Dance, Dance, Dance (Write, Write, Write) - An easy thing to ignore.

NOTE: These are my own, personal opinions and they will be stated in a direct, unflinching fashion. If anything I say offends you, feel free to inform me of it, but try and keep it constructive and on-topic. It is likely that this post will be somewhat personal, as that is after all, it's intent. I invite you all to discuss and debate in the comments section below.

Additionally, in regards to this specific blog, I'd like to ask the readers to keep an open mind. I'm tackling what I perceive to be a very difficult issue, one that's wide-spead across a plethora of sites, but particulary disruptive on Giant Bomb.

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I've spent an unhealthy amount of time on this site. It's hard to admit to that without making it a joke. I don't know how many hundreds, if not thousands, of hours I've spent on Giant Bomb since it launched, but it's been a lot. More than I want to consider. Hours of quick-looks, hours of UPFs, of Premium Content, of Endurance Runs, what kind of chunk of my life does that add up to? I feel like I'd panic if someone told me the percentage.

It seems like an arguement that I'm constantly laughing off, never pausing to consider. I'm watching quick-looks of games I'm not interested in because it'll kill some time over my lunch-break. I'll try to make it back for UPF, or Spookin' With Scoops, unless I have other plans or desperately need sleep. Making time for all of this has become so routine, so deeply ingrained in me that I've stopped questioning it.

I love this site, and I adore these people, in a way that's hard for me to articulate. Giant Bomb is to me, a safe haven in a lot of respects, somewhere I can retreat to. There are familiar faces, there's a sense of community. And it's always there. No matter what's happening in my life, no matter where I am, Giant Bomb will just keep on trucking, with the same kind of endearing stupidity occuring at, what seems like, every opportunity.

That's a fact that's helped me through a lot of tough spots in my life. Without going into any detail, I've had my fair share of issues over the years, and little enough to cling onto, so that this website provided comfort in it's own right. A video-game web-site. I'd laugh if I wasn't sure that a lot of other people felt the same way.

Infact, I'm fairly confident that we've all heard this a few times by now. Giant Bomb, you did this, and you did that. You pulled through by talking about naked cartoon pussy, and Brad falling down EVERY single well he ever encountered.

It doesn't ask anything in return. (Except for you to check out them Premium Offers, but let's be honest, you'd have done that any way.)

The site has helped me, time and again, yet I've never stopped to wonder if it's crippling me as well, if it's holding me back. Again, I have difficulty not simply shrugging that idea off, but the fact that I haven't asked myself that question worries me. What else might I have taken for granted, what other habits are too deeply ingrained for me to recognize I even have?

I look around over these forums and see the same faces, and where I previously felt comfort at the familiarity, I now can't help but to feel an inkling of despair. Not just for myself, but for others as well. And while that's certainly none of my business, I can't help but to give a damn.

There's been so much talk of late about newer members attending our circuits, mixing in our ranks, pissing in our drinks and misrepresenting what we're about. Folks who make us step out of our comfort zone, and realize there's assholes out there in the big, wide world. And while there's no agreeing with these "questionable elements", I can't help but to feel that introducing questions and change into our dynamic seems like the healthiest thing possible.

As I've already noted, I've spent a lot of time on the site, and I can't help but notice patterns appearing. People going out of their way to be overprotective about the site, about the members. There's really no saying "I disagree with the staff", or "I'd like this changed" without placing an order for mass disagreement at best, and a shit-storm at worst, via their defendants.

I feel like we've become a cult.

I know, I know, outcry, give it to me. To be fair, as far as cults go, it's pretty dang great, but this perpetual reverence for what is just a group of really nice, smart guys seems wrong to me.

The issue, as far as I see it, is that for us sitting on the other side of the screen, it's a one-way discussion. Be it the Bombcast, a quicklook, a review or what have you; the opinions and perspectives of the staff are very much isolated from the community, and so, a large portion of the folks attending the site simply listen. We get used to it. It's not a medium through which we can have a back and forth with the staff itself, but instead it is an established group of personalities with fairly strong opinions that remain consistent unless one of them proves the other wrong (which is a rare enough occurance). The community is an audience in this, and that's certainly no criticism towards the staff, they've invited us in for a glance into their world, and that's a wonderous thing by itself.

A natural by-product is that everyone is gonna' hear what the staff thinks, where-as the lone user very likely won't be heard. Any opinion we have will simply be over-shouted in the press of bodies. It's an illusion of participation that grinds down each individual opinion. With extremely rare exceptions, what the staff says will be what sticks with the listener.

Ultimately, it becomes a war of attrition, how long is each individual going to shout into the storm, assuming someone will hear them? Following that up, what's the use questioning something if nobody's going to answer? It becomes very easy to agree with them, but as for disagreeing, what's the use if you're just gonna' get shouted down when you're wondering about the lack of content, or why one of the staff thinks so & so? It's hard to keep that up, especially if you mean well.

With so much conversing in these latest months of outside issues, of dividing up the fanbase between those who can be relied on, and those who can't, I feel that we've run headlong into a completely seperate issue altogether.

I'm certainly not claiming that there's no discussion going on, or that people aren't disagreeing with the opinions of the editors at times. After all, we're a bunch of free-thinking, and I like to think, smart people who happen to share the same interest. And my bringing, what I perceive to be, an issue to light isn't going to change a thing.

But at the same time, I think there's no denying the emerging us & them mentality that's eerily sitting on the sideline of every discussion on the site, breathing down our necks. I don't know about you, but every time I read a message that's critical of the staff, be it not having quick-looked a game or having done a bad job of showing off another game, etc, I know there's going to be another message that'll respond constructively as often as attack that first person, warranted or not.

And while it'd be easy to blame that on these rogue elements, or someone else, that'd be scapegoating. If anything, it's the people who care who are like to get involved in this capacity. They mean well, it's just an ugly form of prioritization.

All of this is, admittedly, dramatized, crafted into an issue well beyond it's standing, and I'm very aware that I'm going to receive a bunch of messages in which folks tell me to relax, not to overthink it, but that's exactly what this is about. Taking a step back, examining our devotion to the site, what that prompts us to do and say.

It's important to consider your own place, and your own opinion, and while a sense of community is beautiful and tremendous, we can't let ourselves become a hive-mind. Dictation will not benefit anyone.

I love this place, and there'll be no tearing me away for quite some time to come. I just wish I didn't know what people were going to say before actually hearing it.

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Thanks for reading. This was Do The Manta Ray, making himself supremely unpopular on the site (uh-huh) and being cool at your school.

1 Comments

My internet friends and what we're doing to each other.

