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2:57 PM on 07.15.2015

Better With Age: Peeling Back the Layers of Dishonored

Dishonored is the sort of game that begs to be played multiple times. The first playthrough acts as an introduction to the game and the world it exists in. As you revisit the game the second, third, fourth time, the richness of the world’s stories, and the nonlinear design, opens itself up to you. A previously insignificant corpse lying against a wall might take new meaning at a second glance and stronger examination, or you might find a new approach to reach and tackle the same objective. Hell, you might even find a hidden subquest on that new route to your primary objective.

You might get distracted and end up running around to new parts of the map that you didn’t even know existed. The first playthrough acts as a glimpse of a statue, and each subsequent time we play the game, we view that statue from a new perspective. 

There is simply too much going on in each level of Dishonored for you to discover them, or simply be aware of them, the first time you play. For example, while you can pick up on little environmental pieces of storytelling the first time you come through an area, because it is your first time there, you are likely focused on your primary objective, blinkered forward by the objective marker hovering in front of you.

On subsequent returns to the same areas, just by virtue of the fact that you’ve already conquered the main objective, you no longer feel as compelled to rush to the finish. You have time to poke and feel around the area you’re in.

One of my favourite examples of a moment of environmental storytelling was found in the upper floor of an apartment near Kaldwin’s Bridge in ‘The Royal Physician’ mission. This apartment is not the only way to reach Kaldwin’s Bridge, but is one such way; as such, it’s entirely possible for someone to completely miss it their first time through. Even if you don’t miss it, a first time player might be more focused on the ludic objective at hand, represented by the objective marker hovering in front of them.

They might not take the time to observe the detailed world around them, to observe in that apartment two dead Bottle Street Gang members, one lying on the floor with a machete in his chest, the other slumped in his chair by a bunch of empty bottles. The few coins that lie on the table between them on one level simply serve as currency for our protagonist, Corvo, to use to upgrade his gear or replenish his resources. However, they also serve to flesh out the story of Jack and Quilty, two men in Dunwall who abruptly met their end. 

Bottle Street Gang members Jack and Quilty

Where most notes that are found in Dunwall serve as lore-building tools, the note found on the table between Jack and Quilty is simply a betting score sheet, with Jack winning by a suspiciously large landslide. The implication is that after being cheated, Quilty, in a drunken rage, killed him with a machete to the chest. This simple and small scene illustrates the vices that have decayed the moral centre of Dunwall. Quilty, too, has his own vices, having seemingly overdosed on the plague elixir that his gang, the Bottle Streets, bootleg.

There were many other scenes like this which I didn’t take notice of until my later playthroughs, scenes that show how much care and detail Arkane has put into their world. Even a simpler scene, like the corpses of plague infested lovers in the arms of each other demonstrate how much Dishonored begs to be replayed again and again.

Much too like it’s world, the multi-faceted gameplay of Dishonored ages gracefully like a fine Tyvian wine. On my revisits to Dunwall, I played within self-imposed rules, and recontextualizing the game’s ludic boundaries increased my understanding of the game’s play systems, while also simply giving me a new challenge! Playing with no magic really showed me how much harder the game can be. Without the magical ability ‘Blink’, for example, higher places were often inaccessible, or at least inaccessible with ease. No longer could I quickly escape a guard, have a higher vantage point, or have an easy way to get through a level. Stripping Corvo, the magical assassin, of his otherworldly powers made me a much more aware and cautious player.

I wish I could be there for when they all wake up and wonder what they drunk last night

Of course from a combat standpoint, the game changed: I could no longer summon a swarm of rats to get rid of enemies, or stop time for crowd control. Less expected was how my lack of magic changed the very way I approached the game’s levels. In the second main mission, which takes place at ‘The Golden Cat’, an upmarket brothel, I literally had to go through the wide front entrance. All the times past I could easily blink up to the roofs of adjacent buildings and sneak in through an upper level window, or even possess a fish and discreetly swim into the building’s basement. Without magical mobility skills, as well as without the ability to see guards through walls in what is now an industry-standard ‘Detective Mode’ (also see: Arkham Asylum, The Last of Us, Deus Ex), I found myself playing the game in a very different way, often finding myself overwhelmed by enemies.

This subtle limitation on Corvo’s abilities led to less money spent on Mana potions, and more money spent on faster gun reloads, more grenades, and a more violent and overt approach to dealing with enemies. Dishonored’s diverse customization options for play styles and approaches is certainly a huge part of the reason I’ve played the game nearly a dozen times now.

One of the few times I can climb up stuff without magic

Finally, I’d like to briefly touch on the game’s level design. Each level has it’s assassination target at the end of it. In a sense, this objective is what fulfills Dishonored’s win-state-oriented gameliness, and what frames the player’s activity in the level. However, the levels themselves are incredibly open ended. Not only are there multiple ways of reaching, and then executing that objective, there are also other secondary objectives that can be found. In ‘The Golden Cat’ mission previously mentioned, for example, there are multiple optional areas involved in a subquest that can be done if the player finds Slackjaw, the leader of the Bottle Street Gang.

Dishonored has some of the most nonlinear and open level design I’ve ever had the pleasure of roaming around, pressing me to come back to Dunwall’s alleys, rooftops and abandoned apartments again and again. Combined with the freedom the game gives you in approaching the same areas, each time I’ve returned to the game feels fresh and exciting, unearthing more and more.


