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Metal Gear memories

Aug 29 // Nic Rowen
I remember the entire route through Shadow Moses. I remember the area with electrified tiles inset in the floor and steering a tiny rocket over them. I remember resenting not being able to use my guns in the nuke disposal area. The cave with all of Sniper Wolf's wolves running loose -- one of them pissed on my cardboard box. I'll sometimes forget the best way to get downtown, but the map of Shadow Moses is burned into my memory. The bosses were legendary, both for their design and the surreal conversations you'd have before, during, and afterward. One-on-one with an old west gunfighter, circling each other around a hostage in the middle of a room rigged up with C4. He showed off his fancy carnival trick-spinning and made comments that distinctly implied that he wanted to make love to his pistol, or that gun fighting was an allegory for sex to him. I don't know, he was a weird dude. There was that shaman who you'd fight twice, once in a literal tank and once while he carried around a gun the size of a small tank. He discussed ear-pulling competitions and the futility of struggling against fate. He was eaten by his own ravens. Then there was the suffocating tension and isolation of dueling a single sniper hundreds of yards away. The battle with Sniper Wolf would be eclipsed in every way six years later by Naked Snake's duel against The End, but at the time it was one of the most intense fights I'd ever experienced. I feel like there has probably been enough ink spilled on how crazy the fight with Psycho Mantis was, but holy fucking shit. How did any of that happen? It was like stepping into some alternate reality where Andy Kaufman had been a game designer and somebody cut him a blank check. Memes of plugging the controller into the second slot, or the infamous “HIDEO” error screen are well worn now. But I don't think secondary accounts can do justice to just how crazy and bizarre that fight, and the rest of Metal Gear Solid, truly was. All of that weird fourth wall breaking shit -- holding the controller to your arm for a massage, having the Colonel explain combat maneuvers to Snake directly referencing the DualShock and a bunch of video game jargon, it was something that had to be lived in the moment. It felt like Kojima was peeling back our skulls and attaching electrodes to areas of the brain that were previously entirely unstimulated. He was showing us a new way of making and thinking about games. I remember taking that instruction book with me while on a short shopping errand that Saturday afternoon in a calculated move to ensure I wouldn't have to stop thinking about Metal Gear. It had its hooks in me, and once I was in that world of spies, rogue special ops groups, and shadowy conspiracies, I never wanted to leave. We were supposed to visit our grandparents that Sunday, but stopping wasn't an option. So we took the PlayStation with us, hooking it up to an ancient TV in their dusty basement where we could continue to save the world from nuclear disaster and learn more dubious information about genetic engineering. I know, it was a scumbag move. But in our defense, we'd just finished the torture scene, found the corpse of the real DARPA chief, and escaped a jail cell using a bottle of ketchup -- neither of us were in the best head space to make positive decisions. It was a weekend I'll never forget. My brother and I tackled Shadow Moses together, experiencing the entire mission as a single unit. It was was a battle march, a do-or-die suicide mission to finish it in a single weekend. Even if it meant wearing out our welcome at our grandparents with multiple pleas of “just 15 more minutes!” as we pummeled Liquid Snake to death and tried to watch the hour-long ending without completely alienating the rest of the family. So yeah, we kept the stupid manual. Call it a battle trophy, or a war memento. My brother still has it buried in some desk drawer. Besides, we did Blockbuster and the next person to rent the game a solid. When we returned the game, we taped an index card with Meryl's codec number to the inside of the sterile white and blue plastic box. We had to crack that puzzle with brute force after we couldn't convince our mom to drive us back out just before midnight to look at the back of the CD case on the shelf. Kojima never accounted for us rental kids with his fourth wall shattering puzzle, but I forgive him. How could I not? He made some of my favorite memories. The best moments I had with Sons of Liberty all happened years after the game first hit the shelves. Nowadays, I consider Sons of Liberty to be one of the most important and subversive games of all time. When we picked it up on day one though, I thought Raiden was a turd and Kojima was playing a mean spirited prank on us. You want to talk about memories? I remember thinking “boy, I hope this is just a joke and Snake takes over again reallll soon” about a million times during the first few hours with it. That's not to say I didn't like Sons of Liberty or that it was a bad game or anything, it was just frustrating. It seemed to exist only to validate every criticism of the original. That it was a bunch of nonsense for the sake of nonsense, or that it was a nice movie with some neat game bits in between. I wanted to love it, but it didn't seem to care one way or the other for me. Subliminally, I was picking up on the entire meaning of the game. But it'd be a long time before I could fully appreciate it. Sons of Liberty isn't a game you tackle in a single weekend of obsessive dead-eye play. It's an intricate and nuanced criticism of the industry, players, and power fantasies that you revisit every few years with a scalpel and a fresh set of eyes. It's a game that was so prescient that only now, with games like Spec Ops: The Line and Hotline Miami, are other titles even attempting the same kind of criticism it levied. It's a game that I've enjoyed reading about more than I enjoyed playing. And I've enjoyed playing it a lot. It would be easy to dismiss Sons of Liberty's message as postmodern gobbledygook, or its criticisms of Raiden, and by extension the players, as overly impressionable rubes playing pretend at being a super solider as a creator taking a shot at his audience. But I remember a time in high school when I skipped Mr. Hogarth's class in the morning and couldn't afford to be caught. How the blood in my veins began to pump as I saw him looming just in front of the door of one of my afternoon classes having a conversation with Mr. Jones. How I slipped seamlessly, without consciously thinking about it into STEALTH MODE, creeping up just behind him, turning with him as he turned, like I was staying just outside of the vision cone of any of Metal Gear's hapless guards, slipping in just past him to take my seat, no alarms activated. The S3 plan worked better than Kojima could have dreamed. Even a pudgy high school nerd could have his own Solid Snake moment with the kind of training he provided us with. The Substance Edition on the Xbox was where I really came to love Sons of Liberty. The VR missions more than made up for the intractable cinematics and radio conversations of the main game, finally letting me feel like I played Sons of Liberty rather than watched it. With a few years to get over the shock of playing as Raiden and absorb the message of the game's screwy third act, I was able to enjoy the story and characters. It's one of the few games I can think of that benefited from a remaster in a way that was more meaningful than just a graphical update. But when it's all said and done, I think my favorite memory of Sons of Liberty has to be slipping on bird shit and falling to my death. I don't know why, but that's the moment that crystallized Sons of Liberty to me. Snake Eater is one of my favorite games of all time. I've completed it maybe ten or so times give or take. Certainly more times than any other game I've ever owned. The reason I played through it so many times is simple -- it kept giving me something new every time I did. I'm not sure how many people appreciate how incredibly dense and rich Snake Eater is. If you just want to mainline the game on normal mode, stick to dependable tactics, and don't care too much if you get spotted or have to drop a few extra people, it can be a fairly straightforward affair. If you want to dig deep though, if you want to get weird, that's when Snake Eater really shows you what it's really made of. I did all of the normal things. A regular playthrough where I slit every throat I saw, blundered into enemies and tripped off alarms, and was admonished by The Sorrow who seemed very cross with the number of Russians I set on fire. I did the professional thing, where I snuck in like a shadow over Groznyj Grad, with no alarms and no surprises. Then I did the goofy stuff -- theme runs where I would try and see if I could complete the game as a North Vietnamese regular (all black camo, unsilenced pistol, AK-47, grenades, and SVD only). I did runs where I would only eat fresh killed food, no Calorie Mates or insta-noodles. Runs where I tried to kill as many people indirectly as I could, to see how many I could poison with rotted food or knock off of bridges, the spirit of bad luck. Runs where I made a point of blowing up every supply shed and armory in the country. Every time I thought I exhausted the very last bit of Snake Eater, there was just a little bit more to find. A new mechanic or trick (that of course was almost totally useless and impractical, and great), or some new weird quirk of enemy behavior (did you know you can kill The Fury with a few swipes of your knife? He even has custom dialog for it), or a new radio conversation or song I had never heard before. I played Snake Eater for years, and I'll bet there are still one or two things left to find; Kojima's bag of tricks never seems to end. I still have the memory card with all of my Snake Eater saves on it, just in case I ever feel the need to get down on my belly and crawl through the weeds and marshes of Tselnoyarsk again. I had a whole library of saves, most of them right before discrete scenes or moments I knew I'd want to play again and again. The mountain infiltration right before you rendezvous with Eva and the treacherous march back down again. Dodging KGB special operation units armed with flamethrowers, mindful of the differences in elevation and the gun emplacements littering the hill. I've heard The Guns of Navarone was one of the movies that inspired Kojima when working on the series, and I like to think this area is his little homage to the cliff-side raid of the movie. I saved right before the sniper duel with The End, two different versions. One where Snake would run into his valley clad in camo greens, ready to fight a war of attrition with the legendary marksman. Another, where I assassinated the old man earlier on in the game with a single split-second crackshot (Snake Eater lets you do this because Snake Eater is a game that gives and gives every time you play it). In that version, his valley was full of Ocelot's personal entourage of soldiers to play with. Can you slip by unnoticed while being hunted by a pack of red beret-wearing hotshots? Or maybe it would be more satisfying to unzip each of their throats one by one, or to fight them all in one glorious running battle of machine gun fire and shotgun blasts (I never really used the thing unless I was goofing around). Of course, I saved just before the final showdown against The Boss. It's probably the single greatest scene in the entire series and one of the best boss encounters ever designed. Sure, taking down the Shagohod was satisfying, and sneaking up on The End and forcing him to give up his special camo and rifle made you feel like a sneaky master, but this was the real test. Fighting a person with all of the same skills and tactics you've spent the game developing and mastering, but she's better at them than you. After all, she invented them. I have less personal attachment to the other games. Guns of the Patriots I had to enjoy vicariously, reading about it and watching other people play. Same with the Metal Gear Acid games. I've spent a good chunk of the last month catching up, reading wikis about them and watching Let's Plays to fill in the gaps of my Metal Gear knowledge. I think I'm ready. I'm ready to finally close the loop on this series I've been playing my entire life. I'm ready to experience the last chapter in this decades long story of espionage, betrayal, and hiding in cardboard boxes. I can't wait to get into The Phantom Pain next week and see it for myself. I'm hoping Kojima can give me a few more memories on his way out.
Metal Gear memories photo
More than the basics of CQC
We stole the instruction manual when we rented Metal Gear Solid from Blockbuster. It's the one and only time we ever did that. Normally we were fine upstanding rental citizens who held manual-thieves in smug contempt. But in ...

