Facts: I'm a dude in my twenties.
I work for MS on the Xbox, writing programs to test it.
I have a cat and two dogs.
I am programming a MUD from scratch and an SSL implementation, for fun in my spare time.
Conjecture: Nutella > Peanut Butter
Hard candy > chocolates
Sunny > rainy
Ruby > Python
Ancient Greek > Latin
Showers in the morning > those at night
over > under (re: toilet paper)
Subs > dubs
HTML+CSS > BBCode
Currently playi--who am I kidding? I'm just playing Dark Souls FTL Halo 4, at least ostensibly
Dark Cloud 2
Favorites: Dark Souls La-Mulana Geometry Wars 2
Metroid Prime series
Secret of Mana, Seiken Densetsu 3
English Country Tune
It was long ago, feels like a dream, when Occams Electric Toothbrush did me a service only a true father can: he lent me his very own physical copy of Eternal Darkness. This happened, oh, almost two years ago, when he came over for PAX, I think? Ugh, I suck at being a friend.
This singular act of giving is a big deal, as I would find out later, because this is unironically a really good game. I just finished my playthrough a couple days ago--streamed on Twitch and then uploaded to YouTube for posterity--and, hot on the heels of the heels of the announcement of a spiritual successor, I wanted to catalogue some of my thoughts before this shriveled mind of mine ejects them for on good reason.
There will probably be SPOILERS throughout the rest of this post. The game is like a million years old and has a sequelish thing announced, so I think the statute of limitations has run out on this one, guys.
I went into Eternal Darkness not quite knowing what to expect. My friends had hyped the heck out of it on the podcast, but they also made it somehow sound kind of campy. So I kind of started it expecting something like Deadly Premonition, but came away with much, much more.
Unlike Deadly Premonition, Eternal Darkness's tongue is lying flat in its mouth, certainly not in its cheek. It doesn't have any weird gags or bizzar moments during which you can hear the game snickering off to side. If you look past the game's age to see the fairly solid story they crafted, this is all totally okay.
In broad strokes, for thousands of years or something, a dude has been trying to summon a malevolent elder god into this world (the eponymous darkness). Not too sure why he'd want to do that, but whatever. And of course, there were always sane and rational people who got wind of this and tried to do something to stop it. In present day, things are coming to a head, and it's up to you to save everything by learning as much about these ill-fated pawns of old as you can.
The majority of the game consists of playing chapters as those pawns, pretty much all of whom meet with some untimely demise. Oops. However, your first chapter is actually as the antagonist himself--the guy who is trying to summon the darkness. In it, you're presented with a seemingly insignificant choice that actually ends up flavoring the rest of the game: you pick which elder god he summons.
Each elder god is aligned with a color and effect: red (health), green (sanity), and blue (magick), and each color "beats" the subsequent color in rock-paper-scissors fashion. I chose blue at the beginning because I like blue and it looked like a Metroid. Since the blue god Ulya'oth was being summoned, about 2/3 of the enemies from there on out were blue, many of which had mana drain abilities. In this way, you could have three slightly different New Game+ runs of the game with different spins on the enemy encounters.
Eternal Darkness really commits to the colors and alignments, injecting them into almost every facet of the game. You cast spells with a particular color alignment, allowing you to make such blunders as casting a red spell against a blue enemy. But no worry! you recharge mana from a couple different ways, so you only feel mana pressure in the middle of a tough battle.
I love runes, and I love collecting runes... which you totally do in this game. Moreover, you get to play Cooking Mama with them and discover new spells before you've officially "found" them. It's great that they opened up a bit and let you experiment without holding your hand.
It also incorporates magick into a few neat puzzles. In one section, I had to cast a spell with a long charge time while standing in a damage field. The solution? Cast shield on myself first, to keep from being knocked back for the cast duration. In another part, I buffed myself with the special purple version of "Reveal Invisible", which turned me invisible and let me escape from a crumbling ruin or something without getting inconvenienced by monsters.
Whereas the magick system was fun, melee and ranged combat was as plain as chicken broth. You can target various parts of enemies, but due to fixed camera angles and somewhat janky controls, it was always a little bit awkward, maybe like trying to solve a Rubik's cube covered in lard.
Might as well get all my complaining out right now, here in the half-time show, huh? The game is downright prolific with backtracking, seriously. There were a few levels where I had to go back and forth across the whole stupid thing two or three times for no particularly good reason. And did I complain about the fixed camera angles already? I'm glad that trapping of old games has become less popular. Sheesh.
