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Destructoid turns nine: Let's celebrate with our favorite articles

Mar 16 // Ben Davis
How Final Fantasy VI saved my life Jordan Devore: One of the hardest parts about writing online, where feedback is fast and fierce, is learning to let your personality show. Putting your true, non-idealized self out there for the world to dissect. It's scary at first. In fact, the fear of failure never fully leaves. But it's also liberating. Former features editor Chad Concelmo exemplified this in his tenure at Destructoid. His writing was just so personable, upbeat, and genuine. Not everyone "got" his brand of dolphin-infused positivity, but that wasn't the goal. That should never be the goal. In one of Chad's last articles for this site, he bravely wrote about how a special videogame turned his life around and set him on the path to becoming the person we know and love. It was, as he says, AMAZING! [Cease and Desist] is coming to the Xbox 360! [Updated for Internet Matlockery] Jonathan Holmes: Look, Ron Workman drinks. He was oftentimes a terror. With him as our public face, many people came to know Destructoid as a "cocks out" testosterone-fueled frat house of a game blog that just may pee on you in your sleep. No site could exist for very long if everyone on staff were like Ron. It would either explode from all the infighting or die of alcohol poisoning.  Still, when I think back on the times when I've been the most amazed with Dtoid, Ron's [Cease and Desist] post always comes to mind. You can't see it now, but when the post first went up, it ended with something like 1200 comments. The amount of energy Ron brought out in people was nothing short of astounding. That comments section was like a living, breathing organism unto itself, all under Ron's direction. While modern Dtoid doesn't have that much in common with the site's "Workmeng" days, I like to think we've worked to keep that underlying energy in play. Unpredictability, honesty, and willingness to take risks. Dtoid does things better than any other game site, in part thanks to the tone set by Workman. Jimquisition: Desensitized to violence Rob Morrow: I'd like to add Jim's feature on the desensitizing effects violence in games has on players where he tests the theory by surprising viewers with footage of a suicide. Holy crap, that was crazy. The Videogame Show What I've Done: Art Games Chris Carter: One of my favorite things about Jim is that he doesn't take shit from people. No matter how many peers were stacked against him on an issue it wouldn't silence him from giving his opinion, and the first thing that comes to mind is his discussion on "Art Games." Virgilio Armarndio was the perfect character to call upon to talk about the controversial subject, and I'm still waiting for his indie masterpiece, Peaches, to come out of Early Access so we can find out what the hell we pledged all of that Kickstarter money for. Why is the question mark on his forehead? Does it represent our lingering, latent need for Peaches to be the best game of all time? We need to know, Virgilio! I miss you. Titanfall tips: Sneaky robot tricks StriderHoang: It shouldn't be a secret I'm a fan of Nic Rowen's type of in-depth, nitty-gritty game knowledge features. I like to dig deep even if I don't actually know the jargon like his Dark Souls talk. But this one is a favorite of mine not just to exemplify nitty-gritty talk, but because it has Gundam pictures. Fun fact, Nic used to be a stompy robot. Now he's a robot trapped in the body of a man who once believed himself to be a robot. A robot that plays games about robots usually. Listen to this circle jerk logic!  Review: Call of Duty: Ghosts Brett Makedonski: To be clear, the content of this review means nothing to me. Honestly, I'm not sure I ever even read it. It's what this review represents that's special. Call of Duty: Ghosts was the last review that Jim wrote before leaving Destructoid. Like many others, Jim was the personality that I associated with the site. It wasn't until I started working here that I truly saw how many amazing people it takes to make this monster run smoothly (sometimes) every day. That's why it hurt a bit when Jim's leaving prompted an outpouring of "Destructoid's dead" comments from the likes of reddit and NeoGAF. We weren't dead; we were losing a great guy, but we sure as hell weren't dead. That nonsense lit a fire inside me and caused me to work twice as hard to prove to all these people that never loved Destructoid in the first place that they were wrong. Fuck the haters. Review: Solatorobo: Red the Hunter Mike Martin: Destructoid is no stranger to epic comment threads. Whether by derailment, controversy, heated discussions and anything in between, we’ve had some epic showdowns over the years. One thread stands out the most to me though. Solatorobo’s review. It had everything you could want: drama, hatred, calling out the reviewer, fighting amongst the community, stupid pictures, staff interaction, salad, Stealth going apeshit and yet somewhere along the way it morphed into something else. After the white hot fire of the review itself died down, we started trying to break 300 comments. Then it became 400 and continued on up to 500 and beyond. Over the course of two days this review became a playground for everyone to just push the comment count higher. There was still some anger (at the review and Stealth) here and there in the end, but it mostly turned into discussions about whether it was worth getting a 3DS yet (Holmes even made a crack about waiting for the two nub version) and just how big of assholes we were being at the time. To me that comments section captured the essence of Dtoid perfectly: We can all be assholes, we can argue, fight, be silly, be sweet, etc. Yet in the end, we still come together as a family to have fun. Staff and community members alike. Review: Saints Row 2 Josh Tolentino: There's so much of Destructoid I'll never forget, but the thing that comes up whenever I try to think of why I love this place is this video review for Saints Row 2. After watching Anthony Burch sum up everything great about that game in a single blast of crotch-kicking and "The Final Countdown", I knew I wanted to be a part of a place that could do dumb stuff like that, all out of a love for games.   The Destructoid battle card game Robert Summa: We all know community is at the heart of Destructoid. So, I guess it's no surprise that one of my favorite posts on Destructoid was this battle card game born out of the forum cesspool. I'm thinking we need to resurrect this idea and actually put out a Dtoid battle card game. Let's do it.  RunMan: Race Around the World is a really good game Patrick Hancock: This is the post that got me into indie games. Like, for real.  I can vividly remember bringing up RunMan: RAtW to a friend of mine at a Halloween bash. "Yeah, it's like Sonic but really flows. It's actually way more about speed than Sonic has ever been!" It quickly became one of my favorite games ever, and helped me learn not to use "good for an indie game" as a qualifier. It's amazing as a game. Period. It's also the first free game that I donated to, because there's no way that RunMan: Race Around the World isn't worth money. Kudos to Tom Sennett and Matt Thorson and of course Anthony Burch for completely changing the way I approach the industry. Adorable (and adoptable!) puppies make our E3 predictions Ben Davis: Remember that time Chad helped a bunch of adorable puppies and kitties get adopted while also entertaining us with silly E3 predictions? I don't think anyone could possibly top this amazing E3 post.  RetroforceGO! Episode 100 Darren Nakamura: Really, I wanted to pick the entirety of the RetroForceGO! run, because it was such a great podcast. The cast members worked so well together, bouncing ideas off one another and even having heated arguments at times. Really, the show could have been about anything and the cast would have made it worth listening to, but the focus on retro games set it apart from all the other shows where random people talk about whatever is happening currently. I miss listening to these shows, and the 100th episode served as a celebration of the whole run. Podtoid 110: Floppy bodies Stephen Turner: Poor Samit Sarkar, forever the butt of the Podtoid joke. He couldn't be cool like Topher Cantler, a cheeky asshole like Anthony Burch, lovable like Aaron Linde, laconic like Brad Nicholson, nor quick-witted like Jim Sterling. He had to make do with the being the sports guy that tried to fit in. And God, did he try to fit in with hilarious results. Floppy Bodies sticks in my mind solely for Samit's "greatest" moment, like Icarus flying too close to the sun. Towards the end, he recounts, nay, rambles his way through a supposedly badass experience he had with Grand Theft Auto IV. Have you ever been to a party where someone has your ear and you just want to walk away, but there's nowhere to go? That's exactly what his storytelling is like. Everybody goes silent. It slowly dawns on Samit, his words petering out, that he's lost their interest. Nothing but dead air fills the speakers. Burch bursts into laughter, followed by everyone else. He really tried, but as Topher once said, "Shut up, Samit." Podtoid 213: A man-horse pooping condoms Jed Whitaker: I could gush on and on about the impact Jim Sterling has had on my life and how I wouldn't be here without his influence, but instead I'm going to talk about Willem Dafoe pitches on Podtoid. Jim, Jonathan, and sometimes Conrad would come up with ridiculous movie pitches starring Willem Dafoe, often voicing Willem himself. There are such classics as Dr. Dickman's Cursed Penis, and Blue Eye in the Brown Eye, but my favorite Dafoe pitch has always been Farmer Animals in which Willem Dafoe is a farmer trying to win the world's best animal with his horse played by Keanu Reeves. Here is the pitch in full, if you can listen to this and don't find yourself asking people, "Hey kids, wanna die!?" then you aren't human. Four years of Destructoid: A collection of wacky memories Mr Andy Dixon: Though I'd already been hanging around pretty regularly for about a year when Dtoid turned four, it wasn't until the man formerly known as Warchief Grim waxed nostalgic that I fully realized how truly blessed I was to belong to such an amazing fucking community. This motley group of gamers -- be they staff, community members, or green-headed robots -- loved each other like brothers and sisters, even though so many of them had never even met in person. It was something I'd never been a part of before, and my life has never been the same since. Not only that, but the fact that this post was being written by someone who himself had risen through the ranks as a community member-turned staffer inspired me to start blogging myself, and by the time the site turned six I would not only meet face-to-face with many of the people who would become my greatest friends, but receive the highest honor of all: a chance to work for the community I had grown so fond of. These have been the best years of my life, and I am so thankful for everything this place and its people have done for me. I <3 you all. Community Interviews Claire Sharkey: I'd like to include the Community Interviews (the directory can be found here). They offer a lot of insight into well known and lesser known members of the community who are active on the front page and the forums. It's great to get to know more about the people we interact with and who contribute to the community. We're celebrating Sonic's 23rd birthday the only way we know how Brittany Vincent: The entire team got together to create this beautiful disaster, and it was one of the most glorious moments of my tenure here at Destructoid. I can't think of another place where my explicit Sonic fan fiction would be welcome. Sonic's "big boy puddle" became a mainstay when speaking about the hedgehog around these parts, and Kyle's legendary fan art was at its pinnacle depicting Darren about to snarf up a Sonic hot dog. Who could forget Sanic Hegehog's Diaper Birthday? When I need a quick laugh, I search for this post when I can remember the name, and it makes my day every single time.  How Destructoid spent Dante's $200 Niero: My favorite Dtoid moments were often off the front page (and in the middle of the street with 30 drunk people singing) but if I had to pick one it was probably Faxtoid. The posts are in the archive, but it was one of those days where you just had to be there.   A lot of my favorites have already been noted here, so I'll add a classic Mr. Destructoid moment: Tacos From Hell. Dante's Inferno sent us $200 and we ran around doing random things giving it away.  [embed]289097:57818:0[/embed] -- What do you think is the best thing Destructoid has done? Let us know in the comments!
Dtoid's 9th anniversary photo
Happy birthday, Niero and Dtoid!
Destructoid turned nine today! Can you believe it? This lovely place full of incredible people has been doing its thing for nearly a decade, and it's not slowing down anytime soon. We can keep this wonderful, crazy community ...

What can save Titanfall 2?

Mar 14 // Nic Rowen
Fine, just go ahead and make a single player campaign As someone who almost never bothers with the single player campaign in a shooter, I applauded Respawn's decision to axe any kind of bloated, roller-coaster ride of narrative mode like I was a 18th century French peasant cheering at the guillotine. I looked at all the stats and figures showing how most CoD players never touch the SP game and thought of my own history of aggressively ignoring most shooter stories since Quake 3 and thought it was a savvy move. A good way to cut down the cost of development while making sure the full focus of the project was placed on the most important part of the game, the multiplayer. And I was wrong. Well sort of. Personally, stubbornly, I STILL think it was a good idea. I was fine with the window dressing of the “campaign multiplayer” mode which added a few lines of story-based radio chatter over the usual MP action, leaving the player to draw in the details. But given the massive popular backlash against the decision, it's clear that the absence of a SP campaign hurt the reputation and perception of Titanfall more than whatever dollars they saved in the process could have. It may be silly, but so many people were offended by the lack of a SP campaign (that they were statistically unlikely to have played) that it killed a lot of enthusiasm for the title. It made Titanfall feel like half a game sold at the price of a full title. Even as just an optics thing, the trade-off wasn't worth it. As much as I hate to admit it, Titanfall 2 should have an SP campaign. Whether it's fair or not, it is something that is seen as part of the complete package for a first-person shooter. They gave it a shot without one and it didn't work, to stick to that stance on principle would be foolish. Besides, I don't know about anyone else, but I could probably stand to learn a little bit more about the history behind the development of the Titans and the lives of the colonists living on those monster-infested planets. Ironically, Titanfall's world is probably one of the only FPS settings that actually could get me to sit through a five-to-eight hour campaign! For God's sake, give us more robots Surprising nobody, the biggest draw about Titanfall was the mechs. I thought they looked cool, had a satisfying weight in the world compared to the pixie-like pilots, and had an intimidating presence on the battlefield. They were powerful and desirable without making the average pilot on foot feel useless. I just wish there were more of them. Three Titans aren't enough. Not by a long shot. I get why, from a gameplay perspective, Respawn might have wanted to keep it simple and stick with “the fast one, the Ryu, and the big one” so players could clearly see the trade-offs of each and easily size up the opposition while wall-running down a four story building trying to aim a rapid-fire rocket launcher. Maybe that was the right call for the first game, but this is the sequel. It's time to add some more wrinkles, some more complexity, some more crunch. I want to see weirder, more specialized Titans. Robots with particular abilities and roles, or weapons that can only be equipped on specific chassis rather than one-size-fits-all solutions. Maybe mechs that can use larger cannons or launchers by deploying in a static position, making themselves an easy target temporarily while they break out the big guns. Or maybe a Titan that has less offensive power but a sophisticated sensor system to compensate, creating a more tactically minded option for coordinated teams. I don't want to get bogged down in imagineering up robots (that's a rabbit hole I could waste an entire day in), but you get the idea. The Titans are supposed to be what sets the game apart against all of the other “hold left-trigger, squeeze right-trigger” shooters out there, they should be front and center and there should be plenty of them. Robot bling  While emblems and custom AI voice options for your Titans were eventually added into Titanfall with a patch almost half a year after release, it was a classic case of too little, too late. It's mind boggling to me that those options weren't in the game from the start and that Respawn was so timid with them when they finally added them in. I mean, one little patch on the shoulder of your three story tall robot? Nuts to that. I want to be able to paint my Titan hazard yellow with orange and gold trim, people should recognize me when I come stomping. I want to be able to select between a few different types of leg joints and shoulder pads, give my robot just the right swagger. I want to be able to adjust the look of my individual pilot characters by class and type, deck out my own imaginary crew of jetpack-wearing badasses. This is a futuristic sci-fi setting, why not have some fun with it? Adding in a ton of unlockable cosmetic gear isn't just fun for players, it also solves another problem Titanfall had -- content and progression goals. While I personally liked that there were only so many guns and attachments in the game and they were all relatively quick to unlock, a lot of players complained that it felt like there was nothing to “do” in Titanfall, that they were never working towards a goal (like you need more incentive to climb into the cockpit of a missile spewing robot? I don't understand people). Cosmetic gear could be used to give progression minded players something to shoot for without messing up the pace of weapon unlocks or stuffing the game full of useless sights and foregrips just for the sake of having them. If Respawn sticks to its admirable “no micro-transaction” policy, fancy helmets and mech bling could be a nice long-term carrot for players that who don't hold robot brawling as a self-justifying reward. What do you think? As I said before, I loved Titanfall, so while I have plenty of suggestions on how to improve the game, maybe I'm not seeing what turned everyone else off. So what do you think? Is there anything Titanfall 2 could do to make you interested in a jet-pack/robot deathmatch, or is Respawn doomed to repeat history a second time out?
Titanfall 2 wishlist photo
I've got a few ideas
I absolutely adored Titanfall, but going by the comments and blogs I've read over the past year, it seems like I'm the only person on Earth who did. Every article, news post, or blog written about the game invariably becomes ...

Experience Points .07: Paper Mario

Mar 08 // Ben Davis
A Boo-slapping good time In Paper Mario, Mario gains the loyalty of several monster partners who join him on his adventure. They're all pretty cool, especially Goombario the Goomba, Watt the Li'l Sparky, and Lakilester the Lakitu. I always like Bow the best, though. Lady Bow is a snooty green Boo with red bow ties. She looks calm and friendly, but she can be quite terrifying when she needs to be. She joins Mario's party in order to save her fellow Boos from a monster that's taken a liking to munching on ghosts. Mario actually gets to witness the horrific act firsthand, as a poor Boo is unceremoniously gobbled up by Tubba Blubba. I wonder what a ghost tastes like, and how you would even go about eating one... Bow aids Mario by allowing him to turn invisible to avoid enemy detection, and also to dodge attacks during battle. The main reason I like her so much, though, is because of her normal attack. She disappears and then pops up right in front of an enemy and slaps the ever-living crap out of them, causing them to spin around like crazy. Her most powerful attack is even a variation of this, where she uses a fan instead of her hand to smack foes around. It's very satisfying and never ceases to be amusing. Just make sure you don't get on Bow's bad side! General Guy and the army of cuteness Shy Guys have always been my favorite Mario villains. Ever since I played Super Mario Bros. 2 as a child, I've been enamored with the hooded little guys. So obviously, when I discovered Shy Guy's Toy Box in Paper Mario, I got super excited. An entire level devoted to Shy Guys? Amazing! I can't even begin to describe how happy Shy Guy's Toy Box made me. There's dancing Shy Guys, camouflaged Shy Guys, Shy Guys on stilts, Shy Guys on fire... they're all so cute and ridiculous! Plus, there's Gourmet Guy, who is severely overweight but surprisingly agile. He's great. The best part, though? The boss fight against General Guy and his army of minions. Wading through the sea of Shy Guys in the dark and watching them squeal and scurry away when Watt lights up the room never gets old. And General Guy in his adorable little military uniform and toy tank is just too much to handle. I really enjoy the battle theme, too. It's got that military undertone while still being silly and upbeat. Honestly, there was no way this wasn't going to be my favorite boss fight. It's just too bad Mario never got a Shy Guy partner... Princess Peach's special ingredient Mario isn't the only playable character in Paper Mario. Princess Peach gets some time in the spotlight during interludes where she sneaks out of the room that Bowser is holding her hostage in to try and gather information to aid Mario on his journey. Peach's stealth sections were actually pretty fun, and included one of my favorite scenes in the game. At one point, Peach enters a room to find Gourmet Guy, the overweight Shy Guy that Mario met earlier. He agrees to keep Peach's escape a secret on one condition: she has to cook something really yummy for him. And so, Peach decides to try baking a strawberry cake. Hilarity ensues. In the kitchen, Peach has access to a variety of delicious cake ingredients, including the essentials, like eggs, butter, flour, and sugar, but also other things a normal kitchen would have, like salt, water, and cleanser. Twink gives step-by-step instructions to make the perfect cake, which are easy to follow. But that wouldn't be very fun, now would it? I honestly spent a little too much time at this point in the game experimenting and making the nastiest cakes possible. Of course, we're using the word "cake" very loosely here. Would a saltwater and butter concoction topped with raw egg and strawberries really be considered a cake? It sure turns out looking like a cake somehow. And baking cleanser into the cake is fun and potentially poisonous and all, but why not go the extra mile and just make a cake out of nothing but cleanser? Cleanser mixed with cleanser, then baked and topped with more cleanser? Delicious! And magically cake-shaped! I wish Gourmet Guy had more than one reaction to poorly baked cakes, but unfortunately his only response is to accuse Peach of learning to cook in truck driving school. You'd think eating a caked made entirely out of cleaning products would elicit a much more extreme reaction, bodily or otherwise. Tayce T.'s tasty treats Peach had her fun baking a cake, but Mario can do some cooking of his own also. Well... sort of. Really, he just brings ingredients to a Toad named Tayce T. (har har), who does all the cooking for him. Perhaps Mario is incompetent in the kitchen. I found the Tayce T. sidequest to be unexpectedly fun. Whenever I found a new ingredient, I would always hold on to it just to see what she'd cook up. Once Mario gets the cookbook from Gourmet Guy and gives it to her, she'll be able to cook with two ingredients, opening up way more possibilities. I enjoyed experimenting with stuff and trying to figure out the different recipes, all 50 of them. What can she make with this lime and this pasta? Can she use this weird leaf I found, or this sheep? How many dishes can she possibly make out of mushrooms? I felt compelled to try everything! She can make some really useful items, like Deluxe Feasts which recover 40 HP and FP, and Jelly Pops which recover a whopping 64 FP. Cooking can be very rewarding! Although if an incorrect combination of ingredients is used, Mario will have wasted some perfectly good items and be left with a Mistake, granting only a single HP and FP. Oops... Who would have thought a simple ingredient-mixing sidequest would be so enjoyable? Penguin murder, she wrote Remember that time Mario was accused of murder? And not just murder, but penguin murder! The crime happens in Shiver City, a quiet town inhabited by friendly, adorable penguins, the last place you would expect a murderer to strike. Mario is invited into the home of the penguin mayor, whose wife leads him into the living room to meet with her husband. Mario enters the room to find... a dead penguin body?! He finds a note with the word "Herringway" scrawled upon it lying near the body, when the mayor's wife pops in to find her husband dead on the floor. Obviously, she thinks Mario did it, and who wouldn't? He's a stranger after all, alone in the room with the mayor. Mario is innocent, of course, and to prove it, he goes out in search of the real killer. The most suspicious individual is a local penguin novelist named Herringway, who has locked himself into a hidden room in his house to work on his latest mystery novel. Once Mario accesses the room and confronts Herringway, they all make their way over to the mayor's house to sort things out. Herringway claims he didn't do it, since he and the mayor are friends. The mayor's wife still thinks Mario did it (she's pretty rude about it, too!). As they're discussing the matter, the mayor's body suddenly begins to twitch, and all of a sudden he springs back to life. A zombie penguin?! Nope... turns out he just fell and hit his head while trying to grab a gift for his friend, Herringway (did nobody think to check his pulse?). Mystery solved! It's weird to think about murder in a game like Paper Mario, and in a town populated by cute penguins no less. Although, Mario does stomp Goombas and Koopas on a regular basis; he's no stranger to killing things. Maybe the penguin murder scenario wasn't so far-fetched... Smoke and mirrors Outside of Shiver City lies the Crystal Palace, a place full of mind tricks. The palace appears to be built with wall-to-wall mirrors, and it's quite beautiful. But something is a little off about the mirrors; certain things don't have reflections like they ought to. These mirrors become the main puzzle element of Crystal Palace. What looks like a reflected room might actually turn out to be an entirely separate room, an exact duplicate of the one Mario is standing in. Mirrors without reflections turn out to be entrances to walk through. Sometimes even the actual reflections themselves can't be trusted.  As it turns out, there actually aren't any real mirrors in the palace at all. Mario's reflections are really enemies called Duplighosts, who are so good at imitating things that they can predict their every movement. Once they are exposed and defeated, the palace's "mirrors" are revealed to be nothing but glass walls. The Duplighosts' tricks don't end there, though. They continue to impersonate Mario and his allies, appearing in hordes to try and confuse Mario into hurting his own friends when he can't figure out which is the real Bombette. The Duplighosts start to lose their edge, though, revealing themselves through weird speech quirks and eventually failing to copy appearances at all. It's actually really funny seeing them try so hard to trick Mario and failing utterly. The Crystal Palace is designed so well that it's almost astounding. The visual trickery is really neat to watch. What I thought were mirror puzzles turned out to be puzzles of symmetry, where doing certain things in one part of the palace would cause the opposite side of the palace to change as well. It was all balanced so perfectly, and I was incredibly impressed with the level designers when I finally figured out what was going on. What a terrific chapter! Past Experience Points .01: The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask.02: Shadow of the Colossus.03: EarthBound.04: Catherine.05: Demon's Souls.06: No More Heroes
Paper Mario highlights photo
Hey Mario! We got a letter from Princess Peach!
Experience Points is a series in which I highlight some of the most memorable things about a particular game. These can include anything from a specific scene or moment, a character, a weapon or item, a level or location, a p...