3:31 PM on 03.13.2015

A Detective's Tale: Why The Inquisitor is better than L.A. Noire

#PROCJAM 2014 was one of many game jams that took place last year. The idea of a game jam is to challenge people to make a short game abiding to a given theme, a strict timeline forcing them to produce, as best as they can, a (often raw, unpolished) nugget of potential. Procedural Generation Jam found it’s niche among game jams last November by asking developers to either make a tool that helps game developers generate stuff, or to make a game with procedural generation within them. The Inquisitor fell into the latter category, and has you solving a procedurally generated whodunit, collecting evidence, hearing testimonies, and putting it all together to find the murderer, their weapon, and their motive. The obvious comparison is with the series of homicide cases in L.A. Noire, a crime thriller set against the backdrop of 1940s Los Angeles. While the latter is clearly more polished, a glossy blockbuster published by Rockstar, The Inquisitor still outshines it by having that nugget of inventive gameplay, ultimately making you feel like more of a self-thinking detective.

Killed by purple liquid!

The Inquisitor puts you in a top-down series of randomly generated tile-based rooms with several randomly generated characters who, upon prompting, will provide their alibi, who might have motive, and if they have seen anything suspicious. Gathering information and making sense of it forms the bulk of the game. As the game suggests you do in the start screen, taking notes becomes instrumental, allowing you to understand the moving parts and piece together the story of the crime and the relationships between characters. L.A. Noire, on the other hand, because it is a highly refined blockbuster, couldn’t take the risk of letting the player do that mental work himself, instead spoon feeding him in order to have the experience as smooth as possible, without any resistance. In L.A. Noire, the player drives to the crime scene, picks up and manipulates objects until it ‘clicks’, drives to persons of interest or locations of interest, and continues along the line intricately designed for him.

Any mental energy on the player’s part is reserved for those interviews and interrogations, where the player decides whether the interviewee is telling the truth or lying. A certain degree of perception is required, in reading the tone and expression of those under questioning from player-character Cole Phelps, and a level of awareness is necessary in linking a lie to evidence that has been collected, if a link can be made. Clearly this was the focus of the game, as suggested by the millions of dollars put into MotionScan, the game’s technology that was used to record actors and make characters life-like and believable. Furthermore, as this innovative technology was at the helm of the marketing of L.A. Noire, it is safe to say that reading people was the core part of the gameplay. Team Bondi are effectively making a statement that the most important facet of recreating a detective story is the process of interviewing people and detecting whether they are lying or telling the truth. Any other elements of the game (chase sequences, shootouts, sparring) are supplemental, and investigating a crime scene is simply what provides the context for those interviews. All those other elements have been done before; the innovation of the gameplay are those interviews, and as such, is clearly the focus of the game.

However, L.A. Noire seems to miss the point that The Inquisitor so perfectly captures. This little game made in 7 days understands that the most fun part of being a detective is having a lucid understanding of the crime, and by giving you no help, it forces you to make the connections yourself. While there is a novelty in knowing that your story is personal to you, that uniqueness also means there is no right way to solve the murder, allowing you to tackle it in any order and in any way you wish to. Actually writing down all the alibis given to you, deciding which is the real truth, and constructing your own very specific timeline is so much more rewarding than the game simply doing it for you, as L.A. Noire does.

She would've been 87 today!

Granted, a timeline of events does exist in L.A. Noire, Phelps creating an account of movements of the victim (e.g. Theresa Taraldsen going from a party to a bar to a dance club to riding a bus back home), but we don’t ever put it together ourselves. The game just does it for us, and that timeline is often confined to the narrative of the case, rather than the gameplay of solving it; it is rarely pertinent information to know, and when it is, it’s merely the broad strokes. To accuse Hugo Moller of lying about being at home the night of his wife’s murder, for example, we must use evidence from his daughter that revealed no one picked up the home phone at night. As such, it doesn’t make the timeline of events as important as The Inquisitor does, leaving it vague and largely for narrative purposes.

Of course, that L.A. Noire is realistic means timelines will be vague, unlike The Inquisitor’s unrealistically precise alibis that characters give you. Yet that lack of realism in The Inquisitor leads directly to an enjoyable and effective gameplay system. The fact that L.A. Noire is a realistic game set in a realistic world also means that locations of interest that you investigate become abstract places, their spatial connection lost in sequences of driving through the traffic of 1940s Los Angeles. The Inquisitor, however, by taking place in one house or mansion, encourages an understanding of these locations by having the movement of characters between rooms instrumental in solving the case. Even if they are random names like the Misty Room, the Dank Cellar and the Queen’s Garden, their spatial relationship with each other, as made important by the gameplay, fosters a greater sense of being a detective and solving a case yourself.

My totally legible notes

As Tzvetan Todorov has noted in The Poetics of Prose, a detective story "contains not one but two stories: the story of the crime and the story of the investigation." While both games have both, The Inquisitor more successfully conveys “the story of the investigation”. Although L.A. Noire has a more obvious “story of the investigation” (it is a scripted and well-written narrative after all), The Inquisitor creates a story of the investigation just by giving the player complete freedom in the way she solves the case. Because the player is the sole investigator, and not Cole Phelps, she is given a more personal and meaningful “story of the investigation”, simply by virtue of that independent construction of the “story of the crime”.

Of course, L.A. Noire has an incredible tale to tell, and oozes with the moody atmosphere of a corrupt and drunk city in the Golden Age of Hollywood; it has brilliant characters, more than one thrilling conspiracy that is beautifully revealed, and is (sometimes) a delight to play. Yet due to it’s heavily scripted nature, it often feels like we are watching a TV show, doing the menial tasks of driving, shooting and chasing, rarely actually doing the detective work that so occupies our fantasies. What we are left to do that is meaningful are those interview sequences; yet still, they are only one component of the whole. The Inquisitor, despite being bare-bones in many regards, by focusing on the cerebral process of organising evidence and connecting all the dots, allows us to fully be a part of the ‘whole’ of that investigation. By letting us understand the significance of the evidence, unravel inter-character relationships, and construct a timeline of events, it lets us play detective, not just play out the components of Cole Phelps’ investigation.