Oh yeah, I also could have done with about half the amount of "trapper" enemies. They whisk you away like some punk into a mini level you have to escape out of, except it's insultingly simple and repetitious.
You play as about ten characters throughout the game, and, aside from their individual stories, they were also differentiated by the equipment they can get and their fixed stats. The hunky fireman in one of the later sections had massive health, but low mana. One of the monks had tons of mana but very little health. The frail, elderly grandpa couldn't run long enough to save his life. It made it so I couldn't quite power through every chapter with massive magick and lent a little more variety to the gameplay.
To finish up my praise about the cohesion in the story, I want to highlight two parts in the game that stood out. In one, you receive a note that your grandfather has left an item for you. When you go to it, it's protected by a spell, and you have to dispel the magick field to get it. In my blueish game, true to form, the item was protected by a green aligned magick barrier, which the grandfather surely would have chosen as a ward against blue in his time. It's the little things, yanno?
Well, it's also the big things. Spoiler alert, but when you get to the end of the game, you're just a wimpy dude against an elder friggen god. In space. An elder god in space. So what's the thing to do in that situation? If your answer isn't "die", it might be to summon your own elder god to fight as your champion. Woo! With elder god in in our pocket, now we can tip the balance in our favor!
WRONG. Turns out you can't fit god in your pocket. Once your god is done whooping the other one, he goes on to destroy the world, anyway. Oops. Nah, you end up saving the day, but the game at least acknowledges that any elder god is a problem you have to deal with. That could have very easily turned into a huge plot hole.
Not only did I like the story, I liked the way it was written. Eternal Darkness exudes a vivid style in its writing that I just have to quote with some excerpts; seldom have I seen such peculiar and interesting writing in a game.
A description of a weird fountain in a temple, and your act of filling it:
"A disturbing rendition of a monstrous devil! It is contorted into what appears to be a fountain. What sickly liquid is this draining into the pool, trickling from a scum-encrusted spout? Dunking the urn into the foul smelling fountain, it becomes filled to the brim with rank fluid. It is a lot heavier now, and rife with foetor."
From Forgeries of the Reliquaries, a book you find lying around:
"While it could be said that false hope is still hope, relics such as Cuthbert's Jawbone, the Hand of Jude, and the infamous Thighbone Flute of Connaught, while being forgeries, deceive the righteous unjustly. Their existence as "true" relics is the utmost heresy."
From Maximilian Roivas' journal:
"Days ago, I watched one of them stretch his neck. I could have sworn I saw it twist in a most peculiar direction, and a bulge of muscle tissue collect and grew in the most incorrect of manners, as if a bone was being displaced from its proper location and something else moving in its place. I stumbled away knowing that I was surrounded by unholy creatures that wore the skins of mortal men and women!"
Such descriptive and weird writing. I love it!
Insanity effects... ahh, what a wonderful way to close up. There's nothing quite like seeing your dude spontaneously get cut in half, grow extra large and stomp everything, get tiny (and stomped), walk on the ceiling, get suddenly mobbed by a ton of monsters, have an arm just fall off, randomly swing your weapon, watch the walls start bleeding, hear random screaming, or seeing your volume turn down from an unseen hand, or seeing your TV turn off, or panicking at a falsely corrupted save.
I don't know of another game that did these things so well. My only complaint is that these were all so unique and cool that there's very little incentive to play with a lot of sanity. That seems like heading in the wrong direction!
What a great time I had with this, and a real stellar demonstration that, despite a few missteps, these older games really can stand the test of time and be fun even in today's gaming landscape. Finally, I will close by saying that above all else, Eternal Darkness put the fear of bathtubs in me.
You know, 2012 was a good year for me in gaming, especially for puzzle gaming--which I love. We started off the year with English Country Tune in February, which carried me through many months. Just months later in April, I got Fez, which speaks directly to me in the way it had me piece together puzzles from all over.
When Destructoid reviewed the La-Mulana remake, it caught my eye right from the first line: "Wow. This is beyond a doubt the hardest game I've ever played." What they went on to describe kept reminding me of Fez, enough so that when I finally finished off The Last Express, this one had shuffled its way right to the top of the list, so I grabbed it from GOG.
What did I find? Simply put, a masterpiece.