Why do some developers shy away from surrealism in gaming?

Mar 04 // Brittany Vincent
These games are an interesting alternative to the wealth of first-person shooters and survival-horror games that populate the market, and every one of them brings something special to the table. But the big guys remain reluctant to step into the fringes when it comes to worldbuilding. With the incredible power of today’s computers and consoles, there’s a definite push for realism in videogames. Some argue that we are on the cusp of producing photorealistic graphics, and while we’re not there yet, it’s impossible to deny just how good some of these big-budget games look. With that power has come the push for narrative gravity to back it up. In recent years, the story of a game has become a very large focus, with series like BioShock and The Last of Us drawing critical acclaim for the complex and emotional tales they weave. In an industry that seems to be trending toward the use of cinematics in gaming, it likely seems a big risk to try and approach things from a different angle. A title like Playdead’s Limbo, the silent and unsettling tale of a boy lost in the woods, likely doesn't trigger the same mass appeal that more conventional, realism-centric games have. The game industry is a gigantic money-maker. It has grown from a child’s plaything to a behemoth catering to a largely adult demographic. Like any business, it’s profitable to produce what people want. Right now, the trend is heavily weighted toward big-budget titles that cater to online play. These games sell, because mainstream gaming has changed from a single-player experience to a social one. The type of game that sold in 1994 has changed from the normal jumping-off point to a far more niche genre. Games that don’t cater to the online crowd just don’t sell as well. There’s a sort of divide that has developed in demographics because of the wealth of options available. People are playing games for different reasons. There’s base entertainment, yes, but think back to games like Bionic Commando or Super Mario World. They were an adventure and a challenge, just like many other games you experienced by yourself. Neither focused too hard on trying to tell a complex story, or present a moral or philosophical quandary, and they certainly weren’t capable of creating a social network, beyond the experience of eating too much pizza and trying to beat Bowser during a sleepover. This shouldn’t be viewed as a limitation, but a wholly separate experience. That’s what games like Studio MDHR’s Cuphead look capable of capturing -- that sense of nostalgia, wonder, and challenge that came with early video gaming. It may be a rosy perspective, but there’s something undeniably enthralling about the surreal worlds of older games. Perhaps the shift in age demographics has taken a bit of the wonder with it. We remember playing games even as recent as Super Mario Sunshine and Jak & Daxter and being awestruck by the cartoony worlds and the invitations extended to us. No, they were not worlds we could relate to, but they were so much larger than life, and more fantastic and colorful than any place you could ever imagine. Cuphead in particular is doing something practically unheard of, replicating the animation style of 1930s cartoons. The animation is gorgeous, and even has the same distortion and grainy look of old Technicolor cartoons. It’s definitely different, and it’s a ton of work to create. To quote the developer, “There haven't been any even medium-scale projects that use this style in the last 20 years.” Something as cool and different as Cuphead is totally in the realm of the big developers that make games for profit, but it’s the guys who are investing their own savings into their dream that are doing it, because it’s their dream, and not just because they’ve got a profit to make. One of the most interesting things about games developed without profit as the number one goal are the chances that are taken. Take a game like Honeyslug’s Hohokum, described by some as an “art game.” It lacks traditional interface, and there is no “point.” You navigate a serpent through a number of bizarre worlds, completing vague objectives in a completely non-linear fashion. There are no points, no time limit, and nothing in the way of a tutorial. Publisher SCE Santa Monica painted the game as something to simply be felt, describing it as "relaxing in a space and just enjoying the experience and the music, instead of trying to complete it to make progress." Though it was accused by some of lacking substance, it raises an important question: What exactly should a game be? Though the modern videogame landscape feels to many overpopulated with derivative titles and sequels that don’t innovate, it’s a refreshing thought to consider that there are still developers out there who are experimenting. Adding to, stripping away, completely turning concepts on their head. There is no shortage of interesting games to be found away from the mainstream, but right now they are not what is ultimately selling. If the industry is going to grow and change for the better, people have got to start responding more to these developers that are out there taking risks, for better or worse. That’s how they did it in the beginning. That’s how they’ll do it up until the bitter end… until the fear’s subsided.
Surrealism  photo
If loving surrealism is wrong, I don't want to be right
When it comes to crafting videogames out of the norm, there’s one question developers should ask themselves: What are we afraid of? Games are the perfect medium for exploration of bizarre, unnatural worlds, and yet it s...

What was the very first PlayStation 2 game you ever played?

Mar 04 // Ben Davis
Ben Davis My first experience with the PlayStation 2 was at a friend's house during his birthday party. I walked down to the basement to see a group of guys playing a racing game -- ATV Offroad Fury 2. I'm normally not a huge fan of racing games, but it looked gorgeous (compared to the PS1 graphics I was used to), and instead of racing, they were playing some weird tag mini-game where one player has a ball and the others try to ram into them with their ATVs to steal it. It looked like a lot of fun. I asked to play next turn, and once I started driving around, I immediately decided that I needed a PS2 as soon as possible. I got my own console a few months later, and of course, one of the first games I bought for it was ATV Offroad Fury 2. I actually really enjoyed it. Not just the mini-games, but the racing too. Plus, the soundtrack introduced me to Jurassic 5 and Garbage (still one of my favorite bands, actually), so that was nice. The tag mini-game is still my favorite thing about the game, though. I played that mode to death with my cousins back in the day. Chris Carter The first game I ever played on the PlayStation 2 was a launch title from the relatively niche developer From Software -- Eternal Ring. Before it was world renowned for the Souls series, From had crafted multiple sprawling worlds by way of the King's Field series, a personal favorite of mine. Eternal Ring was more of a successor of sorts in that it wasn't nearly as good, but I still got plenty of enjoyment out of it. Although many of you know what it's like to roam sandboxes in recent games like Fallout 3 and Skyrim, I remember the childlike wonder of exploring From Software's creations. Everything was unknown, and the stark difficulty level ensured that you had to adjust quickly if you wanted to actually get anywhere. I wouldn't recommend Eternal Ring to anyone today as it hasn't aged well, but it will always have a special place in my library. Josh Tolentino My very first PlayStation 2 game was a Japanese copy of Dead or Alive 2. I bought it alongside my Japanese PS2 just after the launch of the American version late in 2000. Why would I buy a Japanese edition when the American version was available? For one, it was cheaper, and second, I had heard via rumors that it had been cracked to allow the playing of pirated games. Living in the Philippines back then, you had to go bootleg to get games in a timely and affordable fashion, unless you were some senator's kid using public money to "buy original" and import from the US or Hong Kong. I also sprung for a Japanese copy of Devil May Cry, which came in handy, as it -- not Dead or Alive 2 -- proved to be the Great Enabler, in time. By March of 2001 it could be used alongside an Action Replay cheating device, and a weird little box that plugged into the PS2's front USB port to "hot swap" the legit game for the many bootleg copies that had begun to proliferate. Such were the things you did as a high schooler with a limited amount of discretionary income, and though I don't do it now, I have no excuses...or regrets. Without the bootlegging scene, a great many games of that golden age of PS2 gaming would have been unavailable to me, and not just for reasons of cost. Playing them, however I could, helped turn me from a kid with too much time and not enough money into a full-blown hobbyist. Stephen Turner First PlayStation 2 game I ever saw was Grand Theft Auto III, but the first one I ever played was Silent Hill 2. I'd just moved to the city for a new job and a new girlfriend, and spent my first paycheck on a PS2 bundle. I remember going to GAME, which I think was Electronics Boutique at the time, and specifically asking for Silent Hill 2. So I had that (the last Limited Edition copy), GTA3, and a choice between two DVDs -- one was Reservoir Dogs and the other was a family-friendly movie. Everybody picked Reservoir Dogs. I loved the original Silent Hill for the scares, and right off the bat, I went looking for them in Silent Hill 2. Then I reached the first apartment and made the decision to reset the game. You see, I went looking for something that intentionally wasn't there. Silent Hill 2 isn't really about jump scares or screaming terrors beyond the flashlight. It's a dark, melancholic metaphor for relationships, about moving on to the next woman. I came to realize how it mirrored my own situation at the time. I felt displaced as much as James Sunderland. It spooked me like no other game could (not until Forbidden Siren) because it found surrealism in the mundane. It was the first time I realized that games could be so much more than "shoot the thing." And it hasn't been topped since. Jonathan Holmes I was sour on the PlayStation 2 from the start. I had recently graduated from Art School with a focus on "handmade" animation (hand-drawn, sprites, stop motion, collage) with the dream of someday doing art for videogames. I studied the frames of animation in My Neighbor Totoro, A Nightmare Before Christmas and Street Fighter III like a theologian studies the Bible. The culture wide move during the PS1/N64/Saturn era to make games more like movies using crappy (at the time) polygon-based graphics filled me with fear and resentment. The PS2 seemed like it was moving things even further in that direction. It truly felt like they were "taking away my games," turning a medium I loved into something that felt ugly, bumbling, and worst of all "for somebody else who clearly isn't me." Thankfully, I've grown up a lot since then. So when I saw that the first Street Fighter game for the PS2 was not the beautiful Street Fighter III, and instead was the polygon-based Street Fighter EX3, I immediately resented the console. I also thought the "cheap gimmick" of including DVD playback was a lame way to appeal to "casuals and non-gamers," and was therefore stupid. Shortly after that I ended up dating a girl whose older brother had a PS2, and they showed me Dark Cloud and Okage: Shadow King. They weren't as awful as I thought they'd be, but I still wasn't all that impressed. "Both of these games would look a lot better if they had 2D graphics," I said, and then went back to playing whatever used Dreamcast game I'd picked up that month. I'd eventually warm up to the PS2, learning that every kind of game, polygon-based or not, can be a lot of fun if you let it. It's a lesson I wish I had learned a lot earlier. The only one who could ever stand to lose in my "battle to not like videogames that look a certain way" was me. Darren Nakamura I didn't have a PlayStation 2 at launch, but once Final Fantasy X released, I wanted to make sure I had one. The problem was that I was a jobless high school student, so I didn't have any way to get one. By some strange fortune, my sister bought a PS2 even though she hadn't really played games since Yoshi's Island on the SNES. (I think maybe she bought the PS2 because she was dating a guy who liked videogames.) I remember her telling me, "Just so we're clear, this is my PS2, not yours." Despite that, I bought games for it and played it more than she ever did, until she eventually sold it to me when I went off to college. The first game I played was Final Fantasy X, and it blew my mind how good the cutscenes looked compared to the previous three titles in the series. It didn't end up being my favorite Final Fantasy, but it was still great, and those first few moments with it were incredible at the time. Occams Electric Toothbrush As I walk the cobblestone streets of my mind, I try to recall the very first PlayStation 2 game I played. However, the lights of the city are dim. So let me tell you about the first PS2 game I remember playing. It was called Summoner, an RPG that in hindsight wasn’t particularly impressive or noteworthy except for the fact that you could summon creatures to fight for you. I was immediately drawn to this element as I’ve always been fond of Summoner classes. Something about calling out to some terrible and awesome thing to fight on your behalf just hit all the right power fantasy buttons for me. So all those years ago I am at my friend's house and he had purchased Summoner. We took turns playing it. We became lost in the story and the world and finding every new creature to tame. I think we were just enamored with capabilities of the PS2, capabilities that felt so far beyond what our childhood experiences had shown us. For the first time playing a videogame, the world felt real. We spent hours upon hours with that game. When we finally beat it, there was this electricity in the air. We both saw, maybe for the first time, the potential that videogames held. Andy Dixon I never actually owned a PlayStation 2 until about four years ago, when Dtoider Xzyliac mailed me one of his extras. (Sacrilege, I know.) But just because my name wasn't etched in Sharpie on any PS2 games back in the early 2000s doesn't mean I didn't get plenty of playtime with the console at friends' houses. And my first foray into that world was Grand Theft Auto III. I was a big fan of the original GTA when I played it on PC, but boy did I have no idea what I was in for this time around. The pure scope and vibrancy of the game world was so much bigger and more alive than anything I had ever played before, and I had so much fun blocking intersections and blowing up cars they probably should have had me checked out. It took me forever to actually beat the game I spent so much time just tooling around and listening to the radio, but by the time I was done with it, I had memorized every nook, cranny, and rampage of Liberty City, and there was no going back. Jason Faulkner Ever since the Metal Gear Solid series debuted, it's been a system-seller for me. I bought my second PlayStation (the first was destroyed in a move) just to play the debut title, and when a sequel was announced, I saved for months to buy a PlayStation 2. I wasn't able to get the full $299 together to purchase it, so my mom covered the rest and gave it to me for Christmas. I remember being blown away by the smooth curves of the character models in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, and feeling for the first time that the line was blurring between traditional cinematic experience and videogaming. My mom also forgot to get a memory card, so I got to sit in fear of a power outage destroying my progress. The PlayStation 2 was, in my opinion, the divide between gaming as a niche hobby and a form of mainstream entertainment, and the industry owes its current success to the great games and marketing produced for it. Brittany Vincent I wasn't able to get my PlayStation 2 until a while after its release, when I finally convinced my parents to go ahead and get it for me from a local used game shop. It came with two games upon purchase, and I chose Kingdom Hearts and Final Fantasy X, the two biggest reasons I wanted to get the system in the first place. I eagerly tore into Final Fantasy X after having asked my father to watch the opening scenes, and it certainly didn't disappoint. I was a longtime Final Fantasy fan becoming acclimated with a whole new world of improved graphical presentation and so many interesting things to come, and everything felt so vibrant, new, and exciting. When I tore through Final Fantasy X I returned it to the store for Final Fantasy X-2 and blew threw it as well, replaying the first few moments to watch the "Y-R-P" scene so many times I could practically choreograph it in real life now. I was in awe of how smooth and realistic the CG was then. It may sound bizarre, but I can't remember a time I felt more "in-tune" with what games were and where they would be going. I amassed what would eventually be the largest collection of games from one singular console, and I've never looked back. The PlayStation 2 remains firmly planted within my memory as a massive turning point in my career as a gamer, and I proudly remain loyal to it after all these years. Steven Hansen I keep asking the rest of our staff if they've played Orphen: Scion of Sorcery and they don't even answer me, let alone say no. It's like I'm a ghost shouting at my children to love me. I'm here, I'm here, can't you see me?! Thanks to the magic of "search engines" on the "world wide web," I have been able to confirm that Orphen is a videogame that exists. I didn't dream it up. I can't remember much else about it, though. I remember thinking it was cool 15 years ago, probably because its lead had a red headbanded Domon Kasshu look going on and I also thought G Gundam was cool 15 years ago. But in my Googling I went back and watched some footage from this odd, quasi-realtime JRPG and it's pretty dang bad. But I won't ever forget it! Or I won't ever forget not being able to remember it. -- What was the very first PS2 game you played? Let us know in the comments!
PS2 anniversary photo
The PS2 turns 15 today!
Today marks the 15th anniversary of the PlayStation 2. In those 15 years, we've already had two more Sony console releases, but the PS2 is still near and dear to many of our hearts. The console gave us many of our favorite ga...

Will Bethesda hurry up and announce Fallout 4?

