Tag Archives: video games

PCP: Layers of Fear

Fun Fridayz #22 – Freaky Frames

Layers of Tears

The short of it: The only thing more impossible than this game’s geometry is not getting super spooked.

An artist starts work on his magnum opus.

A player gets up and turns on the lights.

This is how Layers of Fear starts.

It’s a game without any real direct threat. There are no batteries or night vision cameras, no lockers or beds for hiding places. It’s a journey into delusion and loss and a fair bit of fear.

Jokingly referred to on the internet as “Cabinet and Door Opening Simulator,” most of the game is just opening doors and progressing through the increasingly derelict mansion. That’s it. And it’s fantastic.

Playing on the Xbox One was less fantastic. I know Unity can create beautiful, impressive games and all, but Layers of Fear initially runs terribly. The framerate hovers at around 15 any time you move, controller movement is brutally slow, and interactions feel nearly impossible. Once the options get tweaked (no headbob, lowest field of view, highest sensitivity), the game becomes manageable and, for the most part, stays playable for the rest of the playthrough. Stutters and slowdowns were never quite as surprising as the jumpscares though.

The main mechanic of the game is its use of impossible geometry; in this case, it’s probably better referred to as impossible architecture. The video game instinct to create a mental map is useless in the face of constantly changing hallways and doors that go nowhere. All you can do is go one layer deeper.

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PCP: Overcooked

Fun Fridayz #21 – Fire and Friends

Overcooked, Overused, Underplayed

The short of itIt’s frustration with a smile, like an extended Mario Party minigame. 

So I was lucky enough to have a buddy come over for a day, meaning several drinks and video games were consumed. One of those was Overcooked, a coop cooking game where changing environments and a shrinking timer push you and your fellow cooks over the edge into full-blown screaming/laughing matches.

It’s pretty popular on YouTube. 

Beyond the fact that Let’s Play bait is getting to become an annoying subgenre of games nowadays, this seriously underplays the value of this game.

Sure, it’s fun watching your favorite ensemble shout at each other, but Overcooked is one of the few new games that wholeheartedly embraces local multiplayer. Stick this game in the oven with a few friends, and it’s guaranteed to be a lot tastier than Part 231 of a series that lasts exactly as long as the ad revenue does.

PCP: Divekick

Fun Fridayz #19 – Free Flyin’

A Divekick Built for Two (Buttons)

2 Button 2 Furious

The short of it: Simple and sweet, Divekick is deceptively competitive and delightfully fun.

Divekick is a two button fighting game where you can either jump or kick. These kicks tend to be diving ones, unsurprisingly.

It’s one of the rare times where a meta joke works better than an actual joke. Divekick is a bit of a tongue-in-cheek poke at the blown out mechanical complexities of most fighting games. The absurdly in-depth meta that forms around fighting gameplay, from the straightforward combo into combos to single frame parties, becomes void with just two buttons.

The most difficult part of learning the meta is remembering how other characters kick and their special kick. Even then, it’s pretty obvious in the first few seconds of a match. It’s incredibly friendly to players who don’t have a lot of experience with fighting games. It’s quick enough to never get boring, but the matches can last long enough to really draw out tense competition. Plus, since it can be played with one hand, it’s reeeeal easy to play it with a drink in the other hand.

I’ll be honest though. I came into the post thinking I’d laud the game’s simplicity thanks to its controls, but the reality is that there’s a lot more depth than first glance would reveal. There are gems to modify your kicks or up the stakes to sudden death. There are two variations of special moves that charge with every attack. There’s a headshot/concussion mechanic to slow opponents.

Divekick, in its winking grin, is a love letter to fighting games. And it’s far from a dive.

PCP: The Long Dark

Fun Friday #15 – Ffffffffroze Fun

Long Dark, Short Arrival

Alright, I’ll be honest, I took a personal day to recover. This’ll be updated tomorrow

Hey, it’s updated. The short of it is I’m exhausted and this game is dope– if you’re into survival and atmosphere, pick this up ASAP. As much fun as I had, I think I’ll wait for a sale to pick this up.

Okay, so I survived the long dark.

Not the game, the skull splitting hangover I got from a single sugary alcoholic drink for my birthday coupled with a week of exhaustion.