The puzzles in this game are incredible. They are cryptic clues that you have to piece together between rooms that are at opposite corners of the map, which you encounter hours apart. Progress such as beating a boss triggers subtle changes in disparate areas. It demands extensive revisiting and huge amounts of comparison between clues, room names, mural descriptions, and seemingly inconsequential art details.
Having already read the Destructoid review, I was kind of ready for this, so I planned right from the start to take meticulous notes. Those notes saved my--well, Lemeza's--life, and, as ridiculous as may I look with my incessant copying and pasting, I regret nothing.
As a side note, the notes are kind of a big deal for me. By the end of my playthrough, I now have a notebook that easily rivals the La-Mulana wiki. Sure, the wiki has more pure facts about the game, but I have annotated a ton of the clues in mine with the meaning behind them. When you see a cryptic clue about "a lone snake standing among spikes," I've written down what that means and pointed out the related clues needed to solve that puzzle; the wiki often just says, "go here and stand on the doodleybob."
The best part about this notebook of mine is that, thanks to the powers of TECHNOLOGY, I can easily share it online. Help yourself: take a look at my book of La-Mulana.
As I'm wont to do these days, I streamed the majority of my playthrough. This was a very good move on my part, because I could not have beaten it myself. That thing about it being ridiculously hard? That's actually true. Whereas I absolutely demolishedFez in a few solid days of playing, some of the puzzles in this are so far flung that my weak sense of imagination and literal sensibilities wouldn't have been able to crack the metaphors.
As such, I was really, really lucky to have a small cadre of awesome viewers who also had a mind for these kinds of puzzles. Well, not only that, they had the angelic patience to sit as I took and edited all those screenshots, wrote down all those notes, and did other boring, non-gamey stuff.
When I finally beat the game last night, clocking in at 39 hours, 10 minutes, and 55 seconds, I hope all of them shared the same sense of accomplishment that I did. I may have been going through the motions, but by far I wasn't the only one getting those desirable "AHA!" moments.
Speaking of that eureka factor, I think the blind playthrough of the game is really valuable. I've been watching some YouTube videos of Let's Plays of the game, and the ones where the caster already knows the solutions to the puzzles are just... boring. They're just going through the motions. I mean, I guess there's some difficulty in the bosses: they're huge, deal a ton of damage, and your weapons are embarrassingly short, so that's kind of a pain. But for me, that's not the real draw. If it were, I would just play Castlevania, because that's basically what the gamplay is, and not even as polished.
What I'm looking for is how people actually crack the puzzles, and that never shows up on the video. It's always: "hmm, I don't know what to do here. Let me go figure this out off-stream." --cut-- "OK, I'm back! I figured it out: I have to stand on the shamblargo!" Yeah, but how did you figure it out? Or did you look it up? That temptation is always looming.
I've talked about the puzzles a lot, but what else is there? People seem to like the music. It's pretty good, but you hear it on loop for a long time, so, it can get old. The gameplay is competent, but it has those old school sensibilities about how you should be able to jump and how your character is hurled bodily to the side when you take damage. I'd be lying if I said that wasn't frustrating. The manual even acknowledges this kind of stuff with a smirk. Or maybe a sneer? Yeah...
But the story, art, and settings are beautiful and amazingly done. The premise of the story is that the La-Mulana ruins are supposed to be the birthplace of mankind, so you see representations of pretty much all ancient civilizations in the different dungeons: Greek, Indian, Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Persian, and so on.
Developing on this, a lot of the murals and depictions of the gods and guardians are taken from real mythology. In the Mesopotamian section, you have to fight a number of ancient creatures. One of the viewers looked up their names, and their appearance in-game was accurate. That's an striking detail that I don't feel like I see in a lot of games.
I think this game falls into a genre where the art is actually very important to the gameplay, too. I watched some videos of the original version, and I have to say, the newer one should be considered the "definitive" one, due to its updated art. In the old game, the art was simplistic--dare I say crude--and striking. For a game that bases so many of its clues on subtlety, this is a detriment. A mural in the background in the old game would have a harsh, incredibly distinct depiction, but in the new game could have details not immediately obvious without close inspection.
The story, though scattered in the wind and available only in scraps for a long time, slowly comes together like a good mystery book. By the end, you'll know so much about the history of the ruins, their purpose, and the various parties involved. The story has an end, and one that I can walk away from without looking back. They absolutely nailed it.
