What creates a beautiful gaming experience (And AC IV thoughts and tribute!)

(This is a copy of my post in the ACIV forums, which due to the site being broken, I couldn't attach it through my blog. Therefore I just copied it for my own collection of my blogs. I tried removing it from the general discussions forums, hopefully it worked. Either way, this topic is probably buried at its bottom)

I often feel that the perspective with which we have begun to discuss games with, discussing it through some isolated parameters, blind us to the satisfaction of the overall game. Sure, gameplay, graphics, story, atmosphere, sound, replayability, its multiplayer are all important things to think about when it's time to decide whether or not a game is worth spending our hard earned cash and time on. Only thing is, at least for me, I think these smaller parameters contribute to a larger, more crucial factor - the overall experience. In my case, sometimes by the end of a game, and despite its apparent flaws discussed in great detail by some reviews, I can't help but fall completely in love with it simply on the basis of how it made me feel by the time I was done with it.

It's reasonable to believe that if each of the individual factors (gameplay, replayability etc) are touched upon, it'll give a good idea of the overall experience. But the only thing is, I feel, that each of those factors may not always contribute equally to the overall experience. I guess what I mean is that games are discussed in too great a depth in only technical terms.

Simply put, a game lacking in gameplay (though not to the level of unplayability) may have an amazing storyline or atmosphere, that makes up for the less than great gameplay. The feeling at the end of the game may be one of satisfaction. On the other hand, it might even be that a game with very tight gameplay might lack "soul" and be forgotten after a few months of finishing it. Giantbomb's way of reviewing is pretty good in this way, because although they discuss the details, the overall verdict is just rating out of five stars and a concluding line, rather than rating per parameter.

Sometimes it's the moments you create that matter as much, if not more, than the technicalities

Some examples I can share here are, on one side, the game Risen. It is, as we know, a mostly underrated game, and some of us love those types of games. It did get praise for certain parts (involving gameplay and leveling, interesting atmosphere) and criticism for some others. Thing is, giving a conclusion based on those points makes many people avoid buying that game, because they get the feeling that it isn't the most polished of experiences, and for some reason that would prevent them from having a good time with it.

Honestly speaking, I still sometimes watch Youtube videos of that game, because something about that game still sticks in the back of my head.

A pretty great experience

Another ( somewhat ridiculous) example is GTA IV. It's a great game, very playable, with a lot of interesting things to do in a very interesting world. Yet, we have managed to weed out (unnecessary) criticisms about it and almost giving it a bit of a bad image.

Maybe It's just me who is tired of criticism, being an Architecture student, who faces it almost every other week during presentations/ vivas :P But I just feel in a medium that focuses on experience, there should be more of an emphasis on what experience the game provides and a lesser focus on it's technicalities.

I should clearly state though, this is only my way of playing/ looking at games. I'm a bit of a romantic that way, and would probably make a terrible game critic/ reviewer. I never like getting technical about things. If a game (or even film) manages to evoke emotions within me, I'll be completely in love with it.

I mean, Deadly Premonition was my GoTY. Yeah. (And yet, I barely remember my experience with a very similar game - Alan Wake)

Deadly Premonition had many surprisingly beautiful moments, which were on a more intimate scale
The Witcher captured the weight of your decisions (the consequences of which were always revealed with delay) through incredible paintings
Do you feel it too, Edward?

So it's quite obvious what creates a beautiful gaming experience in my case - Story, characters, atmosphere. Games that I love for doing these well are Mass Effect 1 & 3 (where people mostly prefer Mass Effect 2), Dragon Age: Origins, The Witcher 1 (I vastly prefer it over the much more acclaimed Witcher 2); Fable TLC (people prefer the first in the franchise, but very few would put it in their top 10); TES IV: Oblivion (Prefer it much more over Skyrim, I guess in a way similar to those who love Morrowind above the others); Assassin's Creed 1 (AC2 isn't bad, but I was admittedly disappointed with it the first time I played it. It lacked... some wonder of the first. I have begun to appreciate it over time though) and most recently, Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag.

I guess I play games in a search of beauty. In search something profound, deliberate or there by accident. That is where games do something that films cannot. Films cannot allow you to dive from your ship into the depths of the bright blue Caribbean ocean, with the power of decision to choose in which direction you'd like to swim.