I did not survive The Long Dark.

That might be because I was playing the trial version of the now “finished” game– a rarity in the survival genre. Along with the fact that this is true survival, not survival horror, not survival zombie base building early access, or whatever other obnoxious tags get tacked onto the remnants of the Greenlight program, The Long Dark is almost a miracle.

Not only did it emerge from dreaded Early Access, it did so with a flourish, adding a story mode with its ultimate release. After playing through five or so days in said story mode, it’s delightfully competent. The animations for character interactions (depicted in flashbacks and only a little interaction) are these moving painted styles that manage to work with the gameplay’s very-obviously-Unity looks.

With a hotbutton for managing all of the important tasks for survival, like eating or crafting, the tension for survival is built on your management of resources, both material, chronological, and caloric. Instead of losing yourself in the frustration of management menus and mysterious blueprints that require a wiki, it’s truly all on your ability to survive.

So you find yourself, alone, with the wind howling in your ears as you desperately try to make a fire out of an old newspaper and the scattering of branches from the snowstorm.

Days pass. Maybe you don’t make it. Maybe you do, maybe you luck out and stumble on a cache and the corpse of its creator. Either way, you’ll eventually end up in a similar situation.

You find yourself, alone again, but you’re locked in the comfort of your cave. The fire is roaring, stocked with reclaimed wood and lumber, with a guaranteed burn time of nearly half a day. Your supply of venison and dog food give you a few days of comfort in the face of a blinding blizzard. The three bullets you own are always near your grasp, protecting you from the harsh realities of a devastated world.

And yet you feel no better than you did when your vision started to blur from exhaustion and hypothermia and your numb fingers struggled with tinder.

This is the possessive, enthralling terror of The Long Dark. There are no hordes to outsmart, no bosses to beat. Every sunrise isn’t a symbol of the warmth and hope. Instead, it’s a cold reminder that in just a few short hours, your body may consume the final calories of energy left in your body. Your new shelter may become a mangy wolf’s new home. You might just forget to boil your water when your thirst becomes too great.

Or you just might forget where your shelter is when the storm hits and the snow blinds you, leaving you to become just another victim of the long dark.

 

 

PCP: Inside Gaming’s Chaser

Watching Wednesday #8 – What a Whiff

Inside Gaming’s Chaser:

The short of it: Before evolving into Funhaus, Inside Gaming provided some of the best tightly edited gameplay on YouTube. Add in an overdose of humor of both the dark and fart variety and a godawful game, you’ve got one of the enjoyable trainwrecks on the web.

The current-Funhaus-former-Inside Gaming’s history is kind of funny, bouncing from a Halo specific show into a gaming news show into a mix of news and brief gameplay to a primarily gaming channel with a hint of news. Fortunately, all these shifts have had little impact on the quality of their content, whatever it may be.

Every few months, I find myself looking back at some specific playthroughs and silly videos that genuinely made me laugh. Top among those videos are Inside Gaming’s playthroughs of the best worst games of the mid 2000s. And the top of those is arguably their playthrough of Chaser, a mediocre game that somehow manages to surprise players with how many ways it can be bad.

It’d be amusing enough to watch the game quickly devolve into a mess of bad design and worse implementation, but with Bruce and James behind the mic and Kovic behind the controls, it’s a downward spiral of game with the peak of game commentary.

Sure, their style of editing cuts out all the bits that are unfunny or boring. Instead of minimizing the strength of the overall commentary though, this strengthens it. By distilling it to their high points, the guys’ indirectly challenge the commentary of any other gameplay channel on YouTube. Yes, we know how brilliantly funny they are, but their condensed and cohesive playthroughs reveal the weaknesses of most other commenters.

PCP: Injustice: Gods Among Us

Watching Wednesday #5 – Wowin’ Whacks

Injustice: Gods Among Us: God Among Storymodes

The short of it: Injustice manages to do what Warner Bros. and DC couldn’t do with billions upon billions of dollars and dozens of stars. It gives classic characters that have been done to death life again with its character-driven story. 

There’s lot of stories under the DC banner– some are brilliant studies of what it means to be human, some are flopping insults to fans. After the lukewarm  Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, it seemed like DC’s fighting games were doomed to mediocrity. And then a God was born.