Thirsty, hungry, and crappy in ARK: Survival Evolved

Aug 18 // Nic Rowen
There are tons of survival games to choose from these days, but I downloaded ARK: Survival Evolved almost entirely on the promise of weaponized dinosaurs. If I was going to go down this road, I would do it in style -- on the back of a giant, heavily armed lizard -- and indulge all of my Dino-Rider fantasies. The fact that ARK's character creator is busted and will let you roll up with a nightmarish mutant of disproportionate body parts and bizarre growths is just the icing on the cake. I never read any instructions or watched any tutorials; I went in completely blind. My survivor woke up on a sandy beach as God and Studio Wildcard intended – confused, nearly naked, and shivering. I don't know much about these games, but I do know that they all boil down to collecting resources and building things with them. I start picking up stones on the beach, slightly disappointed that I can't seem to pick up any of the glittering sea shells scattered around. My survivor almost immediately shits himself, somewhat spoiling the moment. But hey, bonus, I can pick up the turd! I can't collect sea shells, but I do start a catalog of dookie samples. I come across a flock of dodo birds on the beach. They're dumb as bricks and don't seem to react to my presence in any way. I punch them and punch them, but only succeed in rendering them unconscious. I savage the flock until I'm standing over a pile of comatose birds and have somehow learned how to write notes and sew pants in the process. This is caveman education at its finest. Soon my pockets are heavy with stones, the beach is awash with pulverized birds, and my survivor is complaining. In fact, complaining seems to be all he does. I never knew the raw nature of primitive man was so whiny. During the day he complains that he's too hot. At night, the big sulky baby is too cold. And he's hungry, and thirsty. I'm starting to worry that Child Services is going to come and take my caveman away. A series of icons depicting sweltering fires and frigid ice cubes, along with unending penalties to my stamina let me know what a terrible job I'm doing of keeping him alive. I stuff some narcoberries I've picked off the local plants down his gullet, hoping the natural sedatives will fill his belly and put him to sleep for the night letting him doze through the cold. But he just staggers around in a haze for a bit, stamina lower than ever. It's time to engage with the crafting system before I get arrested for criminal neglect. As a species we are tool users, after all. It's time to take advantage of that. Looking at what I have available to make, it seems like building a pickaxe would be a good start. I'd need stone (check), thatch (nope), and wood (na-da). Can't I just make it with narcoberries? I still have plenty of those. I waste a good 20 minutes wandering around a small forest looking for loose sticks to collect, thinking they'd be like the stones on the beach. I can't find any and the, "I can't get wood" jokes got old about 19 minutes ago. I punch a tree out of frustration. Gouts of blood spray from my hand and a piece of wood lands in my inventory. Oh, so it's like that, huh? I punch trees until my knuckles are bloody and broken and I've managed to pick enough splinters out of my hand to fashion a crude pickaxe. Then I get into the holy guts of these games – hitting shit to build more shit. I hit rocks with smaller rocks until they give me the other kind of rocks I'm looking for. Then I use those rocks to hit other rocks more efficiently. I make hatchets, spears, a shirt to cover my misshapen body. Caveman essentials. Is this really all there is to life? We've lost a generation of gamers to this? I suppose the closest comparison to ARK would be Rust, which also throws you into the wild with nothing and expects you to build up from stone-aged flint spears and hemp pants to assault rifles and flak jackets. But ARK has a different vibe. You're a caveman sure, but there is a pulsating metal jewel embedded in your arm. You have a number and, ominously, a projected survival expectation based on your performance. You're tagged and tracked like an animal, which begs the question of who exactly is doing the monitoring. At night, pillars of light and energy reach into the heavens. High-tech obelisks stand alone in the middle of miles and miles of untamed jungle and roaming packs of dinosaurs. Clearly something is going on here. If there is a concrete storyline, I haven't picked up the thread yet. I'm sure it exists out there in wikis and forum posts scattered around the net, but I don't want to seek it out that way. I want to know what my survivor knows and live in that reality. And right now, it's all just sci-fi mystery and terrible giant lizards that look like they could snap me up as a light snack without even thinking about it. It's terrifying and fascinating, and truth be told, I kind of like keeping it vague. My mind wanders while I play. Are we all futuristic criminals banished to an otherworldly penal colony? A kind of Space-Australia complete with raptors and megalodons? Are the inhabitants of the island subjects of some kind of twisted social experiment? Or is it somewhere in-between? Like the '60s British classic The Prisoner? Do I need to be careful of Rovers if I try and leave the island? The best moments I have in the early hours of ARK are moments of transgression. Moments that I'm not particularly proud of. Players are given unfettered freedom to do what they like in ARK, and somewhat predictably, most people like to be jerks -- myself included. I came across a player's unguarded camp once and looted everything that wasn't nailed down. I even stole the charcoal from his fire, blackening my hands and soul with the theft. I stumbled on an unconscious player, half hidden under a rocky outcrop. I knew I should just leave him alone, but I hovered over him, freshly made spear in hand. I mean, I should probably take a chance to test it out right? It's just good survival. He wasn't the last. Like the old lady from Mad Max, I killed everyone I ever met out there. Or at least I tried to. My belligerent, mutant caveman would shake his spear and charge at everyone, no matter how unclear the actual threat they posed or how hopelessly outmatched he was. Maybe it speaks to some deep-seated trust issues of mine, but I never saw the point in playing nice with the other neanderthals. Better to go down spitting and stabbing than take a chance. I know I should probably reach out, join a tribe, engage with others. Maybe find someone with skills I don't have and combine our efforts to mutual benefit. You know, like our ancestors did. I know we could work together to make this land livable, to build a life. But, it's a matter of motivations. I didn't come here to make the world a better place. I came here to strap machine guns on a T-Rex. I came to trample, shoot, and devour anything that stood in my way. I came to make the world a distinctly worse place. I die a lot. I die of malnutrition and deprivation. I die from giant mosquitoes and their toxic stings. I die from dinosaurs I don't even know the name of. Each time, I respawn in some new random location with nothing in my inventory, right back to the raw state of nature. But I keep the knowledge and skills I've accumulated and it's easier and easier to rebuild with every attempt. Well, except for that one time I respawned right next to a saber-toothed tiger and had to play hide-and-go-seek with it on a pile of rocks for a good ten minutes before it finally got on top of me. It's hard out there for a sci-fi caveman. I still haven't yoked and tamed a dinosaur. My dreams of loading up a T-Rex with cannons and missiles and riding it around like some prehistoric Metal Gear haven't come to fruition, and I don't think they will anytime soon. It just takes too long to level up, to learn the skills you need to tame a thunder lizard, or stitch an appropriately intimidating saddle to ride on (I'm thinking skulls, but I'm open to rows upon rows of claws and teeth). It's even more effort to make a pen to keep a three-story tall dinosaur in and gather enough food to prevent it from turning on you. Then of course there's the long, painfully slow journey towards making gunpowder. I'd have to mine for raw metal and build a furnace to stamp out just a simple blunderbuss, never mind a high caliber mini-gun (as a consolation, I just recently discovered slingshot technology). It's too much for any one would-be warlord to do on their own. It really would take a village. A savage, bloodthirsty village. But I think I saw it. I glimpsed the abyss, the way one would get sucked down into these sorts of games and never come back. At the end of my third or fourth night of playing, after hours of exploration deep into the island, I realized that I didn't want to die and start over again. It was late, I was tired, but I couldn't go to sleep and just leave my caveman to die in the wilderness like I had at the end of previous sessions. I found a nice spot secluded in the trees and laid down a simple foundation and a campfire. It was a simple hut. Four walls, a door, a roof, and just enough room for a sleeping bag if you stood outside and dithered the placement just right, but it was home. I had enough wood in the fire to last all night, a bounty of meat to feast on, and full waterskins. My caveman was looking sharp too, fully dressed, new shoes, a backpack full of extra spears -- this was a person who was going to make it. My mind immediately unspooled reams of future designs. A bigger house, wood and stone structures, spikes for defense. If I built near a river I could make a simple plumbing system, grow my own patch of berry bushes, maybe tame a few dodo birds for pets (or food, the line is blurry for cavemen). I could make my survivor more comfortable, I could provide more for him, and he'd be okay, protected and safe. I went from Kull the Conqueror to Mr. Nanny in the space of one night. It was the same feeling I used to get from placing all of my action figures in their proper boxes or play-sets when I was a child. It reminded me of an article I once read explaining why people get screwy sometimes and start adopting all the neighborhood stray cats or obsessively outfit their backyard with squirrel feeders and multiple kinds of birdhouses. It's that fleeting feeling of control, of finally, actually taking care of all of a creature's needs (inanimate toy, video caveman, or small wild animal). To be able to give something the kind of security and finality that is outside of your control and impossible to provide in your own life. I think back to what it was like in grade school; All the uncertainty, the nasty and brutish classmates that made those formative years a gauntlet of survival. I used games to escape from that setting, but it was all about hopping into other worlds, being a tourist. I wonder how much more time I would have spent in any one of those worlds if they let me build with the same degree of granularity a game like ARK or Minecraft does. I always assumed the appeal of survival games was the trolling, of ruining the fun for other players. Or failing that, the creativity of playing around with the tools. While I'm sure those things are the reason some players come to these games, I think the reason they stay is more simple than that. Maybe it's just the pleasure of building a home, of having something to come back to. Maybe it's time I learn to play nice with the other neanderthals.
Ark experiences photo
Out of my Comfort Zone #01
[Out of my Comfort Zone is a new series where I try to combat complacency in my gaming habits by trying different genres and tackling challenges I might otherwise never attempt. In this debut entry, I try my hand at a surviva...

My completely inaccurate Rising Thunder tier list

Aug 05 // Nic Rowen
Crow Crow is like a mini-Evangelion mech with a chakram, which I'd normally consider a strong look. But, when compared to the rest of the much goofier and lighthearted Rising Thunder cast, he just looks like he's trying too hard to be edgy -- like Hot Topic opened a mech garage. I can't wait for the DLC to give him a wallet chain and a checker pattern. Crow also looks like he'll be annoying as hell to fight against. Rising Thunder may be the first fighting game to actually do invisibility right (because it's online only, the Crow player will be able to see an outline of their character on their screen while the opponent will see nothing) and that will be sure to attract the trollish kind of player who likes to mess with people. I can already see the YouTube clip reels of time-out victories where a Crow player gets a life lead and dances around invisible for the rest of the match on the horizon. His spinning disk can be delayed to float in the air for a long time, which is the kind of thing that is always a pain to deal with. Any character that can force an opponent to defend while still being able to move and attack themselves seem to do well, so I wouldn't be surprised if Crow actually turned out to be one of the better characters in Rising Thunder. For the purposes of this list however, his high school-ish gothy design and my prediction that I'm going to hate fighting him will land Crow squarely at the bottom of this list. What, you thought this was going to be useful? Edge So, we can all agree that Edge is basically Zero with the serial numbers filed off, right? I mean, red armor, green energy sword, slim build. Heck, he's even got a freaking pony tail! It would be scandalous if Capcom hadn't already abandoned the maverick hunter. Someone might as well rescue him from the scrapyard and put him to work. The in-game description labels Edge as a rush-down character with a high skill difficulty. Given how Zero played in Marvel vs. Capcom 3, I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that the resemblance isn't purely coincidental. Edge looks like the kind of character who is designed to reward dedication and practice by becoming a sheer nightmare in the right hands. The kind of character I can never quite seem to grok but can look forward to being bodied by, over and over. Joy. Oh well. Here's hoping he doesn't have any lightning loop nonsense at least.   Dauntless I want to like Dauntless more than I do. She has all the right pieces, a goofy expressive face, extra large hands for Rock'Em-Sock'Em style fisticuffs, and a pleasingly robot-ish squared off design. But something just doesn't click. There is nothing wrong with her, but she's just a little too bland to really crack the top half of the list. Sorry, Dauntless, it's the curse of being the mascot character. Too inoffensive to hate, too milquetoast to love. Speaking of Rock'Em-Sock'Em, that's a cross marketing opportunity if I've ever seen one. Someone should get on that Kickstarter fast. Talos Talos is the big dumb grappler character of Rising Thunder and he knows it. He's got a silly accent, a boisterous attitude, a dumb haircut, and incredibly overdone command grab specials; everything you need to make Zangief, the patron saint of grapplers, proud. Talos goes one step further by joining the ranks of some of my other favorite big dumb characters like Iron Tager and Lex Luthor by having an electromagnetic suction mechanic to pull opponents in close for that real soviet damage. Come here and give daddy a hug.  Also, his forward dash makes him pivot on his arms like a gorilla. Perfection. Vlad I can't tell if Vlad is going to be the Dan of Rising Thunder, or the Akuma. All I know is that he's going to be a fan favorite and I'm no exception. He's so damn cute and silly that I almost don't want to love him, but I do, I do. How could I not? He's like if the Iron Giant had a goofy Russian step-brother. While all the other fighters of Rising Thunder are cutting-edge robots ripped from futuristic anime series and discarded Jagger design documents, Vlad is like a tin robot stumbling out of the 1950s, with all the adorable goofiness and Cold War tension that implies. He's got a jetpack, a tiny flag antenna, and he windmills his arms and torso about like a madman. He even fires a tiny elbow rocket! Vlad has everything I'm looking for in a robot. But I suspect Vlad harbors a darker secret underneath all that silly charm. Inside that metal chest beats the heart of a real terror, the kind of character everyone writes off as a joke until he shows up in a tournament one day and cleans house. It's that jetpack, and all the fly-canceling shenanigans it could allow. I bet we'll see someone break the game with it sooner or later, and then no one will be laughing anymore. Chel Chel makes the top of my list by virtue of sheer adorability. She's a little ball of energy with a whole lot of personality for a robot. A big plume of pink hair, a charming accent, and cute little rocket boosters on her hands for when she does a forward dash. Robot girls just want to have fun! In a weird coincidence, Chel is the one place where my dumb personal tier list happens to overlap with reality. As it stands in the alpha, Chel is one of, if not the, strongest character. Her keep-away fireballs and one-button uppercut lead to a simple, but brutally effective game plan that is easy to implement and difficult to work around. That Shoto archetype set the standard for a reason. Given how upset people seem to be at Chel right now, I'd expect to see some balance changes that will make her a little less of a cruise-control character. So I guess now is the time to scumbag it up and establish that character loyalty cred while sneakily enjoying a top-tier character. Rising Thunder is still in the earliest of early days, so any talk of actual tier lists is super dumb and I'm sure everything will change twenty times before the game is launched for real. There are still characters to be revealed, mechanics to iron out, and decisions to be made. As it stands though, Rising Thunder is remarkably fun to play, even if it represents a dramatic shift from traditional fighting game models. Has anyone else been playing the alpha or watching some streams of it? Picked out a favorite already or have a particularly despised foe? I'd be interested to hear what other people think of the game so far!
Rising Thunder tier list photo
From rust bucket to top-bot
Rising Thunder is an experiment I'm not quite sure about yet. On one hand, it seems to be custom made for me: an aging fighting game fan with a well-documented obsession with robots and a pair of cinder-block mittens for hand...

