Tag Archives: Choice

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes and What Could They Mean

The XBOX ONE is not the system that was announced months ago.  So many things have changed since that initial showcase.  It is no longer “always-on,” it can now play used games, and even most recently, it no longer needs the Kinect 2.0 to function.  For all intents and purposes, the system that was promised initially is no more.  What we have now is a system that is nearly identical to Sony’s PS4.  What does this mean? For gamers, for casual players, and for the future?

 

For Gamers

 

Regardless of your feelings towards Sony or Microsoft, this is a win for all of us.  With all of the focus now off hardware considerations, it is now a conversation about the games.  Though most games are not exclusive to any one console, those that are become of even greater importance to the fanboy audience.  Do you want to play Titanfall? Does Infamous Second Son speak to your sensibilities?  Once again, we can talk about the games, and not the drama surrounding the systems and their issues.  It will make this holiday all the more interesting; especially as parents find out what their kids’ friends are playing.  Speaking of…

For Casuals

 

Well, it means that the holiday marketing for each is going to be very important.  Now that both systems are seemingly on an equal playing field (sans price), it will be up to the PR departments to make sure that Mom and Pop know which system is the “right” choice.  Sony’s price point might not make that much of a difference when Joe Average knows that he and his buddies have always played Madden on the Xbox.  Sony will have to show why PSN is the better choice now, and Microsoft will need to remind gamers why they are on top when it comes to online play.  The X1 will also have a possible edge in the family market with the Kinect 2.0, but that speculative at best, especially now that the Kinect is no longer mandatory…

For the Future

 

Eventually, everything will be digital.  For better or for worse, Microsoft’s vision of that future will not come this fall.  The changes that have been made have completely wiped out any chance of some of the more interesting and genuinely cool features the X1 had initially promised.  Who knows what gaming would have looked like in a couple of years had the system launched as intended?  Nonetheless, this is world we live in, and we will get to see this fall how this all plays out.  My money is still on Sony, but never count Microsoft out.  They were backed into a corner and been coming back swinging since E3.  This fall will be a slugfest; and I couldn’t be more excited.

 

For Now…

We wait and see..

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Journeying with the Dead…

Small Spoilers for Multiple Games – You Have Been Warned

 

If you had told me a year ago that the two games that would stick in my mind, as the best of the year, would be downloadable titles, I don’t think I would have believed you.  The year was stacked with blockbusters determined to get our attention; Mass Effect 3, Halo 4, Borderlands 2, and Assassin’s Creed 3.  Any one of those games had the potential to be the  “Game of the Year.”  Each had their own hype train rolling behind them, and the gaming public ate it up.  We were so excited to see how Shepherd’s story would end, how Master Chief would confront this new threat, or how many new guns we could find on Pandora.  They were known quantities.  We knew that we would love all of these, the question was simply, “how much?”

 

flow

 

thatgamecompany had made some amazing games before Journey had ever came out.  Both flow and Flower were unique experiences but neither had set the world on fire. flow was a game about evolution, and Flower was a beautiful silent narrative about nature versus industry.  Similar to the creatures in flow, you could tell that thatgamecompany was going somewhere with their projects; that they too, were evolving.  Jenova Chen, as lead designer, had set a precedent with their first two titles; that they were trying to create emotional experiences unlike anything that had come before.  They were lofty words, yet with their third project, Journey, that dream was realized.

