11:24 PM on 04.29.2015
I have a challenge for you readers at home: think of your favourite games of all time. Think of the games that changed your life, be that through emotional resonance, immersive qualities, or just sheer fun. Think of those games.
Now, think of their soundtracks. Do any of those soundtracks suck? Have you ever had an absolutely jaw-dropping interactive experience that was somewhat lacking in the music department?
Because I sure as hell haven't.
I firmly believe an awe-inspiring soundtrack is what separates "good" games from "great" games. Thomas Was Alone wouldn't have had anywhere near the emotional staying power were it not for it's charming and understated post-rock/electronica amalgamation. Mario wouldn't garner nearly as many smiles if it weren't for those insanely catchy jazz numbers. And when you think of Skyrim, doesn't that absolutely epic opening track just leap into your brain?
A good soundtrack can make or break a game. It can be what immerses the player – or what brings them out of the experience. It can be used to evoke joy, sorrow, horror, and any number of other emotions. There's a saying about horror movies: "Don't cover your eyes when you're scared, cover your ears." This is because music and sound go a long way in conveying any emotion. Even a heartwarming story can make you feel uneasy when the right kind of dissonant or uncomfortable music is applied.
Music is incredibly important in setting a mood in a visual medium, and video games are no exception.
So with that out of the way, let us get on with the point of this article: I feel like more games would benefit by being built around the music itself. I'm not talking about rhythm games, or any particular genre of "music games." I'm talking about how every genre can benefit from using music as a starting point in building an interactive world. One really could make great gaming experiences, based entirely off the emotions any particular type of music conveys.
ID Software used to be masters of this.
When you play Doom or Quake next, take a second to listen to the soundtrack. Before doing anything else, listen to the soundtrack. The entire motif of the game is contained there.
Doom isn't about demons. It's not about blowing things into chunks. It's a game about being as !@#$ing metal as humanly possible. The soundtrack is comprised of "homages" — straight-up plagiarism, in this case — of songs from the likes of Metallica, Megadeth, Pantera, Black Sabbath, Alice in Chains, Slayer, AC/DC, and Judas Priest, and the game plays exactly like what would happen if those guys made a game. It's ultra-violent, full of demonic imagery, hyper-fast, cheesy as all get out, and it feels like you're actively playing inside the mind of Kerry King. Capital 'F'-ing awesome. To this day, Doom is the most metal game in existence – even with the existence of Brutal Legend.
Now, compare this to their next game, Quake. Seems very similar to Doom. You fight demons. You have familiar weapons. The level layout is still obsessed with the abstraction, rather than reality. And yet it feels like an entirely different game. Why? Because rather than being the spawn of Slayer and Judas Priest, this game takes it's inspiration from 90's music – particularly Nine Inch Nails, but also 90's grunge. Grimy. Dirty. Dark. Disturbing. Even tortured. Just like a Nine Inch Nails record.
The music alone gives it a more haunting feel. The electronic soundtrack that reinforces the unnatural feel of the Lovecraftian horrors on display. Quake II takes this even further, through the inclusion of industrial metal with grimy sci-fi. It's the gritty futurism of industrial rock / metal personified, and that's a beautiful thing.
Early ID games had to be a reflection of the developers. You got the sense that the music they were interested in at the time informed the direction of the games they made. And I love that. It works. Not only does this create artistic unity, it allows for a little insight into the minds of these artists.
These two games benefited vastly by their use of music as a starting point, and I feel like more games should do this, especially since it leads to artistic unity and cohesion. Some games still do it, or at least they feel like they do. Music is such an integral part of Transistor, for instance, that I doubt the type of music didn't inspire or at least bleed into the art direction and world a little. Transistor is set in a cyberpunk world that seems heavily inspired by the genre of modern trip hop and post rock. In fact, the entire world could be viewed as a mashup of the human side of jazz and post-rock merging or clashing with the machine-like nature of electronica. It's a fascinatingly literal interpretation of Darren Korb's excellent soundtrack, and that can never be a bad thing.
At least, that's what I see when I play Transistor.