Neverwinter: Strongholds might get me back into the game

Jul 31 // Joe Parlock
Building your Stronghold [embed]296961:59747:0[/embed] With the goal of providing “interesting and meaningful experiences to guilds”, the process of creating and upgrading your guild’s stronghold is at the heart of the expansion. All buildable structures and upgrades are ultimately decided by the leaders of the guild, but those goals are worked towards by every member through the “Coffers” system. Coffers are the total resources available to a guild to help build up their stronghold, and they’re separated into three categories: materials, which are found in the lands surrounding your stronghold such as lumber; treasures, which are earned by playing through the campaign zones of the wider game such as the Dread Ring campaign; and stockpiles, the normal loot, gold, and astral diamonds players earn throughout the game. Finding these resources ensures creating a good stronghold for your guild isn’t just a case of the leaders fiddling with the UI; every member of the guild would have a role to play, be it collecting resources or planning out where structures will go.  Once there are enough resources to build a new structure in the stronghold, or to upgrade an already existing one, the guild leaders can then start the work of upgrading, while also setting the next goal for the guild to work towards. However, the amount of upgrades you can apply to a structure depends on the overall level of the guild’s keep. While structures have a maximum level of 10, the keep can grow up to level 20. However, structures can’t out-level the keep, so sometimes an effort must be made to upgrade the keep rather than simply rushing for all the new and shiny buildings. As players donate these hard-earned resources to their guild’s coffers, they are awarded guild marks with which they can buy new gear and items for themselves at the marketplace. It’s a way of incentivising altruism among the guild, and is one of the few times in the game players can make decisions for themselves that aren’t directly linked to the decisions of their wider guild. Another way the guild must coordinate in building their stronghold is in the new added boons. Boons are passive bonuses granted to players, and in Strongholds, structures can be built to grant the entire guild specific types of boons. There are currently four categories: offense, defense, utility, and Player vs. Player (PvP). The catch is not every type of boon would available for a guild at the same time, as there are only a limited number of boon structures that can be made. This requires decisions to be made about how players within the guild will be buffed. An example given would be a raiding guild may put more emphasis into PvP or offensive boons to increase their power. The boons in each category would be optional for each individual player, however what type of boon is available is up to the guild. It’s a neat mechanic, as now other players who you’d regularly play with have an active impact on how your character works, and how these buffs influence your character may well change in the future. Should the guild decide to change an offensive boon structure to a defensive one, the boons you previously had would no longer apply. It’s interesting, however I could also see it causing some conflict within guilds. The area given to a guild to build its stronghold on is the biggest zone Neverwinter has ever seen: it is three times bigger than the biggest previous one. The zone is split into multiple, smaller themed areas, each with their own enemies and quests. For example, there may be faetouched areas, or there may be areas that are more desolate, and different enemies may be encountered in each one. It’s nice to see some variance in the zone, as Neverwinter does have a problem of each zone being its own themed thing that gets boring sometimes: the snowy zone, the desert zone, or the city zone and nothing but that. Some areas will be sealed off and hidden until the stronghold has been built up and expanded on, but what’s interesting is that the future of the zone isn’t entirely known even to Perfect World yet. The strongholds system is planned to be expanded upon over the course of at least the next two expansions: Strongholds and a currently unannounced expansion after that. According to them, being “done” with building a stronghold simply isn’t possible, as new structures and boons will be made available in future updates.  While there is a storyline planned out for Strongholds and the expansion after that, the specifics of what sort of boons and structures will be included in them are apparently down to player feedback and community suggestions. New Player vs. Environment Content Building up a guild’s stronghold isn’t the only new addition to Neverwinter. Alongside it comes a new range of player vs. environment content, much like in the previous expansions before it. However, a lot of this will still directly help your stronghold grow. Firstly, the act of actually acquiring your guild’s new keep will be part of a quest line that changes as the stronghold grows. At first, your guild and a travelling band of Orcs will both arrive at the same time, causing there to be multiple skirmishes and missions available. Finding guards, protecting farms, and driving off Orcs to ensure that your keep is safe in the early days. As the keep levels up, new enemies will start to appear in the zone. For example, the second phase of the zone involves mercenaries appearing to try and steal the keep from you, giving you multiple quests involving dealing with them. The zone’s campaign appears to play out in much the same way as previous campaign zones such as the Dread Ring have, however there is also the added dimension of it being dependent on your keep’s level. Of course, there will also be a series of daily quests available from your stronghold’s steward too, and they will also help guide players to the next of their campaign quests. Greed of the Dragonflight That’s all pretty standard expansion stuff: more of what Neverwinter players will be used to. What’s particularly interesting is the major new boss fight that occurs in the Strongholds zone. Dubbed Greed of the Dragonflight, the boss is designed to be played by guilds of 40 or more players who must coordinate and plan out how to take down four powerful dragons simultaneously across the map. If one dragon is killed, the other three will flee shortly afterwards, requiring guilds to figure out which players are best suited to take on each dragon, and make sure all four of them die at the same time. Doing so will net the guild huge rewards, some of the most powerful items in the game, according to Perfect World. However, failure to nab all for dragons doesn’t mean nothing was gained. Due to some guilds not having enough players to take down all four dragons, there is a sliding scale of what rewards are given. The more dragons the guild can kill, the better the loot given. What I saw of this event reminded me of my favourite bit of Neverwinter: the timed boss events. Instances are great, questing is fun, but seeing the alert to head to an area of the map to slay as big-as-hell lizard was always really cool to me. It’s involving, it’s hectic, and it looks as though adding in the extra element of needing to size up who takes on which dragon will make it all the more satisfying when the guild succeeds. The difference between normal timed events and Greed of the Dragonflight is that it isn’t only a timed event. Due to a large amount of player requests, Perfect World is allowing guilds to trigger the event manually whenever they like, and so it could become a pretty big part of guild social life somewhere down the line. A New PvP mode inspired by MOBAs Player vs. Player in Neverwinter has been the centre of Perfect World’s attention for a while now: originally offering a fairly basic 5v5 arena mode, an open-world PvP was later added in Icewind Dale, and of course Strongholds will be adding even more for those who like stomping other players. The PvP added to Strongholds is a 20v20 Guild vs. Guild mode, which when I first heard about it reminded me a lot of Guild Wars 2’s World vs. World feature. However, it appears as though the new mode is being more inspired by the likes of Dota and League of Legends. This isn’t a compulsory feature, guilds must queue up to enter the mode. Once in the game, guilds will find their strongholds and surrounding lands “glued together”, with a river separating the two. The MOBA inspiration comes on the emphasis of controlling the various lanes between the two strongholds, while pushing forward and sieging the enemy guild. Perfect World has also catered to smaller guilds that might not have 20 players online at a time. When in queueing, if a guild has enough players to spare, they will be transferred temporarily to the other guild and fight for them instead. It’s a nice way of evening the playing field, but it will also be interesting to see where their alliances lie once the match is underway. It’s worth noting I didn’t get to actually see any PvP in action, due to the problems setting up a game with 40 players just to show me it would’ve caused. As such, all of this is only how it was described to me by Overmyer. Final Thoughts As previously mentioned, I’ve got a fair amount of experience with Neverwinter, however the lack of something to keep me interested once I’d finished the story quests meant I dropped out of the game soon after. Guilds have always been something in MMOs I’ve had an interest in, but never found the right match – I always ended up in quiet, inactive guilds where nothing ever happened. Strongholds looks like it wants to solve both of my problems, while giving me more of the solo content that got me into the game at first. I’m somewhat concerned that finding decent guilds might still be tricky, but maybe the new toys guilds can play with will convince people to give running guilds a go. PvP has never been a big interest of mine. I got into Rift’s quite a bit, but still eventually found myself going back to questing. Neverwinter in particular has been quite notorious for equipment you can buy in the store being perceived to be more powerful than stuff you can earn in-game, which always put me off PvP. However, if it’s true that the rewards from Greed of the Dragonflight are some of the strongest in the game, it could go a way to fix that problem. Overall, I’m excited. I’m definitely going to be going back into it just to see how all of these new mechanics change how people interact within guilds, if at all. Plus Dragonflight is a condensed version of everything I like about Neverwinter, which is great. Neverwinter: Strongholds will be released on August 11 as the next free expansion on PC. Neverwinter is free-to-play on both Xbox One and PC.
Neverwinter: Strongholds photo
An in-depth look at all the new stuff
On August 11, Perfect World will be releasing the latest expansion to their Dungeons & Dragons-based MMO Neverwinter, Strongholds. With its action-based combat, fantastic locations, and relatively simple mechanics, N...


Superhero games Rocksteady should be making

Jul 25 // Nic Rowen
The Punisher Look, I love the Arkham games, really. But after four games of playing the part of the morally upright caped crusader, fighting the same damn villains over and over again because he refuses to cross the line and put a permanent end to Gotham's insane clown problems, I'm ready for a more practical superhero experience. A hero who sees a problem and deals with it. Maybe it's me, maybe I just grew up with too many '80s action movies and I see every problem as something that can be solved with an UZI and a handful of hollow points, and I know deep down that isn't true. But, it is a worldview Frank Castle would certainly agree with. I would love to see a big budget game finally do right by everyone's favorite PTSD-stricken vigilante. The Punisher has had a mixed history with games, ranging from a fondly remembered but completely standard beat-em-up in the early '90s, a bizarrely violent PS2 outing that felt like the The Punisher as directed by Eli Roth, and his last showing was a completely dismal PS3 downloadable title. The greatest crime to go unpunished in that case was inflicted on the fans. Frank needs a win, and the Rocksteady team could pull it off. Picture a slice of New York City rendered as impressively as Gotham was in Arkham Knight. Not some sprawling open world nightmare where 90% of the budget gets blown on world assets, but enough room to let Frank move around and explore, a hunting ground to stalk and shank his way through the criminal underworld. Give him a list of targets and goals that force him to move around the city, digging up his own leads and carving his own path through the local vermin. Force players to think about their actions and plan their attack carefully, always mindful of potential innocents that could be caught in the crossfire and escape routes to take in case the cops show up early. Borrow from Shadow of Mordor's nemesis system and let Frank bully and threaten around lower level bosses and snitches to build a stepladder of bullet-riddled mobster corpses up the food chain. And please, don't skimp on the guns. This is THE PUNISHER we're talking about here, he doesn't have any super powers to reveal or fuss over. All he has is grit, every edition of Jane's Directory of Small Arms ever written, and a creepy warehouse full of meticulously maintained weapons to obsess over -- so pay them the proper due. I want to see armament so overly-detailed and described it would make Solid Snake blush. I want gun worship so intense that it makes the Counter-Strike custom model scene look casual. I want glorious matte-black and nickle-plated idols, not items. Hrum. Maybe reading all of those issues of The Punisher Armory when I was a kid had a lasting effect after all. Zatanna Zatanna would make a dope video game protagonist. Look, I know it may seem hypocritical just after opining about the idea of a Punisher game, but there is something to be said about getting away from the typical brooding, depressive, vengeance-obsessed dude protagonists of the comic book world and doing something a little different. The mystical world and glitzy stages Zatanna trades in isn't just a step in another direction, it's a leap into an entirely different dimension. Most superheros come from some kind of pseudo-scientific background. Amazing abilities thanks to a solar-powered alien physiology, a robotic suit of goodies powered by an artificial heart/fusion generator, a kid gets bitten by a radioactive honey badger and gains all the proportional rabies and hatred of a man-sized honey badger, and so on. They may be implausible, silly, and ridiculous, but they all come from some semi-believable point in reality. Zatanna is having none of that. Zatanna is capital M Magic. No science, no excuses, just real deal “as I speak I create” world bending, wizards and warlocks stuff. When Zatanna's will and the hard solid wall of reality collide, it's reality that bends, buckles, and inevitably breaks. She lives in the DC universe, filled as it is with its infinite supply of nameless muggers, tacky C-list theme villains, and alien tyrants, and sure she deals with them like any other upstanding member of the JLA. But she also has one foot in a much stranger world, a shadow realm of ghosts, astral projections, and scheming devils, the kind of threat that the Elongated Man or any of the other rank and file heroes aren't likely to deal with anytime soon. She rubs shoulders with weirdos like John Constantine and the Sandman. Her rogues gallery includes the biblical Cain, infamous brother-slayer and lord of vampires. Oh, and in her “downtime” she stars in her very own internationally famous magic show, impressing sold-out crowds with unbelievable displays of sleight-of-hand tricks and impossible escape artistry (no cheating). C'mon, there has to be an interesting game just waiting to be made with all of that. I would love to see a title that embraces all the craziness of Zatanna's character, how different and unique she is compared to the rest of the DC line-up. I want to bust thugs and necromancers on the same night and still make it to the stage when the lights go up.  Lex Luthor Everyone sees themselves as the hero of their own story, even a madman like Lex Luthor. Sure, he may be singularly obsessed with ridding the planet of its greatest defender (without whom everyone in the DC universe would almost certainly be dead by one cataclysm or another) for often vague and seemingly irrational reasons, but they're his reasons. They make sense to him. In his mind everything he's done to force the alien off his planet, no matter how despicable, has been in the service of a greater good, as illustrated beautifully in Brian Azzarello's magnificent Lex Luthor: Man of Steel. I want to play as that version of Lex, the last sane man who sees what a threat Superman is to the human spirit, the man who is forced to play the part of the villain to attain a greater goal. And who says Rocksteady has to work on another third person action game? There is a ton of talent up in that studio, and while I'm sure they're incredibly proud of everything they've accomplished with the Arkham series, they've been at it for more than half a decade. I'm sure they'd appreciate a change of pace. So how about an evil management sim? A game where you play as the bald genius presiding over Lexcorp, trying to figure out how to smuggle parts of your doomsday laser into orbit. Maybe if you win the contract to to build the next international space station you be able to send up a few extra rockets without tipping your hand (not to mention, the proceeds could be used to fund the sentient virus a deniable subsidiary in Istanbul is working on). Or how to quash the hazardous material team's recent attempt to unionize without attracting any eyes on the mechanized centipede project. Of course, all that will have to wait until you deal with the PR nightmare of a dead superhero with suspicious laser burns turning up on your property, again. Call it a breather between projects. There will always be another big budget action game with another big chinned boy scout to make. Rocksteady could recharge the batteries and stretch its creative muscles with something different, something sinister. Ghostrider Ghostrider is stupid. I mean, look at him. He's the ghostly reincarnation of a stunt driver who haunts the streets with his hellfire-powered motorbike, flaming skull, and “penance stare.” He's the most '90s thing to ever happen (even though he was created in the '70s) and HOLY SHIT, COULD YOU ASK FOR A BETTER BASIS FOR A VIDEO GAME!? What kind of world do we live in that the “best” representation of Ghostrider in a video game was as a character in Ultimate Marvel Vs Capcom 3? How do you squander such a sublimely stupid concept with a tepid PS2-era game and a few cameos in dreck like Maximum Carnage? No, this won't do. Rocksteady has a mandate, a new mission: Go forth and make the biggest, dumbest, raddest, motorcycle-riding-ghost-vigilante game possible. In fact, screw it. I don't even want Rocksteady to do it. It'd probably do a good job of it; it's got the chops to sculpt a decent game out of any source material. It's not the studio's talent I doubt, but its taste. I bet it'd take Ghostrider a little too seriously, try to do too good a job establishing him as a real character with believable motivations and villains to fight. The developer wouldn't mine that rich core of ridiculousness that lies at the heart of Ghostrider for all its worth. This is a job for Platinum. We need that Metal Gear Rising treatment of the source material, the kind of self-aware winking charm of a Bayonetta, the breakneck pace and visual assault of a Vanquish. We need the fastest, prettiest, and dumbest Ghostrider we can get. Anything less would be a waste.
Superhero games photo
Who needs a Superman?
Rocksteady has accomplished some amazing feats with the Arkham series. It's the first series of games to finally nail the feeling of being the Dark Knight, it perfected the combat system to a point where “Arkham-style f...

