Tag Archives: Games

Cloaks and Daggers – Catharsis Through Digital Storytelling

Catharsis: the act or process of releasing a strong emotion; especially by expressing it in an art form

Sometimes you just need to feel something…anything really.

Sorrow.

Joy.

Happiness.

Rage.

So, sometimes I just put in a game…

——————–

I didn’t know how long we had been traveling together.  We had met in the desert, and though we said very little to each other, we both agreed that the company was nice.  Most of the world had fallen into ruin, and rumor was that there weren’t many of us left.  I guess that is why we stuck together.

Maybe we just didn’t want to be lonely…

We had kept heading towards the mountain; remembering the legends of the hope that resided on its distant peak.  He never had to say he was going there too.  Of course he was going there, where else was there left for any of us to go?  That question seemed to haunt us both.  Neither of us had a good answer, and so we had chosen to continue traveling despite our reservations.

Fear hadn’t gotten the best of us yet…

The desert was only the beginning.  From there, an abandoned tower gave us a moment of respite and reflection, but that was short lived as best.  Our pilgrimage took us through a cavern of beasts such as the eye had never seen; both terrifying and awe inspiring all the same.  Yet, still we travelled on and still we watched over each other.  Many a moment came when one of us might have died and left this world were it not for the other.  Through the silence and the stoic looks, something had developed between us.

A bond, perhaps? Brotherhood, then?

It is a dangerous thing to allow yourself to have such thoughts; it breeds recklessness.

For many different reasons…

As we reached the snow line, we had stumbled upon the ruins of a fallen city.  It had seemed that the ancients had hoped to live in the light of the mountain, but the mountain had rejected them for their arrogance.  My fellow traveller decided to step ahead, to scout the area and determine our next move.  He disappeared into the snow, as I continued to search through the rubble; hoping to find some new piece of information about who we were and where we were going.  He was always the more adventurous type, but I was fine with that.  It was what made us work.

When I looked back up, I saw him coming back towards me, smiling as best one could being covered in snow.  I guess, for that same reason, he wasn’t able to see the look of horror on my face as I saw what was coming behind him.  One of the creatures that we had thought we had left behind in the caverns was rising overhead.

I screamed.

I screamed over and over again.  I called out his name.  Tried to warn him in any way I could, but through the harsh wind of the snow storm I knew nothing I could do would get through.  All I had to do was get him to turn around, to see what was coming up behind him, and I know we would make it.  We had made it through worse things, there was no way we weren’t going to get through this…So I kept screaming, trying to reach out to him.

Until, still with a smile on his face, the beast took him…

Tears filled my eyes.  I felt myself still screaming, but I no longer heard anything coming out.  Regardless of my own safety, I ran out, hoping that something was left, that he was left.  It was a stupid thing to do.  There were more creatures in waiting, and where I thought there was just one, there were now five.  I didn’t want to move, but I knew I had to.  I saw an opening in the ruins, a safe haven, and so I ran.  I heard the monsters behind me, heard their ominous howl and heard in it their desire to destroy all who came near.  Nonetheless, I made it to the entrance and I stopped…and allowed myself to weep.

There was no hope on this mountain…

—————-

What makes certain games magical are the stories that come out of them, and the emotions that it can draw out of the player. This is one of my stories that grew out of my experience with Journey on the PS3. What makes the game so intriguing is that though there is a small narrative thread that goes through the whole game; the majority of the story is pieced together and created by the player during one’s play through.  Everything that happened, the emotions I felt, were all because of my actions and how I responded to the world I was given.

Journey and games like it don’t have an atypical narrative; they have one that you help create along the way via the player’s interaction within the world.  It is in that creation that the story becomes all the more personal to the player and more memorable in the telling. This type of process is more commonly called “emergent gameplay,” or “player driven storytelling.”

Unlike other forms of entertainment, games don’t have to abide by a strict narrative construction.  Whereas films and novels have a set series of events that always play out the same way for the characters, many games give the player the ability to shape their own story and have it play out differently in each subsequent playthrough.  It is the experience and the player’s feelings that become the story in many of these cases. More simply put, the story/gameplay emerges out of the player’s actions.

Note: The game is actually about survival + NSW Language

Games like Rust and Day Z have no discernible story of their own outside of what the player base creates for them. The “story” of those games are the personal tales of the players and how they interacted with others while in that world. Of course, for every game of this nature there is a Last of Us or Bioshock: Infinite that has a very specific story to tell, and proceeds to follow a standard narrative path.  This is not a bad thing. It shows the depth and breadth of gaming as a medium for different styles of storytelling.

