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Kentucky Route Zero Act II Thoughts
8:59 AM on 06.01.2013
Videogames are the Artform of the 21st Century
5:09 PM on 02.15.2013
Response to Warren Spector: An artform requires diversity
1:58 PM on 02.12.2013
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.

The first hour of Antichamber is the best hour
4:30 PM on 02.09.2013
Impressions of Assassin's Creed III
10:04 AM on 12.11.2012
2012: The Power of Adventure
4:21 PM on 12.06.2012





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About
Hi, I'm 18 years old and live in England, just outside London. I grew up in India, and grew up in PC gaming (as well as handheld Nintendo consoles) thanks to my older brother. The games I have fondest memories of were Worms, Counter Strike, Mortal Kombat and Pokemon. And Super Mario 64.

All in no particular order:

Favourite Music Artists
Pink Floyd
BadBadNotGood
Frontier Ruckus
Darkside

Favourite Movies

50/50
Jeff, Who Lives At Home

Favourite TV Shows

Avatar: The Last Airbender
Survivor
The Wire
Twin Peaks
how i met your mother

Favourite games:
Anodyne
The Curse of Monkey Island
The Witcher
Dark Souls
Dishonored
Pokemon Crystal

Favourite game: Catherine

My promoted blog(s):

My 7th Gen: 7 most memorable moments
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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?

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[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.
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[Major spoilers for all episodes of the Walking Dead]



People always go on about the storytelling ability of adventure games, that they are loved so much for their capabilities to tell wonderful stories and present deep characters. I never really got that. I completely agree with Craig D. Adams (Superbrothers - Sword & Sworcery) when he said that traditional adventure game mechanics - inventory puzzles, for example - don't hold up, as they are blocks that interrupt the storytelling. What I do think adventure games are great for are describing or setting otherworldly places - I still fondly remember places such as Blood Island from Monkey Island 3, all the Voodoo Lady Swamps (OH MY GOD THAT MUSIC) or even places from recent games, such as the Crossroads from Episode 5 of Tales of Monkey Island. But, onto the topic of this entry - The Walking Dead. How this game pulled my heartstrings. How it toyed with my feelings. I can't remember the last time I was touched this much by something of interactive entertainment, let alone by an adventure game. Yes, The Walking Dead knows how to tell a story.

If I was going to talk about the whole game, this would be far too long, so I'm going to focus on my favourite moment, the ending. Everything came together so very perfectly. It all starts with that conversation in that hotel room. Never in the game had there been such an eerily silent and tense conversation. I sat in my room, the glow of the monitor on my face, slowly tapping A, B, Y. And then it all breaks out. I quickly find myself choking the man who kidnapped Clementine, and although he did something terrible, after hearing his story, I sympathise with him, and as the game has taught me over 5 harrowing episodes, I decide not to kill him and try and spare him. That doesn't turn out well for me, but I hear a gunshot, and find Clementine's hand shaking, as smoke rises from the chamber of the pistol. I immediately thought 'Like Father like Daughter'.

You see, back in Episode 1, when all but one was alive, when Clementine asked me about the man I was convicted for killing, and whether he was alive or dead (a zombie) when I killed him, I replied, "It's complicated" - I never thought she truly understood why I did what I did, and the morality of it, but after seeing her killing the man, I (Lee) had never felt closer with her. It was brutal, and frankly just depressing, to see the innocence of this happy child slowly break down, to a point where she is forced to apply zombie guts on her clothes, bash a walker in the head with a baseball bat (while seeing blood spray on her face), shoot someone she loves, and escape a city full of walkers.



And man, what a character. Throughout the game I found myself caring for her, and making every decision based on her well-being. I have never cared for a character in a video game to such a degree, and Telltale have done a truly astounding job of making me feel as if I'm in the game, and that I am Lee, and creating a child character who isn't simply there for the ride, slowing me down, or just a straight pain in the arse.

During the last scene before the credits, I found myself shaking as the scene played on, thinking about how everyone was dead, and it, in the end, came down to Clem and I, and arguably more importantly, Clementine. Lee sat against the wall, incredibly sick, one-armed, ready to turn, as Clementine picked up the gun. She hesitates, and after that brief and heartfelt conversation, with the camera focused on her face, I, trembling, hear the loud bang, flash, as the room around me lights up for a moment, before the screen cuts to black.

Oh, what an experience. And once the beautiful credits song began I teared up, shaken, exhausted, shocked, and more than anything, touched.



The glimmer of hope afterwards though, that's what gave me closure. Seeing that Clementine had made it, and finding Christa and Omid (I hope), I was able to move on. Still, after it all ended, I walked around my house for around ten minutes, thinking about what had just happened. I was dazed; I lied down and I slowly calmed down, my body physically relaxing from the world I had lived in for the past week, and the characters that I had interacted with and taken care of.
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