Mar 03 // Nic Rowen
Love takes time to grow. I got about six hours into Fallout 3 before abandoning my first run. Something wasn't clicking. Trekking around the wasteland as a leather-jacketed hard case set on righting every wrong he came across was proving to be a snooze-fest. As was stopping to help every quailing citizen of post-apocalyptia who was having trouble with their computer, or needed a few more iguanas for their stew. I spent most of those first six hours bumbling around in Megaton, the first settlement you discover, running errands for “survivors” who seemed utterly incapable of keeping themselves alive and resenting them for it. I felt like Dudley Do-Right cosplaying as Mad Max. What was worse was I was incompetent at it. I didn't have a clue how to fix their flipping computers. I built my first character like an Olympic athlete who could field strip an M-16 in the dark and catch bullets out of the air with his freakishly tough and unnaturally quick hands. Computers were for nerds, not wasteland avengers. I didn't make a character who could sneak around picking shitty desk locks looking for a password, or charm his way out of a confrontation. I made the kind of guy I thought the wasteland would need – an asskicker, a soldier, a rebel with a heart of gold. And it was so terribly, terribly boring. I went back to the drawing board. I restarted the game with the kind of guy I thought the wasteland would need the least. Another lunatic set loose on the skeleton of the old world. A lanky freak who was about as tough as a ten-year-old with progeria. A man whose talents included small engine repair, skulking about in the shadows, and an unhealthy interest in explosives. Someone who was likely to rebuild something just to blow it up again. I gave him a mohawk the color of corn-silk and a face too long for its own good. Big bulging eyes that jutted out a little too far from each other, just this side of gonk. His S.P.E.C.I.A.L. stats could truly be considered “special.” Barely any strength or endurance, moderate charisma and intelligence, but preternatural powers of perception and a wild dash of luck. Maybe it reflected being born under a good sign? Or maybe it was just the natural canniness of the criminally ill. Instead of playing a man driven by a sense of justice and righting wrongs, I gave my new character a spirit of raw curiosity. A person less interested in the right or wrong of something, but driven to explore and experiment, regardless of the outcome. I stopped choosing my words based on what I thought was right, instead just going with whatever dialog option I liked the best at the time, even if it made him occasionally contradictory or less than helpful. He had his mind shattered the moment he was cast out of the only life he ever knew and exiled into a poisoned and dead world. Or maybe there was always a spark of madness in him, fanned into a blaze by the VaultTec door swinging shut behind him. He had a mild phobia of guns, preferring to dive into melee swinging a baseball bat or knife with his skinny arms, or better yet, to just toss grenades at his problems. I found the Vault 101 Utility suit with the red converse sneakers in the opening tutorial and kept him in them the whole game. Fuck leather jackets and metal knee braces, I was going to face the end of the world looking like a hipster janitor. I had one guiding principal for this run: I would only do things that interested me. If a quest-line looked boring, I'd skip it. If something caught my eye, I'd abandon what I was doing and go check it out, I would always follow my curiosity. I would never bother to check my karma level, or spend time worrying about my character build (no amount of meta-gaming would ever repair his broken stats anyway). I got over my fear of sequence breaking or wandering into an area that was too tough or advanced for my character. I just assumed it would all work out eventually. What I'm describing might not seem like much to some people. I'm sure this is how a lot of people already experience big open games like Fallout and Skyrim. But for me, it was a revolution. A complete rewiring of my mental pathways, a total inversion of how I usually approached those sorts of games. It cured me from the paralysis of choice. The self-defeating spiral where there is just so much to do and explore that you spend more time fretting about what you “should” be doing, or what you could be missing, than actually enjoying the experience. Making a character who couldn't or wouldn't use most of the best loot in the game freed me from worrying about completing quests the “best” way. I was free from making choices based on what would get me the best laser gun at the end of a story arc to making choices that would bring me satisfaction. I dove back into the wasteland with my funny-red-sneaker-wearing weirdo, and I didn't come back out until 120 hours later. Forget about chasing down Dad or following up on the main quest; I picked a random direction from the door of Vault 101 and started walking. It wasn't long before I came across an abandoned shack and a big ol' combat knife called the Stabhappy. It was like providence was telling me I was on the right track. I explored what was left of The Mall, stumbling over historic sites while trying to dodge super mutant patrols as a puny level 5 wanderer with distressingly few combat skills (landmines and re-purposed booby traps became my best friend). I got the vague sensation that I was probably supposed to end up in this area as part of some epic quest-line later in the game, but so what? I was curious, plus it was more fun having to sneak by all the mutants than it would have been to just hurl plasma at them. Much later on, I was tasked with escorting a teenager named Sticky from the child-only settlement of Little Lamplight to Big Town, where they exile all the chumps who are getting a little too old for their own good. So I did what any responsible adult would do when saddled with an annoying 16-year-old who has the mental competency of a 13-year-old: I gave him a suit of cybernetic war armor and a gigantic mini-gun. When I got him to Big Town, it seemed weird to let him wander about in his powersuit while the rest of the town's residents wore rags and were trying to defend themselves with rusty bolt-action rifles and lead pipes. So militarizing Big Town became my pet project. One of the many quirks of the Gamebryo engine Bethesda uses is the ability to reverse-pickpocket items into an NPC's possession. If you have a high enough sneak rating, you can (somehow) covertly place a flamethrower in a random NPC's pocket, and they'll equip it next time you load up the area. Same with clothes and armor. The items are persistent, so they'll stick with the characters and over time, Big Town became my own living museum of all the cool gear I couldn't or wouldn't use. Custom power armor from The Pitt DLC, named weapons like the Blackhawk magnum and Lincoln's Repeater. Big Town went from a squalid little town of sad-sack victims to the most lethally armed collection of mentally compromised teens in the wastes. That's just a sample of the kind of dumb shit I got up to. I made the Capital Wasteland my sandbox, and Bethesda provided me with all the right tools and set dressings to play in it. It is a rare and precious thing to lose yourself completely in a game, and Fallout 3 provided me with some of the most memorable and potent moments I've ever had the pleasure of experiencing. I want to feel that excitement again. Skyrim was great, but for as much fun as I had with its dragons and necromancers, a part of me was always wistful for the nuclear ashes of America circa 2277. Obsidian’s New Vegas was a good dose for keeping the shakes at bay, with some welcome mechanics that made soft-skills more important and some colorful characters (all hail “kai-sar”). But its endless brown deserts and frustratingly lethal wildlife left me cold. It felt like the game was always trying to punish me for going off the beaten trail and trying to explore it like the Capital Wasteland. I want to see what the A-team can do. I want to see what Bethesda has learned from Skyrim, what ideas it can poach from New Vegas, and what it'll leave on the cutting-room floor. I want to return to the wasteland, see what kind of stories it has left to tell, what kind of characters are still rattling around in the grave of the old world. I'm hungry for it, ready to chomp down on any scrap of news, hell, I'd be happy even for the meager crumbs of a teaser trailer, anything. It's been almost seven years since Fallout 3 came out and Bethesda has been stubbornly, frustratingly silent about the future of the series. Will the studio finally have something to say about it this GDC? Doubtful. But at this point, I have no choice but to hope.
Fallout 4 hopes photo
The wait is worse than the radioactive cannibals
GDC is here, and as is the case with any big trade show or splashy industry event, I'll be on tenterhooks waiting to hear the one piece of news I care about -- When is Fallout 4 going to happen? For years I've expected the an...

Experience Points .06: No More Heroes

Feb 28 // Ben Davis
You've been a bad girl Bad Girl, the second highest ranked assassin: a cutesy, foul-mouthed, beer-chugging psychopath who definitely lives up to her nickname. Travis first finds her beating random dudes in gimp suits to a bloody pulp with her wooden baseball bat, just for fun. She's insane and incredibly dangerous. After tossing back a few beers, she challenges Travis to a duel with nothing more than a bat against his deadly beam katana. She can certainly hit hard with that thing, though. Even her standard attacks hurt like hell, so watch out. After a while, she starts using those gimp dudes she was smashing earlier as projectiles, hitting them home run-style right at Travis like giant, living baseballs. She even takes a second to drain a flask she was hiding in her dress, spitting the alcohol onto her bat and lighting it up in flames like a badass. Don't be fooled by her occasional daintiness, either. She likes to fall to the ground and pretend to cry, which may seem like a good opportunity to slash her up, but for the love of God, don't fall for that trap! If Travis even so much as approaches her at this point, she'll trip him over, jump on top of him, and proceed to beat his face into the ground with her bat. It's an instant kill... Bad Girl is hard as hell, and she killed me too many times to count. But everything about this fight is amazing. Her frighteningly cool demeanor which clashes with her frilly style, the sinister atmosphere, the thumping battle theme which sounds like something from a seedy, super threatening strip club... it all fits so well together. It may be frustratingly difficult, but it's still my favorite fight in the game hands down. The waggling One of the most surprising things about No More Heroes for me was just how great the motion controls felt on the Wii. I think I can honestly say that this is the only game I've played where I actually enjoyed the motion controls and felt like they added something to the game. Probably the biggest reason they work so well here is because they're specifically relegated to special attacks. The A button is used to attack normally, so players don't have to swing the controller every which way constantly during combat, looking like a fool. Waggle is required when Travis locks swords with an enemy, and the Wiimote and nunchuk are swung around while executing wrestling moves. But the best feeling is when Travis kills an enemy with a finishing blow. The grand slashing motion paired with Travis shouting, "go to hell!" actually feels really great to perform. And of course, who could forget the motion for recharging the beam katana? Players basically have to jack off with the Wiimote, while Travis does the same thing with his sword on-screen. Ahhh... stay classy, Nintendo! Thunder Ryu's rigorous regimen When he's not busy slicing up assassins or working to pay for his next big thrill, Travis likes to spend his free time at the gym. Gotta stay fit to pull off those sweet wrestling moves, right? That's why it's usually a good idea to visit the Thunder Ryu building on occasion and lift some weights. Something is a little off about this gym, though... Upon entering the building, the owner, Thunder Ryu, makes some rather unsettling demands of Travis. "Take your clothes off. OFF! I will teach you THAT technique. Make sure your ass's clean." I uhh... what?! I... I think I'm in the wrong place... If Travis agrees to do "THAT" training, he's taken to the gym room, where he can lift dumbbells, bench press, or do some squats (What? That's it?). These exercises will increase his combo time, strength, or vitality, so they're quite useful. Of course, it's probably not what anyone was expecting, based on gym owner's greeting. So why did Travis have to take his clothes off back there? And why so much interest in the cleanliness of his butt? Who knows. Thunder Ryu is either a super horny old man, or he's just joking around to make his clients uncomfortable. Either way, I started going to the gym a lot more frequently after that exchange. ... ...What? Postal worker by day, total asshole by night No More Heroes is all about the boss fights, so it's hard to pick just one to talk about. There aren't really any bosses from the first game that I dislike. Even though Bad Girl is definitely my favorite, there still plenty of other awesome assassins like Shinobu, Holly Summers, and Speed Buster (special shout-out to her theme song, Mach 13 Elephant Explosion, for having the coolest track title of all time). But there's one boss that always makes me laugh. The seventh ranked assassin is an angry jerk who works for the postal service, although his true persona is the idiotic supervillain known as Destroyman. He employs underhanded tactics to try and get ahead, like attacking Travis when he has his back turned and electrocuting him when they shake hands. What a dick. Destroyman has a partly annoying, partly humorous tendency to shout the names of his attacks as he's about to use them, so during the entire fight all you hear is, "Destroy spark!" "Destroy cannon!" "Destroy beam!" At least he gives fair warning this time, I suppose! He also has a super deadly attack called "Destroy buster" which fires a massive laser beam right out of his crotch. After he uses this attack, he starts laughing like an imbecile, giving Travis plenty of time to smack him around a bit for firing crotch lasers at him. Oh, and don't forget the nipple machine guns he uses right before Travis kills him. This guy has the best attacks. Aside from being an absolutely ridiculous battle, I think the best part about the Destroyman fight is just how good it feels to beat this guy up. I mean, he's constantly acting like an asshole, so he kind of deserves it. Plus, he occasionally lets out the silliest, high-pitched screams whenever he gets hurt. It makes me laugh every time. Dumpster chic I wish I had Travis's wardrobe. He has so many cool t-shirts that I could easily see myself wearing in real life: the giant squid, the luchador masks, the weird doodle designs and logos, the king stag beetle (actually, I really did buy a shirt with the beetle design on it!). He can keep the anime girl shirts, though. Those are a little much. The craziest part about his clothing, however, is that he finds most of his shirts in dumpsters. Travis can also buy new clothes at the Area 51 store, but they're a bit pricey, and dumpster shirts are free! Not to mention some of the dumpsters are apparently full of money, so he's getting paid and expanding his wardrobe at the same time. Now, I've never gone dumpster diving myself, but I'm pretty sure the chances of finding a really cool shirt in the trash are slim to none, and the chances of finding lots of money in the trash are probably even lower than that. Travis is a lucky son of a gun. I wish it was that easy to find cool tees for free, but I guess thrift stores are the next best thing. Cute kitty overload Is there any better way to unwind after a tough day of slashing up thugs than by playing with fluffy, adorable kittens? No. There is no better way. While resting at his apartment between jobs, Travis can choose to spend time with his tiny kitten, Jeane. He can feed her, tease her with toys, pet her, or nap with her on the couch, while Jeane lets out the cutest little mews. There's no real benefit to playing with Jeane; it's purely therapeutic. That didn't stop me from cuddling with her at every possible opportunity, though, because "oh my gosh KITTY!" There's also a side job that Travis can take called "Meow Meow." The job involves catching runaway kittens by distracting them with foxtail and grabbing them when they pounce, all the while listening to a ridiculous song featuring a man meowing in a deep, seductive voice. If that's not the best job in the world, then I don't know what is! Saving in slot number two I like when developers think of creative ways to implement game saving, rather than just going to a plain old menu. There are many great examples of unique saving mechanics in other games: contacting Mei Ling in Metal Gear Solid, sitting on the couch with Yorda in Ico, calling your dad in EarthBound... Saving in No More Heroes is the best, though. The option to save becomes available whenever Travis goes to the restroom and sits on a toilet. It even shows him pulling down his pants, as a bunch of toilet paper rolls by to cover up his junk. It's so unexpected and hilarious, and somehow brilliant. Many people use their bathroom time as a chance to relax and reflect for a moment, so it makes sense that Travis would do the same, recording his memories of all the crazy shit he's been up to. Apparently, Suda51 actually came up with the idea for No More Heroes while he was on the toilet himself, so that's how the toilet-saving mechanic became a thing in the first place. And I'm sure it's not just Suda51 coming up with great ideas in the bathroom. Imagine all the world's creators and inventors, who probably came up with a lot of the stuff we use and think about every day while they were pooping. That's just science. Past Experience Points .01: The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask.02: Shadow of the Colossus.03: EarthBound.04: Catherine.05: Demon's Souls
No More Heroes photo
Strawberry on the shortcake!
Experience Points is a series in which I highlight some of the most memorable things about a particular game. These can include anything from a specific scene or moment, a character, a weapon or item, a level or location, a p...

Experience Points .05: Demon's Souls

Feb 21 // Ben Davis
Ben and the Giant Knight The Tower Knight was my very first foray into the Souls series' notorious difficulty. It's true that Phalanx is the first boss, but beating Phalanx is a test of patience more than anything else. Taking down the Tower Knight, however, requires strategy, planning, observation, and skill. If you just waltz up to the Tower Knight with your shields up or your swords swinging, you will die so quickly. Like many other players, I'm sure, my first encounter with the Tower Knight went a little like this: I entered the fog door, walked forward a little bit in awe and apprehension due to the sheer size of the boss, and was almost immediately hit square in the chest with the Tower Knight's giant lance, which killed me instantly. Well... damn. I tried again and again to beat him, or even so much as damage him sufficiently, but kept failing. I wasn't thinking like a true Souls player yet, and kept recklessly charging in to my death. Then I stopped playing, for like six months. I was so frustrated, and figured I just wasn't good enough to beat Demon's Souls. But I kept thinking about the Tower Knight and how badly I wanted to defeat him, how good it would feel to emerge victorious. So I finally picked it back up and tried again, this time being more careful and observant. I still died, but I soon figured out a reliable strategy. And then suddenly, after a particularly good run, victory was mine! I let out an audible roar of triumph, and it felt absolutely amazing. I felt like I could do anything, like I could actually beat Demon's Souls. And so I went on and did just that! Looking back now, the Tower Knight fight is actually pretty simple. I might not even rank it in the top twenty most difficult Souls bosses. But as a beginner to the series, it was hard enough. It was a hurdle I had to overcome in order to better understand Demon's Souls and what the game expected of me. Because of that, it will always remain one of my favorite boss fights of all time. The tower of terror The Tower of Latria... a dreary prison tower of unsettling sounds and Lovecraftian horrors. You begin in a prison cell, navigating your way around the other cells through cramped hallways and trying not to fall into the seemingly bottomless pit in the middle of each room. Mindless, sickly prisoners meet you at every turn, shackled to the walls, stuffed into urns and iron maidens, and otherwise being tortured to insanity. Mind Flayers patrol the halls, flexing their tentacles and ringing their eerie bells, the sound of which sends shivers down your spine. Descending down the tower, you'll find more unspeakable horrors: a massive, terrible machine that fires an unending volley of arrows and a deeply disturbing pile of prisoners, crushed into a spherical shape and moving around on several arms and legs. As you travel further up the tower, you are greeted by gargoyles, who fly about and pester you endlessly as you teeter across narrow walkways hundreds of feet above the ground. Up ahead, you can see a giant beating heart which is chained up to another tower and must be cut down. Eventually, you take a ride to the very bottom of the building and must trek through a swamp of disgusting pinkish goo riddled with huge, pulsating tentacles. The swamp is crawling with the most horrible abominations imaginable: these large, crazy, centipede-like creatures with multiple human faces. They lunge at you and make the most awful gurgling sounds when they're killed. Latria is disturbing to the max, and it's utterly amazing. The sheer amount of creepiness and creativity put into this level easily makes it my favorite area of Demon's Souls. The hunter becomes the hunted Demon's Souls introduced an intriguing new multiplayer mechanic which I'm sure you're all familiar with by now: invasions*! While playing online, at almost any moment during your adventure, another player could invade your world as an enemy Black Phantom. The other player could hunt you down, in your own game, and kill you. As someone who has never been very good at player vs. player duels, the thought terrified and excited me. My first encounter with an invader scared the crap out of me. A red message flashes at the bottom of the screen, saying, "Black Phantom so-and-so has invaded!" My heart skipped a beat, and I tried to search for a hiding spot while desperately scanning the area for the enemy. Of course, they were way more skilled than me. They managed to sneak up behind me for a backstab, which practically made me jump out of my seat. The next several invasions didn't go so well either, but eventually I got the hang of things and was able to hold my own. Nothing feels better than slaying an invading player. I'm sure many of them are decent people just trying to have some fun (after all, I've done my fair share of invasions too), but I always envision them as bullies just trying to kill other players so they can sit back and laugh at their misfortune. This makes killing invaders all the more satisfying. "You thought you could screw me over? Well take that! Muahaha!" Of course, it's all in good fun. Invaders may seem scary to new players, but they're just another threat that must be dealt with in a world where everything is trying to kill you. Sure, they may be more skilled than the NPCs you come across, but even if they kill you, it'll just send you back to the last bonfire like any other death. And you should be pretty used to death if you're playing a Souls game. * - Pictured above: not really an invader... it's Satsuki, but let's just pretend it's someone dressing up as him (finding quality images of this game is harder than you would think!). Heir to the Old Monk's throne Invasions were such an ingenious idea that From Software decided to use that potential to create one of the most unique boss fights around. The Old Monk is the final boss of the Tower of Latria. He's a decrepit old man, dressed in a ridiculously large orange robe and sitting atop a huge pile of chairs. You don't get the chance to fight him though, because he withers away and dies before you can even reach him. But with his final breath, he casts a spell to summon up a demon to fight in his stead. His orange robe swirls around the demon's head like a weird, tornado-shaped turban, passing on the Old Monk's powers. For some players, this duel will be a lot like fighting the other invading Black Phantom NPCs, which can be kind of underwhelming. But for those playing online, they actually got to fight other players who were summoned to their world to fight for the Old Monk. The boss fight essentially became a player vs. player match, forcing some people to go toe to toe with an invader. The invader also gains the Old Monk's Homing Soul Arrow attack, which is cast automatically throughout the fight, giving them a bit of an edge. But even so, it all comes down to skill. The better player will emerge victorious. The first time this happened to me, I was so confused and terrified. I was still at that stage where invaders scared the heck out of me, so I dreaded entering the fog door. Later, when I became more comfortable fighting other players, I started to realize just how great of an idea this boss fight was. I even played a few sessions as the Old Monk's phantom in other peoples' games, and had a bit too much fun slaughtering the various hosts. From Software revisited this idea in Dark Souls II with the Looking Glass Knight, and I actually enjoyed that boss fight even more! Transient souls Aside from invasions, Demon's Souls also introduced some other unique multiplayer mechanics which were a bit more subtle. During your adventures through Boletaria, you would occasionally catch glimpses of ghosts. These fleeting specters were actually other players traversing Boletaria in their own games, like shadows of parallel universes. You weren't able to interact with them, but their mere existence was somehow comforting. These ghosts made you feel as though you weren't so alone in this dangerous world full of enemies. Other people were dealing with the same things you were. Perhaps they could see a shadow of you as well, giving them comfort and hope. You would also occasionally come across bloodstains on ground. Sometimes it would be your own blood, from where you died last, allowing you to retrieve your lost souls. But many other bloodstains would litter the ground, which were clearly not left by you. These were the spots where other players perished in their own worlds. If you interacted with them, a red phantom would appear, reenacting their last few moments before death. These could be useful as warnings of danger up ahead, an opportunity to prepare for traps or ambushes. They were also comforting, much like the ghosts, because you got to see others players failing and dying right alongside you. Some of them were also pretty damn funny to watch. For the really mysterious ones, I liked to try and imagine what could have possibly happened to them. How could they have died here, of all places? Some of them were so crazy that I watched them over and over, seeing their spectral bodies smashed into the ground and flung this way and that before they'd finally had enough and toppled over dead. Poor guy must have had the worst luck, but at least it was entertaining! One sword to rule them all I didn't really have any favorite weapons in this series until Dark Souls. I mostly just ran through Demon's Souls with a winged spear. Not too exciting, but it got the job done. However, there was one weapon that really stood out to me, even though I only used it for a few specific moments. At the end of the Shrine of Storms, you have to fight the Storm King, a gigantic flying manta ray that shoots spikes and creates thunder. He flies in a large loop in the sky way above you, so the only way to reach him is by firing arrows or using magic. I've always preferred melee characters, so I was kind of screwed during this fight, and resorted to casting wimpy soul arrows to try and take the beast down. It took forever. During my second playthrough, I dreaded having to fight him again. When I returned to the Storm King's arena, I spent a lot of time goofing off and searching for items rather than fighting the boss. That's when I came across the Storm Ruler, a sword sticking out of the ground in the Storm King's domain. Stats-wise, it wasn't as powerful as my winged spear, but I decided to fool around with it, since I was trying to delay the boss fight anyway. I always like to test out the movesets of any new weapon I come across. So I tried the heavy attack and... WOOSH! Something shot off the sword! It looked like an intense air current cutting through the sky, and it went pretty far. I tested it out on the Storm King as he flew by, and sure enough, it hit him square in the chest for decent damage. So there IS a way to defeat this boss using melee tactics, and I had no idea! The Storm Ruler took the boss down in no time, and I sat there thinking about how long it had taken previously when I was using Soul Arrows, and felt completely foolish. Unfortunately, the Storm Ruler's special ability only works in the Storm King's arena. Otherwise, it behaves like a normal sword, albeit one with lots of knockback. I went back to using my winged spear for the rest of the game, but I still found occasional uses for the Storm Ruler. I utilized the sword's heavy force by knocking some enemies off of cliffs with it. I even used it to kill Old King Doran once, by continually knocking him back further and further until he eventually fell down a long staircase and died on impact. Take that, Doran, you evasive bastard! Past Experience Points .01: The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask.02: Shadow of the Colossus.03: EarthBound.04: Catherine
Demon's Souls highlights photo
Let strength be granted, so the world might be mended
Experience Points is a series in which I highlight some of the most memorable things about a particular game. These can include anything from a specific scene or moment, a character, a weapon or item, a level or location, a p...