I write blog posts very rarely. I'm a writer by trade who is ironically uncomfortably with the idea of others looking into my head. Those of you who've read any of my previous attempts at articulating myself will know that my commentaries tend to be fairly personal, and this is no exception to that rule. In fact, this is by far the most personal blog post I've written. I am uncomfortable with that fact, hesitant to post this, but that's only fitting as this post is all about being unsure. Be warned, some of you will likely find this piece boring, but that's alright by me, I'm not writing this to get laughs. You're all welcome to discuss and debate in the comments section below.

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People get married. That's what they do, even people you don't expect to. My best friend from my childhood is a perfect example of that, and I stood by him as he was tying the knot a few days ago. I hadn't seen him for quite some time, and I wasn't sure how to treat him as he and I have a complicated history for the lack of a better term. Over the years, I have looked up upon, and looked down on, the guy in equal measure. I attribute that to the obvious fact that people change, and it's hard to reconcile your image of a person with what their circumstances are doing to them. You come to expect things out of people, and transgressions eventually start to pile up over longer periods, it's the same for any long-lasting relationship, you learn to come to terms with the issues rather than expecting to solve them.

Over the last couple of days, I've spent quite a bit of time trying to figure out whether I'm happy for him or not. I still can't really make up my mind on the subject, for a number of reasons. I don't like the person he's marrying for one, and I'm sure he's making the same mistake that lead his own father to become so very unhappy. Ofcourse that's not something I can say to him, I don't have the right to, and it highlights the fact that I have to be considerably more careful with my words to him than I used to be. Used to be we could say anything to each other, comfortable in that the other felt the same way. This melancholy train of thoughts has lead me to consider a lot of my other friendships. What's working, and what isn't. I'm happy to report that with just about all of my real-life friends, there haven't been any grand revelations. I'm fairly outspoken on what I think, and I try to consider the thoughts of others, so anything buried beneath the surfaces isn't just going to rear it's head and mess things up. I know what I like and what my friends like, and it's clear that we like each other, it really is as simple as that.

I can't say the same about the friends I have online and that's the reason I'm writing this unusually personal blog-post. I feel like I need to step out of my way to say that I'm not looking for any advice, nor am I desperate to find a solution. It's simply been food for thought, and I usually work out any confusion I have by putting it down on paper. I feel this subject coincides fairly well with the discussions on this site, so I'm posting it here as part of the process.

Let me set the stage, and try to be careful where I aim the light; I have a group of people I regularly play multiplayer games with, DOTA 2 in particular. We've all known each other for what feels like, and in some cases infact is, years at this point, and in that meanwhile we've had our fair share of things happen between us. Recently, a friend of mine underwent a loss, and I tried to help, feeling powerless in how short my gestures fell, and I dealt with my frustration by myself. On other occasions, I've been able to do more for people, and sat here alone in my apartment, smiling at myself for it. No matter the result, I can't help but to think of myself in the process.

Being online friends with someone feels very different to me than being a normal friend. There's too much silence for one thing, too little of what I think makes interacting with people so important. Seeing someone smile, hearing someone laugh, but it's first and foremost the prescence of another factor that's the priority of everyone involved. The game. A game like DOTA 2 takes almost all of your concentration, and is the fulcrum around which any conversations mid-game is going to revolve. For those of you living under a rock, DOTA 2 is a competetive 5v5 MOBA that's highly demanding of each player, not only in terms of individual skill, but even more so in their capacity to work together. As such, you don't prioritize the conversation, and that can lead to silences that would stretch in a normal capacity, here the game fills them, and you find yourself speaking to yourself as much as to your friends. You dish out criticism, complaints and banter that you haven't fully thought through as you would were you next to the person in question. And perhaps more importantly, large aspects of the conversations are only gleaned, rather than fully absorbed, as you are focusing on progress of the game itself. Whatever it is you're doing, you're multi-tasking. And whatever happens, you're expected to continue to cooperate, to dismiss arguements you'd like to focus on, potentially leaving things to fester. It's not a sound system, but everyone is aware of that.

I don't mean to make it sound as if all people do is argue. Far from it. If you've watched an episode of Daily DOTA here on the site, it's fairly representative of how people in-game interact with each other, at least in my experience. Joking around, trying to be constructive in criticism when necessary, and overall guide the team to victory. Despite of everyone's good intentions, however, things sometimes go bad, and it's hard to maintain your perspective. It's difficult not to be selfish when you're so focused on your character, your contribution to the game. It's a game that highlights someone doing good, or bad in very stark colours, and it's not always easy to distinguish between what's happening in the game from what's happening in the conversation. The one element trickles over the other so easily. People get upset when they're doing badly, even though they're surrounded by friends who mean them well, and lash out. It's also one of those games that you can't help but to get really invested in, which I'm sure you can tell, can be a good or a bad thing. It brings out the best, and the worst in people, things people work to surpress and hide as long as they're aware of their behaviour. And that's the problem, I think, the fact that we lose track of our own input and behaviour to a degree. The fact that those things suddenly matter less.

The more I think about this situation, the more I wonder why I bother. Why am I going out of my way to spend time with people who might fall on each other, teeth bared, without anything done wrong from a social standpoint. Someone might be kind, yet performing in a way that's a detriment to the rest of the team, and still suffer under their ire. That doesn't sound like something a friend would do to me, yet I'm constantly being shown the opposite. In a lot of ways, it reminds me of a horror story. The way people become selfish when they're unsure what to do, the way traits that we almost never use in our daily lives become all that matter. Fittingly, it can be frightening.

Ultimately, I always come back to the same conclusion. I like these people, I enjoy talking to them and hearing their opinions. I enjoy swapping stories and joking around, yet DOTA makes me aware that there's a side to these people that I don't know, a side they don't want to show. That there's a side to myself I'm not fully aware of, or even necessarily have control over. And that all you need to do is stop thinking about how you're treating people, and suddenly, you're less than you thought you were. It's a sobering thought, but one that raises more questions than it answers.

In a lot of ways, it mirrors the issues I have with social media such as facebook, twitter. They have always felt hollow to me, like you're removing the essential catalyst that makes me like people. It's not honest to who we are because it isn't complete, and a sentiment shared in half-hearted way won't ever be as effective as something experienced.

I don't believe there's a solution to any of these complaints I have. I either do or I don't, and I may not always be the one to make that decision. I like these people, and will continue to be an online friend to them, warts and all. The fact that I wish it could be different doesn't matter a damn, and if that isn't an accurate comment on the internet as a whole, then I don't know what is. It's an incredibly impersonal medium that dehumanizes people in our eyes and ourselves in our actions. Yet it also binds us together.

Finding a common ground, establish a bond and an understanding of what that bond entitles us to, and what it doesn't, is an issue that I'll continue struggling with. Yet walking into this brand new world of rampant social media, interactions stripped bare of all but words and opinions, I don't see what choice I have but to keep beating my head against the wall. To keep trying.

If we're only human in our real lives, then we're less than that here. And that's a truth I don't think I'm ever going to grow comfortable with.