In the beginning of Black Flag, I spent a large amount of time slowly sailing on the seas, often diving off to spend some time in silence on one of the many tiny islands scattered throughout. Many of them didn't even have a chest or a collectible, but they were places that I could choose to go to, and stand there for as long as I liked, watching the sun set, the moon rise, the change of color in the sea, the dolphins (I think) swimming by, the birds circling up ahead, and the soft music that accompanied it all. Here's a 1 minute video of what I'm talking about (The pic on the right is from that vid. I didn't embed it as I couldn't reduce the size of the video player)

The freedom to do this, to make our own experiences, is where the unique strength of games lie. Another game that accomplishes this beautifully is TES IV: Oblivion (or Skyrim, you could say, but in that I didn't feel the world as much)

This highlights another funny way of playing games of mine. I never try to get any of the achievements, or say, collectibles. I'm sure there are other people that do this too, but we are surely a minority. In the end, after spending hours playing Black Flag, (actually I played it over a period of 4 months - started around November, finished yesterday) my percent completed stands at 63%. My ship was only adequately upgraded, I only fought one legendary ship once (and died), I did about 6-7 assassination contracts, and collected only a few treasures.

I did chase down shanties though, and finished all the Templar assassinations. I guess I do those things that the character would (say role playing) and everything that adds to the story. Rest is just my wanderings through beautiful locations to soak in the atmosphere (streets, jungles, taverns and the above mentioned island)

Ofcourse, this isn't the only thing I loved about Black Flag. Everything else was spot on. The exciting gameplay is one of the reasons why it has received a great reception, and it makes me all the more happier. The game is finely crafted, and here, the overall experience and the individual parameters are both excellent.

I had exceedingly high expectations from the game, so a tiny bit of disappointment was expected. That happened after the initial few hours, when I began to find the story a little shallow. It gave me a Mass Effect 2 vibe. It had characters, but the story didn't feel too engaging. That feeling went away though, as the story began to pick up in an interesting way a little later than halfway through.

*******AC IV: BLACK FLAG SPOILERS START HERE******

Regret becomes a central theme towards the end of the game
The game manages to show a slim silver lining before the end, making it all the more heartbreaking

What sealed my final feelings about the game was the ending (I had a similar feeling after finishing DA:O) The story became very personal, and centered on Edwards' (and Anne Bonny's) feeling of being the survivors, of having witnessed all the chaos, and now being left with a feeling of emptiness. It did have the expected ending - the protagonist succeeds in defeating the bad guys, and accomplishes his mission. But the reaction wasn't the most expected, not for us and nor for the characters. It's haunting how through the blur of the action of the major bulk of the game, everything else was forgotten about, both to us and the characters. At the end though, it's there for everyone to see - what mattered were the people we met.

Dragon Age Origins had a similar bittersweet end

The hunger for success was so strong, Edward was blinded to everything else by it, and lost everyone in the process. At the end, when he has achieved what he set out for, it feels less like an achievement, and stings more of regret. It's a bittersweet end. And it scares and cautions me, to not become blind to the more subtle, everyday precious things in life during my journey towards success.

*******AC IV: BLACK FLAG SPOILERS END HERE******

And that's pretty much what I feel makes a beautiful experience worth spending my time and money on in games, which Black Flag beautifully achieves. It isn't very quantifiable, it's a bit mixed up, and it keeps adjusting itself according to the game in question, but I guess it's all led by feeling and instinct. Like the way I just knew Black flag was going to be a great experience while some moaned about another installment. And I know Witcher 3 is going to be the experience of all experiences for me :) Can't wait.

To end, I made a bit of a "tribute video" for the game, focusing on Edward's journey through those years. I used soundtrack from AC 3 (only good thing about that game), AC4, and also The Dark Knight ;) Please give it a watch if you enjoyed the game (and my blog)

Also, it has MAJOR SPOILERS So do not watch if you have yet to finish the game :)

So what are your opinions? What is it that makes a game stand out above all others when you look back at all the gaming experiences that you have been through?

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I animated a painting I'd made and composed some music for it :)

I used to share my attempts at learning painting (digital, using photoshop) on these forums quite frequently, but I began to get busier and busier with college work that prevented me from both blogging or painting too much regularly.

I've been missing both, and while I continue to procrastinate that blog I've been meaning to write about the many interesting experiences I've had in life, (or that have been made interesting by sitting down and thinking about how movie-esque life can be), I managed enough time in the past few months to paint a new painting, and then eventually animate it.

My personal achievement is that I finally learnt FL Studio, which I'd wanted to for a couple of years but it's complexity always led to confusions and me giving up on it. Somehow, this time I stuck with and didn't let go throughout the confusions and frustrations. I just kept trying, failing, creating crappy music, and then trying again. By the end I was able to create a track that at least satisfied me personally.