Even in a game with a more directed narrative, a genuine emotional catharsis can be achieved, if done well. The Last of Us is a fantastic example of this in the AAA space; and Thomas Was Alone shines in the indie arena. In one game it is the story of loss, redemption, and questionable morality; and the other is about small geometric cubes, friendship, and the nature of truth and sacrifice. Despite their differing styles and mechanics, by the end of both I had felt emotionally drained and had shed tears on multiple occasions.

To paraphrase Neil Gaiman, just because something isn’t “real” doesn’t mean it isn’t powerful.  Games can have the ability to reach into us and draw out emotions and responses that other mediums cannot; because we help craft the story.  By making the choices our own, by creating our stories within the world that has been handed to us or acting out or part in the greater narrative; we invest in the moment and engage in a way that no other form of entertainment can match.

To put it simpler; the more we put in, the more we get out.

So like I said…

…sometimes you just need to feel something.

To have a good cry.

To work out some anger.

To remember why we should care about others.

No matter what it is, try a game next time. You’d be surprised what you might get out of it.

As the kids say, “enjoy the feels,” everyone.

Suggested Play: Journey, The Unfinished Swan, Thomas was Alone, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, Dear Esther, and Gone Home

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He made Kirby…So, I’d listen…

“Good games attract fans, and if you have fans, you have an advantage. You try to use that to make the title something bigger, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay to give up on innovation. Popular, well-made games deserve praise, but titles that have some kind of unique creative spark to them also need to be praised in this way.”

 

-Masahiro Sakurai and his current take on the industry

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“That’s what all our games are about; we won’t even start if we don’t think we can build a franchise out of it. There’s no more fire and forget – it’s too expensive.”

-Tony Key: Senior VP of Sales and Marketing of Ubisoft

As we become more and more like Hollywood…

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Atari to Xbox – A Dad’s Journey or “Why Halo is Fine by Me”

For me, edging close to thirty and he, being in his fifties, my dad and I get along quite a bit.  Some would argue too well; as we both have a penchant for being a complete smart-asses.  Nonetheless, he and I have always had a strong relationship.  Thus, it’s not that surprising that he has an opinion on this whole, “violent games” thing.  This might be because he bankrolled my early exploits, or he has a pretty good head on his shoulders with some good ideas.  He recently emailed me his thoughts on the matter, and what follows are one dad’s perspective on the argument.  I hope you enjoy….

Before you talk about the evils of video games and how they hurt our kids, maybe you should listen to my story.

     My first and only video game “console” was an Atari 2600™.  Every “console” that came after that was not mine, it was my son’s.  His first “console” for his third birthday was an NES.  I wanted the best for him and he had mastered my Atari 2600™ games and it was time to move forward.  The NES™ was followed by the Super Nintendo™, Game Boy™ and the Nintendo 64™.  However, I couldn’t be satisfied…I mean HE couldn’t be satisfied with just one console.  So, it was 1995 and my son wanted a PlayStation™.  It was important. It was great father-son bonding time to sit on the couch and play video games; I mean sometimes he would even let me win; it was quality time.  

     My son quickly learned that the more buttons on the controller, the lower the odds of dad winning the game; which is why I felt we should only play racing games.  Steer, gas and brake; I could handle that. I was an adult, I had a driver’s license and had been driving for years.  Yet, even on the driving games, he beat me like a drum; except when he would stop on the track and let me pass just before I wrecked crossing the finish line.  First person shooters were completely beyond me: what do I push to walk, run, jump, look left, look up or even how do I aim the gun?  But for my son, these things were all second nature.  Fighting games were again beyond what I could do; with their need to press X,X, O, ∆ to do the super move and take down the opponent. In those moments how I longed for my 2600 joystick with just one button.  

     I will admit we did share more quality time “father-son bonding” as we would play through all the characters in Soul Caliber, Tekken, Street Fighter, or what have you.  I would start in the upper left hand corner of the character screen and he would start in the lower right and we would fight until we had gone through all the characters.  I was a button masher and he was a tactician, and sometimes I got lucky and hit the buttons fast enough in the right sequence and would pull of the super move.  We bonded, we laughed, it was good.  