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I want to thank you all for reading.

This was the Do The Manta Ray, being cool and sounding important at your school.

4 Comments

A introspective take on sexism and it's effect on the gaming industry. (AKA I'm fed up.txt)

NOTE: These are my own, personal opinions and they will be stated in a direct, unflinching fashion. If anything I say offends you, feel free to inform me of it, but try and keep it constructive and on-topic. It is likely that this post will be somewhat personal, as that is after all, it's intent.

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Alright, guys. Let's talk about sexism in gaming, why don't we?

To be honest, I don't want to. The very notion of it grates my nerves, and I quite frankly have to heave a sigh at least twice per paragraph. For months now, I have watched the forums explode with discussions of misogyny and counter-accusations of misandry. Quietly, I've sat on the side-lines, doing my very best not to get involved. Why? Truth be told, I'm confused as how to approach the subject. From where I'm standing, there really isn't an answer, or even necessarily a moral high-ground to take when it comes to the subject of sexism. It seems to me that a large amount of people believe that there actually is some form of solution to the issues of sex inside the gaming industry. To me, this comes across as incredibly naive, but more on that later.

Before I kick this off in earnest, I'd like to make a few statements regarding my own position and intent. Feel free to skip this if you, for whatever reason, are not interested in the marvel that is I. I am a male, an only-child, raised by a loving father and mother with more family than there are trees in the woods. Not to say that my childhood was perfect, far from it, but that is irrelevant to the matter at hand. I'm in my mid-twenties (and I mean to stay that way for at least another decade), I'm heterosexual, and have been in a number of relationships of varying seriousness. I generally dislike the notion of one night stands, but at the same time, I'm scared of commitment. At one point in my life, I lived with a woman for an extended period of time.My intention with writing this little piece isn't to somehow prevent people from continuing to talk about sexism, or to have anyone see the light of "reason". I realize, fully well, that this blog will only serve to pour additional fuel on the flame, but I'm beyond caring at this point. I have one objective, and one objective only, to express my frustration at a phenomena that has taken a life of it own.

Some of you, or perhaps all of you, might not agree with me, but that's okay. After all, this is still only my perspective on the subject, and anyone who thinks different is

an idiot

allowed to do so.

Right, let the whining commence!

Let me be clear, I find the treatment of women to be a very important topic in it's own right. Women should have the same rights as men, be allowed the same things as men, and be treated with the respect they deserve (which is a factor that varies from person to person to be sure.) That said, equality is a pipe-dream. Orwell once said; "No advance in wealth, no softening of manners, no reform or revolution has ever brought human equality a millimeter nearer." And I am in full agreement with that statement. The discussion of sex is one that is very different from one of race or belief. Rather than ideology, we're discussing biology, as if it were some form of moral matter to boot.

Inside of companies, governments, schools, institutions large and small, there are a number of established factors to try and ensure that all are treated with an equal amount of consideration ranging from harrassment training to more subtle inclusions such as a staff of mixed race and sex. All of these measures are intended to help create an equilibrium in how people treat each other. The problem being, that it can only maintain itself as a superficial entity. It does not, in any form, change how people actually think of others, and only the prescence of onlookers, a threat, keeps people in line. And so it is that we come to this rather awkward stand-point in which we try to apply the results of a delusion onto matters of creativity, games, which are sprung from people's minds. Is it then surprising that games made mainly by men tend to reflect rather objectified perspectives on women? The issue here is the contrast between how we think people should act as befits us from a moral and social stand-point, and what we instinctly believe as per our biological dictation.

By this, I do not mean anything particulary dramatic, but it's quite unavoidable for men to look at good-looking women and, sub-consciously, not to objectify them until he gets to know said individual as a person. Similairly, women treat men very much in the same way. We all have a habit of making up our minds long before we're presented with all the facts.

So maybe you're beginning to see why I feel more than a little confusion on the matter of sexism. It's a two-way street, yet I find myself reading about women being mistreated, misrepresented and men accused of being misogynists or white-knights, as if there wasn't anything else in the equation. We have, I'm afraid, reached a stand-still that is heavily dominated by the female perspective on the issue.

So it makes me wonder why does sexism consists exlusively under the purview of women at this point in time? When they grandly proclaim that to be a women is hard and to be a man is easy, where is the consideration that they demand for themselves? Men are to treat them as equals, I hear you say. Then I ask, what would be considered equality under these conditions? Are men to treat women how they treat other women, as they treat men, as men treat women, as men treat men, or as something brand new, something that goes beyond the sexes, biology, nature and frankly, sense? Ironically, it's the only possibility as we are all, so different and so alike. It's a series of self-aware paradoxes that the majority of people tweeting seems to become utterly oblivious of in their rampaging serial-contrarian complaints. Not only is a state of non-sexism impossible for it is in our genetic code to view the other gender differently, but if such a state is desired, a non-state, so to speak, where all is equal and all is considered and forgotten at once in the brashest form of double-think, then how can we ever achieve it if we go to such lenghts, as seen in these posts, to seperate the two genders as to make one the scape-goat for the state of the other?

We all look at sexism with a frown on our face, for whatever reason we individually feel that it somehow incriminates or incapacitates us, but show me a society, a world, where women and men were treated the very same and I'll show you a world without sentient thought. Sexism seems to be defined as differential behaviour of the two sexes when one takes umbrage and catergorically decides to interpret it as an inherent fault of the other gender. Sexist in itself, the paradoxes are endless.

The thing is that you'd have to be sexless in order not to be sexist for it's all so very subjective, and we are all different due to so many different factors, one of them being sex. So then it's sexist to reform your way of thinking in order to better encompass the other gender and how you treat them for that invites the implication that you think you have to treat them in a softer, more pandering manner for they cannot handle what you have to hand out, thus a sexist notion. It's sexist to ignore them and act in a brusque, stereotypical fashion without consideration of the difference in gender, for to ignore the need of the other, to see them as equally able to take and receive as you might implies that the sensibilities of others are beyond your capacity of understanding and that you so will not go to greater lengths in order to understand what might offend or please the other gender, thus a sexist notion. And it is uniformly sexist to claim that the other gender is beholden, and yes even responsible, for your useless complaints, a sexist notion.

We are different, but we've managed to survive together, for very obvious reasons, for quite some time now. What these women and men seem to fail to understand is that both sides need to give ground, and that said ground will only be given unwillingly, and that finally if achieved, it will accomplish nothing for it's in how we differentiate that the spark of interest, attraction and thus, life itself lies.