Video game movies to watch this weekend instead of Pixels

Jul 23 // Jed Whitaker
Ace Attorney (Gyakuten Saiban) [embed]296492:59644:0[/embed] Whether or not you're a fan of the Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney games, the movie based on the series is pretty decent. All the characters look and act like their game counterparts and even with the subtitles the movie still nails the games' humor. Sadly the film has never officially been released for sale in the US, but if you have a way to watch it I highly recommend it. Sweet Home [embed]296492:59645:0[/embed] Sweet Home had a Famicom game by the same name, which Resident Evil was planned as a spiritual sequel to. It might not be the best horror film but it is certainly worth a watch. Those who go in thinking the movie will be a Resident Evil movie will be disappointed, as this is more a haunted mansion story than a zombie story. The Sweet Home game influenced a lot of survival horror games and could be painted as the original survival horror game. The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters [embed]296492:59646:0[/embed] This documentary follows Steve Wiebe as he attempts to take the world record high score in Donkey Kong from (at the time) current champion Billy Mitchell. While that alone may not sound exciting, the real life characters in the movie make it something special. The film plays more like a drama than a documentary, so much in fact that a scripted film adaptation has been said to be in the works. The documentary was also parodied in a South Park episode where Randy Marsh attempts to take a larger shit than U2 frontman Bono Vox. It's one of my favorite movies ever and highly recommended. Dead Rising: Watchtower [embed]296492:59647:0[/embed] When the free-to-watch Dead Rising: Watchtower was announced I wasn't too excited, and upon release I went into it with low expectations. Turns out it is a rather competent zombie film and has enough fan service to make Dead Rising fans happy. Frank West may not be the lead character but he makes many appearances throughout the film as part of a news program, dickish charm intact.  Animal Crossing (Dōbutsu no Mori) [embed]296492:59648:0[/embed] Does anime count? Well I'm saying it does and you should watch the Animal Crossing anime film that was released in Japanese theaters. The anime follows the same plot as the games; a new girl moves to town, is an indentured servant to Tom Nook, and befriends and helps the other animals in town. Animal Crossing's anime adaptation was never officially released outside of Japan but a fan dubbed version is out there somewhere. The Lawnmower Man [embed]296492:59649:0[/embed] What list of video game-related movies would be complete without The Lawnmower Man, a movie that is more relevant now than when it came out as it deals with virtual reality headsets. A dumb dumb lawnmower man in town is approached by a scientist to be his human guinea pig in an experiment using drugs and a VR headset, and this somehow turns him into a genius with magical powers... I remember watching the movie when it came out and being amazed at the cutting edge special effects, though today they look extremely dated. Strangely enough the effects were made by Angel Studios, which later became Rockstar San Diego and went on to make Red Dead Redemption, L.A. Noire, and Grand Theft Auto V.  Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World [embed]296492:59651:0[/embed] Whether or not you've read the graphic novel series you should give the Michael Cera-led Scott Pilgrim vs. the World a shot, as it may be the best video game movie out there. The film is basically oozing with references to video games from band names, to Zelda music, to epic fight scenes that would feel at home in any beat 'em up. Speaking of which, if you haven't already, give the game a try because it is just as good as the film and plays very similarly to one of the greatest beat 'em ups of all time, River City Ransom. -- These are some of the best video game-related movies I've seen and surprisingly I don't see them getting the credit they deserve. Also don't let me stop you from watching Pixels, by all means tell Hollywood you want more garbage Adam Sandler films if you so wish. I know I'll probably be watching Pixels sometime this weekend because clearly I'm a masochist, and I'm part of the problem. 
#StopSandler photo
Think of the children
This week the critically lampooned Pixels movie opens in theaters nationwide in the United States, and if you'd rather spend your time and money on movies that don't blow consider these other video game-related films. Don't worry though, this list won't just be the movies you've all seen before, because I'm so much cooler than that.

The Silent Hill Retrospective: Silent Hill 2

Jul 18 // Stephen Turner
Silent Hill 2 was always more of a character study than any other game in the series. Whereas Silent Hill used its cast to drive the story forward, the sequel firmly kept its protagonist in focus. The world literally revolves around him, from location to creatures; a deconstruction of a seemingly infallible man. His quest is examined through existential conversation and perspectives, as Team Silent (or at least this iteration) comments on survival horror heroics and the audience’s passive tendencies towards empathy. At its core, Silent Hill 2 is about two adults dealing with loneliness and compromise. James is unable to move on from his dead wife as her sexualised doppelganger, Maria, adjusts to his ideals. You might not think it, but their companionship takes many of its cues from film noir. The broken man struggles with the femme fatale; a fate that can only end in destruction. For all its surrealist theatrics, one of Silent Hill 2’s most memorable scenes happens to be the sparsest. It’s a brilliant example of visual storytelling in a video game as Maria tells an uneasy story under a single light bulb and between bars. A schizophrenia plays out under washed features and fluid shadows. The duality on both sides of the room suggests two prisoners, not one. Without revealing too much, you completely understand the characters without being told what to think. [embed]296234:59589:0[/embed] Perceptions are constantly challenged in James Sunderland’s new world. The town draws in an eclectic cast of runaways, each with their own conflicted reasons for being there. And it’s through them that our protagonist is slowly shaded in and exposed, along with our own participating flaws. The brattish Laura recalls the parental fears of Silent Hill, but also provides a catalyst for Maria’s maternal instincts. Eddie Dombrowski, all sloven and immature, highlights our own dismissive stance towards imperfection. And then there’s Angela Orosco; a layered subject of meta-commentary and character complexity. Just because we save her from the Abstract Daddy, it doesn’t mean we’ve saved her from years of sexual abuse or the murder that finally breaks it. The best we can achieve is an understanding of her desperation and hopefully find genuine sympathy for her self-judgemental inabilities. For Angela, The Otherworld is a Biblical hell, quite unlike the world seen from James' perspective. The Otherworld is no longer the industrial nightmare of before. Gone are the obvious sirens, the collapsing machinery, and the reflections of a childlike mind. Now it’s just damp, moldy, and earthy, full of soil browns, fleshy whites, and dank greens. Akira Yamaoka’s soundtrack deals in regretful synths and piano-led sorrows instead of blaring cacophonies as James pieces the world together. Instead of schools and fairgrounds, we find apartments and date nights; the little reminders of domestic life. Rather than being the outsider looking in, James is confronted by his own subconscious. Repressed images become disturbing manifestations of the self. They scream with distorted female voices and click their heels in the dark. The Pyramid Head – now a defanged mascot of the series – is this relentless, mysterious force, a puzzle that can only be solved at a distance. It’s as much as an embodiment of The Otherworld as it is James’ dark half. Silent Hill 2 is a flawed game by today’s standards; sharing the rough gameplay of its predecessor and the Japanese attempts at Americanised dialogue. But that does not make its success overrated. It’s like that one landmark album that influences a hundred more, each one a little more refined than the last. What Team Silent did, or whoever you deem this development team to be, was to introduce audiences to the idea of cinematic codes and keys. They highlighted the need for more complexity in our characters, to show relatable ideas in unfamiliar ways. Silent Hill 2 is a milestone in video game narrative. Sure, maybe not in dialogue, but in the mise-en-scène of every location, every dress code, and every creature. It’s a game that says a lot without actually saying much at all. That opening 20 minute walk into town was everything you need to know about Silent Hill 2’s intentions. At times you were apprehensive, reluctant, lost in the unknown. But you kept going because you had to know how it all ended. You were James Sunderland without even realising it.
Silent Hill 2 photo
In our special place...
It started with a worried look in mirror dimly lit. For Silent Hill 2, this was a statement of intent; a progression in not only hardware, but also in narrative. Out went the B-movie horror about gods and the occult, and in i...

This Japanese FPS just misses its mark

Jul 04 // Kyle MacGregor
The Legend of Alfur isn't particularly good, but I was more than willing to overlook its rough edges, at least at first. The experience pulled me in from the get-go. It begins when our protagonists, a lass named Shalnawaz and her brother Leon, are taken captive by soldiers from a neighboring kingdom. And to make matters worse, the men openly plan to sell the siblings into slavery.  Things quickly take an unexpected turn, though. One of the soldiers kills his commanding officer, then frames the siblings for the murder, forcing them to escape and fend off their pursuers. It's just a pity that the actual game doesn't back up the intrigue of the premise. Despite being a few years old now (and being created by a small team on a limited budget), this thing was dated when it launched. It isn't pretty. At all. But its graphical shortcomings pale in comparison with the gameplay. [embed]295318:59341:0[/embed] While engaging in shootouts, I often found my character clipping through objects and getting caught on scenery. Hiding behind cover isn't always effective, as enemy fire can travel through boulders, hillsides, and trees. And firing back is just as troublesome, thanks to some truly awful iron sights.  Still with me? Despite those many issues, I still somehow managed to glean a bit of enjoyment out of The Legend of Alfur. It is by no means great (or the best use of $10), but the sheer novelty of an anime-style first-person shooter cannot be denied. It's something I'd honestly like to see more of. If you'd like to see more Doujin Dojo, check back with Destructoid every weekend for more (hopefully positive) coverage of Japanese indie games and the people that make and localize them. Want us to report on something in particular? Hit me up ([email protected]) and stay tuned!
Doujin Dojo photo
Alfur isn't so legendary
Welcome to Doujin Dojo, a new weekly column dedicated to the Japanese indie scene. Maybe I should have started this out by gushing about Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale or Astebreed (which is now available on PS4, by the way)....

Review: Super Star Path

Jun 29 // Jed Whitaker
Super Star Path (PC)Developer: DYA Games Publisher: DYA GamesMSRP: $2.99Released: June 22, 2015 Flying through tons of enemies to get to a boss at the end of a level is nothing new, but how Super Star Path makes you get there is unique. Enemies approach from the top of the screen and are mostly static aside from some small animations. Shooting them causes them to blow up, taking any adjacent enemies of the same color with them. The final enemies to explode in a chain will cause nearby enemies of different colors to crystallize which then can't be cleared from the screen.  After navigating through the maze-like wave of enemies on every level, a boss will appear. Boss battles play similarly to what you'd expect see in a bullet hell shooter; tons of bullets covering the screen with a boss that requires a lot of shots. Luckily the difficulty of a bullet hell boss can be curbed by purchasing upgradeable ships. After normal enemies are destroyed, they leave behind crystals that are used as currency to buy one of the 10 ships. Each ship has some kind of added benefit -- like being immune to certain attacks or increasing the value of crystals -- and stats that can be upgraded. During each stage, three special enemies appear that, when killed, drop upgrade points; one for speed, health, and damage. These upgrades can then be applied to each specific ship to power them up. Upgrading health allows ships to take up to five hits before exploding and is really necessary for some of the later boss fights, unless you're a veteran bullet hell player. Each level has its own unique twist. Some levels have added enemies flying at you, while others have mines that explode when you get too close or lasers that shoot in straight lines, clearing anything in their way. Figuring out which ship to use for each level feels almost Mega Man-like, as each stage's hazards have a ship that is immune to them. Every level also has three black bat enemies that drop green emeralds that are required for completing the game; thankfully, you can play levels over until you come across them without much trouble. While blasting through each 16-bit-esque level, an awesome soundtrack plays and the main character makes quips about what is happening around him. Something these quips include swearing, which may be off-putting to some, but they are far and few between. Nothing you wouldn't see on Dtoid every day. If anything, the swears add some flavor and character to the game, something most space shooters are lacking.  Super Star Path nails the mixing of space shooter, roguelike, and puzzle genres in a way I didn't even know I wanted. Sadly, the whole experience is over within an hour. But at a measly three dollars, I find it hard to complain -- though it did leave me wanting more. If that's the only complaint I had with the game, it is easily recommendable. I just hope we get to see more space shooter puzzlers in the future! [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Super Star Path review photo
Space puzzles, the final frontier
Space shooters used to be popular. Back in the 8-bit and 16-bit days, everyone knew Gradius and R-Type, amongst others. These days they are few and far between, at least quality ones. Sure Steam is flooded with them...

Goodnight sweet Knight photo
Wow
It looks like Warner Bros. is doing the right thing and pulling Batman: Arkham Knight from Steam. The publisher released the following statement on the game's Steam community: Dear Batman: Arkham Knight PC owners, ...