12:57 PM on 08.07.2014

I love Assassin's Creed

Assassin's Creed I is my favorite game in the series. There, I said it. Before you leave in horror, I agree, it isn't the best game in the series. That honor likely goes to II or Brotherhood, but nonetheless, for me, Assassin's Creed is my favorite. It has an undeniable charm that, in my mind, II or Brotherhood didn't recreate.

Sure, later games tweaked, fine-tuned and altogether polished the gameplay and structure of the game, but in the process it lost the mystery and inherent freshness that the first entry in a series brings.

For me it all begins with Desmond Miles and the modern-day scenes that take place in Abstergo. In the original, the mystery of what Abstergo were up to, and why you were there, was more intricately and subtly revealed. If you wanted to, you could finish the game knowing very little about the goings on of the modern day storyline. Assassin's Creed I, unlike its (many many) sequels, was more content focusing on the ancestor-protagonist’s story. Yet there still existed a story in the modern day. Instead of the story explicitly being told to you, you could snoop around, reading Vidic and Lucy's emails on their computers, which allowed you to piece together information and come to a conclusion, in your head, of what was going on. It ended up feeling satisfying just by the process itself. It's as if the game merely expected you to go to your bedroom, sleep, and re-enter the animus, and I was the one working outside the box, and discovering information that I'm not supposed to know.

Even if many players ended up doing this, in the moment it captured the feeling of being a prisoner and doing covert reconnaissance without the knowledge of the captors. This form of storytelling, where you are interacting with the environment to find out more, worked beautifully in parallel with the meat of the game, playing as Altair, with a more traditional, straight-forward narrative. The effect of longevity, that these modern-day sequences were sparse intervals in the whole game, meant that there was this gradual, slow discovery of the truth. In contrast, the second game explicitly explains a lot more about the ongoings of Abstergo, and, while it continues to divulge nuggets of information (and characterization) from reading emails and such, there is less of a reliance on this. For me, throughout the series' Abstergo story arc, the most interesting section is of Abstergo being a mysterious, dangerous corporation, one that is using you for who-knows-what-purpose, especially as it's revealed very subtly and slowly.

However, I also ultimately enjoyed the way Altair's story was told. Of course, it felt repetitive and monotonous once you hit the 4th, 5th, or 6th assassinations. The game was, undeniably boringly structured. Each section began with finding out information about the target, through a series of (mostly) boring investigation missions, before finding the target and then delivering the killing blow. There wasn’t even much meat to the plot until the very end of Altair’s story in the game. Once I got to the 7th or 8th assassination, it was a struggle not to put down the game, and it was hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. But I persevered through the thick sludge of starting-to-get-boring gameplay and was rewarded with, what is, to this day, an incredibly memorable finale.

The bait-and-switch of the final assassination, rapidly riding across the beautiful countryside in search of the final target, the reveal of the plot twist; the pacing of the final hour or so of Assasin’s Creed is truly thrilling and memorable. The game pulls itself out the slow tedium and suddenly speeds up, spewing juicy bits of wonderfully-paced and -crafted material. It is unfortunate that the game struggles with staying interesting and enjoyable in it's middle portion, but it's not all terrible, since the finale is only so much better in comparison. Of course that doesn't excuse the boring gameplay, but perhaps it's one positive way to view it.

The game shakes you out of your boots. For so long, throughout the game, you have blindly followed the commands of the Brotherhood leader, Al Mualim, and the gameplay reflects that. Each assassination feels as meaningless as the last; the only reason you’re doing it is because the game tells you to do so. Even if I questioned it internally, the game never addressed it, and that in a way encapsulates the mindset of Altair, until his world is shaken and both he, and the player, are forced to rethink the situation with newfound information. This acute and abrupt switch in the pace and structure of the game, then, fuels the motivation to keep playing and see it through to the end.

The finale itself was simply delightfully crafted, arriving at the footsteps of the hilltown of Masyaf, the story ending where it all began. You slowly make your way through the town, fighting off the enemies on the way to the final confrontation at the castle at the summit. It feels very scripted and authored, but not in a bad way. It works, because in the moment all you can think of is what is right in front of you, and in that way, Ubisoft did an incredible job creating the climax, aligning the mindset of player and character.

I found scripted moments like this throughout the game, but none stick with me as much as the first time you arrive at Damascus, the first major city you do your line of work in. I remember sitting atop a horse and riding through a narrow passage that leads to the gates of Damascus. Before you get down to the gate, however, the game presents you with a wonderful spectacle. Back in 2007 this was breathtaking, and incredible. Perhaps it doesn’t live up to the graphics of today, but I can nevertheless envisage finally seeing the destination, where I’ve been riding to. I took a  moment to stop, from atop my horse, to look at the overhead view of Damascus, in all it’s vast entirety. The game plays a sweeping orchestral piece, accentuating how grand and beautiful a sight this is.

Nonetheless, this game is terribly flawed. It fails to execute on so many ideas, ideas that were half-baked, ideas that were fleshed out, improved and made altogether more enjoyable in the game’s sequels. Yet I still can’t help but have a sweet spot for Assassin’s Creed, the game where it all started. Assassin's Creed II is perhaps the purest and most complete incarnation of the franchise, but there’s something intangible about the first game that I can’t truly put to words, something that wins me over. This was the first next-gen game I played, and I’ll always have a place in my heart for those great moments, those great memories.   read

1:06 PM on 07.31.2014

I love Catherine

Hmm...I just realised that the title seems excessively profession-of-love-y. Nevertheless, I shan’t hide this secret from the world. I do love Catherine, and believe it or not, it is my favorite game of all time.

I’m well aware that no one hated Catherine, what with it’s flurry of 7’s, 8’s and 9’s from reviewers, but heads usually turn when I tell people that it’s my favorite game, and somewhat understandably. Without having played it, the marketing for this game made it seem much more - even comically - sexual, infatuated with sex in and of itself, and generally something that would be classed under one’s guilty pleasures. The reality is quite different, and what’s hidden underneath is an amazing puzzle game with gorgeous visuals, fantastic music and excellent writing.