My direct thoughts on sexism aside, my main issue here is it's current effect inside the game-industry, it has long since transcended being an issue which directly relates to the problem women face in the industry and has, instead, become a cataclysm for division. It's becoming a measuring stick, by which people, who have previously barely given the matter any thought, judge others. It reminds me of being a teen-ager, dividing into tribes depending on which music we liked and offering nothing but scorn to those who thought differently. At some point, we grow up and learn that such differences don't really matter once we get to know the people beneath that facade, and I have faith that gaming, as a medium, will reach that point in due time. Forcing the issue will not help for we can't change how people think. In time, gaming will attract more females, and games will begin to be designed for a larger demographic by people of increasingly varied beliefs, sex and race. Just as you can't force people to grow up, you can't force gaming to do so.

And all of this just serves to frustrate me. Gaming is a medium that allows us to explore our wildest fantasies, it's supposed to teach us something, to allow us to be part of something bigger, to have fun. Instead we're left with this elephant in the room who keeps asking the oh, so creepy question; "what's your opinion on sex?", no matter the context.

I'm just sick of it.

This is the Do_The_Manta_Ray, being cool at your school, signing out. Thanks for reading and feel free to comment, discuss and debate. Any opinions are welcome here, so feel free to express them.

Edit: Nothing to see here, perfect title.

14 Comments

The Times are a-Changin' (Giant Bomb DOTA Tournament and "thoughts")

NOTE: These are my own, personal opinions and they will be stated in a direct, unflinching fashion. If anything I say offends you, feel free to inform me of it but try and keep it constructive and on-topic. It is likely that this post will be somewhat personal, as that is after all, it's intent.

Was it quite this epic? You know what, yes, yes it was.

An Introduction

Some of you may know me as the person who yelled at you a lot during the Giant Bomb DOTA Tournament. Infact, I was the individual who initially set the tournament up, contacting folks, shouting at folks (as previously mentioned), translating time-zones and writing elongated pieces of propaganda on the official tournament page.

This here is to be a semi-accurate record of the work that went into creating the tournament sprinkled with my own thoughts and misgivings. Before anything else, I want to note that in the end, I had a great time and that I'm definitely looking forwards to hosting the next tournament, as long as it doesn't come too soon.

That Special Somebody

I'm the Juggernaut, lich.

I did a whole lot. That isn't to say that I did all of this on my own, "Cheap" aka @cheappoison was in charge of the low bracket, though he certainly isn't answerable for it. He set up many a fine google documents that allowed easier set-up of matches, as well as brackets proper that showed the fellas at home just what the current standings were. Above all, he was a good guy with a real big heart who kept us optimistic even through our most gruelling hours.

Another special mention has to go out to "Grant 'The Granary' Scott" @ajamafalous who served as the main caster of our tournament. Not only was the almost constantly available, he posed many a good questions that made me and Cheap rethink our approach to the rules and format of the sets of games. He's grown quite famous inside the community as I understand it thanks to this series of games, as well as the inhouses he hosted before where yours truly has made a name for himself.

How It All Began

This was the latest version of DOTA when we started the tournament.

Cheap and I started playing with the notion of a tournament back in late May if I recall correctly, setting up a time-frame for folks to find themselves a team and sign up. We had, at the time, heard a lot of stories that I can only properly describe as "horror stories" of how the last tournament had gone and decided, right off the bat, to enforce harsher rules and regulations, naming ourselves the sole admins for the tournament, the only ones with the authority to set up matches. This served for some really awkward dinner-dates with girlfriends, attending internet-cafes on vacation and generally, just a lot of shouting of people. Allow me to emphasise this point, A LOT of shouting at people.

But before we knew it; teams started signing up. In order to ensure that the individual bomber could participate, we almost immedietely created a sister-thread for players to find other bombers willing to create a team. Why, the winners of our low bracket resulted from said thread, so it must've been successful to a degree.

We received a lot of late-call submissions, with three teams signing up with minutes to spare after a week-long sign-up period. In the end, we unfortunately had to eliminate a few teams, though with the promise that they'd be featured in the next tournament. I regret making that promise now, I can tell you. Infact, this entire post might just be a call for help as through-out the tournament, we quickly realized that we were understaffed, 14 teams total, all vying for their "just" rewards, as well as notoriety and the heck of it. It all quickly began to grate on our nerves with one team claiming they couldn't play because 7 in the evening seemed to late for them to enjoy their baths whilst the other team was keen to start at 2 in the morning. There were wild differences in time-zone as well as attitudes, but in the end, we made it work somehow. (I shouted a lot.)

The Tournament

What every obligatory sixth team member went through.

Actually watching the games take place was something therapeutic, the suspense for whether the game would actually take place dissipating as Darkwhitehair's screechy voice filled our senses. What's worse, the sickness or the cure, I ask you? In the end, we had a couple of terrific sets of games, with incredibly original and unexpected plays featured. With TI3 coming up, there was always the nagging worry that our sets of games would come across as timid and genuinely half-hearted in comparison, but folks sure did try their hardest and boy, did they design some silly tactics as a means to succeed. Ironically, "GAF" aka "Just Gotta' Believe", the winners of this tournament was the best example of said tendancy, providing odd and incredibly entertaining games whenever they were featured. Unsuprisingly, they quickly became a fan-favourite and in the end of the tournament, took the crown undefeated throughout the entire series.

I think back on these events with a mix of feelings; what I remember foremost is the many, many discussions I had with Cheap on the games, the ways we oughta' set things up, our desperate attempts at solving a sudden cancellation. In retrospect, it seems like we bonded. Right there and then, I mainly remember being angry.

All in all, it was a good experience, one I mean to do again, on a wider scale in a more systematic fashion. That said, there certainly were trouble-makers among the bunch. Captains who suddently felt like not responding caused us grave distress, casters who'd shit-talk the people involved ranging from players to other casters, as well as just Darkwhitehair being Darkwhitehair. Heck, I recall this once instance of a homo-erotic fan-fiction featuring myself and Darkwhite appearing in the twitch-chat of one of the high bracket streams. That was probably the high-light of the entire tournament, been a long time since I laughed that hard. (They even captured our personalities.)

So, do I have a point with all of this? Not likely; there ain't much of a point to it. It's been a wild rollercoaster ride that escapes said classification only to barely evade the next. In the end, it was just my recollection on the subject.

Aftermath

Some time to heal seems about right.

Reality seemed to snap back into place once the tournament was over. "No extracurricular activities for you", the forum page seemed to say each time I took a look upon it in retrospect. It's weird how something that was meant to be so light-hearted impacted me in such a semi-meaningful way. All of us involved took it seriously, of that there's no doubt, but there was a purpose to our actions that had little to do with ourselves and more with our sense of the greater whole. I've had plenty of goals in my life, but almost all of them have been selfish of a form; doing well on exams and landing a good job, making the people I care for happy, becoming a person I'd be proud of. To have had a commitment to a community of folks is something very alien to me, something new. Especially as the people in this community are such a name-less mass, to have attempted to do something "for" them and suceeded felt like a very different kind of accomplishment, a humbling one at that, for in the end it's impossible to look at the tournament and think that it became a success through anything else than the good folks from Giant Bomb who watched and participated.