Steam Summer Sale, an embarrassment of riches

Jun 24 // Nic Rowen
Wolfenstein: The New Order Embarrassment factor: A Neville Chamberlain ass-tattoo From the moment I first laid eyes on Wolfenstein: The New Order I thought “that looks like a great game!” followed almost immediately with a second thought “I'll wait for a Steam Sale.” And so it was. Yes, I know, I'm the kind of scumbag that disincentivizes publishers from backing games like Wolfenstein, and I feel bad about that, really. But I know in my heart of hearts that between work and every other game tugging at my arm, I will probably never find the time to run through a single player shooter, no matter how much fun the nazi-murder spree looks. At least it's there for me now if I ever re-watch Jin-Roh and feel compelled to dump a belt-fed machine gun into a human wall of Wehrmacht. Long Live the Queen Embarrassment factor: Mortified monocle dropping Look, sometimes I buy games because I think they might be fun to play with my girlfriend. Stop judging me. Also, the trailer was cute, and it was $2.00, and sometimes I like nice things, and you're going to stop judging me right now or I will cut off your head and parade it around court on the end of a pike. Iron Brigade Embarrassment factor: Serving with pride I don't think I need to make excuses for wanting to ride atop a glorious mobile trench/mecha, obliterate endless waves of lethal cathode ray enemies with ridiculously oversized cannons, and sport a splendid hat while doing so. If you don't understand the self-evident joy of such things, we're just never going to see eye-to-eye. Sunless Sea Embarrassment factor: Muttering about mutiny Sunless Sea looks like Darkest Dungeon, but on the water, so it's bound to be a delightful time. The embarrassment factor isn't too high here because I'm sure I'll get some play out of this one and I love to support indie devs like Failbetter Games. Besides, any game recommended by our very own Ben Davis has to be worth a look. Borderlands 2: GOTY Embarrassment factor: C:/My Documents/DankMemes Ever hear of the sunk cost fallacy? Well this is it. I loved Borderlands 2, played through the main campaign with my brother, did a bunch of co-op and challenge stuff with Dtoid's StriderHoang, and bought the big dumb fancy DLC pack. Problem was, I did most of that playing during the first three weeks of the game's launch and never quite got back to all that expensive DLC. This is why you never buy the season pass folks. It's always loomed over me and I'd like to revisit those characters and see all that content I missed, but most of my 360 friends have moved on to other consoles and it's not like I'm going to solo another character through the game, that's not how I get down with Borderlands. But, the Steam sale gave me and my brother a chance to grab the game on the cheap on our PCs, so we can delude ourselves all over again that somehow we'll find 30 hours of mutually schedule-friendly time to plunder, raid, and explode all over Pandora again. Look forward to next year when I tell you all about how I picked up the Pre-Sequel Definitive Edition on the cheap and will toootally play through it.. Sometime. Westerado: Double Barreled Embarrassment factor: I aim to misbehave No embarrassment here. Everything I hear about Westerado makes it sound like a hell of a game. Rustlin' cattle, solving mysteries, and laying down the law by whipping out a gun mid-dialog scene, these are all things I can stare at over the horizon and give a knowing nod. Gravity Ghost Embarrassment factor: WHEEEEEE! Mea culpa. I did not do the research before I bought this game and I just assumed that you played as the deer wearing socks that you always see in the screenshots. 100% of my purchasing thought process was based on loving the idea of a deer wearing socks. Sadly, you do not play as a deer wearing socks. On the plus side, it's a beautiful, charming, and magical experience and all that... Sigh, I really wanted to play as a deer wearing socks. The Fall Embarrassment factor: File not found The only embarrassment here is that I didn't pick up The Fall sooner. Seriously, this is a gorgeous indie game about a possibly malfunctioning robot-suit trying to save his unconscious pilot while stranded on a planet populated by insane drones and fascist super-computers. Just saying that last sentence out loud activates my saliva glands. Payday 2 DLC: Clover Character pack, Alesso Heist, and the Butcher's BBQ pack Embarrassment factor: A poster of Waingro in the family room I picked up Payday 2 during last summer's Steam Sale and it was a gift that kept on giving. Surprisingly fun co-op heisting with months of content patches and bug fixes behind it, and I picked it up for a song. I ended up playing it for months before my attention drifted and I don't think I ever spent more than $15 or $20 on it all told. With that in mind, even though I'm living on the straight and narrow now, I thought it might be a good idea to pick up some of the cooler looking DLC bits I've missed just in case the bastards ever pull me back in. See, smooth over the truth enough and you can justify something as dumb as buying DLC for a game you don't even have installed any more. That's the kind of moral flexibility the Payday crew can respect. Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes Embarrassment factor: Listening to “Love Deterrence” by Paz Oretga on loop It's Metal Gear for like $5.00, how could I not? I know, buying Ground Zeroes is essentially paying for the privilege to play a demo of The Phantom Pain (which is not too far away from coming out itself now), but you know what? The demo from Metal Gear Solid back on the PS1 was dope as hell and I ended up playing it over and over again FOR HOURS. That demo was basically a loading dock and the front yard of Shadow Moses, so imagine the kind of fun I can wring out of an entire military base. Again, I miss demo discs. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter Embarrassment factor: Mistaking a shadow for a ghost and making a little yelping noise The Vanishing of Ethan Carter looks like a positively beautiful mystery/horror game that will sit in my Steam backlog with pride. I'll be glad it's there, and think of playing it often. “Maybe around Halloween” I'll say. But then the month will come and some big name title will drop hoping to get a jump on the November rush, or Team Fortress 2 will do some adorable ghost themed event and I'll end up plugging hours into an eight year old game again, and poor Ethan Carter will be forgotten. Left to haunt my backlog forever. More like The Vanishing of my Free Time, am I right? Wait, no, that doesn't make much sense. I'll show myself out. Alien: Isolation Embarrassment factor: Closing your eyes in the theater and hoping no one notices Oh man, I hope I don't lose this one to the backlog, because so far it's pretty great. Alien: Isolation is one of those games I was really interested in at launch, but just couldn't bring myself to cough up $60 for it. Now that I've had a chance to play it, I'd say it probably would have been worth the full sticker price (but I'm much happier paying the $10 or so it ended up costing me). The best part of the game so far has just been noodling around the station, checking out all the little touches and messing with the retro-future computers and technology. It's a lot like Gone Home, only instead of being “a little spooky” it's a full-on assault on the nerves that ratchets up the tension until finally skewering you on the end of a Xenomorph's spiked tail. I'm still holding out hope that Amanda will just find some nice girl to elope with and get out of the station. Marine Sharpshooter 2 Embarrassment factor: Marine Sharpshooter 2 I didn't buy this one. A friend “gifted” me a copy, and oh what a gift. Marine Sharpshooter 2 apparently came out in 2004, but after five minutes in it's muddy, jagged jungles, you'll swear it was 1999 all over again. With what I would describe as a “generous” Metacritic score of 52, it doesn't have many upsides. So of course I immediately installed it instead of any of the other many fine games I spent actual money on. In the clinical world, this is what they call “self hate.”
Steam Sale haul photo
We all have our vices
I still firmly believe that one of the greatest upsides of being a PC gamer are the twice annual fire-sales hosted by Steam. Those sales, alongside the multitude of other deals and bargains that can be scooped up from Humble ...

Review: Kholat

Jun 09 // Jed Whitaker
Kholat (PC)Developer: IMGN.PRO Publisher: IMGN.PRO MSRP: $19.99Release Date: June 9, 2015 Picture this: You're famous Hollywood actor Sean Bean and you're investigating the deaths of nine hikers while stumbling around Russian mountains and collecting letters and pages from their journals. Now picture that as a game and you have Kholat. It would be easy to write this off as another Slender clone, as part of the formula is the same: you walk around finding pages, while occasionally having a run in with a shadowy figure. What sets Kholat apart is that the ghostly figure isn't constantly chasing you, and every page discovered delivers another piece of the story, be it via text or top-notch voice acting. Kholat plays out in three acts, of which the second is the main meat of the game. Act Two takes place in the snowy mountains where the hikers met their demise. You've got a map with key locations listed in longitude and latitude, a compass, and a flashlight. The goal is to visit each of the nine marked locations to discover key pages to give insight on what exactly happened to the hikers. While finding the nine main locations is the overall goal, many other pages can be found throughout the mountains that provide tidbits of information into what happened there. The game saves each time a new page is found, which gives some incentives to find them other than just experiencing the story, as you may find yourself dying often. Gaseous orange shadows will show up in certain areas of the mountains mostly requiring stealthy movement to avoid, though at times running is the only option. Scripted events occur where orange clouds start to close in around you, and a nearby page must be found before the monsters within can take your life, though these are few and far between. If you're like me, you're going to get lost a lot. Turns out when everything is covered in snow, it looks very similar, but at least Kholat is easy on the eyes. There are some varying locations, from caves, to a charred forest, to a giant spooky tree, to a throne of bones. Each one is a unique and memorable set piece where something important is to be discovered. The scariest part of Kholat isn't the monsters that lurk in the dark, but the feeling of anxiety and urgency brought on by it capturing the feeling of being lost in the wilderness. Each location is coupled with realistic ambiance and weather that when combined with the equally realistic graphics really nails the feeling of being lost on a mountain in solitude. At one point I considered muting the game to give myself a break from the dread coming over me, but I pushed on. The voice-acted pieces of the story are very believable and chilling. While some pages you'll find just read like generic journal entries, others are downright horrifying thanks to a well written and acted script. There are various people writing the pages, providing different perspectives on what happened on the mountain over time. Unlike many games with collectible journals, I find these actually worth seeking out. Little to no directions are given to the player -- you're just dropped into the world and expected to figure things out on your own. It wasn't until my second play session that I realized the locations marked on the map were of importance. After figuring out proper use of the map and compass, it was easy to complete the game in just around four hours, which felt a bit light for the asking price of $20, considering most of your time will be spent looking at snowy rocks. Overall an enjoyable experience that has a fantastic presentation but just lacks much depth in gameplay. [This review is based on a retail build provided by the publisher.]
Kholat Review photo
Sean Bean's Mystery Incorporated
Kholat is based on the Dyatlov Pass incident, which is arguably one of history's greatest mysteries; nine hikers go missing and are subsequently found dead in the snowy Russian mountains. The hikers had cut their wa...

Newstoid #3 photo
Get your tentacles ready!
We are back with another episode of Newstoid, your favorite video game news show. On this episode we discuss all things Fallout 4, dogs, and Splatoon takes over. I might be a bit biased, but I think this is our best episode ...

The Silent Hill Retrospective: Silent Hill

May 30 // Stephen Turner
Silent Hill was as much about crumbling economics as it was about night cries and picket fences. Much like Resident Evil’s Raccoon City, the dilapidated lakeside town was undone by greed. America losing its values to modernisation was a recurring theme in survival horror. It was a warning from those whom had lost their own traditions to capitalist growth, not that far removed from the J-Horror zeitgeist at the time. But more often than not, Silent Hill takes its inspiration from days gone by. Old Silent Hill's influences are worn on street names and ledgers, from Stephen King to Sonic Youth to Psycho. Even the intro pops to the sounds of vinyl, its theme song in equal parts Eastern tremolo and Western twang. These influences come together to create small-town America on the slide, full of “mom & pop” stores and tight-knit suburban mazes. But rather than a tourist, you’re a trespasser. Horror in all its forms has this element of invasion. Here, Harry Mason breaks into homes, schools, and hospitals, as he searches for his missing daughter. Though the overall plot ends up becoming more about the Otherworld, his parental fears are always at the forefront. Essentially, it's not Harry's story, but Alessa Gilesspie's. As the player, and as Mason, we're the outsiders looking in. Perception is the key to the story and scares. Memories are skewered to point where friendly faces are misjudged and emotional attachments lead to narrow-minded decisions. Harry falls through the layers of reality, like the waking waves of a bad dream, and sees the town for what it really is. The Otherworld is an abstract place, clearly a concept that reflects its tortured conduit. What could’ve possibly been a new paradise takes a horrific form because of Alessa's abuse and lack of care by her mother, Dahlia Gilesspie, and Dr. Michael Kaufmann. Later games would force the perspective onto the main protagonist, and at times would suffer for it, but few would capture that “traveller in a foreign land” feel of their predecessor. It's because of the Otherworld that Silent Hill is relentless and oppressive. It constantly toys with the audience, waiting to take shape, and gradually stripping away the safety nets. Harry is shown to be extremely vulnerable, early on. He stumbles off steps, puts out his hands as he crashes into walls, has to catch his breath, and is a terrible shot. Our first contact with the Otherworld ends in seemingly death. It’s a far cry from the shrug-it-off antics of S.T.A.R.S. or Edward Carnby P.I. Every attempt is made to obfuscate the audience, either by claustrophobic gaze, location, sounds, or virtual threat. Radio static is both friend and foe; warning us of monsters beyond the flashlight's reach and ramping up the tension just by letting us know that something's there. Ominous, hollow synths give way to industrial noise, punishing and overbearing. Akira Yamaoka’s soundtrack is comparatively brutal to his later work, the kind of unsettling cacophony that would give a pre-Grammy winner John Congleton nightmares. Even at its most calm in the Fog World, the music still sets your teeth on edge. And yet, by the final act, where reality is in actuality nothingness, Silent Hill does an amazing job of drawing sympathy out of horrific circumstances. To many, Lisa Garland is the human face of Silent Hill (both town and title), and our perception of her stems from Alessa’s own memories. She’s seen as this kind and selfless nurse that only wants to help, but as we delve deeper, endure and learn, we discover what lies beneath. The bright smile, the homely uniform, and her position of warmth and care, are all her “picket fences.” By the end, we find out Lisa was a drug addict, terrified of her only patient. Through Harry, she finds the strength to push onwards, only to realise her own fate was already set in stone. Truth shatters the façade, breaks down her body, and we’re confronted with yet another disturbing subject of horror. For Harry, it's too much and he runs away. But for once, instead of the oppressive percussion of Yamaoka’s themes, we’re treated to the melancholic Not Tomorrow. These were people, not monsters. [embed]292927:58733:0[/embed] In a time of hi-five heroics, Silent Hill offered no such compliments. The best ending closes on a bittersweet note. The town is still lost to the Otherworld, though probably not as powerful as it once was, and Harry doesn't quite get his daughter back. In a shot mirroring the intro, and with his cop friend, Cybil Bennett, standing in for his deceased wife, there's the nagging suspicion that for all we've done, it might just happen again. Sure, we saved a young girl's soul, but we didn't really win anything. Only lessons and traditions were learned. Maybe that was the point, considering the start of this article. As a game, the first and only PSX release has undoubtedly aged in the last 16 years. But much like the low-budget horror movies and low-fi recordings it emulated, Silent Hill overcame handicap through inventiveness. The Otherworld, the town, the storytelling, they were all informed by thinking outside the box. Everything we know about Silent Hill – every fan theory, every femme fatale characteristic, run-down aesthetic, social commentary, urban quest, childhood memory, occultist lore, and personal demon – stems from this very title. So it might be a little frayed around the edges, and certain conveyances are needlessly obscure, but for a mainstream horror game that was intended, quite cynically by Konami remember, to chase after that sweet Resident Evil success, it really was a very unique and artistic beast. It's still wonderful to think how something like that could be produced by such a small group of rag-tag developers, left alone to their own devices in a fairly corporate environment. Of course, though we had survived our first trip through the dark side of Americana, the world had been left open for more lost souls and more horrific layers to come…
Feature photo
What's going on with that radio?
Western horror, Eastern eyes. That was what made Silent Hill memorable for a generation. It was visceral and relentless, oppressive and paranoid, and underlined with a tragic tale that hadn’t been seen on the normally e...