    He continued to play more and we moved on to the PlayStation 2™ and eventually to an X-box™.  In Halo™ I was the “Old Man” and I learned about spawn killing the hard way.  I don’t know, was I a bad dad?  Should I have allowed my son to spend so much time on video games?  Should I have allowed his friends over to play well into the night and supplied them with pizza and Cokes?  I knew his friends (they never let the “Old Man” win), they knew me, I know they didn’t get into drugs and I know they are all doing well as well-adjusted young adults; many with kids of their own now.  In the end, maybe I didn’t do too bad and maybe it is HOW you play the game, and how you see it.  It’s bonding time…

Whenever I’m able to visit my folks, I always try to make sure that my dad and I find time to do a race together.  Recently, it was Split/Second,  as our inner middle-schoolers were delighted to be bringing down buildings as we circled along the track.  For the longest time it was Hot Pursuit 2, where we’d claim that the Opal Speedster was the greatest car in video game history.  I don’t get to see the family all that often, which is why those small moments of stupid fun seem to reverberate through my own personal memory.  The more I consider it all, the more I believe that in some small way, my father stumbled onto part of the answer to this “violent media” issue.

He simply took enough time to care what I was doing…

There have been so many times where I have seen parents take no interest in what their own children care about; take no interest in the content or substance of what their kid is putting into their head.  It makes no difference if it is Mario or Grand Theft Auto as long as it is occupying them just a little bit longer.  There is no problem with kid playing a violent or “adult” game; the problem is when the parent doesn’t care and has no clue what their child is playing.  For my friends and myself, there was never once that our parents didn’t know what “nonsense” we were putting into our heads.  They could talk Halo strategy, Final Fantasy spells, and Risk tactics along with all of us; all because they took a vested interest in what their kids found fun.  We all played violent games, we all shot fireworks at each other, and we all turned out relatively well adjusted.

 Obviously, not everybody has a solid family life; and there will never be one definitive answer to this sort of issue.  Yet, every little bit of what we can offer in the way of solutions can only help.  We live in a world that is coming together more and more because of technology, yet it is that same technology that insulates us from each other on occasion.  So, if you’re a parent reading this, talk to your kids tonight.  Find out WHY they play what they play; what’s in it, and what makes that so damn fun for them.  You’ll probably learn something, and if you’re lucky, find something that you can share with them.

 

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Here are Some Reasons to NOT get a New Console This Fall

I know. I know.

 

We’re all excited for what is coming out this fall.  Regardless of your feelings on which one you may think is better or which one you may be purchasing, this holiday is a big deal because of the launches of the Playstation 4 and the XBOXONE.  They each have a pretty solid launch lineup, and adopting early is a guaranteed “in” to the conversations that will be circulating the industry.  Yet, despite all that; there are some pretty solid reasons for not grabbing one on day one.

 

Games, Games, and Games…

 

Like last generation, both platforms are still going to be releasing new products on each of their previous gen systems, and many of those games have the potential to be amazing experiences.  There are titles coming out, big and small, that will be only coming out on the 360 and PS3.  Games with names like, Grand Theft Auto V, Splinter Cell: Blacklist, Beyond: Two Souls, Puppeteer, and Ratchet & Clank: Into the Nexus.  These are titles that will still have an impact, but won’t be on their newer big brothers (or sisters if you prefer.)  I am just as excited for these titles as I am for some of the big launch titles.  Both companies are making an excellent case for you to upgrade this fall, but they are giving you an equally compelling case to make sure that you hold onto your old system as well.

 

 

The Possibilities of New Hardware

 

I know that this sounds like a positive…and it is; but do we all need to be reminded of the “red ring of death?”  For all the excitement that builds around a new console launch, we all seem to forget the problems that happen.  I know people who went through four 360s, and people whose launch model PS3s ran as hot as a jet engine.  These types of problems happen at the beginning of a life cycle.  Hardware will always have kinks to be worked out, and there will always be a small number of people who draw the proverbial “short straw,” and end up with a dud.  It completely sucks, but statistically speaking; it is bound to happen.  Buying a new console has the possibility of being like russian roulette, and it can be just as nerve wracking.

 

 

 

Cross-Gen, Split-Gen, but is it Really Next-Gen?