Sentimental as that is, it sounds right to me. Cheap and I will be back with more DOTA 2 community events in the coming months of which we'll be sure to let you guys know. Our hope is to make whatever activities we engage in bigger and grander than seen before, rope in even more folk to enjoy this great community of ours.

As a final note, I'd like to dedicate this entire tournament to Ryan Davis. He probably wouldn't have given a shit, but he meant a lot to me and the other people involved, so there you have it.

This has been a scattered collection of my recollections on the tournament, probably sprinkled with a LOT of typos. I hope you fellas enjoyed the read and won't hold the lack of screenshots against me.

- This is the Do_The_Manta_Ray, being wearily obnoxious at your school, signing out. Thanks for reading and feel free to comment, discuss and debate. Any opinions are welcome here, so feel free to express them.

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My "Games" of the "Years" and an attempt at closure.

NOTE: These are my own, personal opinions and they will be stated in a direct, unflinching fashion. If anything I say offends you, feel free to inform me of it, but try and keep it constructive and on-topic. It is likely that this post will be somewhat personal, as that is after all, it's intent.

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I've decided, quite impompto, to lay out a list of my personal games of the year. Why, you ask? I ask that, too, and the conclusion I've come to is somewhat surprising. After these myriad of experiences, plethora of adventures, I want to find that vital string that will have the ball of yarn, that has been gaming this year, unravelling and hopefully giving me some insight into what it is that I've truly appreciated across all these different games. I also believe that I want to find some closure, a hopeless, elaborate attempt at making games more than the sum of their part as an entertainment medium. I want to believe, at the end of the year, that gaming has meant something more to me than just "fun".

I'd also like to point out that there will be many games on this list that were not released this year, hence the somewhat enigmatic title, but they are all games which I played this year for lack of time, opportunity or simple interest. Right, let's get started.

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10: Black Mesa

A 14 year old game that still overshadows all recent shooters.

It started out as a combination of two different mods and two people; both intending to recreate Half-Life 1 by using the sourge engine. Over the course of it's 8-year long development, the team working on the project has grown to a good lot of 40 different developers working actively on the game. It's easy to tell, as the quality of the experience is something you'd have expected straight out of Valve themselves. It's that good.

Black Mesa strikes an almost uncanny balance between wonderful nostalgia and fresh gameplay ideas, managing to, at the same time, throw one back into what is undeniable a milestone for gaming, and at the same time, propel one to a place where imagination rules supreme. Black Mesa plays as good as any other shooter out there. It's also many, many, many times more complex, a good twenty hours longer than any other shooter out there, and despite both these factors, remains incredibly consistent in terms of quality, excitement and design.

View it as a museum for gaming history, an intricate, incredibly well-paced adventure, or just as a high-quality remake of what is possibly the best game ever made. Black Mesa is worth your time. Did I mention it's free?

9: Dear Esther

Dear, dear Esther...

"Dear Esther, I’ve begun my voyage in a paper boat without a bottom; I will fly to the moon in it. I have been folded along a crease in time, a weakness in the sheet of life. Now, you’ve settled on the opposite side of the paper to me; I can see your traces in the ink that soaks through the fibre, the pulped vegetation. When we become waterlogged, and the cage disintergrates, we will intermingle. When this paper aeroplane leaves the cliff edge, and carves parallel vapour trails in the dark, we will come together."

Dear Esther is a short experience, lasting you no more than a few hours at the most, but during these few, short hours, it left a mark on me. The surroundings are violently beautiful, horribly serene and frighteningly calm. It's a wonder to look at, but a wonder that leaves an unpleasant taste in the back of your throat despite the serenity of it. The story is handed to you, piece-by-piece, in a selection of almost nonsensical quotes filled with bitter, dramatic and yet strangely contemporary poetry. It's a game that's meant to be replayed over and over, as each time you do, a different selection of quotes will be given to you and there are different things that you will see on your journey, a journey that will amaze you time over and again.

Despite that it always ends the same way, you'll take away something new each time.

8: Chivalry - Medieval Warfare

Neck-stabbing, limb-chopping, impaling, and a keyboard button for "battle-cry."

"GRAAAYYAAAGAGAHAHAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHAHaahahhhhhhhaaaAAAAAH!" - Mason Knight

It's Battlefield, but with swords. Putting it like that is probably the best way to summarize Chivalry; yet it doesn't do the game justice by far. The "Team Objective Mode" is fitting to it's grim, dark portrayal of the time in question, tasking one team with one atrocity after the other, depending on which map you're tackling. Pollute the water-reservoirs with corpses, burn the fields, pillage the farm and kill the filthy peasants! It's novel, it's exciting, and even without being so tongue-in-cheek with it's incredible amount of machevellian brutality, it'd be a blast. As it is, it's just fun unparallelled.

The combat system, at first novel, turns out to be truly complex, and incredibly skill-reliant the further you delve into the game. Having to adapt and twist your view to the side in order to block the smile of an axe only to to duck beneath said axe-wielder's wild, horizontal swings as he grows restless, following up with a bash to his face and an overhead stroke to neatly cut his head from his shoulders; knowing veeeery well that his camera-perspective is still locked into the head rolling down the stairs, not only inducing a sense of shame in him, but also "bloody" nausea.

Chivalry is just the most amount of FUN I've had with a game, this year. It's a game with a shocking amount of depth AND the ability to chop someone's leg off and then shove them down a bridge whilst your character makes a Monty Python reference. Do I need to say more?

7: Dishonored

Neck-stabbing, limb-chopping, impaling and a bold vision that I was afraid not to see again in gaming.

Dishonored, is in my opinion, the true successor to Deus Ex. For it provides you with a gameworld that is yours to tackle in almost any way you wish. The options on how to progress through each stage are truly staggering in number, diversity and in sheer abstractness. Let's, for example, possess a fish and swim up the sewers whilst crossing our "fins" that someone isn't currently using the toilet you'll be plopping out of. I mean, COME ON! It's a fever-dream, not a game. Or at least it shouldn't be. For in today's gaming market, it's far too rare to see a game that dares to do something completely new; and that is what Dishonored is. It's the most refreshingly novel and original game that I've seen for far too long, and I love it not just for what it is, but also for what it represents.

Now, ontop of everything; the atmosphere in the city of Dunwall is just spectacular! The combat is GREAT! The way the world around you adapts to your choices is nigh-on brilliant. I'm not sure whether I want a sequal for this game or not; for while there is so much more that could be done with the formula, I feel that it's uniqueness is it's true virtue.

6: Journey

A journey without a goal, but with an end.