The quality of the writing is really surprising to me. Nigoro and GR3 Project are Japanese developers. They're very Japanese. I read through the game's manual, and it reads like it was run through an online translator; it's atrocious! But somehow, the writing in the game is pitch-perfect, with almost no faults that I can detect. If you've gotten the sense for how much I've gone on about the puzzles, you'll understand why that is so crucial for this game. The subtlety of language factors into the clues strongly; without excellent translation, all hope is lost.
What else to say? This was an amazing journey for me and Lemeza. My buddies in the stream were so helpful that they deserve a mention: primarily Rekkenber, Overlordegg, Km_Shinkiro, Avalander, and Cabch. A+ WOULD ARCHAEOLOG AGAIN.
I don't know what exactly I want to write about The Last Express. Usually I try coming up with some idea or observation or angle that I want to explore, but this time I'm not sure I have that. Alls I know is I have to write something about it. It deserves it--it's that good.
It's basically an old-school point-and-click adventure game with some innovative twists. If you plan to play it, then I would bail out now, since there will be SPOILERS, though mostly in the videos.
The first thing the game does is have a colossal opener, and I don't mean in the way that a train gets derailed and flies through the air and makes a huge explosion and you're thrown from it and have to clamber your way up its side on a snowy mountaintop or whatever. I mean in the same way Indigo Prophecy did it: hurl you into a stressful, jarring situation and force you to pull yourself together and take control quickly.
Yup, in the opening scene of the game, you have no idea who you are, but you do know this: you just jumped onto the train from a motorcycle, found the cabin of the friend you were to rendezvous with, and GOD HE'S MURDERED ON THE GROUND. What are you gonna do now!?
Hello, janky combat.
Well, if you're like me the first time I played, you're going to spend 10 minutes examining every inch of the room for clues and stuff without disturbing the body... and then promptly get caught by the train conductor making routine checks into all the cabins. Oops. Try again: this time I'll dump the body out the window and swap my coat (which has just gotten his blood on it) with his, hanging on the wall, so that I can talk normally with the conductor as he comes by.
I did say it was a point-and-click adventure game with an innovative twist. That twist is that the entire game happens in (scaled up) realtime. It's a train, so it has to be on schedule; it's always progressing along its route from Paris to Constantinople. After 1 hour of playing time (or however long), the train's gonna get to Vienna, whether you like it or not. Are you prepared? Have you done everything you need to before that point?
Oh, DO go on.
Likewise, all the passengers on the train are also on a schedule. At some point, the dude in the car next to you is going to the dining car for food, and so will the pretty lady down the hall. They're going to sit down and chat. This will happen every time, unless you do something to prevent it. The German merchant you need to talk to is going to depart at Munich unless you can make headway on your deal. Better get cracking on that.
Maybe this is a good time to bring up the intrigue. You can't have a murder mystery ON A TRAIN without intrigue, and lots of it. Oh, and how The Last Express delivers on that. It's basically nonstop intrigue from start to finish.
First, you'll be intrigued by that murdered corpse of your friend, whom you go on to impersonate for the rest of the game. Then you'll be intrigued by the beautiful, acclaimed Austrian violinist who might be related to the Transformers due to the way she meets the eye. You'll be intrigued by a dude named freaking KRONOS. What's up with that? You'll be intrigued by mysterious artifacts, and downright confused--I mean intrigued--as you sort out out the basic malfunctions of all the political groups you're surrounded by (this is the volatile eve of WWI, after all).
The best part is that the game doesn't tell you what your "objective" is. You kind of have to puzzle it out as you go along. Anyway, it's pretty great.
You'd be correct in assuming that with all this crazy intrigue happening, you can get turned around and miss important events. The game gives you a time rewind mechanic to let you back up if you think you missed something. It's pretty much necessary; I definitely missed some key things at first. Luckily, I was streaming it, so I had a great, adaptive, on-demand, minimal hint system.
The game also does this thing where you can end in multiple ways as you go along. Unfortunately, these endings are all consecutive, so there's really only one "real" ending. Still, I kind of appreciate the effort compared to just saying "YOU DIED" in big red letters whenever you mess up.
Speaking of failures, there are are ever-present threats of antagonists. When these really materialize into actions taken against you, you have to use the power of foresight, rewinding, and your wits to foil their plans. The thing I really like, though, is some of these obstacles are multi-layered. If you thwart a guy's plan one way, he may have a plan B that he dutifully implements, so he still succeeds in screwing you over. This is another thing I don't see enough of in games, where normally if you overcome a puzzle or obstacle, you're good to go for now.