The painting also came after a period of terrible looking paintings that had me doubting my ability to draw. I felt like I'd forgotten everything I'd learnt.

So overall it's been a pretty good experience creating this painting and then the video, and it makes me happy cause it sort of shares some things very important to me personally.

Hope you like it!

31 Comments

So I just finished watching LOST (And my confusions about story-writing in general)

So i'm writing a (proper) blog here after a long LONG break. Like, after about 2 whole years. The last blog I wrote was about my excitement for Skyrim. Oh man time passes by really really fast! (That's a topic for another blog though)

So I started watching Lost ... well i'm not exactly sure when, but I'm guessing around late 2010. Giantbomb's Deadly Premonition Endurance Run had ended earlier that year, which had led me to watching Twin Peaks to scratch that DP ER itch. And after TP, I started watching X-files to scratch the Twin Peaks itch. But X- files didn't really satisfy me, so I landed up on Lost. (Pretty cool how Giantbomb is the cause of it all right?)

(To get in the Lost mood, you could play this while reading the blog :P)

*******LOST SPOILERS AHEAD******

Man the show has left me feeling really empty inside, and I knew it would. I was actually scared to finish watching the show and I really slowed down during the last season. I even planned the situation I wanted to watch the finale in. Alone at home, while it rained heavily outside. Beautiful.

And that's what I loved about the show. There was always so much beauty in all of it. I'm sure many people watched it for the mysteries, the thrills and everything (at least in the beginning) but what got me hooked were the heart breaking and beautiful stories of the characters. I guess people find what they look for. What mainly got me hooked in the beginning was John Locke. His perception about life, about their role in the island, his immovable faith in things that other people could not understand were what mainly made me fall in love with the show.

The point in the show where they revealed that he only regained his walking ability upon reaching the island completely blew me away. Suddenly, him lying on the sand, staring at his own toes moving within his socks, in the middle of all the chaos suddenly made sense. Him helping Charlie out with his drug addiction ("The Moth") almost had me in tears - tears of happiness. I had finally found the show to satisfy my new itch, but probably something more.

From then on, that was mainly what the show was about for me. And every episode delivered. Every episode had those amazing moments, and even though Locke gradually lost his initial aura, and suffered a change in character (plus, you know, death), I kept finding new characters to love - Sawyer, Hurley, Charlie, Ben linus (started loving this guy), Jin and Sun (broke my heart a billion times goddammit) Miles, Faraday, Jack and eventually even Desmond. I really loved all those moments towards the end when they all began to remember one by one. Their expressions were priceless. Add to that the beautiful music, and I felt like the producers and writers of the show exactly what satisfied me. I think I'll never love a show like I've loved this.

Infact, I feel like this is the most satisfying and beautiful peace of art/ fiction I have ever experienced. Better than any book or film I have read or seen. And this is what sort of worries and saddens me. This is for two reasons:

Firstly, I was impressed with every episode I watched. I could not understand how the writers possessed the intelligence to remember every alternate life story they had written and make them all come to some sort of a conclusion. I'm currently writing a book (or im trying my best to) , and writing a single page is a challenge. What they have written, involving so many lives, with time travel, mysteries, histories and then all the beautiful, emotional moments, is worthy of some sort of a lifetime achievement award. If I was one of the writers of the story, I would consider my life complete. I am that impressed. (although I would've preferred if the ending was actually about an alternate timeline rather than a purgatory, that doesn't change much.)

But in contrast, stand the reactions of the rest of the world. George R.R Martin joked about its ending, a lot of people really criticized the ending and called it a "cop out". Many people called the writing of the last season weak, while some even said that the whole shows script was just improvising on random ideas and the writing was clueless. And this is what saddens me. Have I not watched and read the same things as these critics have? Because it feels like their opinion comes from more experience. As if they have seen better shows, better films and read better books. It's a little sad, but also confusing. What works of art have I missed out on, even though my life seems to be headed in the direction of devotion to some of these forms of art? How am I gonna catch up in time?

These are the exact same things I felt after finishing Bioshock Infinite, which got criticized for "poor writing" as well by some. I mean, I guess my question is: How much better can you possibly do? What the hell is "good writing" then? Does it exist?

And if it does, I want suggestions (please). In any form: books, films, TV shows or even games. I wanna know what qualifies as good writing.

Because I love writing. I LOVE a good story. I think it's all I want in life as well. A good story. I want to write a good story, and I want to live a life that can be remembered as an amazing story.