Tingle is the heterosexual hero that gaming deserves

Feb 19 // Ben Davis
Except he's not gay. Now, he could be straight, bisexual, or asexual. We don't really know. But I'm going to assume he's straight, because I think that would be great. Some of you may be thinking, "But Ben, videogames are already saturated with heterosexual male characters as it is." True, but how many of those heterosexual male characters are unabashedly effeminate and completely willing to break gender norms? I can think of a few characters who fit that description: The King of All Cosmos from Katamari, Ebisumaru from Mystical Ninja, possibly Ghirahim from Skyward Sword. It's still something I'd like to see more of, though, because I'm all about seeing gender norms tossed aside in favor of variety and more interesting personalities. Others are probably thinking, "Ben, why the fuck should we care about Tingle's sexuality?" Well, you probably shouldn't, unless you have the urge to browse some Tingle fanfiction. His sexuality is not at all important to the games' stories, with the possible exception of Freshly-Picked Tingle's Rosy Rupeeland, where he seemed to be all over the beautiful ladies in the game, especially the busty Pinkle (Tingle is clearly a breast man). But for the most part it doesn't matter, yet it's still fun to think about. If Tingle ever appears in another Zelda game, or if Rosy Rupeeland gets another sequel like we all know it deserves, I hope to see him in a relationship with a gorgeous fairy girl. Maybe he could even be a family man, with several fairy children running around. As long as he keeps on being his fabulous, flamboyant, totally heterosexual self, then it's all good. We could use more characters like Tingle in games.
Tingle photo
'Hey ladies.'
In a recent Kotaku interview with Eiji Aonuma, the longtime Zelda producer confirmed that Tingle is, in fact, not gay. He's "just an odd person." This isn't exactly riveting news, but it is interesting that so many people see...

Experience Points .04: Catherine

Feb 14 // Ben Davis
Drink and be merry Every night at the Stray Sheep, Vincent has the option to get borderline blackout drunk at the bar. You can order cocktails, sake, beer, and whiskey. Or you can order one of each. Or 50 of each. Drinks are free and the bar apparently has an unlimited supply, so go crazy! Surprisingly, drinking only has positive effects on Vincent. Alcohol makes Vincent move faster in his nightmares, which is very useful since the puzzles are on a time limit. It's always a good idea to drink yourself into a stupor before taking on the block towers of your dreams. Too bad alcohol doesn't work that way in real life. If I drank as much as Vincent did in my game, I'd be dead. Even if I drank a fraction of what he did, I'd still be waking up in a puddle of my own sick on the ground outside of my apartment, if I even made it that far. Let alone the hangovers... does this guy even get hangovers? What is his secret? [embed]287657:57340:0[/embed] Back to Bach All of the music in Catherine is great, but the best tracks are definitely the songs that play during the block puzzle segments. Composer Shoji Meguro used classical music arrangements for the soundtrack, remixing them with his own style to create these really nice modern takes on classic compositions. Some of my favorite classical scores are featured, such as "Mars" and "Jupiter" from Holst's The Planets, Bach's "Little Fugue", and Chopin's Revolutionary Étude. The soundtrack also introduced me to some great music that I hadn't heard before, but which quickly became favorites of mine, including Mussorgsky's "The Hut on Fowl's Legs" and Dvorak's New World Symphony. I don't know how much average gamers these days know or care about classical music, but I'm glad that there are still avenues through which young people can be exposed to the classics. You'll occasionally hear classical arrangements in other games as well, like Tetris, Mega Man Legends, and Earthworm Jim. I always appreciate a good reference to the great composers of the past. Another round of drinks, Erica! Erica is a waitress at the Stray Sheep. She's a childhood friend of Vincent and his buddies, and loves gossiping with the group. She also has a weird Ronald McDonald color scheme going on, but that's okay. She's way cooler and way less creepy than Ronald. Toby, a recent addition to the group of friends, has a pretty big crush on her. It's no wonder why; Erica is always super kind and charismatic, and attractive to boot. Eventually, the two get together for a night of passion. At the end of the game, if you get the True Lover ending, it's revealed that Erica used to be "Eric" back in the day. This comes as a huge surprise to Toby, but rather than getting all freaked out or weird, he just sort of jokes about it in a friendly way. The rest of the guys obviously already knew this about Erica, since they were childhood friends, and they treat her normally during the entire game. There are also a few subtle hints about the revelation at various points during their conversations. I think it's great to see a transgender character handled so respectfully in a videogame. Her gender identity is revealed in a natural way, and it's treated like a perfectly normal aspect of everyday life. She was my favorite character in the game, even before I learned about her past. A wet dream gone horribly wrong Most of the bosses in Catherine represent aspects of Vincent's relationships that he worries about during the day. The Fist of Grudge symbolizes Katherine's controlling personality and Vincent's fear of commitment. Doom's Bride alludes to Vincent's uncertainty of marriage. The Child with a Chainsaw implies Vincent's apprehension about having a child. And then there's the Immoral Beast. The beast takes the form of a gigantic butt with legs that tries to kill Vincent. It has a mouth with a huge tongue that waggles all about, and blue eyes that resemble Catherine's on each cheek. It appears in Vincent's nightmare after he has an affair with Catherine. It's pretty clear that the butt beast represents Vincent's shame due to the affair, but it seems like it's also telling us something more about the specifics of their sexual encounter. Catherine even comments the next morning that she's never done something "like that" before. I'm sure you can all use your imaginations to deduce what that means. Regardless, the Immoral Beast is one of the most bizarrely grotesque bosses I've ever encountered in a game, and I can't help but admire that. Feeling a little sheepish Those who haven't played Catherine might not know that most of the characters in the game are sheep. Well, technically they're men, but in the nightmare world they appear as sheep to everyone but themselves. That means, to all the other guys, Vincent appears as a sheep wearing polka dot boxers. The sheep-men are all so freaking cute, especially since many of them are dressed up like people. One sheep is wearing a tie, another one has a cool jacket and glasses, one has a pompadour hairpiece or something, and another one's got a police hat and nightstick and is a little larger around the belly (he's my favorite). Most of them represent male characters from other parts of the game. Their outfits are a little strange, though. Like, shouldn't they be dressed as though they're in bed, like Vincent in his boxers? Does that means Morgan, the policeman, sleeps in nothing but his hat and nightstick? And some of the others sleep in their jackets? That's kind of weird, but I guess it's possible. I mean, hey, whatever's comfortable. I'm not here to judge! Saving lives one conversation at a time If you make a habit of talking to the various bar patrons at the Stray Sheep, you'll start to recognize some of them as the sheep you meet in your nightmares. The more you talk to them, the more you learn about their love lives and why they're being haunted by these bad dreams. You'll find that most of them are rather depressed and worried about the way they've been treating the women in their lives. By speaking with them regularly and answering their questions, you'll give them hope and more incentive to stay alive in their nightmares. On the flip side, if you ignore them or give them unsatisfactory responses, you may notice that they stop showing up to the bar at night and you won't see them in your dreams anymore. This means they've lost the will to go on and died in their sleep. How awful... The most touching story to me was that of Morgan the police officer. You learn that his wife was killed a long time ago by a criminal he had been investigating. He blames himself for her death, especially since they had a fight the day she died, and the last thing he said to her was, "Get out." His depression has left him with suicidal thoughts. The reason he's been having nightmares is because of his tendency to lead women on with no intention of a relationship, which he sort of views as cheating on his deceased wife. If you help him stay alive, he decides to focus on finding his wife's murderer so he can finally enact justice. All of the other men's endings involve them asking their girlfriends to marry them, or trying to make things work with their wives, which is great. But Morgan just wants to avenge his wife so that he can visit her grave and tell her all about what he did. I always thought that was really sweet of him. Past Experience Points .01: The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask.02: Shadow of the Colossus.03: EarthBound
Catherine highlights photo
Love is over
Experience Points is a series in which I highlight some of the most memorable things about a particular game. These can include anything from a specific scene or moment, a character, a weapon or item, a level or location, a p...

Which videogame makes you the happiest?

Feb 08 // Ben Davis
Ben Davis For me, that game is Katamari Damacy. Everything about the Katamari series makes me happy. The bright, colorful graphics, the quirky, upbeat music, the crazy character designs, the fast-paced gameplay, the rainbows... so many rainbows! The King of All Cosmos literally pukes rainbows! Simply turning on the game and watching that opening cinematic immediately brings joy to my heart. It also helps that the gameplay is so fun and simple. Rolling a ball around to pick up random junk as the ball grows larger and larger the more you pick up... it's such a bizarre idea, yet it somehow makes total sense. And that music! How can you not be happy while listening to tracks like "Cherry Blossom Color Season" or "Lonely Rolling Star"? There's seriously nothing about the Katamari games that doesn't make me smile. Chris Carter Very few things make me happier than a session with Jumping Flash! 2. While the little bunny robot is adorable, the rush I get while leaping in the air is pretty much unrivaled in gaming. Gameplay consists of nothing more than jumping around giant landscapes and blasting enemies, but the way the mechanic itself works is incredibly fun, mostly due to the unique first-person perspective. Sometimes I'll just go into the first level and jump around a bit if I need to clear my head -- it's that relaxing. While the visuals haven't aged all that well, the gameplay still stands up. If you're a fan of 3D platformers, be sure to check it out on the PSN. Jason Faulkner This is a super hard question because pretty much every game makes me happy to some extent. I complain about them just as much as anyone else, but deep down, I am happy with any game that makes it to light because that means someone, somewhere is probably enjoying it. The game that comes to mind though, even 13 years later, is Freelancer. I've been a huge space opera/sci-fi buff since I was young, and 12-year-old me was super pumped when this game came out. Sure, it wasn't as in-depth as the Elite or Freespace series, but it was palatable and easy to digest, while still being super expansive. I spent hundreds of hours in that game over LAN, exploring its universe with my then best friend. I've never really gotten that feeling since then with a space-based game. The focused and nuanced universe is in stark contrast with the sprawling goals of Elite: Dangerous and the upcoming Star Citizen, and the focus on the single-player experience made it all the better for me, as I am not a huge MMO fan (my schedule is too erratic). I attempted to play the X series, but it was a little too unfocused for me, and ended up being a bit of a disappointment although I enjoyed it. I've got my fingers crossed for No Man's Sky though! Rob Morrow When I think about which game "makes me the happiest," it becomes impossible to select one particular title. It's easier to perhaps pick one that I tend to return to the most, the game that I can always rely on when I can't quite decide on what it is that I want to play. If I reframe the question like this, Torchlight 2 would immediately spring to mind. I've spent hours and hours tinkering with Runic's ARPG without ever becoming tired of it. It's one of those "Forever Games," or as the lovely Mike Martin has put it -- a "Desert Island" title, that's always a joy to play, no matter how tired, sick or overworked that I may feel on a given day. Robert Summa The game that consistently makes me happiest is the NBA 2K series. It's not so much the game in and of itself that makes me happiest, but all the moments within it. Since I'm past my dunking prime at this point in my real life, there really is no better feeling than driving down the court and dunking on someone virtually or sitting back on defense and blocking someone's shot into the stands. These are the moments I play this game for. Those moments are amplified when you can actually get into a good online game with friends. Working as a team and working to dismantle a rival squad can bring some of the most satisfying experiences that any game can offer Brittany Vincent I don't have a lot of time to myself these days to play what I really, really want to. Sometimes I'll load up something out of laziness on Steam because I don't have to jump through hoops to play it. Most of the time, I feel compelled to play Um Jammer Lammy, but I don't have a PlayStation hooked up, an emulator configured and set up, or the desire to play through again on PlayStation 3 because of the many sound issues I've had with it since I purchased it via PSN. I'm not even sure if I can play it on my Vita, and I honestly don't care enough to clear off my already-packed memory card to play it anyway. So I keep my original game pristine in its case and watch YouTube videos of it. It's enough for me to feel like I'm playing when accessing it for real is too much trouble, but on the off chance I really want to jam on a water hose or take care of a baby caterpillar being, I'll sneak on the PS3 and complete the entire game. I know it's a really hot trend to hate things because of their nostalgia factor, and that's whatever, but that's one reason I love this game so much. Um Jammer Lammy is one of my favorite games of all time. Nothing feels as good as tapping the PlayStation's face buttons along with the music on-screen that I could sing along to forever. I'm instantly transported to my grandma's basement on Christmas Eve years ago when I opened presents and knew I had the full game to look forward to. I remember staying overnight and going down to the "playroom" area in the basement to watch Pokémon VHS tapes for the rest of the day waiting to get home and try out my brand new game. I realized that, unlike in the original demo I played to death, Lammy wasn't playing in hell anymore and was being sent to "an island." I marveled at how catchy the music was. I knew I'd probably never see another game like it, at least with Lammy at the helm. And I was right. I guess I never will. [embed]287381:57232:0[/embed] Jonathan Holmes A lot of people complain that Nintendo's lower profile franchises like Pikmin and Rhythm Heaven don't get enough love, but they ain't got nothin' on Sony Computer Entertainment Japan Studio. The Last Guy, Ape Escape, Patapon, and of course Loco Roco are just a few SCE Japan Studio franchises that have been criminally overlooked in the past ten years. Nathan Drake, Ellie, and Kratos are the faces most people associate with the PlayStation name these days, but for me, the heart of the brand still lies with Parappa, Robbit, and the Loco Roco. Loco Roco is similar to the upcoming Kirby and the Rainbow Curse in that you take indirect control over a relatively ineffectual blob stuck in a dangerous world. Indirect controls can be a turn off for a lot of people, as they can lead the player to feel less like they have inhabited the body of someone else, and more like they are hanging out with someone else. I love hanging out, so that works for me just fine. Loco Roco seems to be aware of this. It puts constant effort into making our time spent with the Rocos as wonderful as possible. Case in point, all the Rocos sing along to the game's music as you play. It's a small touch, but that's exactly why it goes such a long way towards making them feel real. Like Luigi's "Mario!" button in Luigi's Mansion, it's a small detail that doesn't draw attention to itself, and that's exactly why it comes off as genuine. More so, we all know what it's like to make up our own words to a video game song, and so do the Rocos. They're like little fat, limbless Brentalflosses, overcome with passion, improvising as they go. It's all silly and fluffy and that's great, until you hit the pure drama of Blue's level. That baritone! That gravitas! It's downright operatic, worthy of Mozart, and it only gets better from there. The key changes that hit further in, the backing vocals, the church bells... it's making me a bit dizzy just thinking about it. What I'm trying to tell you is, this game makes me incredibly happy. Also see, Christmas NiGHTS, Animal Crossing and We <3 Katamari Josh Tolentino It's pretty tough to answer just "what game makes you happy" because what makes us happy can change from day to day. But if we use how much time we've spent with a game as something approaching an objective measure, then Star Trek Online has made me happier than any other game...ever. My Steam clock claims I've spent nearly 1600 hours playing STO, and that doesn't even take into account the fact that STO went a year or two without being offered on Steam. But with my critic hat on, it's hard to find truly redeeming reasons for the time spent. The game's been operating for five years, and yet sometimes feels like an Early Access title when it comes to technical stability. The balance is all over the place, and pervasive levels of monetization make a mockery of the Federation's socialist ideals. And yet...I've no desire to stop playing. I'm not even that huge a Star Trek fan! If nothing else, Star Trek Online has helped me let go of that nerdy fixation on having the things we like also be the "best" things, which tends to lead to all kinds of unfortunate attitudes. Mike Martin There is one game that has always brought me joy, no matter what was going on in my life. Gunstar Heroes is that game. The grabbing, the tossing, the combining of weapons has always engaged and occupied my mind. The beautiful sprite-work is icing on what (for me) is the perfect side-scrolling, action cake. Treasure has created many amazing games throughout the years, but this one helped a little guy through a lot of tough times. They gave him a chance to go on an adventure with his twin brother and save their sister and older brother. It offered a kick-ass experience and was centered on family. To say that struck a chord with me, is an understatement. Gameplay is king though and Heroes action was (to me) unlike anything else out there. Whether I was taking down the Seven Force or fighting my way across a flying fortress, I was constantly challenged and surprised. Taking down that scumbag Colonel Red at the end was bittersweet though, as I then had to watch Green sacrifice himself to destroy Golden Silver. Sounds dark for a game that is supposed to be my happy place right? Well this game helped me have hope in family, in doing the right thing at any cost, it let me adventure with my brother and taught me the joys of combining lightning with homing. Wrap all that in beautiful colors and explosions, put a bow on it and you have something that brings me joy to this day.  Patrick Hancock So many games make me happy! Wind Waker, Jet Set Radio, Starseed Pilgrim, Dota 2, the list goes on! But if I had to settle on one, I think I'd go with Final Fantasy VII. It was my first introduction to the series and holds a very special place in my heart. The cast of characters feels like family to me. When I'm in that world, it feels like a second home. The battle system is still one of the best in the genre and will always hold up. Then of course there is the Golden Saucer! That location alone is why I chose FFVII for this list. Arm wrestling, snowboarding, CHOCOBO RACING?! Brings a huge grin to my face just thinking about it! AVALANCHE 4 lyfe. Darren Nakamura I've talked about it before, but Tomodachi Life makes me happier than any other game right now. Even though it's a little shallow, there's something about visiting old friends who I don't get to see often in real life, hanging out with them, and watching them do absurd things that never fails to make me smile. It's a world where my mom and Aerith Gainsborough can have a rap battle, where my college roommate can date my fictional adult daughter, and where Jim Sterling can dress up in a bear costume and spy on me while I ride a carousel. It represents an ideal existence. Sure, there is heartbreak and infighting, but it's nothing that can't be solved with a favorite food or a nice bubble bath. I can think of no better life than to be on an island with all of the friends and family I have made over the course of my life. Just pretending for the few moments I play each day makes me incredibly happy. -- Which games make you incredibly happy? Let us know in the comments!
Happiness photo
Happy, happy, joy, joy!
Whenever you're having a rough day, there's nothing better than sitting down and putting on a game that makes you happy just to play it. Something that makes you laugh and smile, helps to relieve stress, or gets you to stop w...

Jacob 'Humble' Browe talks Minelands: Call of the Border

Feb 07 // Brittany Vincent
Minelands: Call of the Border, from Triple-A Developer Entertainment, is Browe's baby, the product that's single-handedly responsible for his rise to prominence. It's received dozens of perfect 10/10, 5/5, 3/3, 2/2, and 1/1 scores from outlets just like this one, and none of us have even gotten to play the game yet. It's a thrill ride to be sure, but the game isn't the only reason he's becoming a household name. After putting out a series of daily developer diaries, a photo documentary series with stills from each minute of his day (including videos from each of his Starbucks jaunts), Browe has gained a following with fans as well. His Twitter features up-to-the-minute news and opinions sponsored by now-defunct "energy" soda Vault, where he speaks only in lowercase, using bizarre syntax and phrases like "v cool" and "p sure." When it comes to the industry he grew up shunning to ensure he could still impress vapid women in high school, no detail can go overlooked. Browe was the picture of patience and humility during our chat in the Gaylord Hotel suite he so lavishly recommended that I reserve with my credit card. I had requested my own room, but he was gracious enough to suggest we share the executive suite because, as he put it, "There's way too much space in here for one lonely guy." He spent much of the interview posted up at the minibar alternating between downing shots like a fish desperately seeking the glistening life force of water and checking his iPhone 6 Plus, making moves on his fantasy football team roster. It's like I wasn't even there, which actually allowed me to capture an even more intimate portrait of one of gaming's rising stars. When he did talk though, I definitely felt a sort of camaraderie I hadn't felt in some time from other devs. Chatting in the dimly-lit suite's makeshift "living room" area felt a lot like, well, home. Over a steaming cup of hotel brand coffee, Browe opened up about Minelands: Call of the Border, and why he thinks it has struck a chord with reviewers, who were privy to fifty 30-second trailers over the course of a three-month period before release. "Obviously everyone's excited because my game is taking creative risks like no other company out there. Minelands is doing something completely and totally new," Browe gushed, with a twinkle in his eye that could have been all the booze he had taken in before and during our talk. "For the first time in history, players can use two weapons at once. So if you're trying to kill an enemy and make sure he's dead, you could use your shotgun and your AK at the same time to dual-wield. You can even reload independently. And you don't even have to hold two weapons at a time if you don't want to. It's not required at all. " Technically, Browe reminded me earlier on when we met, Minelands is a first-person shooter, but its host of envelope-pushing features ensure that it defies classification. For instance, you'll be able to save your progress anywhere in the game. Rather than waiting for checkpoints, you can go to the menu at any time -- whether on PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, or N-Gage -- and save. Female characters, I was told, would play a major role as well.  "Commander Hua Wei is a fellow operative from China, and as you play through the game as Captain Guardevoi she's by your side every step of the way. She'll give you waypoints from her command center, and appear before you as a hologram of sorts for in-game interactions. This is the first time there's ever been a female commander in a shooter, let alone one that gives you orders as you go along. Of course, there's still plenty of time for romance in the game. Hua Wei may be your colleague as you trek across the Minelands to defeat the nefarious Hangdog Mack at the Border, but there's no battlefield too big to let love in." Though he didn't share much else regarding the title that's launched him into the gaming celebrity stratosphere, Browe did invite me out for dinner next week, where he's ordered that I come dressed in heels and a revealing dress so that we can talk about his creative process. But what about how the players feel about the actual game? I'm dying to know myself. Minelands has been released to the public already, but technically won't be going on sale for another couple of days, and then only at retailers like GameStop and Bed Bath and Beyond. Some members of approved media outlets who've seen the multitude of trailers are keeping mum about the game thus far other than the quotes okayed for the promotional materials: "Fantastic!" proclaims a prominent games magazine. "Brilliantly!" exclaimed a digital publication. Browe had quotes on hand, but he wasn't so forthcoming about sharing them with me, keeping silent so as not to give anyone a taste of what's already being called Game of the Year material. I did see something along the lines of "Brilliantly terrible," but I'm almost certain the "terrible" was a typo and it was something like 'Brilliantly, terribly genius" from Video Diversion Educator Magazine. But they wouldn't get the last word on things. That pleasure belonged to Browe as he gave me his parting words to pass on.  "Please subscribe to my Patreon and support independent video game development. Buy me a vanilla bean frappuccino if you end up liking Minelands: Call of the Border. I also accept major credit cards. It's all for the fans, and I'm planning on making something even bigger soon involving player choice. Two words: Branching dialogue options." Browe had wiggled his eyebrows seductively toward me after divulging this information, and even as I pen this piece now I'm astounded. Truly, Jacob "Humble" Browe is a visionary.
Minelands photo
A rising star speaks
Jacob "Humble" Browe is a visionary. He's just shipped a multi-billion dollar game to hundreds of retailers across the United States and Canada, with additional release dates staggered across the world. After running a succ...

