooter "Borderlands" appears to be a scrotum-hammering flameshit fucktastrophe.
I'm aware of the severity of this accusation, so Allow me to delineate:
I refer specifically to the timeouts my would-be vault hunting partner and I encountered when attempting to establish a public or private game. Regardless of who hosted, the issue was constant. And clearly this was our fault, make no mistake about that. I'm certain a triple-A title producing behemoth such as yourself has an unfathomably rigorous QA department, and every possible connection error was accounted for prior to release. The failing was almost certainly due to our sub-normal intelligence.
Despite our evident down syndrome, my compatriot and I endured. We pored over forums for over 2 hours clinging desperately to thoughts of your glorious apocalyptic playland seemingly within our reach. We forwarded ports, reset routers, disabled firewalls, tried fixes that worked for others but did not work for us. We restarted the game, tested, restarted, and tested again.
And as a brief aside, I'd like to take this opportunity to thank you for making the 18 distinct logo screens both blaringly loud, and entirely unskippable. Watching claptrap become dismayed at the non-functioning Nvidia logo remains a delight, I'd hate to give in to the temptation to cut to the chase and get into my game quickly. A tip of the cap to you.
In the end, we were left with no option but to employ a 3rd party piece of software titled GameRanger. I'm overjoyed to inform you that I have since had no issues establishing a game, and have been gleefully scouring and destroying every square inch of Pandora.
Yet there are those I've spoken to who brashly declare that the use of Gameranger should not be required. These ne'er do wells often say they should not have to be a "goddamn systems administrator to play a game (they) paid $50 to fucking play". I take great pains to explain to these ill informed few that forwarding ports and exhaustively searching forums for glimmers of hope is all part of the experience for those wishing to engage in online frivolities. My tireless adversaries then counter with: "Left 4 Dead works perfectly because Valve doesn't have their heads up their asses and actually spent time creating solid netcode".
I fear I am out of answers. I implore you, Gearbox: extend your benevolent hand and bestow upon me a fragment of your not inconsiderable wisdom that I might allay the antagonism of this naysaying rabble.
Or maybe just...I dunno. Don't develop in a fucking vaccuum.
Assassin's Creed is one of the most polarizing series in all of gaming. But it doesn't always boil down to you love it or you hate it. It seems like the majority of people recognize the flaws of the original, but loved the concept enough that they gave the sequel a pass on many of the lingering issues. For both games I nodded along with positive reviews glowing with praise, and nodded along with negative reviews overflowing with vitriol. I recognized that I loved what I had played, but couldn't turn a blind eye to the glaring faults. Like an adorable puppy that just pissed on my PS3, I would just smile and say "that's my Assassin's Creed."
Let's get the love stuff out of the way first, because frankly, that's always less interesting. (We're gamers, we criticize. Praise is not our forte):
Here's the thing: I'm never going to have the opportunity to visit the city of Acre circa 1191. Or Renaissance Era Venice. Ever. Thankfully, Ubisoft recognized how much the stunning architecture and culture these times and locales had to offer gamers, and have not only created an entertaining gaming experience but also provided a slice of (albeit embellished) history to explore and enjoy. It may not be History channel to the letter accurate, but that's not what I'm asking for. I won't ever get to dive into the canals of Venice from 2 stories up, so I'm damned appreciative for the chance to do so as Ezio.
And the draw distances...well, just holy shit.
Mirror's Edge may have refined the formula, but Assassin's Creed was the first game to give us true free-running joy. Bounding over beams and store fronts until reaching a jumping off point to tackle/stab your mark is an experience that Assassin's Creed has perfected, and I can't get enough of it. AC2 ups the ante by pitting your parkour skills against those of fleeing pickpockets, and good lord, bear tackling one of those bastards is rewarding.
Few games rival the visceral, intimate bloodiness of Assassin's Creed. AC2 kicked it up even more in the cathartic violence department. The combat is fluid, natural, and a joy to watch. Perfectly timing a counterattack and watching Altair impale a foe on his blade, then thrust it further for good measure before kicking him loose...well, that's just good old fashioned entertainment.