I want to refrain from referring to Journey as minimalistic, for while there are aspects of it that certainly fit the description; such as the gameplay and the story, the game itself is so full of life that it'd be almost a crime to name it any less than epic. It's a grand story written in very small words. I think that most of us have experienced Journey by this point, and I think that most of us have loved it. I think that most of us have recognized so many of the feelings that each individual area of the journey gave us; the worried start, wide-eyed and yet on-guard, the sheer exaltation as we slipped down the shifting sands, our cares forgotten for a moment, the drop at the bottom, and the deep, ever-growing nervousity beneath. The chill of the long climb, helplessness clinging to us as we're rendered inpotent; and finally, release.

Journey really is that; a journey. One that manages to convey so much through so little. Another great example of this is it's fantastic online function; which allowed a random player trecking through the same expanse as you to join your game, or you his, it was quite hard to discern which was in fact happening as it all was so seamless. And this companion became important to you, for though no way of communication was possible except for the nonsensical "bleeping" noises the small creatures made, you felt that you shared something together. And that goes a long way.

5: To The Moon

This isn't even close to all the paper rabbits.

I think I can best summarize this gem by using the official description of the game:

"Dr. Eva Rosalene and Dr. Neil Watts have rather peculiar jobs: They give people another chance to live, all in their head. But due to the severity of the operation, the new life becomes the last thing the patients remember before drawing their last breath.

This story follows their attempt to fulfill the dream of an elderly man, Johnny. With each step back in time, a new fragment of Johnny's past is revealed. As the two doctors piece together the puzzled events that spanned a life time, they seek to find out just why the frail old man chose his dying wish to be what it is.

And Johnny's last wish is, of course... to go to the moon."

To The Moon is beautiful in every way. It is, in a lot of ways, nothing but an interactive story. But oh, what a story it is. To The Moon is mysterious, enigmatic; and it understands, oh so well, the concepts of regret and tragedy and what these things are capable of doing to the human mind. Repressed memories, paranoid and obsessive behaviour, the fear to lose the little beauty you have left inside. It grounds it's deeply sentimental story in these heavy, heavy aspects, and surrounds it with disturbingly amusing humour, among the best music I've ever heard in a game and a truly unconvential way of experiencing said tale. It's refreshing and nostalgic at once.

4: DOTA 2 (Defence of the Ancients 2)

Nyx is hiding up top right. NYX NYX NYX!

DOTA, give me my life back. Yes, go on. My life, I know you've got your fat, little grubs on it. GO ON.

There hasn't been a single, other game that I've spent so much time on over the course of the year. And probably last year, too... DOTA refuses to let me out of it's clutches for reasons that I, sometimes, have issues discerning. Looking upon it from an objective stand-point, it's quite clear to say why. There's probably no other game out there that offers such complexity and variety. Every game is different. Every hero is different. Every build is different. Every team-set up is different. Every fight is different. And with a constantly increasing repetoire of heroes, the game is only growing ever-more complex and challenging.

Looking at it from an emotional perspective; there's just such a variety of emotions to be had during a game, ranging from frustration to unadulturated joy. I often sit up and talk to my friends on skype while playing the game and we find ourselves laughing our arses off time and time again; shouting in excitement when something of note happens, and abusing force-staffs at every single opportunity we're given.

There is ofcourse a flip-side; that being a community whose average intelligence rivals that of brittish lower-class (That's right, I went there). Meaningful updates that have been coming far too rarely over the last half-year. And incredible frustration over games going poorly, especially considering there's no "surrender" option.

But in the end, I love DOTA so much that I don't need a reason for sticking with it. It'll take years for me to get over it. Hell, it's still just in Beta, and there's no other game out there whose future I am so anxious to see.

3: Bastion

Kid just rages for a while.

I hadn't actually taken the opportunity to play Bastion, which in itself is a grave crime, but finally came to my senses and picked it up during a Steam-Sale earlier in the year.

When I first sat down with it, I thought to myself that it must be impossible not to be let down given how much praise the game had been given since it's release, especially from the bomb-squad themselves. I think the highest praise that I can give Bastion is that, despite an unhealthly amount of exposure to the game and to praise of it, my expectations weren't simply met, they were rendendered obsolete. For the game accomplished so many things I'd never dared to think it could. Seldom have I been so emotionally invested in a game, and I think a lot of that has to do with how honest it felt. It was less a product, and more a labour of love.

Everything from the excellent, truly excellent music to the constant companion, the narrator, at your side, grin on his face, clever words on his tongue and knife in his hand served to make the shattered remains of the world you witnessed unique. There was a fragility to it, a clinging shadow of tragedy hovering above even this broken kingdom in the skies that cast a dark reflection on what seemed, at first, light-hearted and unsincere. Atmosphere, in a word, is what Bastion accomplished.

2: The Walking Dead

The actual show belittles this magnificent experience.

The Walking Dead received far more coverage than I'd ever have dared assume that it would. To me it seemed like a fabolous gem, one I'd be babbling on about to my friends over the next few years, praising time and time again in it's way to convey a deeply interactive tale. But fuck, it looks like the entire god damn internet got there ahead of me; there's little I can say about the game other than what's already been said.

I've always claimed that games have the potential to be the single, most exciting media through which you can tell a story, simply based on the fact that it allows the player to make decisions and as such, make the tale far more personal than any book or film could ever hope to accomplish. Unfortunately, not a single game has managed to do so yet, except for possibly "The Walking Dead".

1: Superbrothers - Sword & Sworcery EP

This would be my game of the year in 2013.

And here we are; my game of the year. Last year's "Superbrothers - Sword & Sworcery EP". I had close to no expectations going into this game; I'd read a number of reviews, all of which were universally positive, claiming this and that lofty thing about what seemed to me to be an incredibly simple one-button action/adventure game.. Oh, boy. Never been so happy to be wrong.

Sword & Sworcery is so many different things; but above all, it's just wonderful to behold. It's mysterious, it's tragic, it's atmospheric, it's funny, it's solemn and serene and leaves you with a feeling of warmth down in your chest. A typical tale told in a very untypical way.

It's also an extraordinarily clever game that pushes you to use your imagination in ways you'd certainly not expected. You'll be raising sea-levels, splitting trees with lightning, parting mountains, and having weird chats with a nudist bi-pedal boar. You'll laugh, sway to and fro along with what is the best sound-track I've heard in a game, period, and likely cry before your journey is at an end.

The game refers to itself as an experiment; a social one at that. By using the so-called "Mega Tome", you can read the thoughts of others you have met in your journey, their thoughts updating as via twitter posts in order to give you hints on your next objective, or just in order to give you something to gape at. "Dogfella" thinks "Bark bark bark", and "Logfella" thinks "I'm a lumberjack and that's okay." Yes, I'm actually quoting the game. Speaking of quotes; the game chooses very strange language to express itself in, the characters exclaiming a mix between high fantasy nonsense and pure every-day nonsense without even blinking, for example: "And so, I turned my eyes skywards and beheld the magnificent thingymabob & thought it was pretty rad." It's just brimming with charm.