Experience Points .02: Shadow of the Colossus

Jan 31 // Ben Davis
Bird of prey Let's start things off with my favorite Colossus, Avion! Avion is the fifth Colossus you fight. It's a giant hawk-like Colossus with a long, trailing tail, and it makes its home above some ruins which have been flooded to form a lake. The first thing you'll need to do during any Colossus battle is figure out how to climb onto it. Since Avion is either flying around or sitting perched high atop a tower, this makes things difficult. The only way to reach Avion is to get it to come closer to you, which means disturbing the peaceful creature by shooting arrows at it to get its attention. With its feathers ruffled (well... I guess it doesn't actually have feathers, does it?), Avion flies into the air and goes into a dive, heading directly towards you! What happens next is one of my favorite moments from a game ever. Your first instinct when you see a giant bird diving right at you would probably be to jump out of the way. I mean, that thing could kill you! But wait... if it's diving at me, then it'll get close enough to jump onto it, right? As the giant bird rushes you, the choice becomes obvious. Rather than move away, you jump towards Avion, meeting the bird in midair and grabbing hold of its wing as it rises back into the air, where it proceeds to flap and corkscrew through the sky, trying to shake you off. Then you'll have to carefully move around its wings and tail, looking for weak spots to stab, all while speeding through the air several meters above the ground and trying desperately not to fall off and into the lake below. It's one of the most exhilarating moments from a game that I can think of! I want to fly like an eagle Speaking of flying around on birds, there's actually another way to get Wander soaring through the sky (aside from Phalanx, the other flying Colossus, who is awesome). You'll probably notice some hawks flying around while you're riding across the Forbidden Lands on your horse, Agro. Ever wonder why they're flying so close? You'll most likely just ignore these hawks (or try to shoot them down with arrows, if you're mean!), but there is a way to interact with them that you probably wouldn't expect. If a hawk soars low enough, Wander can actually jump up and grab hold of the hawk, and the bird is somehow strong enough to carry Wander's weight as it escorts him a short distance, slowly drifting towards the ground. You can do this by jumping off of Agro once the hawk flies close enough, and there are also a few areas where you can climb on top of a rock and jump up to grab a hawk as it passes by. The inclusion of this mechanic is bizarre. It doesn't really serve any purpose other than the simple fact that you can do it. It's so weird and unexpected, though, that I can't help but love that it exists! Not the beard! I feel like the sixth Colossus, Barba, doesn't get much attention whenever this game is being discussed. It's one of the many bipedal Colossi you have to fight, and it may not seem too special at first glance, especially when compared to some of the others. However, the method in which Wander climbs onto him is actually one of my favorite moments in the game. Everyone probably knows Barba as the bearded Colossus, and for good reason. In order to climb onto him, you must lure him to the back of the temple and hide under a small overhang. Since Barba is so tall, he'll have to bend down to look into the alcove you're hiding in, waving his big, shaggy beard around as he tries to locate you. As soon as he did this, I knew exactly what I had to do, and I laughed out loud. I ran towards him, jumped, and grabbed hold of his beard as he stood back up, using his facial hair to climb onto his shoulder. As an owner of a beard myself, this part of the game was really funny to me. I kept imagining what it would feel like to have some little dude climbing up my beard, and it just made me smile. If I were Barba, I would've just combed Wander out of there. Forbidden delicacies The flora and fauna of Shadow of the Colossus is sparse. There's so little of it that when you do come across an animal or a lone tree on your way to find the next Colossus, you can't help but stop to look at it. Like, whoa, there are actually living things in this world apart from myself? Even something as insignificant as a tiny lizard will immediately catch your attention. If you try to pick it up, you may accidentally kill it with your sword (oops, sorry little guy!), leaving behind a sliced off tail that just sits there as the rest of the lizard disintegrates. Weird. Might as well just eat that tail, I guess. (Wander is a strange dude.) So you ate the lizard tail, but nothing seems to happen. Why would they even put this in the game? Well, there are two types of lizards in the Forbidden Lands: regular black lizards and white-tailed lizards. If you happen to find a white-tailed lizard, kill it, and eat its shiny white tail, you'll notice your stamina gauge will glow slightly for a bit. The game doesn't really tell you what that means, but the lizard tail essentially boosted your stamina, so now you can hold on to Colossi a bit longer without falling off. You can also find fruit in the scattered trees and bushes which will boost your health. I kinda like that the game doesn't ever explain this to you. It makes it feel like you discovered a secret, and it's reassuring to know that your exploration of the relatively barren wasteland wasn't completely fruitless. Remember me Aside from the lizards, there's another hidden feature in this game that I happened upon by accident. During maybe my second playthrough, I was making my way to the fourteenth Colossus and took a path through the geyser field when something caught my eye: a sort of mound or something that hadn't been there before. When I got closer, I realized it was the remains of Basaran, the ninth Colossus, which I had killed previously. Basaran's corpse had begun to decompose into rock and rubble, blending in naturally as if it had become just another feature of the environment. This discovery took me by surprise, because I didn't realize before that the bodies of the Colossi stayed behind and became a part of the world. I thought that was a really neat touch. I climbed around on Basaran for a bit, and then went to visit some of the other defeated Colossi. When I got to Avion's remains, I absentmindedly hit a button which made Wander bend down in prayer. A text box popped up that said, "Begin Reminiscence Mode?" I didn't know what that meant, but I said yes anyway. And then I got to battle Avion again, with a sepia-toned, old film-like filter over the screen. I thought this was the coolest thing, and I went back and fought all of my favorite Colossi. There's no real benefit to be gained from fighting them again, but I thought it was a neat addition nonetheless. Hang in there Did you ever have those moments where you're on top of a Colossus, doing great, when the Colossus jerks suddenly and flings you off, and as you're falling, out of sheer panic you desperately jam down the grab button and manage to grab hold of a leg or something at the last moment? God, that always felt so amazing! This happened to me a lot while fighting Gaius and Malus, and some of the other more vertical Colossi. It was always such a relief during the encounter with Malus, the final Colossus, because having to start all over from the ground in that fight can be such a pain. It takes forever to get back up to his head. But being flung from the top and grabbing onto his hand or shoulder blade as you're falling through the air just feels incredible, and looks really awesome too! Leap of faith Speaking of moments that feel incredible, there's a move that I learned and perfected for beating Gaius in Hard Time Attack which made me feel like the biggest badass ever. The technique is called the "sword jump." It requires you to jump at just the right moment while standing on Gaius' sword as he pulls it up out of the ground, so that the momentum flings you sky high, allowing you to jump right up to his shoulder, or even his head, without having to climb. Pulling this trick off definitely feels as cool as it sounds! Simply beating Gaius in Hard Time Attack is no easy feat. You only get 5:00 to take him down, and given that you normally have to wait for him to break his armor, then get him to swing his sword down so you can climb it and up his arm, you aren't left with much time to actually attack him once you finally get to his weak spots (which there are three of in Hard Mode). You can probably beat it the normal way if you're lucky enough to find those sweet spots where Wander never loses his balance while stabbing. But if you want to beat it somewhat easily, you pretty much have no option other than using the sword jump technique, because it means you won't have to wait for Gaius to break his armor, and you won't have to waste time climbing up his arm. This leaves you plenty of time to stab, stab, stab. Plus, when you finally pull it off, you'll feel like the coolest dude in the world. So, win-win! Past Experience Points .01: The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask
SotC highlights photo
Thy next foe is...
Experience Points is a series in which I highlight some of the most memorable things about a particular game. These can include anything from a specific scene or moment, a character, a weapon or item, a level or location, a p...

Majora's Mask 3D bosses are considerably different

Jan 27 // Kyle MacGregor
The change wasn't immediately obvious. Odolwa remains a jaunty tribal blade dancer, an imposing figure that towers over Link. That is, until you knock Odolwa down, at which point a large Queen Gohma-like eye is exposed for you to wail on to the tune of massive damage. It seemed like an odd, fairly minor alteration, a thematic link back to the piercing eyes on both Majora's Mask and the sinking moon. The differences didn't end there, though. Upon returning home I picked up my copy of the original game and battled Odolwa while referencing some footage shot by IGN. I noticed a handful of subtle revisions, such as the disappearance of Odolwa's ring of fire and moth attacks. Perhaps they were deemed too frustrating and were removed to create a more streamlined experience. It seems something similar happened with Gyorg, the fishy lord of the Great Bay Temple, who also exhibits a large new eye and distinctive attack patterns in the new game. YouTube channel GameXplain has shared footage of the boss battle, wherein Gyorg swims along the surface of the water, as opposed to deep below, thereby eliminating a frustrating camera issue present in the N64 version. Moreover, the platform at the center of the room is submerged at the battle's climax, forcing Link to transform into a Zora and take on Gyorg in its element. It's likely other tweaks exist elsewhere. At least we needn't wait much longer to find out.
Majora's Mask 3D bosses photo
Odolwa and Gyorg kitted out with new patterns, weird eyes
The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D is more than just a simple port. The portable remaster introduces sweeping changes, like adding fishing holes, apparently. Other things too, probably. We can't divulge everythin...

Experience Points .01: The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask

Jan 24 // Ben Davis
Green around the gills One of Majora's Mask's most unique features is Link's ability to transform into various races by wearing certain masks. Link's Deku and Goron forms are both really awesome for their own reasons, but my favorite has got to be the Zora form. As a Zora, Link can swim quickly and gracefully through the water, gliding around and leaping above the surface like a dolphin! He also gets an electric shield and boomerang fins, which are both quite useful, plus a sweet guitar made out of fish bones. He makes a pretty rad Zora! Swimming in the Zelda series usually becomes a tedious task (I'm looking at you, Ocarina of Time!), but the Zora form makes swimming so much fun that I sometimes went out of my way just to go jump in the water. I spent way too much time in the Great Bay area just goofing off in the sea. I perfected the art of leaping cleanly onto the dock of the marine research lab, tried to see how many dolphin jumps I could do in a row, swam around admiring the coral and seaweed, and generally had a wonderful time. I wish I had a Zora Mask in real life. To the moon The moon is easily Majora's Mask's most striking feature, so I'm sure it comes as no surprise that I'm including it. It's always looming overhead with its unusually creepy face, getting closer and closer to its eventual collision with the town you're staying in. Wherever you are in the game, you can look up into the sky and see this unsettling monstrosity, a constant reminder that you're running out of time. Eventually, you get to travel to the moon's... surface? Insides? I'm not really sure, but wherever it is, it's one of the most disturbingly serene locations in a videogame ever. The area consists of a single, giant tree on a bright, sunny hill, with a group of strange children running around wearing the masks of the bosses you've defeated. The first time I saw this place, I was taken aback by the simple absurdity of it all. I didn't know what to make of it, but I was also so enraptured by the sudden peacefulness that I ended up just wandering around in awe at the beautiful landscape, yet I couldn't shake the feeling that something was off about the place. It's so unexpected and surreal, and I absolutely love it! Papers, please! If you happen to be staying at the Stock Pot Inn and need to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, you might be in for a nasty surprise. The inn's toilet is residence to a mysterious, nocturnal... hand? Surely there's a body that the hand belongs to, but you never see it. The grimy hand gropes around the bathroom asking for toilet paper, which you can bring it as part of a side quest. Surely this person needs more than just toilet paper, though. I'm sure they could probably use some help getting out of the toilet and directions to the nearest shower, for example. The toilet hand is so mysterious that it leaves me with way too many unanswered questions. Who does the hand belong to? How did they get into the toilet? How has no one else at the inn noticed this yet? Why is there only one toilet in the entire inn? I mean, I REALLY had to use the restroom, but I guess I'll just hold it until morning... Giving Link bunny ears Anyone who has played Majora's Mask probably spent the majority of the game wearing one mask in particular: the Bunny Hood! Not only is it adorable to see Link wearing bunny ears, which sway back and forth whenever he moves, but it also doubles his running speed. And in a game where you're often traversing large, open areas, it's insanely useful. Most masks are meant for specific situations, but the Bunny Hood is useful for just about any part of the game. I almost never took it off while in human form, unless I had to. If only more open-world games had Bunny Hoods... Whenever I replay Majora's Mask, I always make it my first order of business after leaving Clock Town to go track down the Bunny Hood. Luckily, it's not too difficult to acquire. You just have to wait until the third day to access the farm so you can play with the cuccos while wearing the Bremen Mask, which you can get by talking to Guru-Guru at the Laundry Pool. Then you can speed around the world to your heart's content! The Dance of the ReDead ReDeads are arguably the creepiest enemies in the Zelda universe (save for maybe the Dead Hand). Their horrible shrieks freeze Link in place, allowing them to slowly amble up and give him a big old hug of death. The sound alone sends shivers down my spine, and their frightening appearance only makes matters worse. In Ocarina of Time, you had to run around them quickly, and pray that they didn't see you. Luckily, Majora's Mask offers you a way to sneak past them and avoid detection, and it just so happens to be the most hilarious thing in the game! If you don any of the three monster masks (Gibdo Mask, Garo's Mask, or Captain's Hat), the ReDeads will apparently see you as one of their own. With no heroes of time in the vicinity, the monsters will drop their guard and suddenly break into dance. It's shocking to see such terrifying monsters suddenly become so carefree and jubilant, while their faces remain hollow and soulless. Though I must admit, they've got some nice moves! The soothing sounds of the Song of Healing All of the music in Majora's Mask is pretty great, but my favorite song by far is the Song of Healing. The Song of Healing is one of the tunes Link can learn, which you play throughout the game to heal tormented souls, usually granting you a new mask. It's such a beautiful, calming melody that I can't help but linger in certain areas a bit too long just to listen to the music. I probably stood around in Pamela's house a good ten minutes after healing her father because the music was so lovely, and it made the moment that much more powerful. It also plays inside the clock tower, where the Happy Mask salesman stays, but then you have to hang out with the Happy Mask salesman, and nobody wants that... Oddly enough, the song can also be used to fix broken signs, in case you carelessly slice one in half with your sword. I guess inanimate objects need healing sometimes, too. Anju & Kafei This is likely everyone's favorite side quest, and for good reason! It requires you to spend all three in-game days focusing on this one quest, and it doesn't end until there are only a few seconds left (or one hour, in game time) until total annihilation as the moon collides with Clock Town. But it results in one of the most memorable, emotional scenes in the game. Once you've acquired Kafei's Mask, you can begin the quest by speaking with Anju, a friendly woman who works at the inn. She asks you to deliver a letter to Kafei, her fiance, who has disappeared. Eventually you find Kafei, who appears to be a young boy hiding behind a mask. You learn that he was once an adult, but the Skull Kid cursed him to make him look like a child. A thief also stole his Sun Mask, which is an important part of the wedding ceremonies in Termina. So out of shame due to his appearance and lack of a Sun Mask, Kafei decided to go into hiding. After a series of events, you will recover Kafei's lost mask. With the mask back in his possession, Kafei finally comes out of hiding and returns to Anju at the inn. Even though he's much younger now, Anju recognizes him immediately and forgives him for disappearing. The two exchange masks and officially become a married couple, with Link as the sole witness. It's just about the happiest moment in the game, yet also bittersweet. Sadly, you only have a few seconds to admire the union before you must turn back the clock, erasing the moment from history. That is, unless you're ready to book it to the clock tower and beat the game right then and there, so that Anju and Kafei can really live happily ever after. And let's face it, that's really the only correct way to beat Majora's Mask!
Majora's Mask highlights photo
You've met with a terrible fate, haven't you?
Experience Points is a series in which I highlight some of the most memorable things about a particular game. These can include anything from a specific scene or moment, a character, a weapon or item, a level or location, a p...

I know how to save Call of Duty in a post-Advanced Warfare world

Jan 16 // Nic Rowen
[embed]286278:56923:0[/embed] Timecop it out Ok, so you're Infinity Ward. You've spent the last two years eating shit over how much of a letdown Ghosts was. You need to rally, you need to get back to the core of what people love about CoD. You're thinking of going back to the well, maybe another Vietnam game, or something set in the '80s. People love that '80s shit. Or God forbid, some focus-test fiasco told you THIS was the time to head back to WWII, “the audience is totally ready for it!” You need to pull a Timecop. Timecop is a forgettable relic of mid-'90s cinema. The last desperate throws of the '80s tough-guy flick starring a leading man who barely rates as a punchline these days. A film you would have rented with the express intent of getting boozed up with your friends and unloading your own slurred, half-clever, MST3K commentary on. But the opening scene of Timecop is brilliant. A brief flash of what could have been a much more interesting movie before Van Damme takes the wheel and swerves the bus into a drainage ditch. A group of Confederate soldiers carrying gold bars for General Lee (who presumably intends to melt them down and stamp them into musket-balls or something) are held up by a lone cowboy-looking dude. Despite featuring the accent and dentistry of the era, the cowboy whips out two futuristic sub-machine guns and ventilates the lot of them in less than a second. It's a great scene because it sets up the entire premise so succinctly. Criminals have time travel, they can plan and commit crimes based on specific historic knowledge, and they have the tools and equipment to utterly dunk on the pathetic lawmen and soldiers of the day. So take your three-quarters built WWII game and flip the premise on its head. You're a soldier sent back in time to deliver an exo-skeletal beat-down to the third Reich before it can ever inspire the rise of a fourth in whatever crazy future you're from. Just take the game as it is, give the player character a jet-pack and a laser gun, and let them loose on the Battle of the Bulge. Videogames are power fantasies after all, and that sounds like a pretty fun power fantasy to me. I want to grapple-hook to the very top floor of the Reichstag, smash through one of those red-bannered windows, and cave in Hermann Goering's jowls with a mechanized right hook. I'd love to clown all over the Vietcong by flying over their bamboo spike traps with rocket boosters, flushing them out of their sniper roosts by burning down the jungle with a wrist-mounted microwave emitter. Make the multiplayer kill-streaks a race to rip open time portals to replace your Tommy guns and potato-masher grenades with plasma-casters and fission-powered smart-mines. I mean, I'm sure that the idea of a futuristic soldier fighting an entire army of outdated historical soldiers has never been done before. Right? Thine liege Lord sounds the horn of battle, whilst thou answer the Call of Duty? Ok, you're Treyarch, Black Ops 3 is well underway but you've still got time to pivot, still have time to grab the rudder and steer the ship to a bold new course. Screw trying to imitate what Sledgehammer has done. You're leaders, not followers. If anything, they just bit off the future-tech craze you started in Black Ops 2. It's time to flip the table over, to do the wild and unexpected, to prove you're the CoD development house with the biggest balls and the most nerve. It's time to go medieval on their asses. If people thought jetpacks were cool, wait till they ride into battle on a motherfucking horse. Steal whatever “thunder” Chivalry has and craft the finest first-person melee combat simulator the world has ever seen. Create a silky smooth, 60 FPS, beheading experience where you charge into battle with swords, spears, and cudgels. Screw all that “360 no-scope” rubbish, it's time to make the struggle real again. No more camping out in a power position, it's time to beat your berserker warrior chest, get right up in someone's face, and mash on the STAB button until something dies. You're going to hear a lot of shit. That the gameplay is a chaotic mess, that 16-person multiplayer simply doesn't work when everyone just charges across a field wildly swinging the fastest weapon they can. That your pre-planned “Classic Map Pack” DLC doesn't make much sense anymore and it looks weird to have men-at-arms marching down the streets of Nuketown. That the “catapult barrage” kill-streak is completely unbalanced. Don't worry about it, just block them all out and know you're doing the best thing you can for the franchise. Game of Thrones is the hot thing these days right? The kids are all about knights, and dragons, and incest, and you don't want to be left behind. It's time to bring the war maul of the CoD franchise down on everyone and show them what Historical Warfare is all about. (Well, except maybe the incest thing, marketing is having a shit over it and Australia is already saying they'll refuse to rate the game. You'd think we were talking about cleaning out an airport worth of innocent civilians or something.) Fuck it, just make them all dogs “We worked for years on Ghosts and all people liked about the game was the fucking dog. I missed my kid's birthday, on consecutive years. I haven't seen a movie since... Wow, I haven't seen a movie since The Dark Knight was playing in theaters. The other day a co-worker asked me something, and instead of trying to turn my head to respond, I moved my mouse to the right and was surprised when my view didn't change. Seriously, I sat there waggling my wrist wondering why my mouse was broken for a few seconds before I realized what the hell I was doing. I've given my life to this series and. All. They. Liked. Was. The. Fucking. Dog. Give the babies what they want then. Call it Collar of Duty, Call of Doggy, Advanced Tail-wag, or whatever cheeky name the internet came up with. I just want to see my family again. Maybe we can get some co-marketing synergy going. A DLC pack to play as the Valiant Hearts dog, or maybe Kojima will let us use Snake's new wolf-puppy if we trade him for the phone numbers of all the Hollywood guest stars that have been in our ads. Does anyone remember Balto? We could get him, Bolt, Lassie, and Beethoven to appear in the zombie mode if everyone signs off on it... Whatever. Pass me the bottle, I'm so sick of making these games...”
Call of Duty photo
A victim of its own success
“I don't think I can ever go back to the old style of Call of Duty.” I've heard some variation of that sentence at least once per week since the launch of Advanced Warfare, and if I were Treyarch or Infinity Ward...