And if you can honestly say you don't find the combat that great after watching Ezio leap down from a beam and slam two guards heads into the ground, his blades piercing their skulls with satisfying puffs of red mist....well then I don't even know you anymore.
I admit that the combat got repetitive in the first given the limited weapon list, but AC2 did an excellent job remedying that by giving you a lot of tools to play around with. I fell in love with throwing sand in the faces of my opponents, smacking them around a bit, then performing a disarm and killing them with their own swords. And you just can't beat going berserk on some peons after stealing a giant ax from one of those armored fuckers.
Now that we got that gushy garbage out of the way, let's move onto the hate:
Parkour - Yes, I may love the parkour mechanic, but honestly: it sucks. Consider for a moment that to simply determine whether altair walks, jogs, or sprints there are THREE (3) different buttons required. Pushing the analog stick full tilt makes Altair/Ezio walk. Pressing the X button allows him to...Walk fast? Am I reading that correctly? Then pressing R1 allows him to jog, while holding R1 and X at the same time makes him sprint.
Hold two buttons and push forward to sprint? Maybe this wouldn't be needlessly complicated if you didn't have to sprint/freerun that often, but it's what 90% of the fucking gameplay is based on. I'll fix this for you right now: full tilt on analog = jog, then just hold X to sprint/freerun. We don't need to hold a seperate button to fucking jog. That's called a bad design decision that should have hit the cutting room floor by round 2.
And while we're fixing, why don't we go ahead and snazz up our parkour animations, shall we? Ezio and Altair are very agile, no doubt, but why are they limited to such utilitarian moves? I want to have more fun getting from A to B, seeing as how getting from A to B is huge part of every mission in the game. Take the following video for example:
Note the fancy flips and spins. These are purely thrown in for aesthetics, but they are entertaining nonetheless. Consider the brilliant style system implemented in Spiderman 2 - pulling off tricks while web slinging didn't affect the gameplay in any major way but made for a fun little mini game while in transit through the city. If you're worried that including such flashy moves might impinge on our suspension of disbelief, I wouldn't lose sleep over it. You've already taken a sledgehammer to it with this whole "the sun is the enemy" business.
Combat - Simply too easy, especially in the first one. The counterattack in AC1 is so overpowered that it nullifies all other moves in the game. The second only exacerbates the issue by giving you health packs that can be used mid battle. I never died once from combat while playing AC2.
The relative ease of combat plays into my next complaint, which is much more salient to the series as a whole...
So, you're supposed to be an assassin in this game...right? Not a barbarian fighter warlord? Ok, if you say so.
Stealth (lack thereof) -
I got news for you: Ezio and Altair are awful assassins. Truly the worst possible men for the job. Oh sure, they always kill their marks, but if you want it done quietly you're better off doing it yourself. With a lawnmower.
These two "assassins" subscribe to the mindset that the best way to kill someone is to kick their door down, run straight at them while brandishing a weapon, and then chase them through crowded city streets while their soon-to-be victim screams for guards. Real subtle, fellas. Nimble Assassins? Not so much. Hired Guns? That's more like it.
Pictured: Ezio and Altair
Let me crouch Ubisoft. For the love of god, I just want to crouch. As a trained assassin, I don't think this should be out of the question. Uncharted 2 has an infinitely superior stealth system to your game, and, well, that's just unacceptable. You see, Naughty Dog's game is about a treasure hunter and it's like an action movie with a ton of gunfights and explosions and car chases. Your game is about Assassin's who stalk their marks from the shadows, waiting for the perfect time to strike. Just to reiterate: It's about Assassin's, not action heroes. And there is no stealth system to speak of. Oh, you knew? Oh, alright I just wanted to make sure somebody had mentioned that to you.