At the end of the day, even if people didn’t hate this game, I just want an excuse to write about it. Allow me this, won't you?

Let me start with Stray Sheep.

You’ll spend a lot of time here. The game is split into two halves: the nightmare sequences, where you frantically scramble up a tower of falling blocks in an abstract dream space, and waking reality, a bar named Stray Sheep where you hang out with friends, drink booze and piece together the mystery of what the fuck is going on in your weird-ass dreams.

There isn’t actually that much to do here. You talk with your friends at the booth which you always occupy, you can go and talk to other patrons and the bartender, watch the news, play an arcade version of the nightmare sequences in preparation, and check and reply any texts from the titular character, Catherine. Yet even though there are only seven or eight interaction ‘hotspots’ in this small bar, as I returned to it each night, I became more and more familiar with it, as if it were my local watering hole, as much as it was protagonist Vincent's. This great thing happens, then, of knowing and understanding the layout of a small space, and walking around it with ease, as if it were one’s own house, school, or office.

The intricate layout of the bar is only strengthened by the game’s camera work, which the player doesn’t control; instead, the camera is on an ever-so-slight overhead dolly, creating a constant tracking shot of Vincent, smoothly moving around, producing cinematic and elegant viewing angles. This, of course, allows the player to move around without having to constantly readjust the camera, as well as creating a very purposeful and stylish scene.

What I wanted to focus on is the mood and atmosphere of the bar. It simultaneously oozes nocturnal drowsiness and an ever-growing sense of dread. What these sections represent for the gameplay is clear: downtime, a chance to relax before the onslaught of the frantic meat of the game. For Vincent, the player-character, it represents a place where he can go to relax, but with the beginning of his nightmares, it also represents a safe haven of sorts, before the daily nightmare resumes. And as the game grows on, to it’s 4th, 5th, 6th night, it feels just that. The structure of the game sets in, and Stray Sheep, for the player, represents a time to collect your thoughts, to stay up as late as possible before hesitantly returning home, and letting the nightmares continue. This is felt as the number of patrons dwindle, or as the music becomes slower and quieter, or as each of Vincent’s friends gradually (and inevitably) turn in for the night. Eventually, so must you.

And fuck me, those nightmares certainly are frantic. They’re not necessarily scary, but it’s fast-paced action; the image of hounds chasing and snapping at your heels at each moment wouldn’t be far off from understanding the pace of these sequences. What stems from that, however, is exciting gameplay. You must be on the move at all times, learning to simultaneously be observing and recognising patterns, and deploying skills that you’ve learned to scale those blocks. It only improves as the game progresses, with more block-types being introduced, as well as an array of obstacles. However, skill and improvisation remain at the heart of this, being able to assess the situation and quickly use the most efficient means to climb up.

One thing I’ve always hated about fighting games is the requirement to know specific button combos, especially those long and complicated ones. What Catherine uses is not knowledge of a series of button presses, but knowledge of tricks, of how to manipulate the environment and morph it into something scalable. If you’re smart enough, you can suss out how to do these ‘moves’ before they’re taught to you in the game, as they are natural ways to move around. They’re not a button combo that is locked from you until you get to a certain point in the game, nor is it something that requires guesswork.

One of the first techniques you're taught in the game

In fact, many techniques are not taught-in game, and have been discovered and logged by the community, through experimentation and practice. And that is, in essence, what’s great about it. This very simple and elegant mechanic allows freedom of expression from the player, and that’s what, to me, drives the gameplay.

Needless to mention, too, are the slick graphics, the diverse music used, and the well-written and memorable quirky characters that you interact with at the bar in human form, and their sheep counterparts during the dream (sounds kooky? It is!)

Perhaps it is just the time at which I played Catherine, a thoroughly unique affair after having played the (relatively) straight-faced grunts that are The Last of UsUncharted 3, and Heavy Rain. Perhaps it is just that Catherine came at a time, where it stood out from the crowd and dazzled me with its dashing personality and damn fine weirdness. Perhaps, though, it isn’t just that.   read

12:03 PM on 10.04.2013

Destructoid Robot on a yoghurt drink

It seems I'm destined to find robots that remotely look like Mr. Destructoid.
In this case, though, it looks exactly (only full body Dtoid robot I could find) the same.   read

6:02 PM on 08.27.2013

My first summer with the Playstation

After being convinced by Tony Ponce, who said that there is no better time to buy a console than at the tail end of a generation (cheap price, firmware fixed, 7 years of exclusives), I decided to finally dish out the money and have a Station to Play on. I thought it would be interesting to have someone’s fresh perspective on the console, after most of it’s exclusive titles had come out, so here are my thoughts on some of the PS3's many exclusives (as well as some not-very exclusives that I played first on a PS3 this summer).

The Last of Us

The Last of Us was good, but it didn't amaze me. The gameplay was solid, and at times really good, but it was nothing out of the ordinary or especially innovative. I enjoyed the non-linearity of some of the later areas, as well as exploring old record stores and long-forgotten neighbourhoods. Objectively, it’s a 10/10, and everything is perfect about it - the writing and acting, the visuals and soundtrack, the gameplay and the general design. I just don’t feel excited when I talk about it, and I don’t pester everyone about why they should play it, like I do with Dark Souls or you do with Ocarina of TimeA Link to the PastSuper Mario Bros. 3. It just doesn’t do it for me.

Heavy Rain

I really don’t want to talk about Heavy Rain for too long. The voice acting was bad, the story was full of plot holes, and the camera and controls were awful. I can’t forgive a game that has to lie to me for its plot twist to work. Still, it has a decent soundtrack, so I came away with something good.