Predicting Nintendo's next big crossover

Jan 09 // Kyle MacGregor
The ideal Nintendo vs. Capcom's nonexistence is the crying baby in the airplane of my soul. It's dreadful. Every moment this doesn't happen is a moment wasted, another second closer to death. It's the Ross and Rachel plotline of videogames. You're perfect for each other. What are you waiting for? The likely outcome Maybe I discharged the Friends reference to soon. Mario and Sonic are the "will they/won't they" story of the ages. Can't you see it? The beloved mascots frolicking hand in hand through Green Hill Zone... It's the stuff of dreams! Hopefully the plump plumber can keep up with the blue blur. Other possibilities Oracles huff toxic gas for a living; not all of their ideas are always lucid and scintillating. Maybe she maunders the days away with visions of Pikmin: Total War and Kirbymari Damacy playing in her head. Or perhaps its Tales of Fire Emblem her heart desires. Wait, wait! Jot these down! The dark horse "Metroidvania" is a term people bandy about a lot. Nintendo and Konami should get together, copyright the word, and charge a nickel every time it's uttered. Or, you know, they could make a game where Samus crash-lands on a planet teeming with vampires. That would be just spiffy. Final destination Wario and Lara Croft both share an affinity for plundering treasure. It's a match made in heaven.
Nintendo crossovers photo
It's prognostication time
Somewhere on the slopes of Mount Nintendo there's an oracle that straddles a chasm wherefrom vapors emerge. She speaks in tongues, relying on an intern to interpret her enigmatic ramblings. The system has its misfires (this i...

My name is Brittany and I'm a gaming sadist

Jan 06 // Brittany Vincent
Any human empathy I have for my fellow man drains upon the information that one has knowingly and intentionally harmed an animal. I can cope with violence, but once it falls upon the head of a living creature who arguably has little by way of protecting itself, I crumble. I become the staunch animal rights activist who would jump in front of a car before harming the trembling little Lab pup I caught a glimpse of in the veterinarian's office. Yet, I have my own history of violence against other living beings in the virtual space. That's right. I've abused humanoid beings and other creatures in videogames. And, for some reason, I don't feel even the least bit concerned about doing so. I can't stand it when my Sims live fulfilling lives. I like to drown patrons of my parks in Roller Coaster Tycoon. As I've grown up, I've murdered hundreds of digital citizens for a few quick chuckles. But, when I was a little girl, I loved to mistreat Norns, the stars of 1997's Creatures, the most. Call me sadistic, but there's something inside me that drives me to bend the rules of every simulation title so that the objective becomes treating the game's inhabitants the worst I possibly can. It's invigorating. Feels good to rebel. The game wants me to create and nurture, but I want to wreak havoc and destroy everything. It's fulfilling to me. So, while my heart bleeds for the helpless animals I see lying in filth, malnourished, and otherwise neglected on the ASPCA commercials on television, I just can't bring myself to care about the strange Norns or their way of life. In fact, I wanted to ruin their lives so much that later on in my days of PC gaming, I began to willfully terrorize the innocent little beings. Though I would purposefully withhold food from my Babyz and unleash daily apocalypses on the unsuspecting citizens of Sim City, I never thought much of it. I really had it out for these furry little Norns though, and I was perfectly okay with driving them to an early grave. I have no idea why these helpless, innocent little buggers drove me to hurt them so. Maybe I was irritated because of their helplessness. Perhaps it was their grating voices, a cross between baby talk and Furbish. Or maybe it was the "deer in the headlights" look their freakishly large eyes had, staring deep into my soul with mind-numbingly bright smiles and ridiculous hairstyles -- particularly the blonde female Norns. I'll never know for sure what sparked this madness in me, as I wouldn't think of doing such a thing with a living animal or fellow man. I believe to this day, as someone who seeks out new experiences and other points of view to both observe and learn, I never felt the familiar pangs of guilt one would imagine because of my ability to clearly separate video game from reality -- something most of the world believes youths do not possess. But I know I do, and I know it's as easy as disconnecting from the real world, suspending belief for a few precious moments, and trying things you ordinarily would not. It requires a bit of familiarity with Creatures' creatures to understand my tendencies. Released in 1997 from Mindscape, Creatures took place on the fictional world of Albia, a disc-shaped world previously inhabited by a race of beings known as the Shee. After the Shee left for greener pastures, new inhabitants (presumably the player) traveled to the planet to introduce brown, furry deer-like Norns into the environment. Players were tasked with hatching the Norns from large multicolored eggs with an intubator, teaching them to speak, feed themselves, interact with other Norns, and defend themselves from slimy, green, lizard-like creatures known as Grendels. Creatures was remarkable in that, by breeding these interesting little beings, traits could be passed on from parent to offspring in ways that even the creators of the game could not exactly foresee. Small retained traits such as hair style, hair color, mannerisms, and different mutations in colors were seen, and for an earlier PC-life simulation title, it's fascinating what all could be done. That is, if you actually played the game the way it was meant to be played, which I did not. The game graciously offered up ways to help ingrain your Norns with activities of daily living, such as using a machine conveniently placed in the game's first open area to teach them basic words, items, and concepts. This was accomplished via flashing an action or an item on-screen and letting the Norn repeat it, much like with human children. Words were expressed aurally with a strange combination of higher-pitched nonsense syllables and actual word visuals inside balloons. To teach Norns different words to add to their vocabularies, you needed to type in your desired actions, names, or item descriptions. As I found the Norns wandering away to be left to their own devices while I was holding useful lessons, this began to wear on my nerves. I didn't understand why those "stupid things" (as I complained to my father) wouldn't sit still and learn how to say hello and goodbye. I soon learned that I could "slap" the Norns (and also show physical affection to reinforce positive learning) if they misbehaved. To keep them in place while I attempted to teach them what a carrot was and that they should eat it, I was slapping every second as soon as it looked like they'd stray. They'd fall on their bushy little tails and I'd guffaw. I would also purposely begin teaching them the wrong words by way of the learning computer in the main area of Albia just so I could slap them for getting the question wrong. And, I didn't care. I'd make sure the Norns, looking at my hand-shaped cursor, learned their "names." I'd type "Stupid" or an equally unimaginative word such as "Farthead" to get back at them for being so ignorant in their own way. It made me laugh until I thought I'd fall out of my computer chair, and I'd go back to continually smacking them until they repeated their names back to me, followed by a word like "honey" or "carrot." I'd take every bit of food in their reach and hide it near an underground cave, where they'd never be able to access it unless I chose to take them there. You can see that in the header image, actually, where I've hidden all the food, toys, and beverages the Norn could possibly get to if I looked away for a moment.  I hatched a few more Norns for variety. Eventually I had a few Brady Bunch characters, Sailor Senshi, and Fartheads wandering around Albia. And then they started breeding, which only sought to infuriate me. When I began finding eggs from my "partnered" Norns, characterized by kissing noises and a distinct popping sound, I was irate. How DARE they? I went ahead and hatched the eggs, but made sure that the children of my adolescent Norns were kept as far as possible from their parents. It only seemed right that I should punish them for daring to have a bit of fun in the world I carefully orchestrated to perpetuate their misfortune. One day, startled, I realized I had felt the tiniest bit of remorse. It almost frightened me, washing over me in such a way that I couldn't understand how I could have ever been such a vile mistress to these helpless creatures. I began attempting to play the game "correctly." I had perused many a online forum full of tips and tricks on how to make my version of Albia thrive, and I wanted to be successful. For a while, I worked hard at getting them to listen, attempted to teach them how to defend themselves against the Grendels, and even made use of some of the tools in-game to aid the Norns, such as herbs to cure illnesses and general malaise. Well, that is until I discovered the poisonous herbs. That's where the destructive cycle began anew. So, my continual torture of the Norns marched on for months on end. I thought nothing of the brief feelings of shame that had surfaced upon my sudden realization. I had found a new method of torture, and it continued to entertain me. My Norns would suffer, and I would laugh. After some housecleaning, a move, and the start of a particularly stressful school year, I lost track of where I kept Creatures and its expansion pack, Life Kit #1. The years passed and the series saw subsequent sequels and even children's spin-offs. Every time I think of Beowulf I can't wipe the image of a disgusting green beast from my mind, terrorizing the Norns after I unleashed one in their vicinity. Whenever a conversation turns to sim games, I think back on my time with the original game in the series. And, as I write this, I think of the fun that could be had with the newer games and the different races and items that have been added since my time in Albia. But I still don't feel bad about it. Not one little bit.
Sadism in gaming photo
Absolute power corrupts absolutely
I ventured out to the vet's office a few weeks ago with a Miniature Pinscher in tow. Sam Fisher (the same of Third Echelon fame), my beloved pup, was to see the doctor for a regular checkup and heartworm test. While waiting i...

Gaming resolutions I'll strive to keep in 2015

Dec 31 // Brittany Vincent
I will stop trying to solo every single MMO I play.  What can I say? I'm a lone wolf. And yet, I enjoy playing MMOs, like World of Warcraft. But the catch is I would always rather play alone. It's not that I have anything against other players. I'm just a firm believer in the fact that you can only rely on yourself in certain situations, and when you're trying to level a character past its teens and others keep reaping the rewards of your hard work, playing a game very quickly turns into a slog rather than an enjoyable hobby. Still, it's the nature of the MMO to play with others. To get the most out of any of them you need to open up and let other people in. I'll give it the old college try (beyond friends and whatnot, anyway) and start putting myself out there. Probably. Maybe.  I will stop expecting the free-to-play model to improve. It's not going to. End of story. As long as people are paying to break blocks in Candy Crush Saga or whatever clone they're addicted to at the moment, this model will only expand and evolve. I will no longer look upon these titles with disdain or contempt and will simply understand that they're part of an ecosystem that's beyond me. But, just like I was quoted as saying back at PAX East 2010 as I was shoehorned into the "girls and gaming" panel (shocker, I'm a woman!) social gaming is real gaming, and people who enjoy these types of diversions are "real" gamers, for whatever that's worth. Far be it from me to keep them from what they enjoy. I will attempt streaming games again. Real talk, I think streaming personalities are some of the most abrasive out there in the world of gaming, especially so-called "pro gamers" who aren't any better than the five-year-old Tetris savant next door. I'm sure there are plenty of entertaining personalities out there, and there's no doubt money to be made from it. We're all trying to make that scrilla scratch, and I ain't even mad. But when all you have to offer are spoken memes or quips about how old school you are, you're not entertaining me. So I'll put my money where my mouth is and stream some gameplay this year at some point, and not League of Legends or whatever's hot for the cool e-Kids. I may not have a catchphrase or legions of fans, and I'm not fantastic at the games I'll choose to play. But I'll interact with people and make an honest attempt at being someone you'll want to catch on stream regularly. I just need to figure out when. I will channel my anger about various annoyances into getting better at the games I enjoy. It's easy to sit around being irritated at those AT&T commercials where that couple comes in with a baby looking for more data or minutes for their cell plan or whatever and the sales associate is impeccably dressed, attentive, and whispering to the whispering parents, which is in every single way a ridiculous and pandering commercial to extremes I cannot fathom. But it's harder to take that bottled-up rage and use it to focus on making myself better -- either in general or within the games I enjoy the most. Practice makes perfect, and I could research strategies to improve my StarCraft II matches or my Mario Kart 8 racing skills. I focus so much on completing the games in my never-ending back-avalanche that I don't concentrate as much on grinding my opponents into dust. I need to find a healthy outlet in which I can channel all of my disdain for people who use the word "preggers" and PR representatives who think we actually need trailers for trailers.  I will stop immediately deleting emails about Kickstarters for games that I'll never play. Well, this one is only partially true. I can only commit to giving them at least a quick glance before sending them to the circular file. I love and support the fact that nearly anyone can create a game these days and find the funding they deserve, but I deserve an inbox not cluttered with desperate pleas for my attention, games writer or not. I do browse Kickstarter for awesome projects, so when there's something that strikes my fancy I like to bring attention to it when I can. Oh, and that image is an old illustration of Mighty No. 9, one of the only two Kickstarters I've ever backed: that one and another one to be nice, but will probably never play again in my life. There are some genuinely interesting projects on there, but I'll find them or they'll find me. But still -- cursory glance over the email, then delete...only if you don't spam my personal email, my LinkedIn mail, Twitter DMs, and my Facebook. To those who do that, what is wrong with you? I'll stop pretending I have a Persona 4 waifu.  I just don't, okay? I don't like any of the Persona 4 characters all that much. Love the game. Don't get me wrong. I'm more of a Mitsuru girl, anyway.  I will keep an open mind.  This isn't so much a change as something I'm pledging for myself. I want to keep an open mind as to which games I cover, purchase, support, and follow. Maybe this is the year I'll get into a MOBA I previously hated. I might decide to delve deeper into the Dynasty Warriors series or dig through my massive backlog for a series I've not given a chance before, like Gabriel Knight. I might even look into one of the many 99-cent indie titles floating around the internet that looks terribly unappealing and discover a modest little secret I want to share with the entire industry. Whatever happens, I'm excited to be taking yet another ride in the Merry-Go-Video-Game-Industry, no matter how far removed of a cousin I may be. 
New year resolutions photo
Which one will stick?
No one ever keeps resolutions. I tell myself every January that I'm going to stop inspecting cheese for fingerprints before putting it on a sandwich or that I'll actually start wearing something other than sweatpants and a ho...

Kyle MacGregor's sexy picks for Game of the Year 2014

Dec 21 // Kyle MacGregor
Never Alone: Kisima Inŋitchuŋa Never Alone isn't a terribly good game, but the concept more than makes up for any of its technical shortcomings. Getting to learn about the Iñupiat people and other Alaska Native cultures is one of the more meaningful interactive experiences to be had in 2014. This is a project I respect, appreciate, and want to see more of in the future. I'm hopeful Never Alone will give other indigenous tribes from similarly remote corners of the globe the opportunity to share their stories with the world. We will be richer for it. Helen's Mysterious Castle You've probably never heard of Helen's Mysterious Castle. That's okay. This role-playing game is by far the most obscure name on my ballot, coming from Japanese indie developer Satsu.  Helen's Mysterious Castle may not look like much, given it was created using RPG Maker, but this is a game with a lot of heart. It's synchronously deconstructive and progressive, compelling players to be calculating and defensive like few RPGs before it. Oh, and it's pretty hilarious, too.  Bayonetta 2 Platinum Games knows how to make action games and Bayonetta 2 might just be the studio's magnum opus. This insane battle between Heaven and Hell demands your attention. OlliOlli OlliOlli has been a mainstay in my rotation since its debut on PlayStation Vita this January. It boils the joy of skating games down to its essence, siring an experience so addictive and rewarding you can pick it up for a moment only to lose hours tricking and grinding along rails. Bravely Default Creators often feel the need to reinvent the wheel, throwing out what's worked since time immemorial to craft second-rate facsimiles in the name of "innovation." Bravely Default, on the other hand, takes what made the JRPGs of yore so great and injects contemporary ideas into the mix. The result is something that feels cozily retro, rather than archaic. It's a modern classic. Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth Persona Q shouldn't work as well as it does. It's a fusion of two incredibly disparate types of role-playing games that could have easily mixed like oil and water, but it's fantastic. Etrian Odyssey and Persona are nothing alike, but fit together like two sides of the same coin. Atlus can do no wrong. Terra Battle Terra Battle is my jam. Yeah, that game with ads plastered all over the site. It's actually good, guys! Mistwalker really blew me away with this mobile strategy game. I love it to death. It's become something of an obsession, really. I might have poured more time into flanking monsters in this tile-based RPG than I've spent with any other game on this list. Drakengard 3 Drakengard 3 is sort of bad. It definitely has problems. But these are my personal favorites, not a list of games with the best frame rates. The storytelling and characterization here are fantastic. This might be the only game released in 2014 that consistently had me in stitches. Astebreed I can't say "Astebreed" with a straight face, but it's a damn fine shmup with many wonderful qualities. Its dynamic camera gives the experience a raw cinematic quality. Panning around cosmic battlefields and shifting between angles, it evokes memories of Einhänder, Radiant Silvergun, and Sin & Punishment all in the space of a few moments. Persona 4 Arena Ultimax Persona 4 Arena is one of my favorite fighting games ever, and Ultimax takes it up a notch. Arc System Works and Atlus are masters of their respective crafts, and to see them come together and collaborate on something that highlights their unique strengths is a real treat.  Dark Souls II Dark Souls II grabbed me from the outset and didn't let go until I saw the credits roll. Actually, even then it still had its talons in me. From Software really knows how to make an engrossing RPG. Shovel Knight It was love at first sight when I laid eyes on Shovel Knight at PAX East nearly two years ago. It made me feel like a kid again, seeing videogames for the very first time. Then I played the demo and talked to the good people at Yacht Club Games. The connection only grew stronger. You can feel the love in Shovel Knight. It's something its creators firmly believe in, something they've poured their hearts and souls into, something they've obviously wanted to make all their lives. Upon seeing that first slice of Shovel Knight, I had some pretty lofty expectations for the game. But, it delivered. And then some. It's by far my favorite game of 2014. Bravo!
Kyle's Goaty photo
Hyper Kawaii Suplex Hold
And, suddenly, another year passed us by. It seems like 2014 had only just arrived, and already it's being hauled away, kicking and screaming, never to be seen or heard from ever again. It's important that we take this time t...