 

The interesting thing about a launch are the games that seem to be on both sets of systems.  This year games like Assassin’s Creed IV, Watch Dogs, Fifa, Call of Duty, and many more will be on both the old and next generation systems.  I won’t deny that the PS4 and XBOXONE versions will be prettier, and probably have some more features than their older counterparts; but for some that isn’t enough to justify a new console purchase.  This can be especially true when you think of the horror stories from last launch, games like GUN, Tony Hawk’s American Wasteland, and Just Cause that were just higher resolution ports of the other versions.  We’re not going to truly see some actual “next-gen” gaming until next year, when we start to see games that were made exclusively for the new systems from the ground up.  Until then, these split-gen games only muddy the waters and make the decision to upgrade a difficult one.

 

Price

 

Lastly, do you simply have the money?  With all the above reasons, do you really want to drop anywhere from $400-$600 on a new system this fall?  In the end, I guess you weigh all the previous factors together and factor them in to this one final decision.  So, in the end, it all comes down to spending your hard earned cash.  Is it worth it?

 

So there you go; my attempt to talk you out of buying the “new hotness” this fall.  Albeit, I am getting a PS4, and my own arguments mean nothing to me.  So, what are you doing this holiday?  Are you sticking with your old system or taking the next gen dive? Comment below or just use the nifty poll I put up. (Also, this was our 101st post, so thanks everyone for supporting us thus far and continuing to share us with your friends.  Hopefully we’ll still be doing this for another 100!)

 

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Conan Goes to E3

Well, leave it to Conan O’Brien to really figure out what was going on at this year’s E3…

 

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Don’t Let Sleeping Dogs Lie….

Spoilers for Sleeping Dogs

 

I’ll be the first one to admit that I am bit late to the party on this one.

Sleeping Dogs was the epitome of a “sleeper” game. It came out the same week as Darksiders II, and there wasn’t much buzz going into the game’s release.  Yet, as the reviews came through, the narrative seemed to change.  Garnering solid scores across the board (7’s, 8’s, and 9’s), Sleeping Dogs was no longer living under the shadow of its torrid past as a True Crime successor.  It had become the open-world underdog; a great game that sold based on word of mouth of those that had experienced its fullness of its created Hong Kong.  It was a “cinderella story” for the games industry.  It sold well enough at retail; but it wasn’t until it came up on Playstation Plus that I finally got around to playing it.

I should have played it sooner.

 

SleepingDogs1

 

Sleeping Dogs starts off similarly to moves like the original Fast and Furious; you are an undercover cop sent into the triads to attempt to bring them down without getting too deep.  Yet, it is from that starting point that the developers made a point to have the player start caring about those you are trying to bring down.  I laughed as I began the game, thinking, “I’m not going to go ‘native.’ It’s hero boy to the rescue.”  Yet, the further I played through, the more I began to question my motivations.  When a rival triad gang murders my boss at his wedding, after I had taken his fiancee around town to pick up her things the day before; my first thought wasn’t, “what will the HKPD need to do,” but rather, “get me the biggest gun you can find.”  This is a giant credit to the game’s writing staff and speaks to the strong narrative that they were creating.  There are tons of moments like this peppered throughout the game; moments of just gut, emotional reactions.  This is especially true as you near the end of the game; as it climaxes towards its inevitable conclusion.

 

SleepingDogs3

 

Mechanically, the game is quite sound.  The driving is better than GTA, and the overlay they use on the world to tell you where to go is incredibly helpful.  The cars and bikes handle well, and the game captures that feeling of drifting through the city streets perfectly.  Where Sleeping Dogs really shines is in its melee combat.  Though not as strong as the Arkham games (the new gold standard), Sleeping Dogs’ combat is still quite stellar.  It takes combines the rhythmic and timing based attacks of Batman, and adds in an almost fighting game style combo system.  These different button combinations have your character string different attacks and finishers together to great effect.  It becomes more about managing the group and spacing, than about comboing a single enemy.  Unfortunately, the lock on system isn’t that effective and sometimes button inputs aren’t that responsive; which makes the giant multi-man brawls you fight late game all the more difficult.  The gunplay is exactly what you would expect in an open world action game.  It’s perfectly average; but they do give you a bullet time feature that you can use when you hop over cover.  It’s fun the first time; but when you get good enough to clear out a room of ten+ enemies with one jump, it looses its luster.

 

SleepingDogs2

 

After completing the game, it is not surprising to see why everyone liked Sleeping Dogs.  It gave players an interesting story, solid gameplay, and a place that was both foreign and familiar at the same time.  Sleeping Dogs is better than the sum of its parts; and is worth the play through if you have the time.  Hong Kong is large and vibrant; with street races, criminal activity, karaoke  and much more flowing through its busy streets.  It was an exciting place to tell a story, and I hope that there are more to tell here.  If only I could remember to drive on the left side of the road…..