Uncharted 3

I had actually played Uncharted 2 before, when I stayed at a friend's house for a couple weeks, so I won’t talk much about that. However, contrary to popular opinion, I found Uncharted 3 to be generally better than its predecessor. The story was deeper, the writing and voice acting was charming and wise-cracking as always, even dipping its feet into questioning-Nathan-for-being-a-mass-murderer territory. I must admit though, my favourite Uncharted scene still takes place in 2 - I’ll never let go of getting on in a lush jungle, and seamlessly being taken to the snow-capped mountains - it was one long beautiful section of platforming and gunplay mixed together. I am, of course, talking about the train sequence.


I was always intrigued by the oft-talked about social aspects in Persona 3, and Catherine seemed to have a lot of that, even if simplified a bit. I came to Catherine for the anime-story and the beautiful art style, but stayed for the excellent writing, challenging and addictive gameplay, and a wide selection of music. I’m so used to playing very similar-in-style and structure games, so Catherine came as a refreshing and unique game. From getting trivia about cocktails/sake/beer/whiskey to quickly rearranging and scrambling up falling blocks to the expressive characters at the bar and the wacky boss design, Catherine has it all. Even Troy Baker voicing the main character. He really is in everything.

On a side note, I enjoyed playing a meta-game where I tried to remember where I had heard different character’s voices before, since they’d all voice-acted in various animes.


I actually played Journey a while ago on my own at my brother’s house before I had a PS3 for myself. However, this time, I played it with a friend who primarily plays Call of Duty and Fifa, and it was really enjoyable for me to show him a really different game, a game that told such an emotional and wonderful story without words, which illustrates the connection you can have with another player, without knowing anything about them. The first time I played the game, I thought it was overrated and appreciated what it did but didn’t truly understand it. After playing it again, I view the game as a work of genius. It does SO much, so well, in such a short time and all non-verbally. If you’re interested at all, you should check out this talk that the game’s designer, Jenova Chen, gave at GDC 2013.

Shadow of the Colossus

I’ll be honest. Shadow of the Colossus had too much hype on it to ever succeed with me. Still, I never felt wondering “what the big deal is”, I just didn’t have as much of an emotional reaction as others did. I didn’t, for example, cry at the ending, or when I felled the beautiful bird colossi that circled the lake. However, I still enjoyed the experience. I enjoyed riding around an empty - 16 colossi aside - and massive land, and the somewhat unclear map leading me to develop a relationship with the actual land (‘this is that waterfall I jumped down for the hell of it’ or, ‘this is that crevice that leads to Colossi 6’). 

And, speaking of the landscape, I would often ignore the way my sword was leading me, to see where a certain man-made or natural structure in the land led. Rather than exploring to find collectibles, I was exploring to find out more about the world and be rewarded with newfound knowledge or a beautiful view, something that more recently, Antichamber and Proteus did well.

Metal Gear Solid

Due to a lack of funds, I haven’t gotten round to picking up the other Metal Gear Solid games, as I surely will, hearing great things about Snake Eater and Guns of the Patriots, as well as wanting to catch up before The Phantom Pain is released. Nevertheless, I had a chance to play the very first Metal Gear Solid, and let me tell you, it was great. The stealth, and even more, the controls, were quite modern for a game from 1998. This must’ve been one of the best looking PSOne games, because it looks superb, even today. By comparison, I can’t bring myself to play Ocarina of Time in its original form due to how badly it has aged. I can’t think of much else to say about this classic, but I will leave you with a question, “Do you think love can bloom even on a battlefield?”

Final thoughts

Apart from the games themselves, I found myself liking how lightweight the PS3 controller was, and it felt strange holding the bulky 360 controller after a while away from it.

In general, the Playstation has impressed me. Maybe it’s just playing all these stellar games in a short span of time, but the quality of these very diverse games simply amaze me. And don’t worry, there’s still plenty more for me to play - I just haven’t gotten round to it yet. Leave me a few suggestions of what I should consider picking up next - on my list are the remaining Metal Gear Solid’s, Ni no Kuni and Valkyria Chronicles.   read

12:46 PM on 06.06.2013

11 Reasons Why You Should Be Playing Gunpoint

In no particular order.

First and foremost, the game not only allows, but encourages creativity and experimentation. You can go about problems however which way you like, and after the first few levels, once all the basic mechanics have been introduced, the game feels less like a puzzle game with one or two set solutions, and more like one where the open-ended nature allows you to come up with original solutions to problems.

There are enough things in the level and ways to make those things interact with each other and with the guards that you’ll be coming up with new (and better) ways of dealing with situations. And you’ll feel crazy clever when you’re able to link the multi-colored circuits through one simple button press (or in the case below, just walking). For this example (illustrated below), I got both vault doors (they close after 3 seconds) to open simultaneously for me just by walking towards it:

I, the shadowy figure on the left hand side (on the lower floor), walk in front of the camera, which calls an elevator to the floor above.

Once the elevator arrives, the red signal opens the red vault door simultaneously as the blue noise detector (the elevator caused a noise) opens the blue vault door.

I get in, hack the computer, by which time the doors have closed, but that’s okay, because the camera on the right recalls the elevator, which reopens both the vault doors so I can exit.

Easy-to-learn level editor. I tried it out and you can pick it up in a few minutes.

The soundtrack is fantastic. It quite perfectly reflects the game’s setting, predominantly jazz with, as it's in the near-future, electronic music mixed in, without becoming chiptune-y.

Despite not being the main mechanic of the gameplay anymore (it was early in development), you feel like the biggest badass when you arrive on a floor from inside the elevator, walk out with your gun pointed at a guard, hack the whatever, and walk back into the elevator, with the guard unable to do anything for fear of death.

I’ve seen people complain about the game’s short length. I actually appreciate it more for this. There’s no bullshit in the campaign - each level is important and has interesting idea behind it. Like Braid, there’s no filler material, and unlike BraidGunpoint has multiple ways to solve puzzles. You’ll find yourself coming back to the game for the 3rd, 4th, 5th time playing it in different styles (speed run, psychopathic run, pacifist run, etc.) and still finding new things about how the game works, and using how stuff works to your advantage in new ways.