And then there's all this other stuff the game just gets right: controls are mouse-only and fine. The art style is unique and looks like playing a painting. The voice acting is actually top-notch--by no means a common accomplishment. The ending is excellent and poetic and depressing.
The one thing I didn't expect out of this game was humor. It's a pretty serious game overall. I mean, we're dealing with robbing trains and getting stabbed and global conflicts around the time of WWI, but there were several moments in the game where I straight up burst out laughing. You've already seen the video evidence of this. I'm fairly sure at least some of these occurrences weren't intentional, but at least one scene was deliberately funny, and that made me go, "what the heck is up with this game?" It was rad; I like a good mixup.
Surely some or hopefully all of you have seen the trailers for the upcoming Wreck-it-Ralph (coming soon to a theater near you!). I guess I probably saw it as a trailer for Paranorman (which was pretty good).
But man, this looked pretty keen. One of these fancy new CG animated movies all about video games? Ooh, I recognize that guy! And that guy! And those guys! And at that point my brain probably melted. It looked good, but I didn't recognize the main characters from anywhere. That might be because their game doesn't, er, exist.
AT LEAST, NOT UNTIL NOW. As I was walking into work the other day, I saw a big promotional banner for the movie in the cafeteria. I thought that was kinda neat. Then, next to the two pinball machines, I saw an unfamiliar cabinet. Let's have a closer look, shall we?
So Disney and someone or another created an actual video game as promotion for the movie and put it in a real cabinet. I approve. We spent a few minutes playing it today. It was not super deep, but kinda fun. It really hits the nostalgia nail with the old school hammer. What does that even mean?
Gameplay-wise, it's pretty simplistic, and gives kind of a Donkey Kong vibe. At the beginning of each round, Ralph breaks a bunch of windows on a building. As Felix, you then hop between the windows and repair each one with a button press. All the while, Ralph is raining bricks from above, so watch out and don't get hit!!!
Here ya go, why not just watch this thing I recorded? It's actually 2-player, too, where you pass back and forth. Neat stuff. Sorry for the video quality; the lighting in that part of the cafe is awful.
The coolest part about the cabinet, though, is how they made it look old and authentic. I've tried to snap a few close up shots that let you see the damage it's undergone. There are what look like coffee stains on the part near the joystick (I didn't taste to confirm, sorry). The same panel's plastic is cracked. There are score marks on the side. The glass is not super clean (nor is it nasty). All in all, the machine just looks, well, used.
We thought that maybe they just bought an old cabinet, painted it, added the logos, and put it out there, so it carried the scars from its long and storied history, but some of the scuff marks and stuff look like they were done after the cabinet was decorated with labels. Heck, there's even a half scratched-off label that tells whom to call for repairs.
I really do think they took the time to make it look old and used. Somehow that is more interesting to me than the thing's existence, itself. This was a cool little piece of advertising to see. I wish this sort of thing happened more often, yanno? Moral of the story: video games are awesome.
This year was--I say--was a heck of a time, the best of times, even. I had a whole gaggle of fellas hanging around with me (good people, really good people, just a little kooky sometimes, if you get my meaning). Now listen up now, everybody. I say, boy, are you paying attention!? Look sharp here!
GOD, MAKE IT STOP.
Okay, we're done with that for now. I love The Fog to death, but I can't write a whole blog like that. It'll drive me insane. PAX was awesome, though, as I was saying. I had upwards of five guests staying at my place this year, and upwards of 15 piling in for the nightly parties. I'm going to give a whirlwind tour here of what I saw and did. I started out with the aim of going easy on the words, but they just kept flowing!
Tuesday?! That's right, in a surprise turn of events, Occams made it in late Tuesday night. I picked him up from the airport, promised to grill him some sausages when I got home, then abruptly fell asleep, leaving him to fend for himself. Luckily, he's a resourceful guy and ate some chicken nuggets.
I guess Tuesday was pretty short, huh guys?
Corduroy, COM, and Steezy also flew in this day to do some early sightseeing. They grabbed Occams from my place while I was toiling at work and whisked him around Seattle to see everything. They brought back some weird doughy thing that they put in my fridge and which later evolved into some kind of beating club.
My wife drove six hours to pick up our weird friend Colton Phillips from the faraway Port Angeles. Dag yo, we like having guests. WORTH IT.
In the evening we all went out to a rad local BBQ joint and got some delicious smoked meats for dinner. Across the street was this convenience store, where they tanked up on beer and Slim Jims.