My greatest gaming regret is never making it to one of those ridiculous BattleTech Centers

May 29 // Nic Rowen
While BattleTech Centers were a video game experience, I'd say they had more in common with a laser-tag joint than an arcade. It was a production; one part video game, one part fantasy. They'd sit you down inside an overly-complex facade of a mech cockpit they called a “battle pod,” complete with WWII bomber-style tail art and mock technical information plastered on the side. Inside were a dizzying array of peddles, throttles, joysticks, and an assortment of quasi-functional warning lights and buttons. The pod was totally enclosed, fully immersing the pilot in the fantasy of actually being in command of a giant war-machine. They'd give you a call sign, have you watch poorly acted in-universe tutorials of how the game worked (staring Jim Belushi of all people!) and print out “after action” military reports (scorecards) of your performance. Mechwarriors would play a networked multiplayer death match, piloting their giant mech against with other real live humans piloting their own mechs from separate pods. All of this in the year of our Lord 1991. It was astounding for the day. In just a few short years, they'd have the technology to allow players in different BattleTech Centers around the country play against each other, likely the first introduction to online multiplayer for many mech nuts. Again, this is in the early '90s! [embed]292997:58730:0[/embed] Even voicing the idea out loud, I have no idea how it got off the ground. It sounds like a pipe-dream. A mad fantasy scribbled down in the margins of a high school notebook during the last few minutes of a particularly boring English class. Not something real people would spend real money on. It sounds exactly like the product of one of the “wouldn't it be cool if...” head-in-the-clouds conversations I'd have with my brother when we were kids. Even at the absolute height of the franchise's popularity, I can't imagine dedicating an entire building to mechanized combat. Nowadays, The Avengers are about the most popular thing on Earth, with their combined movie franchise making more money than some national GDPs. Still, I can't imagine getting any investors jumping on board to make Iron Man Centers where you strap on some fake Tony Stark gloves and a helmet and shoot repulsor blasts at other players. It's insane. Still, BattleTech Centers happened. There was a time when you and 15 or more friends could pile into a couple of vans, drive to a BattleTech Center, and spend the afternoon recreating the 4th Succession Wars of the early 3000s from the comfort of your personal cockpit -- and I fucking missed it. Nothing gold can stay. As the popularity of BattleTech as a whole began to wane, and the general market shifted away from arcades in favor of home consoles, BattleTech Centers around the world began shuttering their cockpits. There were reattempts at the idea. BattleTech: Firestorm came out in early 2000s with improved Tesla 2 cockpits (capable of “Advanced Mission Mode” which actually turned on all of the extra switches and controls in the cockpit, changing them from a cute cosmetic affectation to necessary instruments). But despite a small hardcore audience of enthusiasts, battle pods are on the brink of extinction. There are a few places still running BattleTech pods, but they are scattered throughout the country and operate on a much smaller scale. A few half-functioning pods tucked in the back of an arcade at a Go-Kart track in New Mexico. A small mech cache in Houston that is only open on occasional weekends or by appointment. Or the Fallout Shelter Arcade's wandering BattleTech exhibition that travels between conventions and events, dropping pods in the middle of a show floor for curious attendees. Even with these last few preservationists, the clock is ticking. The machines are getting older, spare parts and the knowledge to repair them increasingly scarce. Soon, the few remaining pods around may suffer the “lostech” fate that befell the advanced Star League technology of the BattleTech series (an end that is deeply depressing to the part of me that still wants to climb into a cockpit, and bizarrely exhilarating to the part of me that is a bone-deep MechWarrior nerd). Look, I know these centers are dead for a reason. I get that they were cheesy as hell even when they were new. I know the games probably haven't held up. The once quasi-mystical LAN multiplayer experience is completely unnecessary these days and there are any number of better mech games and pilot sims to spend your time on. [embed]292997:58731:0[/embed] But good lord, I just would have loved to have gone to one back in their heyday. Just the idea of dragging a few of my friends and family (who aren't obsessed with giant robots) to one of those centers puts a smile in my heart. Sitting through the terrible videos, climbing into one of those big fake cockpits, it's just the right blend of something I would enjoy both ironically and completely sincerely. Of course I would immediately switch it to the so-called Advanced Mission Mode and spend most of the time flailing about trying to figure out the controls and basically waste the opportunity. I know myself, I'm exactly that kind of jerk. I guess I should start planning a road-trip to catch up with one of the few remaining clutches of pods scattered around the country. The big, silly BattleTech Centers of yesterday are gone, and I'll never get the chance to go to one, but their legacy is still around -- at least for now. I don't want to add another regret to the pile. 
BattleTech Centers photo
They'll never bury me in my robot
I've done a lot of things I'm not proud of in my life. I've made a lot of mistakes, missed some opportunities that still feel like a cavity in my heart, know that I've done wrong. But if I'm being honest? My number one regret...

Halt and Catch Fire explores the early days of online gaming

May 28 // Alessandro Fillari
[embed]292774:58672:0[/embed] Twenty months after the end of season one in 1985, the lead characters have essentially moved on from work on PCs and plan on striking out into something new. After the launch of the Giant, the PC they spent all of the first season building, Joe McMillan (Lee Pace) seeks to rebuild his life after ultimately compromising on his vision for what the future of computers could be, and realizing that his methods of success have harmed others. His number two, Gordon Clark (Scoot McNairy), struggles to find direction after departing Cardiff Electric, and Cameron Howe (Mackenzie Davis) and Donna Clarke (Kerry Bishé) have been hard at work on their new start-up company Mutiny, an online gaming network running on the Commodore 64 platform. With users paying a monthly fee to play multiple titles online with a community of gamers, they seek to expand the company and plan to change the way people seek entertainment and communicate with others. Much like the last season, Halt and Catch Fire's attention to detail and faithfulness to the era is as strong as ever. Focusing on the early stages of the consumer version of what we now know as the Internet, there's a lot of ground to cover for a start-up that deals with the state of online gaming. Though there were other (real) online PC services that offered gaming and many other functions around 1985 -- such as Prodigy, CompuServe, and Quantum Link (now known as AOL) -- the fictional Mutiny of HACF is a service that exclusively streams games to users. With such titles as Tank Battle, Checkers, Chess, and Backgammon serving as the basics, much of their attention towards game creation is focused on a title known as Parallax, a MUD (Multi User Dungeon) RPG series that spans multiple chapters. Looking back, the 1980s was a strange time for games. With the console video game market in a crisis, arcades serving as a hub for social interaction and competitive gaming, and the home PC audience gradually expanding, it's certainly a far cry from what we experience now in the present. What I really like from these episodes so far is that we're seeing a sense of  uncertainty during the time. Given that this is set post-video game console crash, games on cartridges are often regarded by characters as inferior to the offerings and potential of PC gaming. During one of my favorite scenes, the coders at Mutiny are discussing what game to work on next, with one of the new hires suggesting that they focus on technical innovation rather than game creation, as the former usually gives rise to the later. [embed]292774:58671:0[/embed] It's interesting to see a television series focus not only on game development, but the building of an online community during 1980s. Let alone doing it in a way that actually depicts realism, and quite frankly, honesty for what the gaming audience is all about. I watch a lot of television. I'm quite used to seeing different programs spout out random catchphrases and obligatory references to popular games in order to connect with gamers. But the brilliant thing about Halt and Catch Fire is that it not only features characters who are hardcore gamers, but they use their passion as the fuel for their creative endeavors. And that is refreshing to see on a television series. I was a big admirer of the first season, and though it felt a bit uneven and had some pacing issues, it definitely showed potential to become something great. And I can safely say that its potential is finally being realized in its second outing. I was impressed with the beginning of this season, and though I may be biased because it's got a deep focus on gaming, I feel that the new change of scenery, and a new focus, has given the series a much needed rejuvenation. It sure feels much more energetic and hipper because of it. If you haven't seen the show yet, the first season is available now on Netflix, and its second season is set to debut May 31 on AMC. If you're interested in the creation of technology, and hearing a bumping soundtrack to go along with it, then I highly recommend giving it a watch. Also, this series has by far the coolest TV intro ever. That alone is enough to deserve it your attention.
Halt and Catch Fire photo
The thing that gets us to the thing
In case you couldn't tell, the 1980s is having a bit of comeback. With so many games and films (Kung Fury is out today!) seeking to emulate the vibrant and lively era, there's plenty of people out there feeling nostalgic for ...

Newstoid #1 photo
The day is finally here!
The moment you've all been waiting for that has been months in the making, Newstoid is finally officially here! We have all the hot scoops, hot hosts, and side-splitting laughter you could ask for. Not to mention the hot bea...

Squid Now Art Film photo
By your favorite person alive, me!
"Better than anything David Cage has been making" - Edgar Velasco (MoonSpiderHugs) "You've gotta be squidding me." - Zainré Fang "So Nintendo hired David Lynch to create a Splatoon commercial?" - quetzalcoat...

Things that the Persona 5 trailer is better than

May 01 // Steven Hansen
[embed]287234:58408:0[/embed] The first thing I did the morning I knew the trailer would launch was paw around in the dark, eyes half closed, for my phone to watch it and it was somehow as good as I expected it to be despite unreasonable expectations. But how good is that? We need context. Here are some things that the Persona 5 trailer is better than: 1) Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones. 2) Having ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife. 3) The love and acceptance of a parent, because a parent is just going to die and leave you alone. Persona 5 will never leave you. 4) The Iditarod. 5) The episode of Seinfeld where Elaine dances badly. 6) When America legalized standing with your feet close together, thus freeing public transport from sweaty, leg splayed wafts. 7) Ants. 8) Some cats. 9) This joke: "Need a friend named Nick so I can say 'what do you call a guy with no balls?' Eunuch." 10) The time 50 Cent's grandma made him take out the trash and he tweeted, "I'm rich fuck this I'm going home I don't need this shit." 11) Brett Makedonski's basketball game. 12) The time when I was like five years old, playing on the top of a bunk bed. I grabbed the guard rail, looked over the side, and the guard rail came loose, taking me down with it. I split my head open and lost so much blood that I had to be carried around the house (no, of course I didn't go to the hospital, what am I, made of money?) 12) List posts.
Persona 5? It's good photo
The Persona 5 trailer is better than a lot of things and here are some of those things
Kyle posted some new Persona 5 screenshots earlier, which got me excited, which got me watching the Persona 5 trailer again, which just got me more excited. I like when a trailer can turn me on (not sexual). I watch a lo...