Let's have more games built around music. We could have an abstract horror game based around the bizzare nature of avant garde music. We could have a game with Vikings and Norse mythology — or hell, a game about pagan ideology and the purging of said ideologies from the earth — based around the concepts and sounds of black metal. Or we could make a heartwarming game about finding one's way home that is actuallyabout American folk music.
However, we shouldn't just use music to help decide on a theme. We should also use it to inform gameplay. For instance, the gameplay of the black metal game could be simultaneously aggressive and introspective. It could be violent, yet atmospheric and thoughtful, much like the genre itself.
The avant garde game I mentioned before could constantly smush different styles together in a way that is disturbing and dissonant in all the right ways. For instance, you could mix puzzle platforming with hack-and-slash, by ending the violent sections with executions where you then use the bodies as platforms, to clear a row in a Tetris-like mini-game to open a door, or use the eyes to enter a morbid hidden object game. Hell, make the protagonist a transgender clown. It's not avant garde without transgender clowns.
The possibilities really are endless, and when one part of the art can influence every other part, this makes the game feel endlessly more complete. Hopefully, we see more games that mimic the development of Doom orTransistor in the future. Games where the soundtrack is more than just a companion piece — it is the centerpiece.
9:03 PM on 04.26.2015
Are you in your mid 20's to late 30's? Was at least a month of your childhood consumed by a Final Fantasygame? Do you still have nightmares about the first time you encountered a Licker in Resident Evil 2? Do you still have the urge to punch anyone who says that Super Mario Bros. 3 isn't the best platformer of all time? Then you will know, better than anyone, that gaming has really gone to hell lately. There are no good games being made. Everything is terrible. Games stopped being good after the Playstation 2 / Playstation 1 / N64 / SNES / NES / The System That Was In Your Life As A Teenager.
Well, you're wrong. Super Mario World is better than Super Mario Bros. 3. Oh, and the games you liked as a child totally suck.
Okay, none of this is fair. There are classic games that totally stand the test of time, like Silent Hill 2, Baldur's Gate 2, Zelda: A Link to the Past, any Mario game that isn't Mario 64, System Shock 2 if you rebind the keys, and many others. However, what do those games all have in common?
They are the classics of their generation. For every Resident Evil 2, there was an Evil Dead: Hail to the King. For every Banjo Kazooie, there was a Superman 64. Face it, as a kid, we all bought a game that looked like it was going to be the bombdiggity, but turned out to be Oddworld: Munch's Oddyssee, or Final Fantasy X, or Crash Bandicoot Twinsanity, or Mario Sunshine, or Metal Gear Solid 2, or Deus Ex: Invisible War, or Thief III, or whichever Spyro games sucked.
The generation I grew up in sucked. Yours did too.
You can argue about how every game is the same these days, and you'll have all sorts of new folks jumping on that bandwagon. But wait. NES and SNES people: wasn't every game in your day either a platformer or a brawler? PS1 people: how many terrible survival horror games were you subjected to? PS2 people: how many terrible survival horror games were you subjected to? Oh. That trend lasted a while, eh? And while there were standouts —Silent Hill 2 and Resident Evil 2 — there were tired games like Obscure or Resident Evil Outbreak.
Really, while you might bemoan another cover-based shooter — or another military shooter, for that matter — we're actually in a similar gaming situation as when every game was Mario with a palate swap, or when every game was a Final Fantasy VII clone. The difference? They aren't aimed at you anymore. They're aimed at this upcoming generation, and that might scare you.
Games don't suck. We just aren't young anymore.
To stick the knife in further, some of the best games of all time have come out in the last generation. Look atMass Effect, and tell me games lack story. Mass Effect beats every Final Fantasy in terms of writing, hands down. Gaze upon Rayman Legends, and tell me games have lost their innocence and charm. Look at Dark Souls, and tell me games are too short or easy. Amnesia is, like, the scariest game ever made. Take that, Fatal Frame!
For every negative thing I have had to say about gaming these past few years, there have been ten things that made me smile. I can forgive EA's many issues because, drunk Tali'Zorah is like the greatest thing that has ever happened. I can overlook Final Fantasy XIII because I have Edea inBravely Default saying Mrgrgr and making me smile every damn time she does. I can try to forget about the Zoe Quinn fiasco because I'm just chilling to the Transistor soundtrack.
