Lost In Floaty Void

Several months back, on this website that I call a blog, but others may call a self-indulgent shit. I reviewed Antichamber, a game that’s best described as being akin to an M.C. Escher tribute done by a two-year old with a box of dollar store Crayola knock-offs.

It made heavy use of portals to mess with your sense of direction, which was interesting in its own right. But terrible graphics, bad puzzle design, and annoying and a deceptive level layout that disallowed backtracking, killed the game for me.

But one thing always bugged me about Antichamber. Could it be that I just don’t like these kinds of games? The arty, pretentious, first person walk-em-up? Could the only reason I hated the game be because I didn’t get to shoot anything with a gun the size of a car?

That wouldn’t be fair, would it? For me to critique something from a genre I hate. I mean you won’t see me reviewing the latest FIFA title, or some romantic comedy film, or another Tom Clancy novel. Fool me once, you prick.

Now, I could just say that I do like those kinds of games, as long as they’re done right. But even that’s hard to claim when I’ve never really played any game that can compare to Antichamber.

Q.U.B.E. quickly comes to mind. A game about gloves that can send commands to various objects in the world around you. But that game reminded me more of Portal, with its stark white environments, and relatively coherent narrative. It doesn’t really fit with the feel Antichamber tried to provoke.

So that’s a bad comparison. One would need to find a game that’s more surreal, more abstract, and more about the experience than anything else. Perhaps a game like Kairo. An abstract, and surreal odyssey that did what Antichamber failed to do: Be good. Continue reading

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Human Stagnation

One of my favourite games of all time is Deus Ex. Ostensibly a first-person shooter, it featured RPG and stealth elements, as well as a multifaceted level design, allowing you to choose your own path and play-style.

You can bust through the front door of the enemy stronghold, painting the walls with their entrails; or you can slip in through the back door, hiding from the patrolling guards and running past while their backs are turned; or you can find a security panel, hack into it, and reprogram their own security measures to attack them; or you can find an air vent, and crawl through without anyone noticing; or you can come up with a different strategy I haven’t even thought of.

It was a unique approach to game design. Because up until then, most games were designed very linearly. You had one path, and one goal, and your only option was choosing which overpowered superweapon you were gonna use to take the enemy’s head off.

But Deus Ex was completely different. In fact, you could go through the entire game with only a single kill, and that one kill you could perform three different ways. Either you could kill them at the very first opportunity, with very little resistance; or you could wait until later in the game, where you can either find the secret kill phrase, or just shoot them with your gun.

There are even several forking paths in the game, where your actions determine whether any of your allies die. Which I think is a nice little touch. Three characters that come to mind are saved by staying and fighting an attacking enemy (in a supposed-to-lose fight), finding and interrogating a generic NPC revealed to be a saboteur, and successfully completing a stealth-based side-mission.

Then there was the plot itself. Loaded to the brim with intrigue and suspense. You start the game by working for the law-enforcement arm of the United Nations, before switching sides, and fighting the multi-national conspiracy that you were an unknowing part of. And while it’s basically the wet-dream of a paranoid schizophrenic, it’s still a story I love, primarily because of how interesting it is. They frame it in a way that can kinda make sense, and it makes you wonder just how deep down the rabbit hole one can go.

Of course, it’s entirely fictional, and anyone who says otherwise is an idiot.

But yes, I love Deus Ex. I love the gameplay, I love the story, I love every little thing about it. What I don’t love is what came after. Because such a great game deserves a great follow-up. And that never happened.

The first thing to note about the Deus Ex follow-ups is that the first game had three different endings, each changing the world in drastically different ways. So writing a sequel to that would be insane, since none of those three endings were inherently better than any other. None of them could be defined as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ or ‘proper.’ And I’m not even mentioning those characters who may or may not have died. A sequel would have to nail down precisely what happened, or dance around any of the branching plot points. The latter would be annoying, and the former would be offensive to anyone who played the first game, and didn’t follow those plot points.

Now, I never played Invisible War, the sequel to Deus Ex. Partially because of the problems I mentioned earlier, but also because the general consensus of that game is that it’s shit. So why bother?

But I did play the Deus Ex prequel, Human Revolution. And all I have to say is, if this is considered the better follow-up, that can only mean Invisible War shoots hot lead into your eyes. Because Human Revolution sucks!! Continue reading

Artychamber

A few tips for game designers:

Number one: Make your game fun.

I know this may seem obvious, but some developers seem to disregard it, thinking ‘fun’ is beneath them, or that it will distract from the shiny lights. Case in point, TRON: Evolution.

Number two: Make your game interesting.