Great alternative hamburger toppings that wouldn't go so well in a first-person shooter

Apr 30 // Steven Hansen
EGG "Egg" is short for "eggscrement," as it is the foul (hah!) byproduct of most poultry. In America, egg typically comes from the chick-hen, named for being the ladybird amore to the male cock. But just because egg comes from a chick-hen's buns doesn't mean it doesn't belong on yours! A nicely fried egg over easy with a drippy yolk makes for a great treat when biting down on a hamburger. It ain't a burger if you don't have to wash your hand after! Why it wouldn't go good in a first-person shooter? You have to crack an omelet to make a few eggs and executive types are more likely omelet someone work on wall textures than devote the processing power necessary for shell splattering particle effects or new viscous liquid engines -- and that's just in the butt-fresh, pre-cooked state. While the egg would serve as a good "Easter Egg" (hah!) in a grenade lob animation, the only scramble I want in my multiplayer shooters is towards a flag that needs to be captured. TOMATO CHUTNEY Have you seen what's in your grocery store ketchup? The All-American spread has been perverted by some strange new system wherein quality and safety become secondary to profit. And so ketchup becomes a slurry of high-fructose corn syrup, tomato flavoring and "spice." Take beck-up the ketchup! Or substitute it with a sweet, fresh tomato chutney. The onion, vinegar, and brown sugar will get you where you need to be. Why it wouldn't go good in a first-person shooter? Sounds foreign? GUACAMOLE No, not the 2D platformer, Guacamelee! We're talking the foodstuff for which it was named. I wanted to go "avocado" here -- a fine burger topping in and of itself -- but why not go-uacamole all the way! There are quite a few spreads that make surprising burger fixings. I recently mixed guacamole and an even spicier Calabrian pepper spread and loved the unexpected kick to my 'burg.  Why it wouldn't go good in a first-person shooter? The only spread first-person shooters seem to care about it bullet spread when discussing weapons such as shotguns. Also another spread they like are sheets. You know, like for accounting all the money they're making. Making guacamole, even if you throw the ingredients in a food processor, requires some manual dexterity to deseed peppers, deshell tomatillos and garlic. If you tried to make guacamole in the next big first-person shooter, it'd probably end up like playing Surgeon Simulator while the your enemy makes a nice spread of their own -- you! From your gutshot abdomen stirred up by your sucking chest wounds. JETPACKS My co-workers, public transit companions, and dentist have always expressed a universal thought when asked on a date: "Yeah, when pigs fly." The desire for airborne swine transcends race, social classes, and the irresponsibility of my request based on my familiarity or lack thereof with the responder. While not a "topping" per se, eating a hamburger (named for the gentle ham, the most ground-bound of all the lord's creatures) while in the air would be a noble gesture to the beast from which we derive so much pleasure. Why it wouldn't go good in a first-person shooter? No, no, no. Tightly controlled lanes of combat and no-more-than-two-story buildings are the "name of the game," and the game they are the name of is the first-person shooter. Jetpacks would require a complete design overhaul to account for them and do you know how hard that would be? I already know the buttons for shoot gun, aim gun, throw bomb, damn it. Look at Titanfall, languishing with no one playing but Nic Rowen and the "story-mode" robots. They think he's one of them. They don't even know he is alive. They trade self-deprecating asides about their faulty coding and sometimes run menial errands -- oil changes, circuitry hacks, taxes -- like he isn't even there. The idea of putting a jetpack into a first-person shooter is preposterous. That's what the sprint button is for. Are we supposed to just throw the stamina gauge baby out with the we-must-have-jetpacks-and-a-new-gauge-for-fuel bathwater? It's like putting a pineapple on a burger. Redundant, stupid, dunderheaded. Let me know in the comments if you have alternative hamburger toppers!
Hamburger toppings photo
Lettuce think outside the gun!
I recently picked up a controller to play some Mortal Kombat X with my lawyer after we finished working out (not sexual!) in the basement of his hilltop home. While he'd signed, sealed, and delivered (legal jargon) some Morta...

Double Fine Productions aims to rekindle the spirit of adventure

Apr 28 // Alessandro Fillari
"It seems like there's been so many people talking about adventure games, people crowdfunding new adventure games," recalled Tim Schafer, the founder of Double Fine Productions and game director on Broken Age. "It's just that everyone felt that it's okay to talk about it again. We don't have to talk about it like a dead genre anymore, people just throw that word around casually, like 'Oh, you're doing an adventure game?' -- it's become normalized now." With the renewed interest for adventure games in recent years, there's never been a better time to become invested in the once-dormant genre. There was a time when adventure titles were common, and full of optimism, but with a steep decline after the '90s, traditional point-and-click games seemed to have gone by the wayside. But recently, these games have seen a reawakening, thanks in part to developers like Telltale Games and Double Fine outputting a steady flow of titles. And with titles spread across so many platforms (including mobile), they're now more accessible than ever. The development of Broken Age, which is easily the studio's highest-profile project, has been a unique case to watch. Tim Schafer and the team aimed to create a title that was a true throwback to classic LucasArts titles like Day of the Tentacle, The Secret of Monkey Island, and Grim Fandango -- while also taking advantage of today's technology to illustrate visually vibrant and diverse worlds to explore. With the pretty positive reception the first act received last year, people have been anxious to get their on the final part of the game. During my session, I had some time to play the PlayStation 4 version of Broken Age along with Tim Schafer. Though I went in mostly blind, as I opted to wait until the full release was ready to play, I still had a wonderful time experiencing it this way. It felt great with the PS4 on a big screen, and adding to this was a sense of playing with a community that chimed in with thoughts and helped with clues for puzzles. It really added to the fun. Schafer hopes that players who've already cleared Act I will start from scratch now that Act II is out, as he believes many of the references and characters from the first half of the game may have been forgotten by players by now. Though the developers have launched other titles during the three years of Broken Age's development -- such as Grim Fandango Remastered, Costume Quest II, The Cave, and the beta for their second crowdfunded project, Massive Chalice -- firm interest has still been kept on their work for Broken Age. And with good reason. I mean, how many other games in active development have a film crew following them around recording all their successes and missteps for the masses to see? While they had the challenges of their own project to manage, they also had to deal with the high-profile nature of it following the success of the funding campaign. With everyone watching, the developers wanted to ensure they'd knock it out of the park with the completed title and not only live up to expectations but also to set a good example for the future of crowdfunded titles. Because whether they wanted to or not, they essentially became the people to follow and emulate. "We were like, 'We can't obviously walk away from [the Kickstarter project], we made a commitment to fans and to our backers," said the director of Broken Age. "It did feel like the beginning of something, and it did feel like the responsibility to not mess it up, because our game, our studio, and other people's games kind of were depending on it now, and if done well could lead to a whole bunch of things being funded, that couldn't have been funded otherwise. So we definitely felt like there was a lot riding on our shoulders, but we would've stuck with it anyway, because we always finish our games." The success of the Kickstarter certainly felt like a watershed moment for many. During my interview with Brian Fargo last year for Wasteland 2, the success of Double Fine's project sparked a lot of enthusiasm among many of the "old-school" designers looking to explore forgotten genres and franchises. In our chat, Fargo spoke about trust being the cornerstone of the relationship between developers and their community. And I definitely got a sense of that from my visit to Double Fine. There was not only a clear respect for the genre that many of the developers were returning to, but also for the many of backers and fans who have contributed to the title as well. For better or worse, however, the level of transparency has also contributed to scrutiny over the project. While there have been many successes with crowdfunding over the years, there are also many projects that missed the mark, or outright failed to deliver. During our talk, I felt that Schafer was humbled by the process, and even spoke honestly about their own stumbles with limiting content and details to backers only, leaving everyone else out of the loop. One of the important things they wanted viewers of the documentary to see is what exactly the process is like for game creation -- to give them an understanding of the challenges they often faced. "A lot of people make games, and they care so much about what they make," he said while discussing the challenges of development. "There are so many hard tradeoffs they have to make, there are features in the game they wanted but couldn't because there are these other things they wanted even more, and I want everyone to see that process, because I do think that when you ship a game everything you see in it is an active choice by someone, and it is, but sometimes it's a miracle the game got done. [...] I don't know if they need to think about that stuff, but I like to know that at least some people out there know how hard people work, how amazingly difficult or complicated problems are solved everyday, and all the choices they have to make while making a videogame." This definitely struck a chord with me. I'm inclined to think that there are many gamers out there who are unfamiliar with the actual process of game development, and assume many features and key aspects of development can be added in and removed as if they were text on a document. It felt very refreshing to see so much openness about game creation. Though that may be in part to due to the needs of transparency for operating a crowdfunded project, I found that it helped to not only give the developers their own chance to tell their side of the story, but also to humanize the actual process of game creation. While the added publicity of their project added pressure to make sure they did right by fans, it was the kind of pressure they were more than familiar with during their time on past titles from the LucasArts era and in recent years at Double Fine. Over the years, they've developed games that inspire a lot of love and respect from fans, and making sure they deliver was something that kept them on track. "It's definitely pleasurable to succeed and fulfill all those promises, and anyone who's kinda hoping we would fail, it's nice to hear their quiet tears in the night. If you listen quietly you can hear them cry into the night," Schafer said while joking about the messages they get from cynical commentators. "But we always have this pressure of trying to do things that the fans would like anyway, now that the fans are actually funding the game, so it's the same group. But you put that kid of pressure on you anyway so you'd make a good game."   With the complete Broken Age experience available now, this marks the end of a long and unique development period for the studio. Though it has still got another crowdfunded title in the wings, its first is now out in the wild, ready to be experienced by fans and newcomers alike. But as we've seen in the years since Double Fine's success on Kickstarter, there's no shortage of campaigns looking to reignite the same fire that only a few projects can attain. Schafer definitely believes the future is bright for crowdfunded titles. "I think crowdfunding is here to stay," said a confident Schafer. "I think when people realized you could get organized and make things happen that couldn't be made by the old gate-keeper system, I think that'll always be the case. [...] Basically I think things always go crazy on Kickstarter when there's a great story. I think we had a good story that was new, and also people were saying 'Here's this thing we wanted to happen for a while.' Like this new adventure game, and it hasn't happened, but we could fix that and make it ourselves -- and that's really powerful." "But there are a lot of other different kinds of stories, besides old-timers like me going back and doing the genre again. Just people doing projects no one has ever thought of before, but instantly want to happen, I think there'll be these spikes whenever that happens and continue to be more popular. I mean the things about crowdfunding will change and improve, but I don't think it'll ever go away." A good story is important. Whether it comes from a struggling developer looking to strike out on its own with a project that was rejected by countless publishers, or from a group of veteran creators seeking to return to a classic franchise all while doing it their way -- crowdfunding has inspired a lot of people with an idea to put themselves out there and hope to find others who share their vision, and to ultimately realize it. And with Broken Age out now, we're approaching the end of another story from the folks at Double Fine Productions. But as the genre goes, there are always more adventures to be had. It's not often you get to be a part of the revival of a once-dead genre that inspired many to create their own titles, bond with friends and family over the complexity of puzzles, or get caught up in heated debates about what the real ending is for contentious titles. As the name of the genre states, an adventure is an exciting and hazardous journey into the unknown, and the developers of Broken Age experienced just that with their first foray into crowdfunded game development. Regardless of how you feel about Broken Age as a whole, or whether the developers at Double Fine made the right choices, it's hard to deny that it all made for one of the most interesting development periods for a game in years. Whether you view Double Fine Productions as the underdog or not, it still made for an engaging story. And aren't those the ones worth telling?  
Double Fine interview photo
Everyone loves a good story
Who could forget the great Kickstarter boom of 2012? You remember, right? Out of nowhere, this website called Kickstarter suddenly became a focal point for established developers and indies looking to crowdfund the next big t...

