Tag Archives: Journey

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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Games Can Give You All The Feels

 

“Instead of thinking of your game from the mechanics first, think about the aesthetics first…Think of the feelings that you want to bring to the players. I believe if you start with the aesthetics and move backwards towards the mechanics through the dynamics, you can create successful games.”

 

Robin Hunicke {Producer on Journey} @ GamesBeat 2013

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The Joys of “Dumb” Fun

I love Dynasty Warriors.  It is completely ridiculous, hard to follow, and the voice work is so bad it makes you cringe. Yet, I cannot get enough of that game. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t buy every iteration of the series, but it is one I come back to every handful of years. It is completely brainless in its action, and it doesn’t take much to understand what the game wants you to do.  Its the video game equivalent of a “popcorn flick.”  There’s no real substance to it, and that’s okay by me.

 

Dynasty-Warriors-8

Screw Lu Bu. Seriously, for eight games the guy has been a total dick…

 

Normally, the games I play (and then in turn write about) are the types that are trying to convey some sort of message or tell a story in one fashion or another.  Usually, these games are fantastic, and move the art form forward.  This is always a good thing.  Yet, like the movies, not every game can be Oscar bait; there always has to be a Transformers.  A movie, or in this case a game, that reminds us that the medium can just be about “fun.”

The More You Know...

The More You Know…

Frank O’Connor of 343 Studios said that Halo was about finding the five seconds of fun, and then repeating it throughout the course of the player’s experience in the game.  In that game’s case its about that combination of shoot, grenade, melee, repeat.  They built a whole multi-million dollar franchise on that simple concept.  Dynasty Warriors is about taking on and defeating multitudes of nameless enemies by the hundreds and Gears of War is about chainsaws and “bros.”  None of these games are bad by any stretch of the imagination; in fact, its quite the opposite.  Yet, the majority of these are not game of the year contenders either.  They exist purely for the fun of the player.

 

Just a little bit of chin music...

Just a little bit of chin music…

 

Games like these are good for the industry. They exist as “palette cleansers,” “guilty pleasures,” and many other things.  Games like Halo and Gears of War are the summer blockbusters of the gaming world and are amazing experiences.  We need games like this.  Not everything needs to strive to be a Journey or Thomas was Alone.  Sometimes, we just want to play a game.

 

 

Escapism doesn’t have to be a bad word, and for many people who play games, that is the number one reason they choose to.  They want to experience something fantastic, they want to try something new, to see some strange new world and be the big damn hero.  That’s why Destiny and Infamous Second Son looks so appealing to me; they are both taking me to a different place and time and letting me experience something that I never will.

 

The only thing this game needs is Tauntauns...

The only thing this game needs is Tauntauns…

 

For every Fez, Hotline Miami, and The Witness; there needs to be a Call of Duty, Titanfall, or Ratchet game.  There is a place for all types of stories and mechanics in this industry, and with the upcoming generation there will be even more opportunity to see all sides of this entertainment medium explored.  So whatever your tastes; now more than ever, is a great time to be a gamer.  Enjoy it for how it makes you think…and how is sometimes gloriously doesn’t.

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Best Things to Do During the Summer Game Drought..

Well, it’s the summer again, and that means absolutely nothing is coming out anytime soon!  (This is especially true this year because of the upcoming console launches.)  Nonetheless, that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun and not be bored.  Here is our, Best Things to Do During the Summer (When Nothing Seems to be Coming Out)

 

1) Play The Last of Us

Seriously; why have you all not played this yet?  This is the frontrunner for game of the generation and is easily Playstation 3’s best exclusive game.  It will take you on an emotional roller-coaster and leave you wondering what all that was about.  I refuse to speak of any of the game’s narrative points in this post, but suffice it to say, this is a MUST play.  Then, once you’ve beaten it, play it again on Hard….then Survivor…the Hard+ ….and Survivor+…..and the multiplayer is good too…….

 

 

2) Enjoy the games you might have missed over the Holidays (or the New Year)

Okay, none of us have enough money to buy all the stuff we want to play. (Disclaimer: There might be people who enough money that they CAN buy all the games they want to play, but I’m assuming that most of us don’t.)  As such, there are probably some things that got missed in the shuffle this year.  Did you miss Sleeping Dogs, Darksiders II, Dishonored, or X-COM.  What about the downloadables that might have slipped off your radar?  Games like Telltale’s The Walking Dead, Guacamelee, Sound Shapes, Journey, Mark of the Ninja, and The Unfinished Swan all come to mind, and should be played.  There is probably a backlog of games that you like that are now totally cheap.  Take advantage of all your newfound free time and play some of them.  They might make your list of best games you played THIS year….

 

 

3) Clean up that Pile of Shame

We all have one of these too.  Games that are in our collections that have been left unfinished.  Whether it is a JRPG you just got bored with, or a game that you liked that got put to the wayside because something else came out; you should hunker down and complete it….or get rid of it.  You will want to have a clean slate going into your new console and so when fall hits, all bets are off.  The odds of you going back and finishing these things gets slimmer and slimmer the longer that new system sits in your living room, so take advantage of this time and finish some of those guys up.  You also don’t want dead weight in your collection either, so if you know you’re not going back, and there is no emotional attachment to it, be done with it.  Cull the heard….

 

 

4) Watch E3 Videos….then Pine over Them…

A lot of stuff gets announced at E3, and if you have a job…I doubt you’ve seen all the coverage and interviews.  What better way to get excited for what’s coming than by looking at all in lovely HD video.  IGN has tons of hours of content that will last you through the summer and beyond; making the wait for the fall all that much harder. They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder, but they are idiots. Watch as much of that stuff as possible…Greg Miller makes some good jokes.

 

 

5) Enjoy your other hobbies

I try to do other stuff besides write about and play games.  Now that the summer is here, I have more time to indulge in said activities.  Read some books, go to the beach, rock climb; whatever tickles your fancy.  You have some spare time on your hands, so go enjoy it in a way that you know you will.  I’ve already downed a couple of books that have been on my shelf, and I’ve been indulging my outdoorsy tendencies occasionally too. Find something else that you love and do it…like this guy….

 

 

or maybe not….that guy is crazy

 

 

6) Troll the Internet

Just Kidding…don’t be that guy.

 

7) Play The Last of Us

Please refer back to Number 1

 

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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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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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