Those are just a few moments. Think of your favourite gaming moment from your childhood. Does it top facing Sif for the first time in Dark Souls? The big majestic wolf guarding the grave of his fallen master, the grave you've come to rob and desecrate? Does it top watching him limp in agony when you cut down his health bar, until he is barely any match for you and then killing him for a purpose that ultimately doesn't matter because the world is doomed anyway and you're basically just buying time?
Does it top holding your dead daughter in your arms in The Last of Us before learning throughout the rest of the game that said moment has created a true villain? Does it top the White Phosphorous scene in Spec Ops: The Line? I could go on, but I won't.
The last generation was pretty darn special. At the very least, it is equally as special as the ones that came before it. Gaming has come a long way, and while that doesn't diminish the amazing moments of generations past, it still means that whatever qualm you have with current change has more to do with your age and cynicism than it does the generation itself.
The last generation kicked butt. And you know what? This one will too.
1:39 PM on 04.23.2015
Usually, I'm the first person to tell nostalgia hounds how wrong they are. You know the ones. Those folks who think that their two million 2-D brawlers are somehow more diverse than our two million military shooters. The kind of people who hate how companies nickel and dime us with DLC, but remember fondly when they were nickel and dimed by arcade machines. The kind of people who owned slaves and killed foreigners as an outlet for their repressed sexuality.
Well. That got out of hand.
Anyway, I have a certain fondness for older first person shooters. Shoot me in the foot and call me a hypocrite, but I believe that there are a lot of things they do better than the titles we currently have. I should point out that I don't believe this is nostalgia. I did not play many old school first person shooters when I was younger. Those I played in my youth are as follows: Goldeneye, Serious Sam, Timesplitters 2, Halo, and Turok. I mean hell,Doom was released when I was only one year old. Duke Nukem was released when I was four! Pretty much every other shooter I've played has been played in the last five years, so it's not nostalgia. Some older games in this particular genre do things better.
And I'm going to use examples to prove it.
Man, it sure is fun to shoot wave after wave of enemy with no time to catch your breath. It's not like things get boring when you're constantly exposed to them. Oh wait. That's exactly what happens, and that's exactly why Call of Duty: Ghosts is terrible.
Compare this with something like Half Life 2. In Half Life 2, you start the game with no weapon. Man, half of you are already bleeding out of your ears in pain at those words. "Start with no weapons? But that defies the constitution! Doesn't every baby pop out of the womb with an AK-47? Don't they learn to shoot any middle eastern people with a beard by the time they're two? No guns? They may as well be Communists!"
No, Blake's Weirdly Racist Idea of America. They do not.
But yes, you start without a weapon. Even more surprising, it takes roughly twenty minutes to acquire one, and it's not even a gun. It'a goddamn crowbar! Instead of instantly shooting the first person you see, you are encouraged to talk to them. You are forced to explore the city, soak in the situation, and relish the environment. While doing so, your future actions are given context. You learn that aliens invaded, and won a war within seven hours. You learn that everyone on Earth is sterile because of an alien force field. You experience firsthand the oppression that most of Earth's citizens face on a daily basis.
With all this knowledge, you understand why you are fighting, and it makes each Combine death that much more meaningful.
The game is then broken up into Combat Sections and Quiet Sections. Sometimes, you're solving a puzzle. Sometimes, you're listening to exposition. Sometimes, you're simply exploring. This is what we call downtime,and it is incredibly important, and should never be left out of any medium. Especially not something interactive. Downtime allows a player to have a rest, get their bearings, and mentally prepare for the next encounter. This also allows encounters to be much more engaging, as A) you don't know when they'll take place, leaving you constantly on edge, and B) you won't tire of them as easily, allowing them to keep their potency and enjoyability throughout.
Alright, but this is just Valve right? They're like supergeniuses who made other perfect games like Portal andCounter-Strike. Older Shooters totally didn't do this. Wrong. Motherflipping Doom did this. You know the much hated Key hunting? There's a reason that exists: to break up the monotony of shooting.
So, there you go. Some older games were better at pacing. However, it doesn't stop there.