The controls are spectacularly simple. What could’ve been a fairly complicated endeavour was made incredibly easy and intuitive - scroll up or down to enter crosslink mode where you just drag lines to and from electrical components to wire them.

The autosave system works beautifully. And it’s not just a neat feature, it’s so much more than that. It frees your mind from having to think about quicksaving so that if you die you won’t lose a bunch of progress. The autosave system works such that when you die you can load the game 5, 10, or 15 seconds before you, and there’s no wait time - it’s an instant thing. It’s part of games like Hotline MiamiVVVVVVSuper Meat Boy and Braid - they respect the player’s time with instant respawns and no loading screens every time you die. This is especially important since you’ll be dying a fair amount as you get to grips with the mechanics.

Leaping is done so well, and is so intrinsically enjoyable once you’ve upgraded it to the max. I think it stems from the idea that you know exactly where you’re going to land. It has this feeling of catapulting, holding the left mouse button until you’re ready to release, flying through a window and pouncing on a guy, throwing someone seven stories, or leaping from the high-security building into the subway just as someone is about to shoot you.

The writing is incredible. It manages to be hilarious and light-hearted and easy going, whilst not getting in the way or compromising the gameplay. But man, Tom Francis knows how to write funny words.

There are 8 different ways to beat the boss. Unlike Deus Ex: Human Revolution’s bosses, which forced the players to play one way, contrary to the rest of the game, Gunpoint teaches the players its mechanics and systems and actually allows you to use that knowledge and freedom in the final level and boss.

Get it here.   read

8:59 AM on 06.01.2013

Kentucky Route Zero Act II Thoughts

Kentucky Route Zero, for those of you that don’t know, is an allusive and weirdly magical 5-part episodic adventure game. Act II, in theme with the game’s tone, has been secretly released overnight, with no press release or official launch trailer. To my delight, I found it sitting in the Steam version of Kentucky Route Zero, whilst I was simply installing it and not at all expecting the second act to have arrived.

Let’s get this out of the way -  I have a lot of good things to say about Act II. I’ll be spoiling minor cool moments from the Act to illustrate why I love it, so PLEASE do yourself a favor and spend the hour that it takes to play this magical thing.

If you haven’t heard of Kentucky Route Zero, let me get you caught up. You play as Conway, a truck delivery guy, trying to get to 5 Dogwood Drive, which lies beyond the mystical Route Zero, to deliver a package. KRZ is an adventure game without puzzles and is more laid back and relaxing, focused on telling a great story. You travel the roads of Kentucky at night with a woman named Shannon and your loyal canine buddy, named in Act I. Conveniently, Act II doesn't rely too heavily on Act I, and a newcomer could dive into it with little to no discomfort. 

Act II resumes where Act I left off, not in narrative, as you begin with a short prologue giving an insight into the life of a clerk and a new character, Lula Chamberlain, but rather in style of storytelling - multiple pseudo-perspectives through which the story is told. After this brief foray into this new character, the game's first 'scene' goes back to Conway and Shannon, shortly arriving at the Bureau where Lula works. It's here where the game's slightly magical tone comes to place, with an office floor full of bears and a wall of TVs with interesting thoughts, such as that a well-lit elevator contributes to the lack of motion that a passenger should not feel during a ride.

As the act develops, you’ll choose the words in conversation for Shannon, a little girl named Ezra (who by the way is fucking fun to control due to the simple fact that she’s youthful and can run fast), the aforementioned Lula and perhaps most interestingly, a couple of ghostly museum security guards conversing and describing as they watch Conway, Shannon and your dog (mine named Blue), as you, the player, control Conway around the museum.

Although the story and characters are intriguing in it’s own surreal and beautiful way - a huge eagle that carries a brother and sister, who are more concerned with moving houses than finding their parents, for example - it’s the way that it’s told and presented which astounded me the most. 

The gorgeous and striking visuals (not to mention some great sound design) come together with some really ingenious writing in ways - ways I won't spoil - that must be played to be understood. Despite being, in a way, minimalistic, the small cast of characters come off as genuine and unique with down to earth personalities of their own, due to the eloquent and sometimes poetic writing.

The Second Act not only matches the wonder of the first, but develops on ideas in new and exciting ways. Simply said, Kentucky Route Zero excels in atmosphere and storytelling, inviting you into it's bizarre and beautiful world, and you must go play it now.   read

5:09 PM on 02.15.2013

Videogames are the Artform of the 21st Century

A moment ago I’d been enthralled by this place, fascinated by how different and fresh it was, hanging on every word of these people’s everyday lives. When I realized my next task was to ram a piece of metal into eight different people until they were all dead, part of me thought, sadly, “Oh yeah. Videogames.”
Tom Francis said this of Bioshock Infinite in the cover story of the February issue of PC Gamer UK. It's reassuring then, that when he asked Ken Levine about it, he said that it's "something that they attempt to confront at some point". Join me as I ponder the current state of game mechanics in the mainstream and wonder about the evolution of new types of games in the future.

Tom shared the sentiment that despite Bioshock Infinite being super interesting thematically with ideas of racism and capitalism and whatnot, the game’s gameplay is still killing people using different weapons and vigors in creative ways, which was a similar feeling that people had when Bioshock was released - the game that people pointed to as ‘sophisticated’ and ‘artistic’ had gameplay that was primarily about killing people in inventive ways with all these awesome powers.

In my mind, there are two genres of mainstream games where the main mechanic isn't killing people: puzzle games and adventure games. Although Super Mario Bros., for example, isn’t violent, it’s still a game that has pretty much the same gameplay tones - there are enemies and you defeat them in some way or another. Even if it is a game like Dishonored, where they encourage stealth and even no-kill runs, the gameplay is thematically similar.