Monk, SQID, and bbain all showed up on Thursday. I picked them up from the airport. Dixon drove up from wherever the heck he lives. Beyamor condensed out of a passing cloudmass sometime in the evening. Things were shaping up pretty well.
We hit up a pho place for lunch. Oh hey, I guess Bloodspray came along with us... visibly drunk, at that. It's like noon, hahaha.
The elusive Bloodspray came to Pho too.
We all went out to Dim Sum Thursday night. As my first experience with it, I was annoyed at how long a wait there was, but it was totally worth it. Dude, that stuff is mad good. Pork buns, dude. That's what it's all about. Unfortunately it was while we were out that Beyamor showed up. Being a cloud, he had no problem floating into my house and making himself at home.
SQID actually got in pretty late on Thursday, and had some kind of crazy adventure at the airport where he managed to walk out on a level that shouldn't have been accessible to arrivals. Dude is less a squid and more a ninja, apparently. When we got back home, people were all playing Cards Against Humanity. Fame Designer and Wolf Girl were also able to join! This went on for quite a while, so I guess it's pretty fun? It was real late when they left, and PAX proper hadn't even begun yet!
Bright and early, I started rousing people to get up and shower and make sandwiches to pack for the day at PAX. I'm kind of a fan of sandwiches, so I was well prepared with a selection of lunchmeats, spreads, bread, vegetables, and cheeses to make yourself the perfect PAX lunch. I think all of us availed ourselves of the ingredients, and let me tell you: it was very convenient not to have to take a break to get food!
He's probably thinking about code.
It wasn't exactly legal the way we crammed everyone into my poor, belabored Honda to get to PAX, but it was a beautiful day outside, and we had a nice little walk over. All of us had something pretty early we wanted to see. For me, it was the Idle Thumbs panel, my favorite pocast. You can't actually tell, but the dude on the far right happens to be Doug, from the Walking Dead games (caution: spoilers for the game farther down the page).
The Monk himself.
The big highlight of Friday at PAX was, of course, the Destructoid panel. Actually, to be honest, I was expecting a lot more craziness. I guess Dtoid got in trouble last year for too much craziness, so they had to tone it down. To be perfectly frank, the panel itself was a little boring, but the announcement of the animated Podtoid shorts was super cool, since I was already a fan of his previous works.
Bey and Law get friendly.
Funk approves of Isay Isay.
Max can't be bothered with Isay Isay. Fantastic photobomb by Swishiee.
I spent a lot of time in the indie game area of the exihibition hall. I would tell you all about it, but bbain's done a much better job, so I'll just point you to that! Of course, Antichamber was my most anticipated game, carrying over from last year. It was nice to talk to Alexander Bruce, the dev. He spotted my "knutaf" periodic table nametag and was like, "oh, you're that guy from Twitter." That was neat.
Conrad is seriously distracted by something over there.
But my newest most anticipated game was definitely Quadrilateral Cowboy. Any game that lets me drop down a laptop and literally telnet into various devices to hack them gets me drooling. It's like my dream come true.
At some point during Friday there was a Geometry Wars 2 tournament. I always enter, and always have a pretty good time. This year as I was walking into the tourney room I turned to Corduroy and said, "yo, what's with all the people? I wonder what game they're here for." Turns out there were over fifty people in the GW2 tournament. WAT. I made it into the top 8, then got eliminated by a guy who was really very good. It was still a close game, though, and he was a cool guy.
All these people are here to play Geometry Wars. Am I in heaven?
I also watched Corduroy in the Trials Evo tournament. Unfortunately, they were using boring, simple tracks, so no real skill was shown off, mostly luck. Oddly, I ran into Freddie Wong, creator of one of the coolest shows I've seen recently, Video Game High School. He was just as crazy in person as he acts in his part on the show. Jeez. Apparently he's some Trials Evo hotshot? I dunno.
The dinner parties are maybe my favorite part of PAX. This year I cooked my Indian chicken again for about 15 people who came back to my place on Friday night. We played Smash Brothers and ate good food and had a great time. Again, everyone left pretty late, leaving us more and more hollow for the coming day.
Saturday is always the longest, fullest day of PAX, and this time was no exception. I saw a number of panels, none of which I can really remember, because it was such a blur. I remember spending most of the day with Bbain and Beyamor, though. We saw more indie games, wandered the expo hall, and sat in various panels.
Bey has a real knack for these kinds of shots.
