Ohhhh I am so proud of myself for that title. It just sounds so damn smart and academic doesn't it?
Anyway, I motherfucking loved The Walking Dead. And it wasn't just because of the amazing writing or voice acting or overall story, but it was because of the GAMEPLAY. Hear me out here. I'm not talking about the terrible shooting sequences, or the mediocre-at-best puzzles, or even the extremely forgettable QTEs. I'm talking about the most important interactive part of the game: the choices. The way The Walking Dead handles choices is a prime example of exploiting the medium's strengths to produce an experience that works beautifully.
(Minor spoilers ahead)
The fact of the matter is, video games aren't very good at making your choices matter in a big way. It's very difficult to do well (see Mass Effect 3), as it requires tons of content production and writing and testing. Sure, there are many games that do it well (Fallouts, the Witchers), but we can all agree, those games are rare and difficult to pull off. There are those that have tried to make procedural stories, and maybe one day they'll crack that nut, but so far we don't know of any good algorithms or development approaches that does it reliably.
So what did Telltale do? They made a game where your choices don't matter all that much in the end. Sure, they matter in a localized manner, but at the end of the season, everyone's story converges to the same end result. For a game that's all about making choices, one might think, "holy crap they really fucked that up!"
(Major spoilers ahead)
And yet, why is the Walking Dead one of the best gaming experiences of 2012? Because it had very little ludo-narrative dissonance. It had....LUDO-NARRATIVE HARMONY. The game play was in perfect harmony with the story. Your choices in the game don't matter all that much in the end, and guess what: if the zombie-apocalypse were to actually happen, your choices won't matter all that much either. When the world goes to shit and you're just barely surviving, it doesn't really matter who you saved or how moral you were with your actions. When things are that fucked, you are probably just fucked, and anything you do only delays your inevitable death. You're going to arrive at your destination and find that the boats are all gone, and even if you did take off on a boat, are you even sure there's anything left in Atlanta? You're going to make friends only to later lose them to a bite, or you'll find out they're not your friends after all. Life is not fun in the zombie-apocalypse, and there's nothing you can do about it. Just like The Walking Dead.
And yet, you keep on. You can't lose hope no matter what. You have to show Clementine that even when things look terrible, you must keep pushing on as long as you have a breath left. And that's the one choice you can make in such a situation: You can persist. You can survive. You can continue to play, because you can't lose hope. You can't lose Clemetine.
This is going to sound a bit cheesy, but TWD really made me appreciate the life that I do have. In the modern United States, my choices actually do matter in a lot of ways. I can affect my own career. I can choose what to eat and what to do for fun. I can choose to be a good citizen and enjoy the benefits of security (most of the time). I can choose to appreciate my family and friends, and reasonably assume that tomorrow, they will still be around. This is not true in many other countries out there. The Walking Dead could as well have been a game about refugees in the Congo, but that probably would not have sold as well as setting it in the zombie apocalypse.
Your choices don't matter that much, and that's what makes The Walking Dead a brilliant game.
This is just my opinion, and if you agree with it, then spread the word or fap this post or whatever. If you disagree with it, then don't do anything.
I think game reviews are often "too well-written" and don't just cut to the chase quickly enough. C'mon reviewers - you're reviewing a game, not writing for the New York Times. I'd rather you use your writing skills to write more interesting gaming features, such as Jim Sterling's awesome "Oil on Water" article, Geof Keighly's Valve features, etc. etc. Most people just look at the score anyway, so why bother? Maybe if the write-ups were shorter and more to the point people would actually read them.
I recently saw this review of Aladdin on YouTube, and I fucking loved it. I think by most standards of writing, it's probably considered "bad." His vocabulary is pretty limited and he doesn't use many clever analogies or anything. He just tells it like it is without any flourish or whatever. It's a game where you jump and throw apples and occasionally fly on a carpet or something. I would love to see more game reviews in this "dumb" style, because they just tell me what I need to know, give their honest opinion on it, and leave it at that. That's really all I want from a review.
Anyway, if you're an aspiring game reviewer and this resonates with you, lemme know and I'll check out your game reviews!
There sure is a lotta hooplah about that lady from BioWare and her comments from like 6 years ago. She says that players should be allowed to skip combat in case they get too frustrated by the game. People flipppppeed their shit at her! Big time. Like, WikiLeaks-scale shit-flippin'! OK maybe not that much.