Dear devs, stop it with tutorials all the way through the game

Dec 07 // Nic Rowen
Shadow of Mordor is just the most recent and notable culprit of a crime we've seen repeated again and again in recent years - games that go out of their way to include a direct tutorialization of mechanics you've probably already used a ton of times right up to the game's final moments. I cringe every time it happens and wonder how and why this is a thing. I'll forgive it if you have a real game-changer of a mechanic. If some ability or tool only appears in the later part of a game because of plot or balance reasons, it might make sense to give the player a heads-up about it. Say for example, when Talion's ability to drain an orc turns into his ability to brand one and bend him to his will. Sure, that's a big mechanical change that occurs as a result of the game's natural plot. Go ahead and tutorialize that. But dedicating missions to learning how to ride the same beasts you've been taming since your first hour of playtime? Or instructing you on the finer points of slaying the same Ghul Matron monster you've probably annihilated in a few side-missions already? Ridiculous. It just kills all the momentum for me. A big fat ugly reminder that “YOU ARE PLAYING A VIDEOGAME!” So much for all that willing suspension of disbelief and investing in a fantasy world. If you're making a game and realize that, oh shit, you've made 8 hours worth of content already and still haven't included a mission that primarily revolves around X-mechanic, maybe you don't need that mission. If you couldn't find a non-intrusive way to slide that idea into the first third of the game, it probably isn't all that important. If this is a problem that is happening multiple times in your game, maybe its just too full of stuff. Or, maybe you just don't give your players enough credit to figure things out on their own. I guess it bugs me in particular with Mordor because Monolith already found the perfect way to non-intrusively teach things with an easy-to-use two-pronged attack: 1) Make those tools available to the player early and provide opportunity to use them organically. 2) Slide those mechanics into optional, but attractive, side-missions. Mordor slightly stumbles on the first point but does well enough. Some powers and abilities are tied to mission progress, sometimes sensibly, other times seemingly arbitrary. But most of the cool toys can be unlocked and used by the player as he or she deigns to, or at least are unlocked fairly early. They nail the second part though. Seeded throughout Mordor are plenty of side-missions and challenges that are just entertaining enough to entice most players to give them a try. They offer unique situations and dilemmas to solve using the available tools with extra bonus conditions that encourage players to approach them in a particular, often more difficult, way. They're a fun distraction and test of the player's abilities in their own right, but also offer fun stat boosting rewards and cooler looking re-forges of your weapons to boot. Well done Monolith. So why put in so many late-game tutorials? Why not just leave it up to those side-missions and the player's natural curiosity to figure these things out? All of this is ignoring the simple fact that some things are just better left to players to find out on their own. Not EVERY SINGLE mechanic has to be explicitly laid out, broken down, blue-printed, and reassembled in front of a player's eyes. It turns out, we actually like figuring this stuff out on our own. I played through the entirety of Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater, no exaggeration, at least ten times. Know why I kept coming back? Because the game just kept giving. Now MGS might seem like an odd example to hold up in comparison since the series is known for <DREET, DREET> chiming in with a codec message every three seconds with some “helpful tip,” but hear me out. For all the helicopter-parenting Snake's support staff is guilty of, there are at least twice as many things to discover on your own in that game as they hand-hold you through. Every playthrough I discovered something new to Snake Eater that I didn't know before. Maybe a major thing, like a weapon or movement technique I somehow missed on my first few playthroughs. Or something small and disposable, like one of Kojima's cheeky little gags, or some sly film reference buried deep inside a codec conversation. But most of all, I kept finding all these neat game mechanics and little tricks. “Oh, turns out you can interrogate enemies into giving you artillery codes, that's neat.” “Hey, the knife is super effective against The Fury!” “Hah, you can trick enemies into eating spoiled food if you destroy the ration sheds.” “Oh my god, you can kill The End before you even face him in a boss fight, holy shit!” I think it is a beautiful and wonderful thing when games are packed with content, but it's left for the players to find and unearth, not beaten over the players head. Don't make me quote from the scriptures of Dark Souls. *puts on ceremonial Sun Robes and begins to praise vigorously* You don't need tutorials if your game is interesting enough to encourage players to experiment. Especially these days, in the era of YouTube and Steam guides being available WHILE PLAYING with the press of a button. You can offload the slow, cumbersome, drudgery of tutorial work to the organic nature of the gaming community. People will find these tricks and mechanics on their own and spread them around, don't worry about it. Instead, worry about paying off for all the set-up and tutorial hoops you had players jump through in the FIRST HALF of the game, instead of setting up more motherfucking hoops.
Tutorial blues photo
You have to graduate sometime
“THA'S HOW YOU RIDE A CARRRRRAGOR!" Yeah, thanks asshole. I've already done this like two dozen times. You might have noticed I rode up to your mission marker ON a Caragor. “WHEN UN' ORC IS DOWN, THA'S WHEN YOUR C...

For the love of God, please, no: Horrible game marketing strategies, part one

Nov 30 // Brittany Vincent
[embed]284390:56493:0[/embed] A great video game trailer is hard to come by. We may think we've seen the best of the best, but in all honesty the majority of them rely on the same formula to push copies. These days, all it takes is music. Most common is the "angsty" cover of a classic song. This can be applied to any games containing even a minute amount of "gritty" content. Also common is the use of rap or rock for games that could probably warrant an angsty cover, but need something "relatable" and "cool" so that people will purchase the product. Remember the Gears of War "Mad World" ad campaign? [embed]284390:56499:0[/embed] What about the Evolve teaser shown below, utilizing an awful-sounding cover of Danzig's "Mother," which has little to do with the game in the first place?  [embed]284390:56483:0[/embed] Most recently, we've got the Dragon Age: Inquisition launch trailer, which relies on "What A Wonderful World" to paint a picture that the game's score could have done beautifully. [embed]284390:56484:0[/embed] Lastly, take the Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare trailer featuring The Raconteurs' "Salute Your Solution" that all but lays out an entirely different Advanced Warfare than players who have actually completed it will know: [embed]284390:56485:0[/embed] If you're not quite sure why this is problematic, take Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare for example. Think about the average consumer who may not follow the Call of Duty series. This is a trailer that relies on live-action footage to tell a false narrative: that war is an exciting, awesome playground where beautiful girls appear to you in the midst of battle while you and your best buddy kick ass and take names. "Salute Your Solution" blares in the background. How much of the things in the trailer do you actually do in the game? Sure, the suits are perfectly fair to show in the trailer, but the creative liberties taken to demonstrate how they work in-game are reprehensible. It's purposefully crafted as-is to promote the image that war is a playground and if you're not hanging out with your buddies in Advanced Warfare, you're missing out. Whatever sells though, right? But what's wrong with a cover? What's wrong with using some of the same tactics that Hollywood does to promote films? Nothing at all -- but given the fact that these are the trailers that pass as "awesome" and "epic" and every other descriptor that's been overused to hell and back, there's a lot we're missing out on. What about the in-game scores composers worked hard to create? And what about the subject matter of the games themselves? By using advertising materials that are incongruous with the tone of the product they represent, customers are basically being subjected to false advertising. If say, the Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare trailer was all I had to go on I would believe that it was a fun, mecha-based, light-hearted shooter, instead of a game that tries its best to inject some thoughtfulness into its campaign. And we can make light of the "pay your respects" scene all we want, but any game that at least makes an attempt to hammer home even an iota of reverence for a fallen soldier shouldn't be painted in this kind of light, no matter how many kids beg their parents in a decrepit mall GameStop to buy the game for them. The same goes for the Gears of War 3 ad campaigns, which contained much more emotionally volatile material than the game ever did. For me, Gears of War 3 was a fever dream in the midst of a testosterone-fueled killfest. But it was no emotional powerhouse, despite the deaths that came out of nowhere. Its ending only left me feeling uncomfortable, like the Gears entered some sort of strange, parallel world in which familiar friends make the ultimate sacrifice and a relatively simple solution saved the day. It was almost as if the trilogy hadn't truly been completed. But forcing tears with imagery akin to a nuclear event? Nothing like the actual game. But to go by the trailer, you'd need a box of tissues at the ready if you were going in guns blazing. And while it didn't use a cover of a memorable song or even a track with vocals in it at all, we can all agree that the ultimate bait and switch of the original Dead Island trailer is one of the most heinous offenders of all time. What's frustrating is that the atrocities don't stop with cover songs. Simply culling from a stable of tried-and-true "classics" is an emergent trend as well. Failing the manipulation of feelings and preying on consumer reactions to the "stark realities" of war and how sad everything is, you've got the other end of the spectrum, where inane statements are crowdsourced from Twitter and YouTube or those that attempt to pack in songs we already sing along to on the radio, like this Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel clip. [embed]284390:56487:0[/embed] It's the same vile path tread over and over, until the final products that come down the assembly line are awesome meme-spouting strips of bacon legen-wait for it-dary epic levels of epic, devoid of any substance, quality, or information needed to lock in an educated purchase. I'm all for having fun and I know marketing's job is all about the almighty dollar, but it's downright disturbing to see things continuing to spiral downward like this.  And it's going to continue, because no one will tell these companies to try harder. A Johnny Cash tune sung by Lorde and tossed over "darker" scenes of a game will inevitably attract droves of players looking for a meatier title that's actually a mindless shooter decked out in the elegant evening wear that is a melancholy trailer. It'll be celebrated and celebrated until the art of the trailer is stripped of any real qualities that could educate or inform the general public about the product being sold and all that's left is a live-action battlefield populated by soldiers muttering "Protip!" each time a bullet whizzes by.  It's getting there. You don't know yet, but it is.  Check back next week for part two!
Game marketing photo
Have mercy.
When I was a young warthog, I didn't know diddly about the games I was buying. I simply made a beeline for the nearest video game section, be it PC or otherwise, and browsed until there was a title that immediately leapt out ...

Why I love The Last of Us multiplayer, in a nutshell

Nov 26 // Kyle MacGregor
Luckily, I'm well-stocked and have a plan. I have a shotgun, body armor, explosives, and a two-by-four if anyone gets too close; I'm a walking arsenal in a world where you're lucky to scrape together a full clip. I have a defensible position, and I've laid trip bombs at the entrances. They'll have to walk through an explosion or two if they want to come get me. That's my hope, at least. My teammate gets picked off out in the open. I'm all alone now. A sinking feeling sets in. My chances of pulling off an unlikely victory are dwindling with each passing second. They could just run out the clock. No, they'll charge my position. Look, here's one coming around the corner.  I surprise him with a shotgun blast to the chest and finish the job with a rifle round. I'm still outnumbered, though, and they now know exactly where I am. Here they come. One sets off a trip bomb, buying me precious time to reload. My latest victim is likely getting healed by a teammate, I surmise. Dare I go for the kill? Sure. What do I have to lose? Woah! As I approach them, a Molotov cocktail flies my way. But the throw is wide. Thank God! Quickly, I return the favor, engulfing the pair in deadly flames. My heart is pounding. Two enemies left. Still outnumbered. Always outnumbered. Twenty seconds. It's do or die. One enemy rushes straight at me. My shotgun makes quick work of him. Now it's mano-a-mano. I see a blip on my radar and dart toward it. There's no time to think. A bomb sails my way. I run through it, desperately, then take an arrow to the chest. My body armor now gone, I manage to get one shot off, lighting up my final foe at point blank. Victory! [embed]284285:56457:0[/embed] The Last of Us multiplayer is filled with little moments like these, harrowing times that see players walk along a knife-edge. Some will snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Others will succumb to the pressure. Maybe they'll just get plain unlucky. Oftentimes it doesn't matter how talented you are. A cohesive team can fell even the toughest of opponents. The outcome really doesn't matter. All I care about is the intoxicating feeling that comes before. The feeling of blood rushing through your veins. The adrenaline. It's the reason I play the game, the reason I shall continue to play it for years to come. Come join me sometime. It's a blast.
The Last of Us online photo
The intoxicating rush of everything hanging in the balance
We're outnumbered, down to our last pair of lives. The clock is ticking, it's as much of a threat to my team's survival as the four armed men bearing down on our position. I don't like our chances, not one bit, but moments like this, they're the reason I play the game.

I never thought Super Mario Bros. would make me so angry

Nov 25 // Kyle MacGregor
I first happened upon this thing years and years ago, strolling down the sun-drenched Santa Monica Pier and into its dingy oceanfront arcade. That's where I discovered this wolf in sheep's clothing, the place I shall return to time and again until I slay the dragon. The affair all started so innocently. "An old Mario arcade cabinet!" I exclaimed, probably, darting over and feeding quarters into the machine. What a thrill it was, playing a game I (seemingly) had played a thousand times before. Experiencing it on something other than a home console felt so new and novel. Oh, little did I know... And then it happened. As I leapt over a familiar goomba, Shigeru Miyamoto reached out from the screen and smacked me right in the face. Mario collided with an invisible block, and was sent careening into the very thing he sought to avoid. It was at that moment I realized this wasn't my Super Mario Bros., but something else entirely. You see, I know this game like the back of my hand. That block wasn't supposed to be there. That subtle difference tipped me off. The arcade version must have been some sort of devilish doppelganger cooked up by the masterminds at Nintendo, a device designed to punish cocky shits like me and extract quarters from wide-eyed souls. As many quarters as possible. Over the years, I've pumped a lot of quarters into that machine, learned its tricks, let it lull me into a false sense of security only to find everything I thought I ever knew flipped on its head. That invisible block was just the canary in the coal mine. Many more surprises awaited me, most notably, changes to the game's warp zones. The Super Mario Bros. I was raised on lets players skip from the the first world to the fourth, and, from there, the eighth and final. This isn't the case in Vs. Super Mario Bros., though. The furthest these well-known secrets will take you is world six. Then things just start getting plain weird. The arcade version poaches levels wholesale from Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels, a game renowned for its extreme difficulty. As you might imagine, this makes finishing it an incredible challenge. One level, in particular, gets me every time. Its massive chasms and springs are difficult to surmount at the best of times, much less playing on some decrepit machine that's been decomposing there for three decades. I've never beaten the game, a sad reality that frustrates me to no end. Sure, I can finish it at home in eight minutes flat, but that blasted arcade machine bests me every time. Maybe one day I'll make an afternoon of it, being patient and frivolous, finding the will to try and try again instead of storming off in disgust upon seeing the words "game over" scroll across the screen. Maybe. I'll definitely keep working at it, though. It's an obsession, something I have to do.
Vs. Super Mario Bros. photo
The arcade port from Hell
In a cramped beachside arcade, sandwiched between Galaga and Mortal Kombat 3, sits my white whale. It's surrounded by restaurants, a roller coaster, churro vendors, and a carousel, this sad little Super Mario Bros. arcade cab...

Flyin' to my heart: Seven videogame songs that actually excite me

Oct 29 // Brittany Vincent
Gitaroo Man - "Flyin' To Your Heart" [embed]282759:56152:0[/embed] "Flyin' to your heart, like a wind into the sea" The upbeat electronic sound effects grab me and don't let up, and the urgency of the lyrics, whether it's the Japanese or English version of the first stage of Gitaroo Man, remind me that special things are on their way. I'd better look my best, strut my stuff, and puff my chest out because things are about to be especially exciting. I still remember listening to this song in the backseat of my parents' car back in 2011 in the days leading up to my first E3. I was pumped. Despite the crushing disappointment of my first trade show, I returned to this song over and over to remind myself that it wasn't the end of my budding career, and I could still be the young writer who was going places. And these days, I come back to it when I'm blow drying my hair and getting ready to go out, even if it's just to Target to pick up some supplies. It awakens something in me. I'm not sure what.  The World Ends With You - "Déjà Vu" [embed]282759:56154:0[/embed] "I don't believe in fantasy..." Sometimes in addition to getting pumped I must also remember that I need a no-nonsense approach to whatever I'm facing. Usually, I let this play when I'm thinking about applying an overabundance of effort when it comes to different situations, like creating a resume for a company I really wanted to work for to reflect the exact structure of one of their reviews, or creating an entire mock magazine for another that looked just like their own publication. I like the transcendent implications and the otherworldly, dreamlike themes of the song, and how beneath the "I'm getting played by you" narrative the song carries, there's an air of defiance. "Turn me into sensation," indeed. Space Channel 5 - "Mexican Flyer" [embed]282759:56155:0[/embed] This is the reason I put some swagger in my walk when I go from my shower to my closet to get dressed for the day, or for when I'm about to go through something difficult, but totally awesome. I imagine strutting just like Ulala down the sidewalk or a store in the mall, or into an interview that I'm totally going to nail. It works even better if I'm with friends, so we can go ahead and summon that entire Space Channel 5 vibe. It's bold and badass, and I love it.  Hotline Miami - "Hydrogen" [embed]282759:56156:0[/embed] I don't go out to clubs or anything of that nature, but if I did I imagine I'd want this type of music to accompany me, especially the beat that kicks in at 1:01. It's nigh impossible to stay in a bad mood when this is blasting from my speakers, and it instantly gets me pumped. Even if I just need to power through a few hundred emails and finish up several reviews and features for the day, a little "Hydrogen" makes it possible.  Bust-A-Groove 2 - "Happy Heart in the Sunshine" [embed]282759:56157:0[/embed] "I've got to get out of this place!" Nearly everything about this bright and cheery song reminds me that it's okay to sit back and appreciate what I have, particularly when I'm excited about seeing someone or going somewhere. Not only that, but the "rambling heart" line resonates with me. This English version of character Shorty's stage in this dance game (one of my personal favorites) takes me back to a simpler time and allows me to look forward and stay positive without being as anxious, and it instills nothing but happiness the entire time it's coming through my speakers. I am sear-ching ev'ry daaaaaaay! We ♥ Katamari - "Disco * Prince" [embed]282759:56158:0[/embed] "Minna daisuki, I love you!"  The buildup to 2:43, where this relaxing Katamari track escalates into pure euphoria is a hilarious amalgam of Japanese and English lyrics before later referencing a classic Katamari tune, "The Moon and the Prince" from the same artist. It's such a bouncy, danceable tune that's even more motivating if you tackle a long project and dance in your seat along to it. Near the end of high school, I thought I was ridiculously clever for using the aforementioned buildup as the voicemail on my Samsung flip phone. The quality was terrible, but I found that I'd call to listen to it during the day when I needed a smile, and it worked. Whatever the future is gonna bring, I'm ready! DDRMAX -Dance Dance Revolution 6thMIX CS - "Kind Lady" [embed]282759:56159:0[/embed] "I'm not like the rest, boy, I'm a kind lady"  First of all, just listen to the song. See if you're not pumped by the "don't you think - don't you think - don't you think" crescendo up until the song begins. Okuyatos, you nailed it. I'll present this one without comment, but know that the "Interlude" version of this song is every bit as awesome if you ever plan on listening to it. 
Seven exciting songs photo
I'm getting played by you, déjà vu
It's tough for me to get excited these days. I ain't jaded, I just hate it. Actually, it's not like I hate everything. I simply feel anxious nearly every waking moment of my life. I need something to look forward to, no matte...

I miss demo discs

Oct 28 // Nic Rowen
For the younger gamers among us, or those who missed the heady days of PS1 and pre-broadband internet PC gaming, demo discs were a phenomenon in the mid-'90s to early 2000s. You'd find them packaged in with gaming magazines, or on a rack next to the checkout at an EB Games for the same price as a single weekend rental, or through weird cross-promotional deals with Pizza-Hut (the guiltiest pleasure). In all honesty, they weren't some grand new invention, just a logical step forward from the shareware floppies of the PC world. But, for gamers raised on consoles to that point (like myself) the entire concept was revolutionary. Instead of just reading a review in a magazine, or watching a 10-second clip of repeating video at the mall kiosk like a hobo, you could actually get your hands on a small chunk of a game and play it for yourself. In fact, you could get your hands on all kinds of games in a single disc! I probably clocked as much time on demo discs as I did on actual games on the PS1. I remember playing the Metal Gear Solid demo (with the Japanese voice actors!) over and over again, wringing every last drop of gameplay from it. I spent hours replaying that 20-minute chunk of the game, finding new ways to mess with the guards, or just having fun leaving foot-tracks in the snow. By the time MGS released, I felt like I was playing a sequel more than anything. Any shump on a demo disc triggered my latent OCD, and usually talked me out of buying the game. I'd spend so much time setting and breaking personal high scores on the demo stage that I never felt the need to purchase the full version. Gimmicky games like Bloody Roar suffered a similar fate; you really only needed to see one or two kung-fu guys turn into a tiger or wolfman mid-fight to appreciate what that series had to offer. It was such a thrilling novelty at the time. In fact, demo discs were one of the main reasons I wanted a PS1 so badly (aside from Final Fantasy VII).   Of course, that all seems wonderfully old timey and folksome now. These days, with every console offering downloads, "beta tests" for multiplayer titles out a month before release, and Steam occasionally offering free weekends with entire full games, it's hard to even remember an era where demos weren't a ubiquitous, expected, and wholly commonplace part of the industry. But if you ask me, it's not the same as it used to was (I say, gesturing wildly with my cane, not noticing that my housecoat has fallen open and I'm exposing my shriveled, long-unused bits to the horrified nurses). It's important to remember that demo discs were a bundle of games, a collection of samples. Nowadays, it's easier than ever to get a trial of a specific game. Maybe too easy. You just go into whatever system you're on, search down the title, and download. You don't need to bother with anything else. Back in my day (spittle dripping down my chin, staining my bib), you ended up playing whatever the hell was on a disc, and you were better off for it. Thanks to demo discs (and juvenile poverty) I played all kinds of games I never would have touched. Back during lean days, demo discs were a godsend of gaming goodness, a way to milk hours of enjoyment from your PlayStation without tossing out another 60 bucks. If something was included on a disc, you were eventually going to play it – no matter how outside your wheelhouse it was. I fondly remember one summer when my brother and I were flat broke. We ended up playing a demo of NHL '98 over and over again, in part because we had exhausted every bit of gameplay from our library and had nothing else to do, and in part because we found out (much to our contrarian horror) that it was surprisingly fun. We would later half-jokingly, half-seriously, float the idea of picking up a copy of it because we enjoyed it so much. I know we weren't the only ones who had our horizons broadened because of demo discs. I'll never forget a surreal Saturday when we were invited to my uncle's house specifically to play PaRappa the Rapper with his whole family. You have to understand, my uncle was not the kind of guy who was down with quirky Japanese rhythm games. He was an old-school adventure and RPG guy, into Kings Quest and Diablo, not animated rapping dogs. But they played PaRappa on a demo disc and ended up madly in love with it, unable to get enough. It represented a sea-change in their home; the PC was banished to the basement office while their PlayStation library seemed to swell every weekend. That PaRappa demo, as odd and silly as it was, opened that whole family up to an entirely new world of gaming. Developers have had a lot of time to recognize and absorb the importance of demos as a marketing tool. As such, they (rightfully) put a lot of work into making them smoothly polished experiences that show off their games in the best possible light. That's all well and good. But goddamn do I miss the wonkiness and sheer silliness of old-school demo disc games.   [embed]283129:56140:0[/embed] Yes, most demos from that era were perfectly fine. But then there were the wonderful exceptions. The sweet beautiful monsters of sublime weirdness that would just leave you speechless and boggled. There is something retroactively charming about demos for games that were only half-cooked. Shown off before they were really ready, featuring placeholder sound effects and UI elements that wouldn't show up in the full release. Or the sloppy, painfully rushed demos that would drop you into the middle of a game with no explanation or context. Like waking up out of a fugue state in the cockpit of a plane, blood all over your hands, smeared on the instruments, people screaming at you to pull up. Have fun! It was a weird peek behind the curtain during a time when the gulf between development and consumer was as wide as possible. It was always fascinating to compare what was cut or changed between a demo and the full release, and speculate on the reasons why. I remember feeling savvy when I started to understand the differences between a good demo and a bad demo from both a consumer and developer perspective. In a weird way, demo discs helped to make me a craftier, more aware, gamer (and I bet I'm not the only one). Yes, demo discs were a promotional tool. And yes, bemoaning their obsolescence is almost as slavishly consumerist as being wistful for the days before PVRs and being able to skip the commercials. Part of me is embarrassed about that. I'm not entirely comfortable with the idea that I really and truly loved some marketing gimmick; my 15-year-old self, clad in a Rage Against the Machine T-shirt, would be mortified. But demo discs were promotional material in the best possible way. We take it for granted now, but being able to try out a game before you plunked down money on it was a fantastic opportunity back then. Honestly, they ended up warning you away from sub-standard titles as often as they sold you on something. They enriched your gaming vocabulary. Demo discs offered select excerpts from a weird smattering of genres and titles you might never have glanced sideways at, building your library with tiny sample-sized portions. People complain that they get into gaming ruts these days, always playing the same sort of thing. I wonder if that would happen as often if they were gently pushed to try other genres like demo discs used to. It's probably just the pleasant fog of early onset dementia, but I would be totally fine with bringing back the demo disc format. Along with spats, The Andrews Sisters, and the rotary telephone.
Demo disc nostalgia photo
Ramblings from the dementia ward
It's hard not to sound like an old man when you go off on something like this. Decrying modern advancement in favor of some kind of nostalgic never-was is always a terrific way to seem out of touch. Intellectually, I know tha...