That’s overly dramatic, but a metagame/metahuman joke wouldn’t have made as much sense. The point is, with the release of Injustice: Gods Among Us, Netherrealm and DC created a new standard for fighting games. Whereas Mortal Kombat X created an devent story by killing off old characters and introducing interesting new ones, it could hardly be considered character-driven. Injustice dedicates itself to the description.

The game (and preceding comics) comes up with a plot that manages to turn both Superman and Lex Luthor into more than the Flanderized forms of themselves in most other media. It’s the familiar story of the fallen hero. After being tricked into committing the Herculean crime of killing his wife and daughter (triggering a nuke in Metropolis in the process), Superman turns to judge, jury, executioner for the world’s criminals– and heroes. The heroes that try to stand up to Superman’s domination of democracy are brutally cut down by the god-emperor. Batman is the sole living opponent to Supes’ iron-fisted rule; he uses an interdismensional transporter to pull Justice League members from a universe where the League stopped the plot/nuke.

The game does lack of characterization for the typical villains; fortunately, its depiction of struggles of the former heroes turned to villainous pawns is enough to satisfy the bad guy side of things. Sure, Sinestro is still kinda lame, but The Flash’s growing uncertainty about whether or not he’s on the right side is fascinating. And it’s fun– the wit and charm from the animated series is present in the game’s burner lines after matches conclude.

Now, of course, being that this is a video game, it should go into Fun Fridayz. But I’ve never played Injustice. Hell, I’ve haven’t played a Netherrealm game since MK9. And I was bloody terrible at that; combos and timing escape me. I watched the game’s cutscenes in movie format thanks to some YouTube heroes.

Check it out:

This vidyagamemoviewhatever is super. It’s like a league of justice. It’s Batman. Whatever, it’s just dope.

PCP: Star Wars: The Force Unleashed

Fun Fridayz #4 – Force Fun Not Forced Fun

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed: Lightsabers, Lightning, and Legends, Oh My!

The short of it: A flawed but fascinating take on Darth Vader’s apprentice; before Ahsoka, Starkiller was Vader’s first student. Though this isn’t the first Star Wars game to put the player in control of a Jedi, it does manage to make it seem the most meaningful, powerwise. 

Have you heard the tragedy of Starkiller the Unwise?

I thought not. It’s not a story the cannon would tell you.

Of all the tragedies and triumphs of Disney’s unification of the Star Wars canon, I think I’m most disappointed in the loss of The Force Unleashed. Sure, Genndy Tartakovsky’s The Clone Wars deserves more than it got, but I don’t think there’s quite as much in-universe fun to be had.

On its surface, The Force Unleashed has a lot of problems.

  • Edgelord dialogue (performed well by my #2 man crush, Sam Witwer)
  • Painful loading sessions, both between levels and between customization menus
  • Video game/shonen levels of powering up that invalidate every character that isn’t Starkiller
  • Awkward squeezing into the canon
  • Level design that barely eeks into serviceable
  • Lackluster enemy AI that breeches farther into cheap than challenging

I could go on and bitch about what this game could have been– but that’s such a boring way of talking about media.


Note: I feel the same way about a lot of easy to make, hard to elaborate on criticism of adapted media. “Oh no, we won’t get Planet Hulk/whatever kind of adaptation of niche media!” Yeah, but it’s not like there’s going to be any other adaptation. It sucks, but a few canon shoutouts is more than a fan could ask for into a trillion dollar franchise.


So here’s what’s what: this game is hella flawed. It’s nowhere near a ten, or a nine, or an eight. But stick a saber in me and call me Qui-Gon, I love it.

When I first picked up The Force Unleashed years ago, it sold me in the first ten minutes. Using the Force, I picked up a stormtrooper, the last of his squad, and dangled him two stories above a TIE hangar. As he flailed helplessly in the invisible hand of a burgeoning Sith lord, he desperately grasped the catwalk’s railing. He held there with the tenaciousness of a bull. At least, until I put a lightsaber and ten million volts of force lightning through him.

It was a power play; I was the apprentice of the Dark Lord Vader. Everyone below me was a waste of space. And I embraced that, tossing rebel and stormtrooper alike into the vacuum of space.