Back in the day, we had things called "cheat codes." They were "secret", at least as secret as anything can be with the internet these days, and you would do a song and dance and suddenly the game would become much, much easier. You could skip levels wholesale, become invincible, give yourself arbitrary stats, etc. etc. I gotta say, when I was a wee lad, I WAS A CHEATER! I cheated much of my way through DOOM and Quake and Duke3D. It was so fun to just pop in some codes and blast demons with the reckless abandon of a spoiled lil shit that nobody can touch!
At least...I THOUGHT I was having fun. But soon I realized...holy shit NO I was NOT actually having fun! I was just doing something completely meaningless and mindless, and afterwards I kinda felt like a coke head crashing hard with frustration after a night of hopelessly hitting on girls way out of his league (you know that feeling, right?). The only thing I was cheating was MYSELF. I was cheating myself out of the fun of the game. Out of the challenge, the suspense, the satisfaction of overcoming! And so, I stopped cheating so much, and suddenly I was having a much better time with those games!
Now, I still cheat every once in a while here and there. The last level of Half-Life 1, for example. Fuck dat shit. Every once in a while, when the game is being downright retarded, I don't mind cheating. Heck, no game is perfect! Even the best ones have some real shit parts (Psychonauts..), and if it weren't for cheat codes, they become real blockades.
So anyway, what's the up shot of all this? I think letting people skip combat is fine, since it's difficult to design a game that's suited to everyone especially with how big the market is today. But consumers should realize that if you skip through too much, you are really cheating yourself out of a lot of fun! You paid $60 for that thing, squeeze it for all it's got! If you just want the story, maybe skip through it all at first and then replay it to enjoy the combat when you're not just gettin' all anxious to see the story progress. That's kinda what I did with MGS3 - I first played through on easy, which is super easy, and then I replayed it on EuroExtreme - one of my favorite gaming experiences EVAR!
Some movies can feel a little boring at times. And if you're watching at home, you could skip those parts when they come...but I think most people would be very careful about what they skip! They would make sure no important story parts were skipped, etc. etc. So I think if people wanna get their money's worth, they should treat combat-skipping (or whatever form it takes) with the same kind of understanding.
So c'mon folks, let's just be reasonable about it.
Braid. The human condition. Citizen Kane. Is it art, or is it Art? Or is it ART? What does it all mean? Will it cure cancer?
Yeah, fuck all that high-brow crap. Today, I wanted to share what Braid's ending meant to me in simple and honest terms. I know this sounds cliche, but playing Braid was a pretty affecting experience for me in many ways. Not only did I find the game design to be refreshingly clean, but the whole experience, especially the ending and the "books", got me to think about how I perceive the world WAIT PLEASE DON'T STOP READING I WILL EXPLAIN!
** SPOILERS BELOW **
In summary: Braid made me think about the pros and cons of viewing the world in a rational, mathematical way. The puzzle mechanics behave consistently, and if you think long and hard enough, you can solve them and it is satisfying. However, through the text and through the ending, it becomes clear that Tim's life story is not so clean and consistent as these puzzles. His relationships and pursuits have not turned out so well. The puzzles of Braid are an escapist fantasy for him from the complications of real life, where clever math doesn't get you much. It certainly doesn't get you the girl.
How does this relate to me personally? When I was a kid, I was pretty damn shy and got picked on a lot for various reasons. This naturally led me to avoid social contact, and I spent a good amount of my free time just entertaining myself at home. When I got a computer and the internet, I became pretty entranced by video games and programming. I enjoyed them (and still do) because they were predictable and consistent, and it was fun to figure them out. If I didn't get something, it was probably my fault and I just needed to learn more - which was fun as well. Or the software was buggy and badly designed.
As I grew older and started coming out of my shell, I often tried to apply this type of thinking to social interactions. I thought that there were rules to social interaction that I could figure out, and I thought people could be put in neat categories ("nerds", "jocks"). As long as I could figure all this out and apply my clever thinking skills, things would be great! However, after many years of floundering about, it became pretty clear to me that people and life are too complex for this approach to get you anywhere. I also completely underestimated the importance of emotions, appearance, subtlety, and (ugh) hygiene - I just figured that people's rationality would overcome these barriers (and it often does, but not in all aspects of life).
So the whole of Braid is like an analogy for this narrative of my life. You first solve puzzles in the game's escapist fantasy dream-world. Things are nice, clean, and "ah ha!" moments are everywhere. You hit a switch, something happens. And that same thing will happen each time you do it, and every other switch in the world behaves similarly. You just need to figure out how to put these elements together to accomplish your goal.