I find it odd that so many military shooters have come out over the past few years. You’d think that cow would be out of milk by now. But no, people keep selling them, and more people keep buying them, and I just don’t understand it. Oh, look, guns and explosions. How exciting…

Number three: Try not to annoy your player.

Going back to TRON: Evolution again, forcing me to watch the same annoying cut scene over and over without the option to skip it is a recipe for broken monitors.

And number four: If you’re making a puzzle game, try not to make the puzzles breakable.

Not to say a puzzle can’t have multiple solutions, in fact, it should be applauded. But when one of the solutions is as simple as a button press, you know you broke it.

Which brings me to a game I bought nary a week and a half ago, called Antichamber. And it didn’t take me long to realize just how drastically I wasted that seven bucks.

WTF!? Continue reading

Parkour.dll

So TRON was a film about the experiences of a man converted into digital data. It was a surreal fever dream that was fantastic and beautiful.

TRON 2.0 expanded the universe as far as it could when a new character found himself digitized the same way. Similarly themed, it gave the player the opportunity to explore a much larger world than was seen in the original film.

Then, TRON: Legacy rebooted the franchise, transforming it into a Flash Gordon knock-off with all sign of digitality stripped away. But it had enough charm, and added enough new quirks to the mythology to make up for it.

This new mythology has a lot of potential, despite the potential it could have had, if they stuck with the mythology established in TRON 2.0.

Regardless, it’s a story, and a moderately interesting one at that. Kevin Flynn creates a world to experiment with… stuff… in an accelerated digital environment. He made a major discovery, digital lifeforms with free will called ISOs. Then it all turned on him when his own creation wiped out his greatest discovery, and held him captive for a thousand cycles/years.

Oh, by the way, spoilers.

It had a lot of potential and it raised a lot of questions. For instance, when Kevin realized Clu didn’t like the ISOs, why didn’t he decide to reprogram his system administrator to ignore the ‘perfection’ goal, so he’d stop acting like the motherfucking Borg!?

As far as I know, that question was never answered. In fact, very few questions were answered when the opportunity presented itself. When the story of Clu’s coup, and subsequent campaign of genocide against the ISOs was told, in the TRON: Legacy tie-in game, TRON: Evolution. And man, does it suck. Continue reading

Back to Digital

TRON was a revolutionary film for its time. One of the first films to use CGI, and it was actually the theme of the film. Which was pretty daring back in 1982.

A science fiction film through and through it managed to scare off some people. Something I don’t fully understand.

TRON was a box office bomb which I find wholly disappointing, and so did many others.

The late Roger Ebert raved about the original, giving it a rare perfect score, despite, and possibly because of, its lack of human characters. He also thought of it as a highly underrated film, featuring it on his show, Siskel and Ebert and the Movies, a decade later; And closing his first ever Overlooked Film Festival with a screening of it in 1999.

And if Roger Ebert loved TRON, who the fuck are you to argue!?

But over the next several years it went on to earn back double its initial budget. Eventually justifying the release of a sequel. Several sequels as a matter of fact. And how do they stack up?

Sigh… Where to begin?

Why not start with the first attempt? In 2003, twenty-one years after the release of the first film, the first sequel to TRON saw the light of day. And it was appropriately titled: TRON 2.0.

It was a fantastic follow-up to the first film, primarily because it wasn’t a film, but a game. Continue reading

Let’s Prey

The first person shooter is a classic genre. One that holds a special place in my heart.

The reason for this is simple. They feel more realistic than most other genres. After all, if you’re supposed to be the player-character, why are you constantly looking at yourself in profile, or at the back of your own head? We see things in first person in the real world, we should see things the same way in games.

Okay, some may argue that your field of vision in real life is a lot bigger than it is in the average FPS. But I really don’t give a shit.

This love goes back quite a bit. I remember playing the original Doom when I was a little kid. Only the first episode though because paying for that stuff was not easy. We didn’t have gaming stores back in the day. We had the shareware bin at Zellers, which had dozens of different games for a dollar each, but that was it. They actually should have been free, but you still had to pay for the media and distribution costs. Remember, this was the pre-internet days. Higgs, I’m old!

There was also the small computer stores which did repairs and sold accessories and software. But not a lot of games.

Anyway, back then first person shooters were simple. There really was no up or down, according to the game engine, and the entire game could be controlled through the keyboard using only six or seven buttons. At least until Quake, which introduced the Z-axis and revolutionized gaming. Now we needed the ability to easily look up or down. Enter mouselook, which allowed us to seamlessly aim and shoot with one hand, while controlling movement with the other.