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The One Roundtable

GamesIndustry.biz has a really great roundtable article on Microsoft’s 180 flip on its policies. I’d chime my own two sense here, but that was what the emergency Couch Chat was all about [So Go Watch That, Please!].

http://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/2013-06-20-roundtable-retreating-across-the-rubicon

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Finishing the Unfinished…

Spoilers for The Unfinished Swan

As some of you may know, I am currently playing through The Last of Us.  So far, it is an amazing experience, one that is definitely worth your time. The AAA visuals are unmatched and the narrative strikes a chord with the player like very few games do.  Yet, that game in inherently bleak, depressing, and dark. As such, I turned to some other games to act as palate cleaners in between my ’bouts with the darkness. It was with that mindset that I finally got around to playing The Unfinished Swan.

 

UnfinishedSwan4

 

The Unfinished Swan came out in October of 2012, made by Giant Sparrow; another developer that had made a three game deal with Sony, much like thatgamecompany; makers of Journey. This was their first big endeavor and it was received to critical acclaim; even garnering some nominations for game of the year from different publications. Though compared to thatgamecompany’s previous efforts, Giant Sparrow’s first game tackled a far different theme, and introduced to a little boy named Monroe.

It was over the weekend that I was introduced to Monroe, his paintbrush, and the unfinished work that is the namesake of the game. It only took me around three hours to complete the tale, but when it was all said and done there was a well earned smile on my face. The Unfinished Swan is a game built around a pretty simple mechanic; the player, as Monroe, is able to use his paintbrush to affect the world around him.  In the initial level you use black paint to reveal the world, in another, blue paint to create water.  It is pretty easy game to pick up and play; but it is the themes and narrative that really shine and bring out the game’s best qualities.

 

UnfinishedSwan2

 

Monroe is summoned into this world of paint and fantasy by following his mother’s painting of an unfinished swan.  Through this very Alice in Wonderland premise, Monroe finds himself in tale that seems to be quite similar to the ones that his mother told him before she died.  This secondary story is revealed through storybook panels found throughout the world, told by Monroe’s mother. Revolving around a king that is never happy with his current situation, the tale gives the player a glimpse into the mysterious world that Monroe travels through.  It is a picturesque place, reminiscent of Escher paintings and minimilist works that naturally create a sense of childlike wonder.  The  player is left to affect the world as he or she will, but the less you do, the more magical it seems.  You don’t want to sully the environment that you find yourself in; you just want to walk around the world and experience this magical place.

 

UnfinishedSwan1

 

If the game was just those special moments of discovery, it would still be a good game.  Yet, underneath the childlike exterior is a story about the loss of a parent, and one child’s way of accepting death and change.  To me, and many others, that was where the game became exceptional.  You don’t see these sort of narrative concepts discussed often, if at all, in games nowadays.  It’s a touching story that resonates with anyone who has a relationship with their father and mother.

By the time Monroe finally meets the King at the end of the  game; he and the player have discovered that the King is his father, his deceased mother was the Queen, and he is simply following in his dying father’s footsteps.  Out of context, these moments don’t seem like much; but within the scope of the game they tell a story of accepting the reality of your parents’ lives.  As children, we all believe that our parents are immortal; that they will be in our lives forever.  We see them as kings and queens that rule our lives and the little worlds that we dwell in; yet at some point we have to realize that this can’t be true.  Our parents are mortal, they can make mistakes, and will eventually leave this world; hopefully with a positive legacy behind them.  Monroe’s journey to the king is the journey to that realization; the journey that we all go through at some point in our lives.

 

UnfinishedSwan3

 

The Unfinished Swan is a game to be experienced.  It takes a couple of hours and leaves you with a feeling that warms your heart.  The story alone is worth the journey; but even from a gameplay perspective, that fact that you are not interacting with the world through the barrel of a gun is refreshing.  If you have the time, $10, and a Playstation 3, you would be remiss to not play this.  It was a joy and few games are now.

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Well, that was unexpected…

Here’s the original story; broke by Giant Bomb’s Patrick Klepek, that started the fire that tore through the gaming press today. Microsoft has confirmed all of this now, and it seems that this unprecedented move is actually happening. Well folks, it seems we have  a ballgame again….

 

http://www.giantbomb.com/articles/microsoft-to-pull-complete-reversal-on-xbox-one-dr/1100-4673/

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