Not-review: Devil's Dare

Oct 25 // Jonathan Holmes
The game takes place at PAX East during a zombie outbreak, so it makes sense that all four of its playable characters are videogames lovers. Axel even has his own homegrown Hylian shield, Master Sword, and hookshot, though his use for the latter is more inspired by Scorpion than Link. Queenie is the magic user of the group, though you might not guess that at first glance. She looks like a cross between Tron Bonne and Baby Head from Captain Commando. Kingston is a modern-day barbarian. He is the game's tank and resident Golden Axe tribute. Jackson is the baby of he bunch, light and fast, wielding a pair of sais. Though he's not a direct reference to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, it would be easy to see how one might make that connection. Thankfully, Jackson plays a lot better than Raphael did in the TMNT NES game, meaning that he is not the absolute worst character in any action game ever. I still hate you, Raphael. I hate you for life. Devil's Dare uses just two attack buttons, which makes it seem simple at first. That surface-level simplicity makes it all the more surprising when you discover all the little decisions you can make in combat, and how those decisions can kill you. The main twist is the fatality system and the risk vs. reward tradeoff that comes with it. Bring an enemy's health to zero and hit special to do a fatality. Sounds easy enough, but you can only store four special attacks at a time, and you need that meter for other important apocalypse-surviving stuff, like parries and projectiles. Your special meter replenishes automatically at a brisk pace, but new players are likely to find themselves out of meter and running for their lives fast, while veterans will have no problem controlling crowds of zombies while racking up huge fatality counts. Fatalities aren't just for fun. They're also for profit. Pull off a fatality on three or more enemies at a time and it becomes a massacre which, weirdly enough, rewards the player with food and loot. The food may feel important in the moment, but it's the loot you're really need in the long run. Not only do you need loot to buy power-ups and stat boosts, but you also need it to continue. If you go broke, it's game over, permi-death, save file auto-delete. Just like in real life, poverty comes with harsh consequences.  The idea here is to bring back the feeling of "arcade mortality" that comes from having to choose between using your actual money for real-life food or for in-game lives. A lot of brawlers lose that feeling after making their way out of the arcade and into your home. Limited continues just aren't the game, and "pay-to-win" microtransactions are just exploitative and gross. It's no surprise that most arcade-style games don't even attempt to get that "arcade mortality" back. It's not something you can just tack onto a game design. It has to be integrated into the whole experience for it to work.  Secret Base knows this, and has done well to make sure Devil's Dare is fun no matter how much you die. The game has a stage select screen, which helps cut down on repetition. More importantly, the difficulty ramps up dynamically and drastically, regardless of what order you play each stage in. That means if you play the "Train" level first, the stage's Jason Voorhees boss will be a "regular-sized giant" murderer. Play that stage second, and you'll face both "regular-sized giant" Jason and some little baby Jason's helpers at the same time. Take on that level third, and you face an entirely different "gigantic" Jason with huge Splatterhouse-style muscles and all new attacks. Permi-death is scary, but it also rewards you with the opportunity to see a lot of stuff you may not have missed before.  Even if there weren't so many things to discover through replays, Devil's Dare's graphics, music, and game feel make it a joy to play and replay, just for the heck of it. The sepia-toned sprites and cute-yet-gruesome character designs do a great job of being creepy and charming. The music is a mix of sweet and sinister, with ever so slightly dissonant chords joined by spooky, catchy melodies. Subtle touches are added all over the place to make every little event convey impact and gravity. An incidental animation here, a little screen shake there, a quick screen flash after a particularly big attack -- it all adds up to make the game feel alive, even though most of its characters are long dead.  If you hate "cultural reference" humor, you may struggle to get into Devil's Dare at first. The nods to various videogame and movies hit fast and furious in the opening cut scene and tutorial level. That's the only thing that beat-'em-up fans might have to fear before picking up the game. It's a fine example of how to infuse new ideas with old influences to create a game that feels simultaneously fresh and familiar. 
Devil's Dare photo
We walk the streets at night...
[Note: Destructoid's robot mascot, former news manager Conrad Zimmerman, and I appear briefly in the opening cinematic for Devil's Dare. We'll be giving out Steam codes for the game tomorrow on Sup Holmes if you want one.] S...

Lone Survivor is one of my favorite games about psychosis

Oct 19 // Jonathan Holmes
Then again, we all have first hand experience with psychosis. Most people become psychotic at least once every 24 hours. Dreams are psychosis. Your body becomes paralyzed while you're dreaming, in part so you won't be able to act on your psychosis. Our bodies shut down so that our meat and bones can rest, and so our minds can break loose from all the strain it takes to sort out our day-to-day reality.  When you're dreaming, you hear things, see things, and believe in things that could never happen in reality. Sometimes this feels a little weird, but a lot of the times, it all seems totally normal. The same is often true with psychosis. Talk to someone who's actively hallucinating and/or delusional, and they may tell you that there are vampires living in the walls, eavesdropping on your conversation, with the same casual tone they'd use in telling you what they had for breakfast. Delusions and hallucinations are leaks of information that seep into the front of our minds from our brain's back-up storage drive, otherwise known as the subconscious. That's part of why people suffering from delusions often don't think their delusions are that surprising, or that their delusions might not be reality. The fact that there are vampires in the wall is not really new information. It's been in their subconscious all along. The delusion isn't new information. It's old information being processed in a new place. [embed]282748:56023:0[/embed] Lone Survivor's protagonist (and by proxy, the player) shows this kind of casual acknowledgement of unreal situations from the very start, both in dreams and waking life. Instead of questioning why a man with a cardboard box on his head is staring at a corner, he focuses on the delicious espresso on the table. He doesn't even seem to care who the espresso belongs to. He just chugs it down, unconcerned with his surroundings or the ramifications of his actions. Not long after, he faces down a naked, unnaturally shifting man-like thing with the same resigned attitude, in the same way Mario might mutter "whatevs" as he crushes a giant flying turtle under his feet.  The protagonist's demeanor doesn't come off as unusual at first. In the context of a videogame, it makes sense. Videogame characters are notorious for having resigned, nonchalant reactions to completely unbelievable situations. The characters in Resident Evil witness the dead coming back to life, and their response is "What? Well, better keep wandering around and collecting herbs, guys." Solid Snake meets a man that levitates and read his mind, then he kills him. He doesn't seem particularly surprised. Being unimpressed with the impossible is something that a lot of videogame characters share in common with those suffering from psychosis. Its so common in games that we often take it for granted, but if you step back and look at them, it's clear that they're not "in their right minds".  What makes Lone Survivor's protagonist different from other pseudo-psychotic game characters is that when he is faced with little peeks at reality, he doesn't know how to handle it. His everyday nightmarish reality isn't that scary or confusing to him, but talking to a few people at a party is. Living in apocalypse feels right, but a "normal" conversation does not. No wonder he feels like the only "real" person left. His ability to feel close to anyone is being completely disrupted. Surviving a life filled with flesh eating monsters may be a challenge, but having a casual conversation with a guy named Benzido feels impossible.  Maybe that's why he's not motivated to try to "wake up", and instead spends most of the game delving deeper and deeper into his own mind. He has the opportunity to walk among distorted memories and the abstract symbolic visualizations of his psyche in the same way your average person might walk through a hallway. Not only are "real people" hard for him to relate to, but they're also pretty boring compared to the places he go without them. As the game progresses, he uncovers more and more disturbing and fascinating pieces of himself. He engages in moments of terror, and then satisfaction, as he eludes or destroys the revolting threats he's faced with. Everything is gross and awful, but he (and by proxy, the player) can't help but enjoy himself in this world, at least in the moment. Compared to the world around him, he's a hero. He's got it together. He's succeeded in staying alive where everyone else has failed. Grandiose and paranoid delusions tend to make you feel that way.  Things get genuinely difficult when he's forced to question if his own actions are justified. These moments of self-reflection are difficult to understand, uncomfortable, and rarely offer concrete answers, which is maybe why he tends to avoid them. Instead, he marches forward. Shoot the monsters in the head. Eat an entire ham you found in a random apartment. Take some pills out of someone else's sink. It's all totally fine. No guilt here. There may be guilt in other places, in those random flashbacks of a woman, in the relationship he has with that doll, but certainly not in all the pills he's swallowed and all the things he's killed. Though the game never tells you this, what you kill and what pills you take actually do matter. It's easy to run into the game push forward as fast as you can, experimenting with everything you acquire and exploring your ability to survive in as many ways possible. This is also something someone with chronic psychosis might do. Acting on their delusions and fascinations comes first. Making sure they are eating right, getting enough sleep, and other niggling responsibilities we must attend to for our health becomes an after-thought. You can only worry about so many things at once, right? There is a giant throbbing human heart coming out of that wall. That's interesting. The battery in your flashlight is dying and there are monsters in the apartment next door. That's scary. The fact that you haven't eaten all day feels neither interesting or scary. That's reflective of the real underlying problem that the protagonist is up against.  This is one of the big ways Lone Survivor feels like an accurate depiction of psychosis. The things that matter to the protagonist, and often times the player, are not the things that he really needs to stay alive and stay healthy. They are the boring activities of daily life like making sure you drink water every day, that you get enough sleep, that you don't give in to your instinct to kill every time you can, that you overcome your fear of emotional vulnerability and commitment. If you ignore all of that, you'll get one of the "unhealthy" endings. which is likely for anyone on their first play. There are no in-game prompts on "how to win," no clear rules to follow. You have to learn from experiences, which is why I'm grateful for the option try again with New Game+. Its like a reoccurring lucid dream, one that you can eventually "get right" if you try.  I'd love it if moving forward, we have less games that depict "the horror of mental illness" with a muscular masked "maniac" wielding a sharp dangerous object, and more games about what psychosis is usually about -- struggling to take care of yourself due to sometimes terrifying, sometimes beautiful preoccupations. Not only would it be more accurate, but it would be a heck of a lot more interesting. 
Lone Survivor photo
The scariest part is how little you care
[An aside: We're giving out Lone Survivor Humble Bundle and Wii U eShop codes on Sup Holmes today at 4pm EST. Today's guest is Ron Gilbert (Maniac Mansion, Monkey Island). Chuck the Plant appears in both Lone Survivor and Man...

This is why I love Vib-Ribbon

Oct 18 // Jonathan Holmes
[embed]282753:56016:0[/embed] Vib-Ribbon (PS1, PS Vita, PS3, PSP [tested])Developer: NanaOn-ShaPublisher: Sony Computer EntertainmentReleased: December 12, 1999 [PS1], October 17, 2014 [PS3, PS Vita, PSP]MRSP: $5.99 Vib-Ribbon teaches you a new visual language that you must learn in order to progress. The language is made of combinations of loops, spikes, holes, and walls. These are obstacles in the path of Vibri, our hero. First you must learn what button to press when faced with what obstacle, then you must learn to combine button presses when faced with combined obstacles (spiky walls, loop holes, etc). You must press the button on the beat. It's exciting and challenging.  The soundtrack is the real star of the game. It contains six songs. They are performed in the late 90's avant-garde pop-club DJ style (see: Jet Grind Radio). Samples of cute people, pitch-shifted children and tough sounding rappers permeate. Lyrical content includes life, death, shopping, and more. The tempo slows down and speeds up in ways independent of logic. The goal is fun. That's why it happens.  When you get hurt, your world shakes. Eventually, you may devolve from a rabbit man into a frog, then a worm. Do better, and your world gets better, then you get better. Eventually you may become a king.  It's a perfect videogame.  What's not perfect is its presentation on HDTVs. As many of you know, there is lag when playing PS1 games on a PS3 connected to an HDTV. This lag does not make the game unplayable. If you adjust your timing so that instead of pressing the button on the beat, you let go of the button on the beat, you may do better. It also helps that the game is already quite forgiving. It doesn't want to hurt you, so if you play a little off time, it tries not to be too mean about it.  [embed]282753:56017:0[/embed] That changes when you put in a CD. Things are much less forgiving, and unless you adjust your HDTV settings or play on an SDTV, you will lose due to lag. You will be sad. Also, do people still have CDs? I do, but I am old.  I love Vib-Ribbon, but playing it on an HDTV via the PS3 is slightly busted.
Vib-Ribbon photo
Laugh and Beats
Vib-Ribbon is a game by NanaOn-Sha (Parappa the Rapper, UmJammer Lammy) that was originally released on the PS1. It came to the United States for the first time just recently, by way of PSN. The original game allowed you to t...

Confessional: I make up my own stories for games

Oct 17 // Nic Rowen
[embed]282711:56005:0[/embed] Like most mental sickness, I think the roots of my issue can be traced back to childhood. When I was very young, back in the days of the NES and dingy laundromat arcades, I used to make up my own stories for games all the time. Sometimes this was just a natural exercise in childlike imagination, adding flavor and flourish to an already great game I enjoyed. Often though, it was out of necessity. A craving for some kind of context and meaning the games themselves stubbornly refused to provide. I'd play arcade shooters that would line up fleets of alien ships to blast, but not give me any particular reason to (aside from building a high score) and I'd want to know why. So I'd invent my own reasons. Poorly translated NES titles couldn't articulate the purpose behind my plucky adventurer's quest with their broken English and bizarre exchanges of dialog, so I took it upon myself to fill in the gaps between the lines. Or maybe there actually was a cool backstory for a game, but I was destined never to know it, because it was 1989 and the bulk of the world-building info was found in the instructional manual some jackass stole from the rental copy I was playing. Making up my own narratives for games was something that I HAD to do when I was a child, hungry for meaning and stories in a young medium that was still finding its footing. But now I'm an adult, digesting content in an industry that has (supposedly) matured and expanded its intellectual horizons. Most games have stories these days, and nobody is stealing instruction manuals anymore (since you know, they barely exist now), but I'M STILL DOING IT. I'll ignore perfectly reasonable stories in games just to give them my own spin. If a story doesn't tickle me the right way, I'll bench that weak-ass plot and send in my own pinch-hitter. This is one of the reasons I've enjoyed Shadow of Mordor so much. With its Nemesis system and cast of randomized orcs, it encourages and sanctions something I've been doing on my own for years. I've been loving the hell out of Mordor, but honestly, I couldn't care less about its main plot. It kicks off with a standard tragic revenge set-up, introducing the protagonist's family just long enough to bump them off so the resulting conflict can be all dark and personal. Of course, the scope quickly expands to show that the forces of evil are threatening the entire land (so your personal grudge-match manages to avoid seeming petty when you slaughter a small nation's worth of orcs over it). There is the factory issue comic-relief Dwarf, and an awkwardly forced cameo by Gollum, who is mostly there to hiss "my precious" a few times and remind you that, yes, this is a Lord of the Rings game. I'm not saying it's a bad story; it does what it does and is perfectly serviceable. It's just, well, boring. It's a collection of tropes we've seen trotted out again and again over the past decade. It gives you just enough of a reason to run across Mordor, slitting orc throats and jumping across rooftops, but no more. So I've largely ignored the main quest. I put on the alternate-costume skin with its villainous black cloak and hood, cut anchor from Talion's stagnant backstory, and started writing my own tale in copious amounts of orc blood. My Ranger isn't a stand-in for Boromir or Aragorn, more like a rival for Sauron, and he's come to Mordor not to liberate, but to RULE. I've spread my own wave of terror over the land, hand picking my lieutenants for the new age, seasoning them through battle, and ruthlessly separating wheat from chaff. I'm the King of monsters, the motherfucking Dracula of Middle-earth, and I couldn't be happier in my own little head space. I've only played the main missions when I need to move things along or unlock a skill. Even then it's always jarring to watch a cinematic where Talion switches back into his fur-lined cloak and starts droning on about his family. I mean, who is that guy? I've been hearing complaints about Destiny's story from all of my friends who have been playing it. That it's scatter-shot, vague, and hard to keep track of. Now, I haven't played Destiny myself so I can't speak to that. But I suspect that if I did, the lack of a strong narrative wouldn't hinder my enjoyment much. After all, I spent the last two Halo games studiously ignoring most of the story. This was easy to do in the case of Halo 4 since they decided to hide most of it, tucking the best plot points away in audio logs and leaving the background information to in-universe novels I've never read (calling to mind all of those MIA instruction manuals). It was a matter of personal sanity in Halo: Reach, where the members of Noble Team were such a ridiculous collection of sci-fi stereotypes that I was incapable of taking any of them seriously. Their dialog might not have been spoken through broken English, but it often seemed just as ridiculous to me as some of the NES games I played when I was eight years old. And I loved those games! I completely enjoyed the gameplay and setting, I just didn't jive with the stories they were telling. Rather than let that stand in my way, I put together my own little mental framework to justify why I was an unstoppable cybernetic-motocross-soldier. It's been two decades since I first picked up a controller, and I'm still cooking up reasons to blast alien fleets. (That is, aside from wanting watch the super slick reload animations of the Promethean weapons again and again, a noble motivation in its own right.) I think we all have a need for context. As much as I enjoy games that largely boil down to "blowing stuff up," I still like to have a framework for all the chaos, a reason to sling my rocket launcher around. My natural need to fill in the narrative blanks creeps into genres that are almost doomed by definition to lack a decent story, like multiplayer shooters. Sometimes what you see is at you get. Play a shooter set in World War II, and all you pretty much need to know is that Stalingrad sucked, and statistically you're not going to make it up that beach at Normandy with all your bits intact. That's fine. But what about the Quakes and Unreal Tournaments of the world? You're gonna tell me that there is NO better story behind a walking eyeball shooting a guy on high-tech hover rollerblades with a lightning gun other than "well, it's a tournament?" Nah son, I think we can do better. Let me show you my Quake fanfiction. It's all about play. About picking up these games and messing with them like they were action figures or building blocks. I think that the need and importance of imagination and creativity never goes away, but as you get older there is less time and fewer opportunities to flex those mental muscles. Sometimes, it's actually kind of nice to get a little silly and play with a game. Yes, maybe there is also a grain of criticism in there. A notion that it is vaguely sad that even in 2014, plenty of big-name games can't tell a story that could carry water. I don't mean to excuse bad writing or a lack of a plot, as I do think that the industry could do a LOT better in terms of storytelling. But I don't let a bad story spoil an experience, like some bullshit fortune cookie, I look at them as an opportunity to make a game better for myself. Maybe I'm crazy and I'm the only one who does this, I don't know. But personally, I think that it's one of the most beautiful things about videogames. The ability to inject a bit of yourself and your own personality into an experience is what sets games apart as a medium. Also, if you know anyone in Hollywood, I have a killer screenplay for Qube they should see.
Making crap up photo
Because I'm a huge dork
So here is a dumb thing I do: I make up my own stories in games. No, I'm not just talking about RPGs like Fallout or Skyrim where the entire point is to go out and make your own mark on the world. I'm talking about just about...


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