Infact, there are so many aspects to the game that explaining them properly comes across as nearly impossible; for there are so many metaphors inside the game-design that also serve as comments on society. Maybe I'm reading too much into it; maybe I'm not, but it doesn't matter, for Superbrothers - "Sword & Sworcery EP" is what you make of it.

And what I make of it is simply the best game I've played all year.

Honorary Mentions: XCOM - Enemy Unknown, Far Cry 3, Max Payne 3, Diablo 3, The Witcher 2 - Enhanced Edition

"Closure":

Alright, three days and 19 hours have passed since my initial post. (Feel free to take random, unpleasant guesses at where I live in order to keep things genereally awkward.) Feeling a bit exhausted with all the fireworks, cheer and general come-ons from the opposite gender, I'm making a tactical retreat from the hordes of man in order to have a few moments for myself, yet it's a time that really doesn't offer much in the ways of sitting still, so I opted to take a look at this here blog. And as promised, I'm now finalizing this list with a short summary of my overall impression.

First of and foremost, it's been an excellent game for yearning; ah, wait, I mean, a year for gaming. My idiosyncratic GOTY list containing mainly sentimental, story-based games has no influence on my thinking, at all. I promise.Honestly, I'm a bit surprised; and I think, to a degree, that we all were. Gaming in the last couple of years has simply ceased being exciting for me. It's something I do to pass the time when I'm not occupying myself otherwise. The golden age has long since passed and gone, yet I found myself weirdly emotionally attached to this year's offering of releases. There's a number of games I didn't include in my GOTY list, and I'd like to adress them quickly.

1. XCOM: Enemy Unknown - I wasn't done with this game by the time I wrote this list. If I had, it'd been on there. I'd probably have placed it somewhere between "Journey" and "Chivalry", between the 6th and 8th place in other words. A title that somehow managed to tickle almost every fancy I have in modern and classical gaming. The fact that the developers managed to so seamlessly attach layer upon layer of complexity is astounding to me. Usually, for games of this calibre, making an entrance into it's world is difficult, as it is with, say, Baldur's Gate, Starcraft or DOTA. Yet XCOM manages to retain this complexity, couple it with cinematic flair, and streamline it without losing any part of what makes it so unique, challenging, and simply, thoroughly enjoyable. I loved it, and I assume I'll be replaying it quite soon. Also, now that I beat the game I can say; "FUCK YOU, CLASSICAL IRONMAN, YOU AIN'T SHIT, YOU WERE NEVER SHIT!"

2: Far Cry 3 - A truly, truly strong title. As with the Walking Dead, I feel that people have blabbed on about it ceaselessly, and as such, I really can't bring myself to delve deep into what made the game special for me. Besides, a look is all that is required in order to see what is special about the game. What isn't special about it, however, is far more my concern. The gameplay, while being solid in each respect, didn't offer much in terms of variety which is an all-too-common fault found in modern shooters in my opinion. The story took a nose-dive after the second third, or shall we say, the second act, and while still giving off a generally good example, didn't even come close to fulfilling it's initial promise, therefore being proving all the more disappointing.

3: Max Payne 3 - I felt Max Payne did everything right. The gameplay was sounder than I've seen in possibly any 3rd person shooter; allowing for experimentation and fulfilments of weird Matrix fantasies without making you feel like a complete ass. The story held such great promise, managing to maintain the human element even throughout the ridiculous chaos that ensued. Not to mention that the game was gorgeous to look at. In the end, I felt that it departed too heavily from the initial Max Payne games in terms of atmosphere. It felt more like a by-product of a GTA experience than it did a story of Max Payne. It's hard for me to really put my finger on what it was that annoyed me, as I found each aspect of the game to be splendid in it's own right. I think it's my own nostalgia that's at fault here, rather than anything else; yet I haven't seen the game crop up on many other GOTY lists, which hints towards that the departure from the dank streets of New York had been as troubling for others as they had been for me. Still, I feel this game deserves better, I just can't be the one to give it anything better.

4: Diablo 3 - It ain't got nothing on El Pollo Diablo. I was underwhelmed with Diablo 3. I loved it, but I couldn't take it as seriously as I had Diablo 2. I'd like to think that's because of that gaming has grown in the middling years as opposed to the ridiculous DRM and the dumbed down talent-trees, yet I can't shake the feeling of that Blizzard viewed it less as a labour of love and more as a product of labour. I'm excited about the upcoming expansion and I suppose that's as final as I can be about a game like this. "I'd like to play more of it."

5: The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings: Enhanced Edition (Sheesh) - My GOTY, last year. Would be this year, too, but I don't dare risk growing that boring this early in life. The additions to the game were superb, offering not just a better conclusion, but a more fulfilling overall experience. The fact that PC gamers got all said upgrades for free, with an additional batch of visual updates, was so generous that it almost disgusts me; this isn't the gaming-world as I know it.

This isn't the gaming world as I know it, huh? I mentioned already previously that I felt that what I understood under the term "gaming-world" drastically changed this year. Gone was so much of my bitter cynicism and instead, strangely, I found myself staring with wide, open eyes even as I rampaged through Journey for the twentieth time. Most of the games in my list are sentimental, they're atmospheric and they rely very heavily on, not necessarily their story, but the feelings that their story want to transmit, pass on, to the player, and I realize that this means the game design takes a step back in order to let it's other aspects shine, yet that observation is an objective one that I feel almost no connection with at this point. For I found the games I played this year to be great. No "buts", no "ahms", "howevers" or "meows"; I just didn't have any issues with gaming at large this year, and that was, to me, extremely refreshing.

Now, don't get me wrong, there's plenty I could say about the community of gaming, it's endless streams of sophistry and inconsidered hypocrisy, but fuck it; genuinely "fuck it". I enjoyed games this year, as individual experiences, and as a whole medium, and I find myself hopeful for next year and what it it has to offer. Anyhow, I got a party to return to.

Infact, here's to a happy, new year.

What's happy and what's new about it? That's up to you to find out.

This is the Do_The_Manta_Ray, being cool at your school, signing out. Thanks for reading and feel free to comment, discuss and debate. Any opinions are welcome here, so feel free to express them.

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Gaaaah! No weapons! Uuughh! Nuwaaa! (It's a Catherine/Pace Thing)

This is going to be a lot less structured than some of my other posts/blogs. Basically me just speaking my mind on the topic and subject of Catherine and the elements of the game that has me most impressed, namely; the pacing, and how most other games handle this important detail outside of the "level-design" department.

The great reveal of Fight Club. The ending of the Usual Suspects. The moment you finally understood what exactly was going on in The Fugitive. Moments that all made you reevaluate everything you'd seen, so far. Nothing tasted the same, no smell, no sound. The world was turned upon it's head. And you asked, breath still caught in your throat. Why can't everything be like this? Well... Why can't it?