 

journey

 

Journey was simply that, a journey.  You play the part of a traveler; but you are not alone.  The game pairs you up with another player as soon as you start the game.  There is no loading screen, no matchmaking menu; you simply just see them in the distance, and there they are.  There is no mic support; the only communication you have is through the in-game “chirps” that have the secondary purpose of restoring the other player’s power.  It is through this mostly silent relationship that the game’s more emotional moments occur.  Nothing is more terrifying than losing your partner in the middle of level; as you call out to him/her, and realizing that you are completely alone again.  There is a legitimate feeling of loss, or maybe anger, as you may have been left behind by a more pragmatic player.  This is all elevated by the amazing soundtrack, that ebbs and flows with the action, or lack thereof, on the screen. The game is a metaphor; yet the narrative is created by the player.  What happened to you on your journey will not be what happened in mine.  You might have had multiple travel partners, while I made it through with just one.  Your emotional response will be completely different than mine based on how you played through your experience.  When you finally reach the ending; after about three hours or so of play, you have experienced a whole spectrum of emotion, and probably a tear or two.

 

samandmax

 

Similarly, Telltale games wasn’t completely unknown before this year.  They were singly responsible for saving the “point and click” or “adventure” genre from complete extinction.  They brought back classic franchises like Sam and Max and Monkey Island, and had created new experiences based on the likes of Wallace and Gromit, Back to the Future, and Jurassic Park.  All of these had varying levels of success, and in some cases failure, but they were on the map for their solid puzzles and lighthearted humor.  When it was announced that they would be adapting The Walking Deadit was met with a sense of trepidation.  Nothing in their back catalog could suggest that they could handle the serious and dark subject material; let alone in the confines of an adventure game.  Nonetheless, when episode one launched those concerns were put to rest.

 

walking dead

 

The Walking Dead created an amazing narrative experience that was guided by the player while still telling a cohesive story.  Revolving around the tale of Lee Everett, the game explored the darkness of humanity at the end of the world.  Yes, there were the occasional puzzle segment that adventure games were known for; yet The Walking Dead chose to focus more on the character interactions and player reactions to intense situations.  The natural tension of those moments were amped up by the addition of a timer to most situations; giving the player only a small amount of time to make key decisions; more that occasionally resulting in another character’s death.  It gave gravitas to every decision; made you think on your feet, and more importantly, reminded you that there was no “right” choice.  The world of The Walking Dead is a terrible place, full of terrible people; and even when you are trying to do your best that doesn’t mean that you will get anything remotely resembling a “happy ending.”  Though the endgame is the same; how you got there, the people you lost, and the choices you made will be different than mine.  Did a character die in your game; did you pull the trigger; did you take the supplies?  All of these add up and create the emotional resonance needed to reach through the screen and into the player’s heart.  The crux of that emotional connection is in the character Clementine.  A  small girl you meet at the beginning of episode one; what you do to protect her and the relationship that grows between her and Lee is the main reason The Walking Dead  has become the success that it is.  You know that your game has reached incredible heights when the hashtag #forclementine becomes one of the biggest trending tags on twitter.  The game found its way into the hearts of many, and all because of this little girl.

 

It would almost be a crime to compare the two games.  They are in different genres, are trying to do different things, but the question is asked, like it is every year; “If you’re to recommend one game this year, what would it be?”  I’ve poured over it that thought the last couple of weeks, talking with colleagues, friends, and looking through other critics’ thoughts; yet in the end just went with my gut.

 

Journey

 

journey 2

 

For as much as I loved The Walking Dead Journey stole my heart.  The music, the moment to moment emotional roller-coaster, and the pure joy felt at the end of the game is unrivaled.  That is not to say that The Walking Dead is not to be played; quite the contrary.  It, too, takes you through a well crafted series of highs and lows; that elicited reactions from me that I had never experienced in any game before.  Yet, it struggles from the occasional technical issue and a weak final act. Nonetheless, you would be doing a disservice to yourself if you didn’t at least play both.

 

And so, unexpectedly, two smaller games usurped the big budget blockbusters and became the two games that players and the industry are talking about.  The Spike VGAs named The Walking Dead their Game of the Year, while IGN gave it to Journey. Both games are incredibly worthy of the accolades they are receiving across the board, and it is amazing to be living in a time when you can see an art form maturing.  Looking back, this could be a turning point for the games industry.  Only time will tell if that is to be true; but this could be signs of things to come; and that would not be a bad thing.