I just don't get it. We're meant to be playing guys who lurk in the shadows and strike when the moment is right, yet 90% of the time they wind up surrounded by guards and have absolutely no issues fighting their way out. Does this not strike anyone else as odd? It's called cognitive dissonance. My brain is saying Assassin's should behave this way, Ubisoft says they behave that way. I wish Ubisoft would put a bigger emphasis on fleeing from battle and hiding. I suppose a historical Splinter Cell is what I'm looking for, and what I kind of assumed the series was about prior to playing. No, It may not be as "badass" to flee from a battle with 20 guards, but it's what an effective assassin would do, and could potentially be just as fun.
Courtesans/Thieves/Mercs - While cool sounding in theory, the hired help mechanic was really just thrown in to add a bullet point to the back of the box. All 3 groups perform the exact same function, they cost the same (incredibly cheap) price, and are essentially just a way to skip a fight if you're lazy. Spend the measly $150 to hire them, point them at the guards, and wait for the area to be clear. *yawn*. If I wanted a game that played itself I'd buy Wii Music. Fix this, Ubisoft. Differentiate the groups at least a little. For instance, why couldn't the thieves actually steal from the guards and cut your character in on the loot? Bottom line: a broken mechanic that is far too effective for how inexpensive it is. And speaking of broken mechanics...
The Money system - Money systems are notoriously tricky to pull off, so I appreciate that Ubisoft at least gave it a shot. On one hand I'm glad that acquiring cash in AC2 isn't the Sisyphean task that it is in Fable 2. The problems begin with upgrading the Villa. As soon as renovations became available I became so psyched by the prospect that I did nothing but run side missions until I could afford to max the thing out. Assassination contract here, beat up mission there, and bam. Done. Renovations complete. I still had about 3/4 of the actual game to go through at this point, and money was NEVER a problem after maxing out the Villa. Any new weapons, armor, or paintings I came across I could instantly purchase. This killed the fun of the system for me. All it took was running a few side missions and I'm set for money for the rest of the game? That doesn't seem right. Either make the renovations cost way more (as the benefit for renovating early on outweighs any other expenditure in the game), or simply make money harder to come by.
Also, shortly after it's introduced, the concept of looting bodies and pickpocketing becomes useless. And by shortly after it's introduced, I mean before it's introduced. Sure, you can grab some throwing knives off of dead bodies, but again, not really necessary when your pulling down Scrooge McDuck money.
Storyline - True story: there was a point during my playthrough of AC2 when Erin (my lady) came and sat on the couch next to me. Ezio was talking to someone about something.
Erin: So what's going on in the game, plot wise?
Lindy: I...well, this guy...umm............yeah, honestly I don't know 'cause I don't really give a shit.
Erin: Hmm...then why are you playing it?
Lindy: Because I really enjoy the gameplay, I just couldn't care less about the story.
While I don't want to diminish the effort put into the story of either game, the bottom line is that I just don't care. I'm not playing these games for the Rubik's cube of intrigue and conspiracy they inevitably present, I usually just want to stab something. Or jump off a building. Preferably both at the same time. While I appreciate that someone toiled away for hours building this complex tree of characters and dialogue, it really is just white noise between gameplay segments.
And don't get me started on the Desmond bits. I'm sad that Ubisoft didn't have the confidence to create a purely historical adventure game, that they relied on the crutch of sci-fi epic garbage permeating all of gaming lately. I just shook my head at the "twist" ending of AC2 and reminded myself that I was correct in disregarding the story from the beginning. It just proved that the narrative in these games is hackneyed, stilted fluff that isn't worth my attention.
In summary There's so much double think going on when I play these games. Part of me loves running across the rooftops of Florence, deftly dodging an archers arrows and, when he draws his sword and attacks, kicking his weapon away before double-blading him in the face. These are experiences unique to Assassin's Creed, and I cherish them.
The other part simply cannot stop seeing the flaws. There is a better game buried beneath the clutter of flawed systems, loose controls, and filler missions, and until that game is unearthed I'll continue to have a love/hate relationship with Assassin's Creed. Here's hoping the third entry is something we can all agree is great.