You know what I love about shooting games? Shooting. You know what makes shooting even better? Weapon variety! Which is why it's a shame when I play Battlefield 3 and almost every goddamn weapon is a reskinned assault rifle. I know you're trying to be realistic game, but in the last game, I played I drove a jeep into an airborne helicopter and lived.
Where is your reality now?
Compare this to Painkiller, a game in which every gun feels completely different. There's a gun that shoots shurikens for its main attack, and lightning as a spicy alternative. There's a shotgun that doubles as one of those Things that Freezes People. There's a gun that shoots stakes at people and nails them to walls. That's variety. Every gun is different. Every gun is valuable. And every gun is fun.
Look, I know in a lot of games set in modern times that value authenticity you can't have shrink rays and explosive grannies, but you can try. Do what Half Life did and lower the amount of weapons, meaning that the ones you receive and utilize have radically different uses. Have an assault rifle that is fully automatic, one that uses burst fire, and burn the rest. Have two shotguns instead of six million. Two pistosl? That's probably all you really need. And if you want to go crazy and have a million weapons, at least make sure they feel different in some way. At the very least, make them useful in certain contexts but rubbish in others. Something.
Bioshock: Infinite is boring on the second playthrough.
Once you know what happens, the awesome – and I do mean awesome – story isn't enough to hook you. The world isn't as magical as it once was, and you've explored it to your hearts content. All that's left is the gameplay, and may god have mercy on our souls that isn't much to love.
The problem with Bioshock: Infinite is that, with a few exceptions, you're fighting the same enemy over and over again. Sure, there are a few different enemies — plasmid guys, discount big daddies, and a ghost that made me uninstall the game for a month and only reinstalled it because my girlfriend wanted to know how it ended — but mostly you're fighting police officers. Oh, but later on in the game, you get to fight black people.
This is a problem. If every enemy feels the same, there is no variety. If there's no variety, the game quickly becomes boring. If a game is boring, then why the hell am I playing it?
Contrast this with Serious Sam. In this game, there are twenty-five main varieties of enemies, some of which include subcategories. That doesn't include bosses. Every enemy behaves entirely differently. There are headless kamikazis. There are giant scorpions with machine guns, mechanoid aliens that shoot rockets at you, bulls, electric fish, giant sentient balls of lava, and more.
What makes Serious Sam so interesting is that each of these enemies are a puzzle unto themselves. They each require different tactics to defeat. They each have different weaknesses; some guns work better on some enemies. The best part? You'll often be up against several enemies at once, requiring you to adjust your tactics on the fly.
This is fun.
This is tense.
This is awesome.
Shooting the same looking British dude over and over again is not those things.
The image pretty much sums it up. Since I'm supposed to be using examples, the linear one is Medal of Honor: Warfighter, and the awesome complex one is Duke Nukem 3D.
Duke Nukem 3D has multilayered levels with secrets galore. Don't you miss secrets? Don't you miss level design that gave you options? Don't you miss when you actually remembered landmarks and used an actual map to navigate? Don't you miss not being failed for moving a fraction of an inch from where the developers intended?
Well, I do.
And shut up.
I'm not old.
3:07 AM on 04.22.2015
There is obviously far too much positivity on the internet, so to counterbalance it, I thought I'd bring some bile and vitriol to the table. Some games are just terrible, and it's up to us as gamers to collectively shame the artistic visions of those far more talented than ourselves.
So, here's a list of the four worst games that have ever existed.
Wow. Just wow. The cover to this game looks amazing.
I mean look at those awesome soldiers looking all awesome with their awesome weapons and awesome whatnot! I start up the game expecting to kill some aliens Halo style when I notice something is very wrong. It must be a glitch or something, but my camera was stuck behind my character. I couldn't see through my characters eyes! I couldn't feel the skull crunching agony of my enemies as I killed them.
I eventually got over this enormous issue and decided to give the game a go, but it didn't get any better. Most of this game is . . . talking. I spent more time reading than I did shooting. What is this — a book? It's ridiculous! I don't give a damn about the Serbians or the Creepers or whatever the hell I'm fighting, I just want them to die. I thought I could skip the cutscenes, but nope, turns out I have to "make decisions." Me? Make a decision? That affects other people beside myself? That's ridiculous; far too much pressure to put on a gamer.