And when you're going through the last level, you're thinking, "OK I just need to rescue her by applying all these skills and concepts I've learned thus far! Then I'll rescue her and get an awesome ending!" But then the thing happens, and you realize that despite how awesomely clever you are, that doesn't matter. Tim's still a creepy fuck that needs to stop looking at women through their bed room windows.
The ability to reason rationally and mathematically is a very valuable skill to have, no doubt about that. It will help you professionally and in many other aspects of life. But human relationships are governed by rules far too complex for such thinking. Each individual is unique and has their own wants and needs, and rationality must take a backseat to emotions.
And that, folks, is what Braid and its ending meant to me. Hope you've enjoyed it and didn't roll your eyes too much.
I write this as the cold winter wind compels my creaking fingers to rest, blowing through the aged cracks of this house as old as my tainted memories of us.... ::: BLELECCCHH VOVMMITTT ::::::::
Sorry. Now, what is "Dear Esther"? Well, you basically just walk around in first person, going from one point to another as some dude whispers in your ear every once in a while. It's mostly linear, and I finished it in about 70 minutes.
The environments that you walk around in look absolutely amazing. These are some of the best natural environments I've seen in any game ever, and I found myself constantly taking screen shots as if I were on a hike with my camera. In fact, the environments reminded me of some amazing treks I did while visiting Iceland. Here are just a few highlights:
Say what you will about Dear Esther (and believe me, I will say some things later), but if you call the game "ugly" you are downright mental and I will stab you with one of those unrealistically thin (but cool!) spikes from the game's caves. Right in your eye. Which is probably busted anyway.
And the music is quite amazing as well. It's subtle and subdued, which is very appropriate for the experience. Not much to say about it, but if you enjoy Brian Eno's ambient works, you'll dig the soundtrack.
Now, the writing. Fuck it, I'm not gonna sugar coat it. It's badly written pretentious bullshit nonsense. I had no fucking clue what was going on or who the characters were and what happened to them and by the end I didn't give a shit anyway. I like story-driven games. I absolutely lovedTo the Moon, and as a teenager I played through almost every LucasArts adventure game. And I do enjoy reading books! I even enjoy Shakespeare plays! But this? This is either supremely incompetent or it's just not for me - probably a bit of both. I should say, however, that I also hate the writing of Charles Dickens, so maybe if you enjoy his work like "Oliver Twist" you'll find something positive here.
What about its merits as an "experimental game"? It definitely is a little experimental (although not in any sort of interesting way), but it sure as hell is not compelling. You want a compelling experimental game that will really blow your mind? Check out The Stanley Parable. It's free, it respects your time, it even has replay value, and the writing and voice acting are better than in Dear Esther. Move along, folks, nothing to be seen here.
Was it worth $10? Meh...I think the audio-visual experience alone would have been worth $5, but $10 is a stretch.
If I were to list my two biggest passions in life, it would probably be music and video games. When I was wee lad in my teens, my tastes in video games were developing along side my tastes in music, and looking back it's pretty clear that there was plenty of back and forth influence between the two. I'm pretty sure I found out about Nine Inch Nails, one of my favorite artists of all time, due to the work Reznor did for Quake. And then Quake 2 came along, and while I had no idea who "Sonic Mayhem" was, its soundtrack pretty much floored me and got me to learn guitar (I think..memory is getting fuzzy as to which came first).
If you're a fan at all of guitar-driven metal, you owe it to yourself to listen to the whole soundtrack. It is chock full of some killer riffage that, in my humble opinion, is right up there with the best of them. Metallica, Rage Against the Machine, Tool, Guns n' Roses...and Sonic Mayhem. I mean just listen to this:
So, maybe I'm exaggerating a bit (that's what blogs are for right?), but the Quake 2 soundtrack is gonna go down in my personal history as a master piece of raw, unfiltered instrumental metal that will stand the test of time. A good riff never dies.
I'm happy to say that Sonic Mayhem went on to have quite a prolific career in video game soundtracks, having done recent work in games like Mass Effect 3 and Borderlands. Keep up the good work, sir! His style has changed from the guitar-heavy stuff of Quake 2 into more symphonic/techno sounds, which is a bit sad to me, but whatever keep kicking ass!
PS: Does any one know of any "real bands" that sound like this? People usually tell me to listen to KMFDM and other industrial bands, but they just don't scratch that same riff-heavy itch Q2 does...