Since Anthony Burch famously said “fun isn’t enough”, we’ve had lots of games that are emotive and moving without having similar gameplay themes, such as The Walking Dead, recently. But still, if we compare it to another medium, we don’t really get many romantic games or games that are not action/adventure, ignoring indie games. Although there will always be indie games that move videogames in different ways (for example, Amnesia: The Dark Descent is a vulnerability fantasy rather than the common power fantasy), there really aren’t too many mainstream games with differing gameplay themes.

It's tough to think about gameplay that is different to the norm and yet not a puzzle/adventure game (sure, exploration exists, but that's just walking around in a space rather than a gameplay mechanic which intrinsically offers something new). I guess games just aren’t at the point where gameplay can be something different emotionally, at least from the mainstream.

Chris Hecker said in the Minecraft: The Story of Mojang (2 Player Productions) documentary that games are still really young, and that if you ask a developer to make a game about falling in love, they wouldn't know how to do that, because games aren’t at that point yet (also referring to how in the early 20th Century filmmakers learned to edit movies or move the camera when filming, which slowly resulted in all those cinematic techniques and shots, such as 'deep focus' and 'long shots').

The Great Train Robbery (1903), one of the first multiple-scene, multiple-minute films

Although The Walking Dead is violent and does include killing people, that’s part of the story, and the main gameplay, if it can be called that, are choices that you make through interactive dialogue. The effect of feeling close to Clementine is accomplished through the interactive dialogue gameplay, and not through traditional gameplay. So I wonder if those feelings can be evoked through traditional gameplay (not interactive dialogue) - gameplay mechanics which at its core expresses itself onto players in new and different ways. It boggles my mind to try to just think about how really new gameplay mechanics would work because it is, to me, like thinking of a new alphabet - it’s impossible, as it would just be made up of previous sounds that we know of and not a new sound.

One might argue that new ideas just evolve from previous ideas, but every now and then we get truly new ideas - such as making a game from the First-person point of view, or, as previously mentioned, editing a movie rather than just showing it in the order that it was filmed. I feel like Journey is the closest something has come to emotionally moving people through its gameplay - something that is exclusive to videogames - and not its cutscenes or dialogue.

The thought of being 16 years old and living for the majority of the 21st century excites me to no end, after it has been repeatedly declared that videogames are the artform of the 21st century. I can only wait to see how they will further reach their potential and evolve as the decades go by.   read

1:58 PM on 02.12.2013

Response to Warren Spector: An artform requires diversity

Recently, Warren Spector gave a talk at DICE 2013 that was largely about his personal tastes in games and how it has changed as he has gotten older and how he has less time to do the kind of things he did when he was in his 20s. The controversial part of the talk was his suggestion that games like “this” (pointing to a slide which had Lollipop Chainsaw) shouldn't be made.

If he were to just say that games like this don’t interest him then it would be a perfectly valid statement, because we all have tastes. However by saying that games like this shouldn’t be made he’s saying that Suda51 shouldn’t be creative in his own way and “leave his mark on the world”. Lollipop Chainsaw is certainly more creative than the abundance of military shooters we see today and it’s highly-stylized presentation helps the industry in the future, as it inspires people to make new sorts of games rather than making another clone of a successful game in order to do well commercially (or even critically) instead of seeking to be creative. Lollipop Chainsaw is a shameless game that doesn't worry about being taken seriously and illustrates the diversity of games we have today. Telling someone that a game like Lollipop Chainsaw shouldn't exist is narrowing the kind of games we have today - film is a widely respected art form, largely due to its large assortment of genres and cinematic styles, so surely telling someone that a certain type of game shouldn't exist is limiting the choices we have in gaming and harming the industry.

Furthermore, he mentioned in the beginning that he has aged and his tastes have changed, but that doesn't mean the demographic for Lollipop Chainsaw doesn't exist. And I doubt that the demographic for a game like Lollipop Chainsaw isn't just the youth - i’m sure it appeals to a larger demographic than he thinks.

At the end of the keynote, he says that he is no longer ashamed to say that he makes art, and that it is culturally important to leave a legacy of yourself behind - Deus Ex, and definitely not Epic Mickey, in this case - which is just a pure contradiction to his statement that violent games shouldn't be made, and that only thought-provoking and mature games, such as his examples of Heavy Rain and The Walking Dead.   read

4:30 PM on 02.09.2013

The first hour of Antichamber is the best hour

Antichamber is a psychological exploration puzzle game set within an Escher-like world. It’s a world where the rules don’t follow the same physical rules as other games would or our own world would.” -Alexander Bruce

When the example he gives is a “non-euclidian four-dimensional space”, you know you’re in for something really special. And it was, for the first hour, and here's why.
Antichamber is set in a unique and striking world in which you explore for the sake of exploration, which is something that’s really rare. These days, exploration usually means exploring to find a power-up, or to find all the collectibles, but in this case, I actually found myself exploring the world because it was worth exploring in and of itself.

It works better as an exploration game

And I think the game provides the best exploration within the first hour, when you have none of the devices which you pick up later on (once you get these you get into a more traditional puzzle game mindset rather than an exploration mindset) to use in many puzzles involving different colored cubes. To me, the game works better as an exploration game than a puzzle game - it’s harder to freely explore the world when puzzles act as blocks to the exploration.

In the first hour, before “the game proper” starts, Antichamber is just acclimatizing you to the nature of the world, to the strangeness and beauty of both the juxtaposition of color and pallidity and the truly amazing level design. It shows you the world, and lets you observe anything and everything at your own pace (which is something I hope Jonathan Blow’s The Witness does too), and rather than guiding you down a linear path it lets you go your own way. Granted, there are limited paths to take, unlike an open outdoor space, but it still offers a unique location and space everywhere you go - at least for the first hour, the introduction to the world.