Experience Points .08: Persona 4

Mar 21 // Ben Davis
The hard-kicking heroine The best thing about Persona 4 is its huge cast of interesting, colorful characters. There aren't really any characters I particularly dislike, aside from the ones you're supposed to hate (Morooka and Kashiwagi, for instance). Everyone has their own favorite Persona 4 character, but I've always been particularly fond of Chie Satonaka. Chie is one of the protagonist's classmates, and one of the first people he meets at his new school. She's very energetic, friendly, and upbeat. She loves watching kung fu movies and eating all kinds of meat (especially steak!), and she can kick foes into oblivion with her signature Galactic Punt move. Like, she can actually send giant robots and tanks flying into outer space with just her foot. She's amazing! She's also one of the characters the protagonist can date. Chie is so charming that I always end up dating her every time I play Persona 4, rather than seeing how any of the other girls would react. The way she says, "I love you," at the end of her social link just makes my heart melt. You're the best, Chie! I'll face myself Persona 4's shadow bosses are pretty crazy. Chie's shadow takes the form of a yellow-clad dominatrix sitting atop a tower of pale girls, Rise's shadow is a rainbow stripper squelching around on a pole, and Yosuke's shadow... well I don't even know what the heck he's supposed to be. The shadows are supposed to represent the characters' repressed thoughts and emotions, so they can get a little awkward. Arguably the craziest shadow is that of Kanji Tatsumi. Kanji is the tough guy of the group; he shouts and gets in fights a lot, and generally maintains a street punk facade. His shadow is an entirely different story. Shadow Kanji is essentially a homosexual stereotype: feminine, flamboyant, speaks with a lisp, hangs out in bathhouses. It's very unexpected, based on Kanji's demeanor, and he seems to find it very embarrassing and offensive. Unsurprisingly, he denies that the shadow is really a part of him. Then Shadow Kanji changes, taking the form of a massive, muscular dude, decorated with roses and wielding two huge, metal male symbols as weapons, with two other bodybuilders at his side for support. Whoa. It's extremely absurd, super awkward, and yet it was my favorite boss fight in the game. Having dealt with issues of sexuality and being in the closet myself, I sort of understood what Kanji seemed to be going through. It can be a very confusing time, with conflicting ideas in the media and from peers about how a person should or shouldn't behave based on their gender. It creates this amalgamation of bad thoughts and confusing ideas, which could lead to something like Kanji's shadow lingering in the back of one's mind, which they try to hide and push back as far as possible so no one finds out. Even though the shadow was an extreme, ridiculous example of those thoughts, it was still something I could relate to, which is why it left such a huge impression on me. This was the first time I'd played a game that tried to tackle these issues, and I really appreciated the attempt. A game within a game If there's one thing Persona 4 lacks, it's dungeon variety. Sure, there's a bunch of different themed areas, like a bathhouse, a strip club, and a secret laboratory, but they all start to feel like palette swaps for the same basic dungeon layout after a while. However, there was one dungeon that really stood out to me: Mitsuo Kubo's Void Quest dungeon. Void Quest is built to resemble an 8-bit videogame, with chiptunes-inspired music and lots of little references to old JRPGs. There's so many neat little touches in this dungeon that I can't help but enjoy myself while I'm wandering around the randomized floors. The entrance appears as a title screen, with the words "Game Start" and "Continue" hovering in midair. The doors open with this delightfully clunky animation and sound effect. On each new floor, Mitsuo's thoughts read like text from an RPG, and he even "levels up" with attributes like "coolness increases by 3" and "emptiness increases by 8." The boss fight against Shadow Mitsuo even plays out like an old 8-bit turn-based battle, with command menus that pop up whenever he attacks. I could tell the level designers really had fun with this area, and it paid off. Even though it was basically still a palette-swapped dungeon layout like the rest (with the occasional unique floor which required puzzle-solving), it managed to be exciting and memorable just through style alone. Bear-y funny, Teddie Wanna know the main reason to play Persona 4? Bear puns. Teddie is so full of bear puns it's almost unbearable. Every other line is "bear this" or "bear that," but you just have to bear with it. He's a beary useful member of the party, at least. You'll bearly be able to keep up with his bear-sona bearing down on you. If he ever starts going bear-serk, you bear-ter watch out! God, these puns are awful (kuma)... For real though, Teddie is awesome. Bear puns and all. Sensei don't fear the reaper I had no idea the Reaper was a thing in Persona 4 until I randomly stumbled upon it during my second playthrough. While exploring Yukiko's castle dungeon, I came across a suspicious chest. Upon examing the chest, a creepy message flashed across the screen: "You sense an intensely terrifying presence... open this box?" I hesitated, but I was really curious about what that meant exactly, so I said yes. Suddenly, my navigator chimed in, warning me not to open it. It then prompted me again: "Will you really open it?" I was a little too nervous at this point. I expected something powerful and scary, and I hadn't leveled up very much yet. I decided to walk away and try again some other time. The next time I found the suspicious chest was in Mitsuo's Void Quest dungeon. I'd leveled up quite a bit since the castle, so I decided to give it a shot and finally opened the chest. Out popped the Reaper, a creepy, masked monster covered in chains and tattered rags, wielding two revolvers with super long barrels. I loved his design, and his guns were like the coolest looking weapons I've ever seen. Unfortunately, he was way too powerful for me, and he quickly killed my entire team within a few turns. Well, so much for that... I challenged him again in the Magatsu Inaba dungeon, and after an intensely difficult, grueling battle, I finally managed to defeat him! I was rewarded with the Blade of Totsuka, the protagonist's strongest weapon. I later found out it's possible to challenge the Reaper multiple times, in order to get the most powerful weapons and armor for each character. I didn't go through the trouble of finding everything, but I did at least get the best weapons for my three other main party members: Teddie, Kanji, and Chie. They definitely felt well-deserved, after battling such a formidable opponent. It came from the Dojimas' refrigerator There's a lot of things to do in Persona 4 to spend time during the day or increase stats. One such activity involves raiding the refrigerator at home for snacks. Seems pretty straightforward, but the Dojima residence's fridge is a mysterious thing. Sometimes the protagonist will find normal things in the fridge, like melon soda or shortcake. But other times, he'll find things that are quite worrisome... A pot full of grass? Unidentified mushrooms? An alarm clock?! He can also eat Nanako's pudding, like a big jerk. Tasting these weird discoveries can raise his courage stat, but sometimes it'll send him to bed sick, unable to do anything else that night. The best part about the fridge finds is the wording, though, with prompts like, "A single slice of ham lies lonely on a paper plate. Something about it disturbs you..." and "There's a brown spherical object in the depths of the fridge. You think it used to be a pear... Eat it?" I never knew what to expect when I opened the refrigerator door. It's simultaneously frightening and hilarious. I'm not sure I'd be brave enough to eat anything that came from the Dojimas' fridge after seeing some of the things they keep in there... Helping out the hanged man One of Persona 4's biggest draws is its Social Links system. Social Links are the relationships formed between the protagonist and other various characters in the game. Spending time with friends will strengthen the Social Links, granting the protagonist and his party members greater skills in battle. It's also a chance to learn more about the characters and their backstories. All of the Social Links are interesting, but I think my favorite one is the Hanged Man Arcana, Naoki Konishi. The protagonist's relationship with Naoki starts off pretty rough. Naoki is the younger brother of Saki Konishi, who was one of the murder victims towards the beginning of the game. Still coping with his sister's death, Naoki lashes out at the protagonist when they first meet, telling him quite plainly that he hates him. Even though he came off as incredibly rude, I really felt bad for the guy. I kept trying to talk to him whenever I saw him in the hallway at school, even though he didn't want anything to do with me. Eventually, he came around and decided to chat with me, and apologized for his previous rudeness. Through Naoki's Social Link, the player gets to learn about how someone might deal with the death of a loved one, how other people might treat that person, and how their behavior and gossip can make the mourner feel alienated. I felt a lot of empathy for Naoki and just wanted to make him feel better by being there for him and lending an ear to listen to his troubles. Towards the end, he's finally able to let loose and cry, and share some fond memories of his sister, and he thanks the protagonist for being so friendly. It's a really sad story, but sometimes the saddest moments are the ones that stick in your mind the most. That's why Naoki's Social Link was by far the most memorable to me. 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.07: Paper Mario
Persona 4 highlights photo
I am a shadow... the true self
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...

Lots of games are morally bankrupt, we get it

Mar 19 // Anthony Burch
Most games are horrifying celebrations of violence and empowerment that prioritize aggression over compassion, and competition over empathy. And that's completely fine. (So long as the game, and the audience, know that that's what is going on.) We all -- to some extent or another -- are aware that the art and media we engage with can often be full of shit. We often love our art for being full of shit! I love Doctor Who, and it's one of the most full-of-shit television shows of all time! It champions optimism and mercy without ever approaching anything even remotely similar to a real-life dilemma, and -- so long as you know that's what it's doing -- it's a perfectly fine bit of escapism. And so it is with violent videogames. Yes, it's really, really weird that you run around massacring orcs because They're The Bad Guys, and it's even weirder that we were more excited to massacre them in Shadow of Mordor specifically because they felt more human. They felt like people with lives and backstories and that made it way more satisfying to slice their heads off what the fuck. But! It's escapism. It's full of shit, but it's full of shit in a way that is decidedly fun and effective. Should we ask greater questions about why Shadow of Mordor is fun, and consider how its fun-ness might be inexorably linked to racism and classism? Absolutely. Should we stop playing Shadow of Mordor and paint everyone who enjoys it as an enormous pile of human waste? Of course not. Or, to quote Anita Sarkeesian: "It is both possible (and even necessary) to simultaneously enjoy media while also being critical of its more problematic or pernicious aspects." (A quote that, if more people actually listened to, might have resulted in a way goddamn calmer gamer culture over the past few years.) So, it's okay to enjoy sadistic, weird, violent bullshit, so long as all parties involved know that that's exactly what they're doing. The only real problem, to me, is when that bullshit starts pretending to be about something else. Going back to Shadow of Mordor -- which was unquestionably my favorite game of last year -- I loved the over-the-top violence and the multitude of horrific things that you could do to your enemies. I distinctly did not love the story that tried to morally justify those things. The story of Talion's vengeance, and how justified he was in killing all those orcs because they are inherently "vile, savage beasts" (again, you should really read Austin Walker's article), is kind of nonsensical. It gets the player from A to B, sure, but it never stopped feeling weird for the game to paint Talion as a hero with one brush, and then allow you to decapitate an orc who is defined by a very human, relatable fear of fire moments later. But we've heard this argument before, right? Ludonarrative dissonance, blah blah blah. We've heard this argument so much, in fact, that it spawned an entirely new genre of games: the Violent Games That Criticize Violence And People Who Enjoy Violence genre. Anyone who has played Hotline Miami will remember the constant, enigmatic questions posed to the player by its cast of animal-faced murderers. "Knowing oneself means acknowledging one's actions." "You like hurting people, don't you?" "You're not a nice person, are you?" "Do you like hurting other people?" On its surface, these questions -- questions that many games pose to their players -- are deep, interesting queries. Functionally, though, they do nothing but jab an accusatory finger at the player. You fucking caveman, they shout. What's wrong with you? Why do you like this horrible, violent pornography? The answer to these condescending questions is simple: because these games are fun, and you know they're fun, and you spent hours and hours and hours of development time making sure I'd find them fun. These games never broach the actual social or biological reasons we find violence entertaining. Evolutionarily, it's to our advantage to find violence more stimulating and interesting than other aspects of the human experience, because a failure to find violence noteworthy can result in our deaths. Culturally, there are reams and reams of academic papers on violence as a (chiefly male) expression of worth and power that can often poison the aggressor almost as much as their victim. These games don't address that. Far Cry 3 says you like violence because you're a racist, simple-minded tourist (or at least, you have no problem taking on the role of one because, as a player, you're so eager to get to the murdering that your avatar is meaningless). Hotline Miami says you like it because you're kind-of-sort-of-bad-person-I-guess-but-maybe-not-really-I-don't-know. Spec Ops: The Line suggests you've just never given any thought to what the hell you've done as a player of games. These games chastise the player for enjoying consequence-free violence, right before offering them a smorgasbord of beautifully rendered, lovingly visceral consequence-free violence (Spec Ops less so, as it actually gives a shit about the choices you made in the story. Additionally, it forbids the player from being as graphically sadistic toward his or her enemies as FC3 and Hotline Miami). This is kind of weird, right? This is a hypocritical way of having your cake and eating it too -- of pretending you're making a grand statement about violence, without actually saying anything of note beyond -- bizarrely -- blaming the player for buying your game. If a game truly cared about exploring violence and its consequences, wouldn't it bake that into its game systems? XCOM, to me, is a greater treatise on violence and death than any of the other games I've mentioned because its systems force the player to make real, consequential, dynamic choices about the value of life. Should I put my elite assault trooper into the path of a crysalid if it means that he'll be able to save two or three civilians? Is it worthwhile to use my rookie to draw a sectoid's fire, just so my sniper can get a shot off? How much do I care about "winning" versus being a good person? What is the actual, financial cost of a human being? XCOM, while seemingly just a silly game about marines fighting aliens, directly engages with these questions in a way that the Hotline Miamis and Far Crys of the world never do. (And what's more, they do it without relying on gore for spectacle's sake). The answer for that is, perhaps, obvious: because it's hard. Because to do so is expensive, and means you're making a mechanically complex game in a time where it's easier and cheaper and often more profitable to make simple games. But if you're going to make a simple game that casts the player in a simple, hyperviolent role, why pretend to be an exploration of violence when your game mechanics obviously aren't? Why not go the other direction? Why not celebrate the fact that you're, to be brutally cynical, kinda full of shit? That's what Borderlands 2 was about -- from my perspective, at least. (It should probably go without saying, but a TON of people worked on Borderlands 2, and though I wrote about 90% of the dialogue, that dialogue makes up a comparatively small percentage of the overall Borderlands 2 experience. I can only speak for myself, and my own frame of mind when I worked on the game.) Early on, after the player kills a few psycho bandits, I had Claptrap comment on the battle: "Minion! What did you DO?! Those people had LIVES, and FAMILIES, and -- nah, I'm totally kidding. SCREW those guys!" As a joke, this line of dialogue isn't great. It's too long, its punchline is obvious, and it's just plain not all that funny. But nonetheless, this was a line I found myself coming back to as a thematic touchstone for the series as a whole. Yes, you are a murderer. Yes, you only exist to kill people and rob their corpses so you can kill more powerful things and rob more shiny stuff from their corpses. But it's all bullshit, so don't sweat it. Don't forget that you're being kind of a murderous antihero, but have fun with it! It's entertaining to be a murderous antihero. Don't pretend you're something that you're not (a hero), but don't beat yourself up over your antiheroism -- revel in it. There was a bit of internal worry about casting the player as such an amoral mercenary, but by making the bad guy an even bigger asshole, and by surrounding the people with (hopefully) charming, equally amoral good guys, everything basically turned out okay. We didn't, to my recollection, get any letters about how horrific it was to play as an antihero -- if anything, people seemed to enjoy that Borderlands was so jovially honest with its players about what it was and what it asked them to do. Saints Row works for exactly the same reason. The first two Saints Row games can often veer toward the horrifying, as the player upholds "values" like loyalty (which manifests itself in the player brutally murdering Julius, the founder of the Saints who rats on them in an attempt to bring peace back to Stillwater) and justice (which sees the player kidnap an unarmed woman, lock her in the trunk of a destruction derby car, and trick her boyfriend into ramming her to death as a means of avenging one of their fallen comrades). But Saints Row 3 and 4? The games where the franchise fully accepted just how batshit insane its players, characters, and world are? God damn, those are some good fucking videogames. Yes, your only method of interaction with civilians sees you punching or bludgeoning or shooting them. "Fuck it," the game says -- "let's incentivize that kind of behavior by making civilians drop health when you kill them." The moment Saints Row stopped trying to make serious statements about anything was the moment it reached its full potential. It accepted its own ludicrousness, and in so doing became the most honest videogame ever made: you play like a psychopath in these games, so we'll cast you as a mass-murderer and have everyone talk about how hilariously fun it is to be a mass-murderer. Fuck it, we'll make you president because you were so good at being a mass-murderer. Sure, the Saints Row games aren't "deep" (except for the fact that they totally are, thanks to their treatment of sexuality), but they're honest. Their messages, such as they are, match up perfectly with their mechanics. In my dumb, ex-game-dev opinion, XCOM and Saints Row represent the two best ways of actually tackling violence in games. Either build your systems around violence and its consequences -- actually force your players to answer questions of morality and power for themselves --  or just throw up your hands and create a world where the player can have fun being a total piece of shit. Above all, just be honest in what you're doing -- don't pretend your game is about How Bad Violence Is when it's really about How Awesome Pixelated Blood Looks.
Immoral games photo
Now move on, already
With Hotline Miami 2 recently released, I realized I am really, really tired of games that belong in its genre. When I say "genre," I refer not to "action games" or "indie games" or even "violent games," but a subtler, more h...

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...


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