There’s some level of catharsis of finally being the one– the player equivalent of Anakin or Luke, the person capable of being the genetically perfect (because Midichlorian bullshit or whatever, I don’t own a shovel to beat George Lucas with or anything) force of the Force.

So every time I had to fix some miniscule pseudo-platforming bullshit to make it the next segment of murderizing some poorly-armored jobbers or every time I trudged through wave after wave of cheap-moving cheaters to make it the next powerful boss, I was excited. I was there, switching my lightsaber crystals to these beautiful new configurations that matched my increasingly terrifying Force powers.

It sucks. It’s far from perfect, and maybe, if it was separate from the beloved Star Wars franchise, this game would’ve died in alpha. But it’s there, with its classically Star Wars-ian not-so-subtle nods to its legends. Vader, Fett, Yoda, dodge in and out of this storyline that doesn’t quite make sense.

But y’know what? Who cares. I embrace it like the way Disney embraced the universe: here’s some super tight storylines and power fantasies, so let’s just absorb them. Maybe it’s not mechanically perfect, maybe it’s edges are as rugged as Sam Witwer’s jaw. But Force unleashed, ain’t it a sight to behold? More so, ain’t it a scenario to enjoy?

And yeah, there’s a lot more to be said about the improvements and failures of The Force Unleashed II. But that’s for another post– if I don’t milk this series, who will?

PCP: Thomas Was Alone

Fun Fridayz #2 – Fun For Feelings

Thomas Was Alone: Shaped Gameplay

The short of it: Thomas Was Alone is the hyper-polished height of the first wave of indie game dev*. Simple platforming is given a meaningful narrative by meshing gameplay and aesthetics with story. In terms of clichés: the definition of short and sweet, with a low price tag that gets you more than you bargained for.


*This is not a valid or factual timespan, it’s just what I’m referring to as the first wave of formidable indie games that blew up on Steam around 2010, like TWA, The Stanley Parable, VVVVVV, etc. 


 

Everyone deals with their loneliness in different ways. Some turn to drinking or drugs, some slip into depression, some force themselves into social situations.

Thomas jumps on blocks.

This is, of course, a bit odd seeing as how 1) jumping is rarely seen as therapeutic (often the exact opposite of what therapy recommends) and 2) Thomas is himself a block.

Created by indie dev Mike Bithell, Thomas Was Alone is a brief, fairly easy platformer with a typical platforming goal: get from point zero to point one. Framed as an artificial intelligence test, each level comes with different challenges for the named AIs (represented by simple colored shapes) to solve. Unbeknownst to the scientists running the tests, the AIs accidentally slip into same testing areas, allowing them to use teamwork to advance beyond their areas.

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The AIs’ attempts to find meaning in their individuality and talents is surprisingly human. Instead of using typical robot tropes where sentience makes AI question humanity, the characters are presented as they are– James, a green rectangle, falls upside down, leaving him feeling isolated and alone. Thomas, with his genuine openness, accepts James, and the two solve several tests together. There is no internal struggle of defining humanity (where it always turns out that oh wow the robots have become more than human, humanity is the robotic one, what a twist).

Instead, the characters’ struggle is to define themselves: what makes them unique, what makes them different?

The overarching story is perfectly interwoven with the changing gameplay; the differences that make these shapes unique morphs the player’s ability to solve puzzles.

The star of the game is its narrator, played by Danny Wallace. Though none of the AIs speak directly, their thoughts and feelings are narrated as the levels progress. The mix of Wallace’s British inflection mixed with Bithell’s gentle wit and writing is the perfect vehicle for a story about individuality and teamwork. Wallace’s performance even earned him a BAFTA Game Award in 2012.

Thomas Was Alone is so damn genuine, which makes the massive amount of polish somewhat surprising. The lighting effects are brilliant, the gameplay is smooth, the control of every character feels unique without making any one character preferable.

It’s really in shape. Don’t be a square. Get on the (rhom)bus to buy this. Sorry for whole shape puns (rect)angle.

 


+ Refreshes the idea of a platformer
+ Fun writing and voiceover
+ Smooth controls
– Low challenge level
~ Priced fairly for its short length

Buy it:

Steam

App Store

Google Play

 

#GAMERGATE

Author Edit: Full honesty, I wrote this as a weekly post for a class. Looking back on it, I cringe at the over-simplification and over-looking of some pretty major aspects of this issue. My feelings and thoughts about this aren’t as one dimensional anymore, and I’m happy to discuss it with anyone. But this post is no longer a conclusive or accurate description of my outlook.  