Which is my worry #2: Will I ever have what it takes to create an amazing story? Do I have the ability? Or will I continue to be Lost exactly the way I am right now, wondering what "good writing" is supposed to be. Wondering what it is people have read and seen that gives them their perceptions about writing. It seems like a huge mountain I need to climb, and if I do end up learning anything, it'll take a pretty big revelation. Because I am currently quite confused.

But especially after watching the last episode of Lost today, I realized that this is a mountain I want to climb. And then meditate on it and be enlightened, of course. But climbing the mountain comes first. Struggle and indulge in worldly affairs like writing and then give it all up. Pretty crazy right? But I guess writing is what I hope to understand life though, before I... Move on (wink!)

The story that I'm writing is just about a boy who has lived in a monastery all his life (that's twenty years), and the things that he learns about life outside and among people as he and an elder student travel across the land - to reach another monastery that they need to deliver books/ scrolls to. I'm 80 pages through it, but all those things I described above really make me worried about my own efforts.

So yes, that was a pretty long blog, and thanks for reading through it all (if you did). I'm looking forward to some good replies. Try not to be too harsh though, I've bared my soul in the form of a blog after a long time ;)

Oh, and goodbye, Lost.

16 Comments

Tomb raider- My thoughts (and a music tribute!)

So i just finished playing the new Tomb Raider a couple of days ago, and found it quite enjoyable, atleast gameplay - wise.

Thanks to my new, relatively powerful laptop (in comparison to my old PC) I was able to push the settings up to (almost) max and still get a good framerate.

The animations are beautiful, and Lara moves, runs and jumps fluidly. I'd say the animations and the gameplay are the best parts of this game. Love the small details in the game, like the way she sticks out her arm to touch the walls of the caves as she runs by them :D

The story though... was sort of disappointing. Having not followed much of the news/ reviews surrounding the game, I didn't really know what to expect, but I'd gathered the game had been getting quite a lot of praise. And as I started it and played about the first hour of the game (before she begins going crazy with guns) I got the feeling that this game was going to be perfect both gameplay and story - wise.

It felt like a mix between Far Cry 3 and Assassin's Creed in the beginning, and I thought the story and atmosphere was going to be something similar to LOST. I began to expect good pacing, exploration (and stuff like hunting around in jungles) and a really deep character driven story.

Unfortunately though, all that was thrown out of the window a couple of hours into the game, as it took a sharp turn towards a fast paced heavily action/ combat oriented game. The character progression turned from survivor to murderer, and the exploration turned into exploding bridges and similar running sequences.

I soon realized that I had begun to expect something different from the game than what it was really offering. After swallowing my disappointment, I began to enjoy it for what it was. So in the end, it wasn't all that bad.

And after a long time, I recorded footage of me playing a game and made a music tribute for it. I tried capturing the major emotions and character drive that I noticed during the game, and with Linkin Park's "By Myself" (I like(d) Linkin Park :) - you know, the first 2 albums) made a tribute to this reboot!

(MAJOR SPOILERS IN THE VIDEO)

Hope you enjoy!

6 Comments

So I finished Alan Wake on the PC and made something!

(Reposted as blog)

So I'd been waiting an ETERNITY for this game. Ever since trailers started coming out I was very interested. And then they went ahead and cancelled it for the PC, and that's all I have! And then I spent the coming months searching "Alan Wake PC" on google quite regularly, only to come up with disappointing fake images and rumors.

But finally, it was announced for the PC and I got it! And I wasn't disappointed. I loved the game. Although some of the sections were a bit too stretched and the gameplay wasn't my favorite part (although it was quite enjoyable from time to time), the highlight was the story and the atmosphere, which was what had got me excited about the game in the first place.

SO, after completing the game, I made a music video for it (as I usually do) made up of all the cutscenes and gameplay i'd recorded.

The song I used, infact, has been written and created by me and my friend, and it's called "Marrying the Tide". Our band is named "Retarded Compound".

I chose my own song as the lyrics seemed to be matching the theme of the game beautifully! So anyway, here's the video. Oh, and the vocals aren't the best :P But the music's pretty alright imo

Here you go!

Video description:

A music video tribute to the Remedy game "Alan Wake (PC). I used a song from my own band (Retarded Compound) for the video as the lyrics seem to match the theme of light and darkness, hope and struggle, very well!

Enjoy and comment!

I do not own Remedy or Alan Wake, this is just a music tribute. The song is by my band (Retarded Compound)

Follow Retarded Compound on Facebook!