I also took advantage of some free time to find out what Isay Isay was up to. Seems he was pretty busy!
Isay Isay gets a photo with Ezio or whoever.
I don't even know what this is from. I guess it looked kind of cool.
Mr. (Mrs.?) Destructoid showcases Isay Isay.
Monk totally fell asleep standing up. Come on, Monk. Wake up!
In the evening, we of course came back for another dinner party. This time, we made homemade burgers and did beer-soaked brats! God, those burgers were good. I just need to be careful about grease fires... oops. Heh heh. People played Smash Brothers and board games, then we of course moved into Rock Band later. There were some pretty stunning renditions of songs, let me tell you.
Coheed and Cambria - Welcome Home
Gorillaz - Clint Eastwood
At some point we got the crazy idea to do a podcast. Well, we had like a bajillion people in the same place. Why not!? It was a short, sweet success, though we could have chosen the microphone a little better. Oh well.
Weary and dead on our feet, we slept like rocks. Some of us more than others.
Actually, Law passed out after one beer like 15 minutes into the party.
Sunday and Monday
Yet again we got up early and headed in. We seemed to always have something early in the morning. Beyamor and I went to the Spacechem tournament. I knew I was middling to bad at Spacechem, but I really didn't have that confirmed until I saw some of the incredibly elegant, beautiful solutions people came up with. Wow.
Isay Isay always wanted his very own mech.
Everyone, including Isay Isay, is pumped for Borderlands 2!
Speaking of beautiful, Bbain entered in the Beautiful Katamari tournament and made it all the way to the finals. He's good, you guys. Here's his semifinals win, followed by his unfortunate upset in the last match of the finals. His opponent really knew how to smash. His opponent was also very quick.
Bbain demolishes this guy at Beautiful Katamari
But not against this dude :(
I think we saw a few other panels on Sunday, too, but we were starting to get tired at this point. We were mostly split up during the day, and half the group headed home on a Sunday afternoon flight. That sucks! Dinner that night was a melancholy affair of leftovers. Too bad. Monk, Bbain, and I had a great time finishing off the last third of Rayman: Origins, though. It's pretty rare these days that I actually finish a game...
Isay Isay with one of the bikes from Lococyle
I honestly can't remember who left Sunday and who left Monday. Occams had to leave at the buttcrack of dawn, so that was fun. I think Monk was the last to leave, and Colton a bit before. Those last bits are always depressing. The kind of close-knit friendship in our group cannot be understated. I honestly feel like even though we live thousands of miles apart, the people in this group are every bit as good friends as many of my local ones.
I LOVE this picture.
I think every one of us suffers from some degree of post-PAX depression. Ah well, at least we have PAX 2013 to look forward to, right guys!? Oh yeah, and Borderlands 2, heh heh...
It's no news to any of my friends that I'm severely addicted to Dark Souls at this point. I never could have predicted the way I became utterly gripped by it. Eventually, this largely became a matter of being integrated into a community of players, primarily on twitch.tv, once I started live-streaming. I have friends there now, so I see myself stuck in that world for a while.
This post isn't about that, though. It's about the player-vs-player (PvP) system in Dark Souls, and some of the contention around it. I started off watching various streams a long time ago while waiting for co-op, which began my exposure to PvP--one of the major end-game activities. I was young and impressionable, as it were, so when I saw someone who was just racking up kills with no sign of slowing down, I was kind of in awe. "MAN," I said to myself, "this guy must be amazing!"
It wasn't until much later, when I'd watched much more, started playing PvP myself, and was exposed to many play styles that I started to view kill count as far too simplistic a measure.
A measure of what, you ask? Your effectiveness at killing your opponent is not necessarily an indication of your skill.
When I see statements like these, I think of games like Mario Party, which has a large element of luck involved in winning. I don't think of more competitive games like shooters or fighting games. I certainly don't think of Dark Souls. Well, I didn't used to.
What it comes down to is the fact that, despite the huge breadth of play-style choices in Dark Souls there is a straight path to success--where "success" means how often you get the kill. You strap on heavy armor, pump up your vitality, wear the crit damage ring, and backstab your way to glory. It's a recipe for that kind of success, and huge numbers of players do it. It's absolutely a failing in the game, both in its net code and its balance, but it exists, so people exploit it.
Before I go on much more, I need to make a critical distinction. I'm not condemning people for doing these things. They're legitimate game mechanics, not glitches (that's a whole 'nother story), and so there's nothing wrong, per se, with using them. What I am saying, to reiterate an earlier statement, is that doing certain things lowers the skill needed to earn a kill.