I love video games with a passion. There’s nothing I want to do more than lose myself in the game industry. Nothing. I’ll take anyone on if they doubt my dedication to the medium. But it’s the love I have that gives me the ability to not take it seriously. I understand that video games are a damn art form. But they, like movies and paintings, aren’t a matter of life and death. They aren’t a field for hard-hitting investigative journalism (mostly).

The idea of “ethics” in a wholly subjective medium that typically revolves around, “Should I buy this?” is strange. Disclosure is absolutely necessary– FCC regulations exist for a reason and readers don’t want their content to be transformed into native advertising. I understand and want that too; that’s as black and white as it gets. “We want legitimate writings, not decorated ads.” Understandable, right?

That being said, it’s certainly not worth the spite directed towards organizations like IGN. Criticize them, sure. But I’d hardly consider the issue of #gamergate worth the militant attitudes and unrepentant hate without any clear goal other than a vague call for “ethics.” However, this bites into the argument that I’ve absolutely despised– #gamergate is just another vehicle for gamers (who are also “dead” because of reasons) to harass indie developers/women/people who are alive.

It’s this weirdly annoying arena where game hotheads call out “SJWs,” corporations, and women as being professional victims and such and twitter hotheads call out gamers for death and rape threats and such. The problem with this stupid battle is that the two never clash– they draw in the moderate crowds on both side (gamers who want more disclosure and people who feel like there are some issues that need to be addressed in gaming culture) and make it impossible for the two to hold any kind of discourse.

Totalbiscuit’s blog post about this was one of the few responses I actually looked into– two parts in particular stick out.

I firmly believe that focusing on the minority perpetrating harassment and abuse will perpetuate more of it and give them the power and attention they so crave. The media, either mainstream or gaming does not seem to agree with me on that one and keeps hammering out article after article after article on harassment. Does it help? Has it done anything what-so-ever to slow down the #Gamergate hashtag? Has it done anything to reduce online abuse? If it has I’ve seen no evidence of any of those things. Gamergate associated boards and subreddits continue to grow, the hashtag continues to go strong long after futile slacktivist efforts to kill it such as #stopgamergate2014 have imploded and gone away. Why you might ask? We wrote so many articles condemning harassment, why isn’t Gamergate going away?

Because you are peddling a one-sided narrative.

Additionally, in reference to mainstream media:

You gave them the mainstream media on a silver platter, you failed to learn the classic lesson about the internet, that you do NOT feed the trolls. I condemn harassment in all its forms and in whatever name it is perpetrated. I don’t believe condemning it does anything, but I’ll do it anyway just to reaffirm my stance, which by the way should be assumed as being the default position of a reasonable human-being.

When gamers get called “dead” or “the worst community” or get written off as perpetrators of death threats, all opportunities for discussion are quashed. It inflames the community as a whole– if one calls out a minority within a group as the whole group, it erases the responsibility of the minority for their actions and falsely labels the majority as the minority.

The main point of all of this is that every bit of this incident has been terrible. Every response from every side has sucked. The only solution for all of this is calm, rational addressing of the issue. “Here’s our policies, here’s how we enforce them.” instead of, “The internet is a jerk, we won’t say anything else!” The issue isn’t about whether or not a reviewer grabs a bottle of water in the middle of a convention (shoutsout to Greg Miller) but the relationship between parties. That small bit has been overswept by the sea of twitter trolls, which is just disappointing.

It’s a damn shame every avenue for discussion has been blocked by both sides: you’ve got a wall with one side yelling, “SHILLS!” on one side and the other yelling, “HARASSERS!” without either paying attention to everyone else not banging on the Berlin Wall of Gaming.

Harassment is bad. Failing to include relevant information is bad.

The fact that both happen does not nullify the importance of issues within our community. If this big a mess has been made, maybe we should just talk about it. 1v1 Final Destination Fox Only No Items this whole issue and move on to a better level.

That last sentence was something that’d be on a CNN article about #GAMERGATE. I’m sorry.