The shooting is fun and all, but there's just not enough of it. I mean there are entire levels where all you can do is walk and talk. How dumb is that?
Ok, so this game is made by Naughty Dog, the guys behind Uncharted — AND IT HAS ZOMBIES! I mean, Uncharted with zombies sounds like the greatest thing ever. Right?
In this game, you have very few bullets, which kind of impedes your ability to shoot things. Not only that, but the story is really bad. I don't play as the hero, I make zero one-liners, and the game is just depressing. Why can't it just be a cathartic killing marathon, like all video games should be? I need my characters to be heroic, to be purely good, and not be really explored much beyond their immediate comedic value and their ability to end human lives.
Also, I constantly have to babysit this little girl everywhere, and I can't even bang her. She's over 10, and if I've learnt anything from Dead or Alive, it means she's fair game! It's like fatherhood the video game. I even had to get her a fucking pony at one point.
This game is extremely offensive. You have to kill AMERICANS! What is this, a 9/11 simulator? AMERICANS ARE NOT THE BAD GUYS! We are the good guys! We're heroes, heroes that single-handedly defeated the Nazis, stopped the Communists, killed Osama Bin Laden, and killed Sadam Hussein! Jesus was American! You wouldn't kill Jesus would you? No, because killing Jesus dying wouldn't do any good for anyone.
The game makes me sick. It's set in Dubai as well, so you might as well play as the Taliban!
I thought this game would amazing because it was America fighting in an Arab nation. There's sand! You don't get much more patriotic than spilling bearded blood on sand! I think it's messed up that we have to resort to killing white people in video games, especially when every other ethnicity is much more clearly and objectively evil.
You play as a girl.
Why, oh why do I have to play as a girl? I'm not a girl. I can't sympathize with a girl. And what in the bloody hell is she doing fighting? Girls should only fight when they're naked and / or in pools of mud! Which reminds me: she is wearing far too much clothing, her boobs aren't big enough, and she looks too old. Why can't she be like the girls in Dead or Alive? Those guys know how to make a well-rounded female character!
Even worse: what if the game asks you to kiss a guy? That is DISGUSTING. It's wrong! I'm a guy, and my character could be kissing a guy! Since virtually all gamers are men, I think this game should be banned, because its clear subconscious agenda is to turn those men into raging queers. We all know what monsters the homosexuals are! Did you know they can hypnotise you with their eyes? They can also now act straight, so ANYONE you know could be gay. It's like The Thing with less murder and more, well, things.
Let's focus. Back to the game. What's worse than playing as a girl? Acting like a girl. There's a big alien thing and because I'm a girl I can't kill it. I have to run and hide in a locker and have a little cry. I kept waiting for the part where I played the real hero and came and rescued her.
It's just the worst game ever as far as I'm concerned.
7:33 AM on 04.20.2015
You know who I hate? Gay people. They're sexist and they hate women. We should burn them. Straight people too. Are you aware that just by preferring one gender over the over you are discriminating against almost half of the population? That's pretty fucked up. Do you like intelligent people? You're an ablist fascist. Are you attracted to attractive people? You're an asshole. What about all of the wonderful uggos out there? Basically, if someone asks you for sex, you should never turn them down. Unless you're a woman, because rape is bad and only women can get raped.
You know who I love? Black people. We should treat them like everyone else. Except don't tell jokes about them. Also, don't ask them questions. Hell, don't even talk to them, because you might say something to upset them. Black people are more sensitive and weak than white people, and their brains simply cannot understand the things we can.
You know what I think? I think we should all live in perfect harmony and treat each other equally. Except women should rule, white people should be slaves, straight people should stick to masturbation and when they masturbate they aren't allowed to think of the other gender because that's OBJECTIFICATION, and that is worse than anything else you can do. Objectification is worse than slavery. It's worse than the holocaust. If you even think about a woman sexually, you are worse than Hitler if Hitler was a pedophile.
And if you're a woman, congratulations! You're free to do what you want. Except you should probably burn anything pink, shave your head and become a lesbian, because if you don't you're selling out your gender and you should kill yourself.
Everyone is free to conform to the standards we set. Preach love. Preach happiness. And do it one bullet at a time.
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