After a few hours, the game and more than that, the puzzles itself often get boring, repetitive and tedious. You see, it’s in this first hour where you’re not interrupted by puzzles and you’re just set free to roam and explore to your heart’s desire.

A gallery of sorts

One of the first locations you arrive at is a small room, a gallery of sorts, where there are cubes set in a grid-like pattern. To get to this location, you walk down a corridor, and from a short distance you can only see one side of a cube, with the letters L I F E appearing every time a pendulum ticks by the center. As you walk towards it, the space opens up to you, showing many of these cubes, all containing unique and colorful 3D images, such as electrons flying around a nucleus or sets of rocks orbiting a large central rock and being orbited by mini-rocks of its own.

The amazing thing is that depending on which side you view each cube from, you see a different “sculpture”. And I use the word “sculpture” loosely, because what you see varies from a globe spinning to a game of Pong being played to a cube floating in space surrounded by block arrows pointing at it from all directions. This seemingly simple scene not only illustrates the kind of mentality that Antichamber provides, but also shows the player that this sort of beauty can only be achieved in a videogame. Simple pictures or video can’t capture the ability to walk around in a fantastical space and observe everything as you please.

I wholeheartedly recommend the game to anyone who's even a little interested, because this sort of game needs to be experienced firsthand. I give the first hour of the game an unequivocal 10/10, and think that it's worth it for that amazing hour alone. And if you've played Antichamber, what did you think?


10:04 AM on 12.11.2012

Impressions of Assassin's Creed III

[Minor spoilers, specifically the first paragraph after the third picture.]

I recently finished playing Assassin's Creed III, so I thought I would write about my impressions of the game. Please note that this isn't a review per se, but rather certain things that I wanted to mention in greater detail than others.

Let's start on a positive note, shall we? Although much of the first half of the game is pretty boring, and as you may have heard, feels like your hand is being held (the game has a glorified tutorial as the prologue character, then when you first play as Connor, once Connor is a young adult, and even once he becomes an assassin), the game really becomes brilliant and opens up at Sequence 6 or 7 (of 12). For example, one of the last missions in Sequence 7 requires you to assassinate this Redcoat commander in the middle of a heavily guarded and patrolled camp. Although this mission could easily be accomplished by simply rushing in, killing every guard on site, and shoving your hidden blade through the target, the game offers "optional objectives", which encourage a much more stealthy play style. The optional objectives, which give "full synchronization", were to kill no more than three regular guards and to air assassinate the commander without being detected. It really encouraged me to think more before I killed him, and although it took me considerably longer to complete the mission, it was really rewarding, as each time I died, I learned from my mistake, observing certain patrol routes and knowing exactly when to hide and when to pounce. It was especially rewarding (and ironic), as to air assassinate him you must leap from atop a Union Jack flag.

Furthermore, I can only imagine, as I am not American, the feeling of epic that many of you had in such moments as replacing a UK flag with The Stars and Stripes, seen for the first time in the game, atop the mast of a ship, before Connor does his iconic Leap of Faith. Moments like this replicate the feeling of liberty and freedom.

One of the brilliant parts of the game was the freedom in the frontier - just running around, hunting and exploring, tree-climbing, which is fantastic, and even finding a camp fire, sitting down with “Frontiersmen”, and stumbling upon a little side quest, such as investigating a haunted lighthouse, or as is the case with “The Hunting Society”, tracking and killing a famous Black Bear, rare Bobcat or mystical deer. Hunting is pretty fun in and of itself, but after a while gets boring, as you are just shooting your bow-and-arrow, leaving bait and snares or air assassinating wildlife. At first it feels awesome, and it is pretty rewarding to stalk a deer for a little while before pouncing on it from above, but the main purpose of it is for resources, which grants you money.

This brings me to crafting, which is a system that lets you use resources from hunting and from purchasing from residents of the Homestead to make consumables, such as arrows, poison darts, smoke bombs, bait, snare etc. This is pretty pointless, as you can just go hunting, find any merchant, and sell all the fangs, claws, teeth, skin, hide and hearts so you can buy new weapons. I ended up hunting for around 2 hours halfway through the game, as I was doing a “Hunting Challenge” (which surmounts to killing animals in various ways) set by the aforementioned Hunting Society, and sold all the goods for around £6000, which afforded me new weapons, as well as the lovely Charleston Assassin Uniform (unfortunately it doesn't appear in cutscenes).
Still, the exploration was done very well, as stumbling upon Frontiersmen/Hunting society/Homestead missions were fairly exciting and rewarding.

Again, I'm sure you've heard that Connor's personality can be described as ‘a bit grumpy’ throughout the game, and that his lines are delivered dryly in cutscenes; this is only made worse by the fact that the prologue character is far more charismatic and interesting. It's a real shame that the more charismatic playable character has the worse gameplay, due to it being the beginning of the game, so it's still in 'handcuff mode', and as Connor has the superior and exciting new skillset - tree-climbing, the use of a bow-and-arrow, and hunting. In fact, some of the best parts of the game are when the game has stopped becoming condescending, and the prologue character is reintroduced as an NPC in the main narrative.

Away from the story, and now to a very specific problem I had, which was the weapon wheel. Switching weapons and tools is horribly designed - it takes 2-3 seconds for the wheel to come up, due to a transition screen, rather than just having an instant wheel over the gameplay, as it did in previous entries. This may sound like me nitpicking (nitpicking would be the number of bugs, such as falling through the map), but this issue wastes time, and generally discourages players from using various tools and experimenting with them. Due to this, I didn't discover the 'horse whistle' tool until halfway through the game, although I must say, the horse whistle is an incredibly useful tool to cross the vast Frontier.

The large wheel is from Brotherhood, and the smaller one is the new weapon wheel.

One of the biggest problems with the game is that it doesn't start until around 5 hours after it "starts", but once it does properly start, the game is excellent, and if you're patient, is definitely worth it.   read

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