 

Other Fantastic Games This Year: XCOM, Dishonored, FTL, Hotline Miami, and yes, Borderlands 2, Mass Effect 3, and Halo 4

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Emotional Resonance to Electronic Interaction…

I shot a man yesterday.

 

Not in the real world, mind you, but in the game Heavy Rain.  This normally wouldn’t be that big of a deal.  I play shooters, action games, and many other types that let me fulfill my primal need to murder other beings; but none of those have ever stopped to give me pause to my actions.

Investigation….

For as much as I love Nathan Drake’s wisecracking adventures and his interesting romantic life; he is one of gaming’s most notorious mass murders.  The body count he leaves in all four of his adventures is massive, and yet I have never blinked an eye.  In Gears of War I cut through swaths of locust with my lancer (a gun with a chainsaw at the end) and I chuckle silently because of the absurdity of it all.  In  any of the God of War games, I have physically ripped creatures in half, and felt mighty.  This list could go on and on, and not just for myself, but for the majority of gamers out there.  Combat is just another game mechanic, and we no longer notice anymore the amounts of violence we are partaking in.

 

I don’t say all this because I am against any of it.  Truthfully, the opposite is true.  All the games listed above are great games in their own right, for multitudes of reasons, regardless of the violent content.  These are works and expressions of a growing art form, and like certain genres in cinema, sometimes violence is just part of the equation.  I only mention all of this as pretext for my feelings about “the incident” as it occurred the night before.

 

As I said, I was playing Heavy Rain on my PS3 last night.  I was working through an interrogation scene as the FBI agent Norman Jayden.  We were working our way towards finding out the identity of the origami killer, and had come to suspect number one apartment.  He was a religious zealot, hundreds of crosses hanging on his ceiling, and had said that he heard the “voice of god” on multiple occasions.  Things went smoothly enough until, because of my “partner” badgering him, the suspect pulled a gun.  Through a careful use of some psychology I had picked up in college, I was able to talk the guy down.  My partner was in the process of cuffing him, when the suspect made a mad grab for something inside his jacket.

 

It was then that I pulled the trigger.

 

It was a shot to the chest that put him down instantly killing him. I felt heroic, like I had saved someone’s life.  A small feeling of elation, despite the darkness that currently surround my avatar and I.  Yet, that went away quickly, as my fellow officer callously remarked that it was cross he was reaching for, not a weapon.  I was shocked, appalled, and completely taken aback by my actions.  I had taken the time to talk this man down, to make sure that no one got hurt; and despite all that, I still shot him.  I could have let it go, done nothing, let the moment play out; but to my eyes it seemed like something bad was about to happen, and so the trigger was pulled.  No matter my motivations in the scenario, I had killed an innocent man.

 

JASON!

 

I had shot people before in many different games; and even encouraged by some to do so; yet this was the first time I had to stop playing for a couple of minutes.  As I stared at the screen, I debated whether or not to reload; to cheat death, if you will.  Yet, much like my digital counterpart, I realized that I had to live with my actions and the repercussions thereof.  From that point on, whenever I regained control of Agent Jayden, I was haunted by that moment.  It informed every decision I made after that point and cast a pallor on the already dark narrative.

 

Despite the moral and ethical quandary I found myself in; this whole experience can only be described as a good thing.  I had forgotten what it had felt like to experience a game where death mattered; not player death (we have Demon’s/Dark Souls to thank for that), but NPC death.  For so long, we have all played games like the ones mentioned early on, where wave after wave fall before us, and we don’t seem to care, let alone notice.  Heavy Rain decided to remind players that when you fire that bullet, you are taking a life. It reminds you that your actions in this world are relevant; and how you play matters.

 

That doesn’t happen all that often. It makes you think, and for that, I am glad the rain came…

 

They’re like the Google Glasses….except they come with a glove too!

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