Let me get specific and dump a list of things you can do that lessen the skills you need to win in PvP. I'm not saying any one of these things guarantees wins, but they sure help, sometimes to an absurd degree.
- Spawn camping with two of your buddies
- Heck, engaging in any kind of 2v1 and 3v1 situation, especially if you endlessly heal your friends
- Abusing the atrocious netcode to backstab people (a.k.a. "lagstabbing", or "backstab fishing")
- See above about backstabs, but especially coupled with the Hornet Ring - Wearing a full set of Giant's Armor while still maintaining a fast movement speed
- Cranking crazy amounts of vitality and using Mask of the Mother to further boost it
- Stacking huge amounts of poise so you can tank the heaviest weapons without flinching
- Healing yourself with Divine Blessings (more on this later)
- Using glitches to create powerful, low level characters for the purpose of invading inexperienced players
Let me be clear: none of those things necessarily marks you as a bad player or means that you're "playing the game wrong"; these are displays of low skill. If you want to be a better player as opposed to just a successful one, challenge yourself and step outside these tactics.
Now I'll be prescriptive for a moment, and offer a shorter list of displays of high skill. For the record, I only attempt a few of these, usually unsuccessfully. That's because, heh, I'm not a very skillful player. But I can dream, right?
- Parrying, especially on the first swing
- Using low or no poise - makes you prey for stunlocks
- Using fast-roll without the Dark Wood Grain Ring - Forgoing stunlock opportunities
- Using less common weapons - halberds, straight swords, regular hammers, whips, fist weapons, and plenty more choices
- Not healing during fights, even if the opponent does
- Succeeding in 2v1 and 3v1 fights
- Manually aiming hits without lock-on
- Manually aiming projectiles (including pyromancies) without lock-on
There are so many choices in this game. That's part of the breadth that I like to talk about. And that's why it pains me a bit to see people narrowly focus in on the few seriously overpowered paths. On the flip side, I love seeing stuff like Poise-Free PvP, which puts a list of agreed-upon restrictions for duels, with the goal of actually making you better at the game.
So what do I do about it? Do I complain? Eh, a little; call it "venting" instead. But more importantly, I play the game like I want to see it played. I watched a Youtube video recently where the uploader said something like, "as usual, PvP boils down to who can backstab whom more." My comment was: that's probably true right now, but if more people challenge that assumption, maybe we can elevate the state of the game overall.
So I play without backstabs, for the most part. I do a lot of dodging and rolling, attempt parries, and have characters with moderate vitality. I eschew the tryhard gear and pick armor that is both functional and appeals to my eye (though nobody else's, it would seem. sheesh). I do all these things because I know that if everyone did, we'd have much more interesting fights in general. I know this, because most of the duels I've had with the great people from that aforementioned community are a far cry more fun than those I have with lagstabbing randoms.
I'll even go as far as to avoid backstabs in 2v1 and 3v1 encounters, where the odds are staggering. This is because I feel winning is secondary to showing these players that it's possible to win without techniques like that. It's making a statement, albeit a painful one, since I'm rarely successful.
This is the "style over substance" camp: we play for reasons other than winning, sometimes at the cost of our quantifiable, measured success. But things are way more interesting in here.
Sidebar on Divine Blessings
I need to take a minute to state my view on Divine Blessings. This is an item that heals you fully and removes all status effects within a fraction of a second. In a normal playthrough, I think there is a maximum of about 10 you can get a hold of. You can't really farm them from anything (forest hunters can, but the drop rate is pretty rare).
The problem is that the advent of modding tools has given rise to the availability of basically infinite divine blessings. An item that was intended to be extremely rare is now commonplace. This is fine for PvE and PvP in "peacetime", but in the middle of a PvP fight I find it problematic, for these specific reasons:
- They take effect significantly faster than any other type of healing (heal spells, humanity, and Estus), allowing you to both use one and escape a retaliatory attack with ease.
- They are not subject to the preventative influence of Lloyd's Talisman.
- They can be used by invading red phantoms, who are denied the second fastest healing option, Estus.
And so I consider using Divine Blessings in PvP as outright cheating. If you want to heal, that's fine, but use one of the other mechanisms. Of course, none of this applies if you're using your legitimately earned DBs, but the sad truth is that the other player will assume you got yours through glitches or mods.