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Retarded-Compound/140781369310207

===LYRICS===

You kept a dream within

and left your heart unlocked

like a child you wore it on your sleeve

and all that they said you would believe

Standing by the cliff

you were pushed before you could even leap

they gave you back your heart in pieces

and stole your will to dream

[CHORUS]

I know its hard but you must believe

Coz there's a way out of this darkness

You must keep moving on for me

Behind a bend may be the light you seek

You closed your eyes to another life

you dreamt of what you wished to see

but now that youve been woken up

you no longer wish to breathe

Into the sea you dint follow

you've drifted along but you cannot dream

yes, you stayed away from sorrow

but happy you cannot dare to be

[CHORUS]

I know its hard but you must believe

Coz there's a way out of this darkness

You must keep moving on for me

Behind a bend may be the light you seek

Theres nothing to which you can hold on

what you have today tomorrow will be gone

valleys are made by hills, sorrow through delight

love what you have and everything will be alright

14 Comments

Another photoshop painting! (a scene from The Last Samurai)

Remember my attempts at painting on photoshop with my new (now an year old) drawing tablet? So I did a few more drawings after that which turned out pretty decent.

Then I was forced to take a big break as college work took over all my time. But before that I had managed to start a new painting as a tribute to one of my favorite movies of all time The Last Samurai (strange choice? maybe :P) So about an year later, I finally found the time and completed it! Here you go giantbombers :) (and thanks for all the help during my learning process!)

(so irritating, giantbomb's having trouble uploading images, so here's a flickr link:) http://www.flickr.com/photos/48092420@N04/7529517492/in/photostream/lightbox/

update: proper image upload-

21 Comments

When the Dragonborn gets emotional

So I was gonna make one of my game - music videos, this time showing the beauty of Skyrim with some pleasant music, but I ended up getting heavily addicted to this Oasis song (who put the weight of the world on my shoulders) and ended up making a video with that instead.

It somehow developed a very interesting theme of the internal conflict that a person in the Dragonborn's position would probably experience, one of having to deal with a huge responsibility thrown on his shoulders. Watch as the Dragonborn sits in a corner, trying to deal with his emotions, as the HUGE mountains, rivers, and endless plains of the world of Skyrim create a contrast to him, while symbolizing his confusions :D

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Learning photoshop: This time I drew my friend

So here's my latest work! I asked a friend of mine whether she would like me to make a portrait of her, and she was all up for it. It wasn't possible for us to do it live at that moment, so i decided to take a photo of hers as a reference.
Did this in 4 hours (can't believe it! My last one had taken me 4 days! But that was much more detailed as well) sitting from 12 am to 4:30 am (almost on a deadline, as I had to move my PC the very next day) 
Personally im very happy with the results, and im hoping i can keep up this momentum of drawing regularly. The shorts didn't come out that good though, as I began to lose a little bit of patience at the end. :P   But im pretty happy with the shirt.
 
No background yet, might add that in later
 
Critiques and comments welcome :) 

 
 
 
 
Oh, and needless to say, my lady friend was impressed.
Mission accomplished ;)

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Goodbye Oblivion, hello Skyrim!

 
  Now that i'll probably be spending most of my time playing Skyrim, and not Oblivion, I thought of making a little video tribute for Oblivion as a way of saying goodbye 
 
Youtube description:

So it's finally time for a new Elder Scrolls! With the oncoming release of Skyrim, I doubt many people will still be playing Oblivion.
Having spent many happy years playing Oblivion, and living in the world of Cyrodill, I thought of making a little music video tribute to it before I journey on to Skyrim for the next many years. :P 

Music - Coldplay - Lovers in Japan

    
     Just showed the beautiful world of Tamriel in this video, and the song is something with which I had wanted to make a video tribute for oblivion from a long time.
 Enjoy! :D
16 Comments

Learning digital painting - Fable 3 Fan Art

So I got my first drawing tablet a couple of weeks ago, and since then I've been trying to get a hang of it by practicing.   
 
I made a couple of drawings following some beginner tutorials, and then, since I just started playing Fable 3 (and am loving it), I thought of ditching tutorials and making an original artwork.
So, using Fable's art style as an inspiration, I spent 4 days (Im a beginner, so it took me a LONG time) doing this:  ( upload on deviantart)
 


Im pretty happy with the result myself as my earlier .
I like how the dog turned out, and am surprised that I was able to render a believable landscape (inspired from Fable 3 as well), meaning that I finally am realizing how some of the photoshop tools are to be used. ( I was pretty worried about my abilities earlier)   
   
 
 
Maybe Ill continue to make fan art for games and blog them here.

So, there it is! Just wanted to share it with you guys :P
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