Since then, controls for these games have evolved even further. Now, first-person shooters are ubiquitous on gaming consoles, which required a simplification of controls, and in my mind, has made them unplayable.

Recently, I was at a friend’s house with my fellow local bronies. We watched the (at the time) recently released brony documentary, during which I screamed “FUCK YOU!” at the Fox News cunts. Then we watched a few episodes of our favourite show, before switching on the Playstation 3 to play some PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale, a game which I found to be incredibly broken.

After most of the gang left, the rest of us played some Call of Duty 9: Black Ops II, and I quickly found that I couldn’t play it. I’m pretty good at first person shooters, but here, I couldn’t aim at all. I don’t just mean, I couldn’t aim accurately, I mean I literally could not control the camera. I just couldn’t. I would overshoot my target way too easily and end up spinning in a circle. I even had some directional confusion. Sometimes I got the target on screen, but then accuracy became the obvious issue and my friends are sadistic. But I love them.

Glad to get that off my chest. So yeah, console controls for FPSes suck. But on the PC, thanks to the mouse, they still work like a clock. Even a touchpad works wonders, which is why I’m sure many people will find great use for the touchpad on the upcoming PS4 controller. Though it’s not exactly ideally positioned.

Anyway, there’s one thing I’ve noticed about a lot of first person shooters. If they are not dealing with an international war, either World War II or something modern, they’re dealing with an alien invasion.

I guess it’s an easy plot-device. You can use it as an excuse to introduce really cool and exotic weapons, and have your player-characters slaughter thousands of bad guys without making them feel guilty afterwards.

But still, it’s overused. Can’t we change it up? What if our player-character had hitherto unknown superpowers that one can use in combat, and for puzzle solving? And what if these superpowers originated from some real-world mythology, and played into the game’s overall backstory!?

Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce you to a grossly underrated game: Prey. Continue reading

Mankind’s Future Didn’t Sell Well

Merry Christmas everybody! It’s that time of year again, and as 2010 comes to a close we take two days to worship the gods of consumerism as parents spend thousands on hunks of plastics so their children will love them.

Okay, I’m probably being pessimistic about this. I mean hell, I love giving presents. This year I focused mainly on the little kids in my family because my mom is hard to shop for and I really don’t want to buy anything for anyone else. But when people are trampled to death by other people who want 20% off a Kirk action figure, it can shatter your faith in humanity. That’s why I try to avoid that crap, if a store is too crowded, I put it off for another day. I’m not that desperate for anything. Anyway, kids love books right? However, I need to remember for next year to do my online shopping earlier, like in November, so it get’s here before New Years.

There’s not really a Christmas tradition on this blog, primarily because it has only been around for about a year, so I figure I’ll just write about whatever the fuck I feel like. Which happens to be a video game.

I’m not really a fan of turn-based strategy games. I own a copy of Tom Clancy’s End War for the DS and I just cannot get into it. Believe me, I tried. It’s hard to take a vested interest in little tiny icons on a screen. More recently I bought a copy of Civilization Revolution for the DS. Again, cannot get into it. This could be because the DS version is scaled back, but I cannot get interested in what happens. It also blows my mind that my citizens only need to walk ten feet to meet another nation, when in reality it was likely the early humans had to build great ships before they encountered another nation.

But keeping this in mind, it’s kind of odd that one of my favourite games of all time is Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri. …I said “one of.” Continue reading

Time Again and Mario Rip-off

Video games are new…relatively. So it still hasn’t reached the point where we can call it an art form. It took thousands of years after the invention of writing before the greatest works of literature were formed, like Frankenstein, Dracula, and the great works of William Shakespeare. So, it might take just as long for gaming to make the same impression on the collective consciousness. However, film is less than a century old and we already got some good stuff, the Alien trilogy, the Star Wars trilogy, the Star Trek undecology and the Matrix onelogy. So maybe we can get some really good games that will still be played generations from now…or maybe we already do.

Recently, and by recently I mean April, Roger Ebert caused a ruckus in the gaming community when he said video games can never be art…ever. While Ebert is a very persuasive and brutal movie critic, he isn’t really a major authority on video games, and his exposure to games has consisted entirely of watching someone else play them, which takes away from the experience somewhat. Besides, as far as I can tell, his definition of art is inherently incompatible with anything interactive. It also seems to be incompatible with anything bad. I think the Twilight series is a collection of purely refined shit, but it’s still art. Of course my definition of art is pretty simple, it’s anything that is a reflection of the creator’s creativity and imagination.

I could go into more detail, but I think I’ll leave that to an upcoming blog post. The point is, games are art, now, and to prove it, I give you exhibit A: Braid. Continue reading