I should really call this blog Love/Love: Realism, cause whoa dude: realistic games rule. Thanks to realism, I get to bound across rooftops in a beautifully rendered Renaissance era Venice, slide into cover mid-gunfight in a snowy Tibetan temple, or drift a photorealistic Audi TT through a hairpin turn in a photorealistic race track in Belgium. Hot Christ, is there anything realism can't do?!?!
My friend told me that playing Gran Turismo is stupid cause it's boring and too realistic. He had me play this game Burnout instead. It's totally dumb, and by dumb I mean retarded. You crash and your car flips and breaks into a billion pieces and you don't even die. Your car just magically re-forms on the race track and the game allows you to keep racing. Oh, how fun (note sarcasm). Clearly I would have died in that crash. I should be made to do the entire race over.
Realism also means that if I fail an active reload in Gears then I get viciously chainsawed in half. Which is awesome, by the way, because it's what would really happen in real life.
There are retarded games out there that cast any semblance of realism aside. They claim they do this in the name of "fun".
I mean, seriously? Why don't Bill Rizer and Lance Bean ever have to reload? Some people say it's because their guns are too afraid of them to ever run out. I think it's because it's a stupid game, for babies. Marcus Fenix' gun jams and runs out of ammo all the time because Marcus Fenix is awesome, and lives in a realistic world. Of fun.
Mirror's Edge was pretty awesome for how realistic all the Parkour moves were, but what's up with all the stupid ass colors? The only colors in the real world are brown and gray. If I wanted to see color I'd go buy some crayons or something. Bright colors don't belong in my video games. Video games should only deal with real things, in real life colors.
Let's talk about Link for a second. Everybody knows Link is supposed to be an effeminate Legolas knockoff, am I right? All I know is that Link does NOT look like THIS:
What an unrealistic piece of shit
A lot of games also don't seem to understand Ninjas. Ninjas should be stoic, blood-soaked assassins accompanied by breasts with women attached to them. Ryu Hayabusa is the best ninja in gaming so far, really. Realistic ninjas look nothing like this, by the way:
Then there are these war games that think wars are fought by stupid anime looking characters.
I guess Sega forgot that REAL wars are fought by REAL soldiers against REAL Russians, like in Modern Warfare 2.
I'm sick of all these cartoony bullshit games like Little Big Planet and New Super Mario Bros. claiming to be fun. There's almost nothing realistic about them, so how can they be fun? And what's with all these nostalgia freaks endlessly droning on about how only older games have any heart. I mean seriously, does this look fun to you?
So, umm...I made a owie. I accidentally posted like a bajillion blogs (hyperbole) and never thought to introduce myself. I'd like to finally remedy that. Everyone acknowledge my trespass? Can we move past it? Ok, good.
Down to brass tacks:
-My name is Lindy. People seem to have gender confusion when they hear that name, so allow me to clarify. I am a 26 year old dude, and not a lady.
-I work tech support for a software company in Phoenix.
-My avatar is "Guy" from the first Fire Emblem on GBA. He's a myrmidon, eventual swordmaster, and supreme badass. Fire Emblem is my favorite RPG series. Pick up any of the handheld iterations if you're interested, but avoid the Wii FE at all costs.
-I own a Wii, PS3, DS, and a respectable gaming PC. I recently sold my 360 because there just wasn't enough exclusive content to keep me interested. Also, I never, nor will I ever, pay for online play.
-Prior to this current generation of game consoles I was the hardest core Nintendo fanboy. I still have a hefty NES collection (roughly 80 games), and the SNES was a true friend during my formative years. The N64 was my pride and joy - the pinnacle of my gaming career. I wouldn't even touch a console that belonged to an opposing company. That's all changed now. Nintendo and I haven't broken up officially, but we both know it's over. Sure, we still have the occasional fling (New Super Mario Bros.), but I'm certain that our best days are behind us. Shame. I find that I'm more excited about virtual console releases than anything else in the Wii lineup, and that's just sad.
-I find the lack of pretension at Destructoid very refreshing, so I plan on sticking around. But if my last blog is any indication, you'd better get ready to read (because christ, that thing was wordy). I'll try to keep the word vomit to a minimum from now on.