So, I've yet to finish Catherine. I've been taking my time with the game, enjoying some old favourite past-times while making my way through this here very singular experience. Now, I just finished what feels to me to be a turning point in the experience, thus far. To avoid any spoilers, let's put it like this: I just finished the last nightmare stage of night 7, with it's rather mind-bending boss, and enjoyed the cut-scene that followed. To this point, I've really enjoyed Catherine. It's dabbled in some very adult thematics, including but no limited to betrayal, sexuality and the rather praying mantis-like psychology behind marriage. (Also, I've learned about booze.) But to this point, I've felt that it's followed a very structured, almost limiting path, consisting of "Great cutscene and story > Bar scene, learn and make decisions about your "friends" > Cutscene > Nightmare Stage, with all of it's weird nuances > Great Cutscene, and repeat!"

With multiple endings based off a string of psychology questions, your true desires should be revealed. But before you answer them, look at those legs!

Not that I've had any complaints, but I certainly began to feel like I had it all more or less figured out. Then Night 7 came along. Not only was the 7-4 stage weird, I started feeling like all the other "sheep" were starting to come to terms with all they've been through (despite being far from the ending), then appeared the ludicrously awesome boss. He takes the cake, quite literally. And after that.. Nightmare Stage > Cutscene? No.. Nightmare (Cutscene) Stage, where-upon I suddenly feel like everything so far has culminated into these singular moments. Vincent starts to understand, ironically, who his true enemy is. Changes happen, the game takes steps towards being adult in very, very manners. Innuendo suddenly ain't enough. And I'm loving it. I wasn't expecting it, but I'm really loving it. Catherine, has, so far; been a rather odd, and at times, disturbing experience, both technically and mentally, both in positive and negative ways to match.

It's a rather seldom thing, all around; gaming does not tend to focus itself around great climaxes, but rather spread them out evenly throughout the experience. There's a high-point every once in a while in order to keep the player "WoWed", and certainly, this does it's trick, but what it robs you, as a player, is of a sense of completion before the game is over. By so keenly and readily distributing these grand apogees of momentum, it robs the next moment of the same impact. For example, think of God of War; can anyone of you say that you really appreciated the second, or the third boss more than the first in any of the titles? Ofcourse not, because all God of War games start with a bang, a climax, an ascendancy, one that doesn't just set a bar of expectation up, but robs the game's slower, more sub-dued moments of their true charm.

On that topic, once a rabbi, a jesuit a catholic priest, a giraffe and an irishman walked into a bar...

The exact opposite of games that rely on atmosphere first and foremost. Remember Dead Space for example? Or Amnesia: The Descent? Two fantastic games that both lived on their atmosphere. Starting out slowly allowed them to build pace, to then at a later point bring about a point that changed the way you knew the game. For example, a lot of people complained about the lack of "bosses" in the first Dead Space, in fact, there was two. One at the start of the last third of the game, one at the very end. But the thing is, the memory of those two bosses are almost impossible to eradicate from your mind, here you were built to expect a certain something, and only when you had your feet on the ground did it pull the rug away. Amnesia was very much the same; but much more from a story point-of-view, as it began to make it clear to you that you, yourself, was as much the "bad guy" as the so-called villain.

It's moments like these that really define an experience in gaming, that change the way you percieve the world and the entire experience around it. These singular moments that make you stop and go; "Heeeeey, this makes sense." It's a sense we get in Thrillers, or certain Drama-movies. The moment where everything suddenly "ticks" in our head. Yet these moments seem foreign in games. It's not expected for everything to suddenly make itself understood. It's not necessary for the story, at one point, to tie multiple threads together.. But wait, why is that?

Games are built in a different way than movies and books, in that it always moves in arcs. One question is posed, and then wondered over; and suddenly after a great confrontation an answer to said question is found, with possibly the odd question unanswered to be understood at a later issue, (a mystery-element in other words), and the game is able to move further, onward to the next issue, untill it finally culminates in an end that you understood and knew were coming. A great example for this is the Metal Gear Solid series. Wonderful games that tell wonderfull stories, right? But no matter how complicated the story gets, it always deigns to resolve a major issue at every point you'd expect, with a new question arising in turn, that then will be answered at a later point. The MGS-series certainly understands pacing, both story-and game-play wise. And it is possibly the only game-series where the player is put into situations that make him doubt the initial goal, but only doubt it. Let's look at MGS 4 for a moment, and how wildly your initial objectives escalate into more and more drastic actions. From a botched assassination that leads to an even greater threat that then moves onto a rescue attempt which makes you wonder exactly what, and even if the main character is worth rescuing: to a large twist of complete story-focus onto a final ending that, in the end, shatters everything you expected, yet keeps you locked to your original objective. "Mission Accomplished!" Now, that's story-telling.

The most maternal feeling you ever got in a game. Just like mum, she still shouted when you fucked up for the 100th time.

But no matter the twist, no matter the change, one thing never changes; the goal.

Every MGS game has a certain premise at it's beginning that always remains the same at it's end, and the end-goal is something that never is truly questioned. "Stop Liquid, Destroy The Plant, Kill the Boss, Stop Liquid (Again)". The story, certainly is a lot better presented than other games, with a focus on characters and their beliefs, and among the rubble and ruins, it's what in the end saves the story as a balance-point to the convoluted political issues that are to enstrong the importance of your actions, as in objects outside your ability to influence, making you feel like you're part of something greater. But why does the current medium force the story in games to always constantly take only one step forward and then phase into the next arc? Well, there's plenty of reasons. First of all, between the story and the gameplay, developers reckon most games won't be able to keep pace with idea of a prolonged state of being existing in the background. You've got your action, the main gameplay to keep you busy, while the story slowly builds pace-by-pace in the background, making for a nice balance. A utopia, if you will. It was once said "There can be no Utopia without a Utopian", but with gaming characters all built to specific roles, that is no longer a problem.

The second large issue is pre-production. Most games, these days, cannot simply afford a pre-production state (where everything is planned out and syncronized, gameplay and story, etc, etc.) as it means putting off the actual working on the game until previous commitments are dealt with, as in paying people to do nothing while a small group handles the finer print.

This means that compromises have to be made along the way as work progresses equally in all directions, and compromises hit "story" first and foremost. As such, game-developers are forced to take one stage-at-a-time, resolving one "chapter" inside the game after another. Which is what leads to this here "arc"-based story/gameplay structure. All is to have an epic conclusion. Gameplay in term of bosses, story in term of revalation, long-term gameplay in term of new ability/weapon. Hell, even shooters do it.

Few, very few games can allow themselves to step outside of the norm. Simply for the reason of expectation. New IPs find this a lot easier, as is the previous example of Dead Space 1 (a different beast from Dead Space 2, still a great game, mind), and Amnesiac : The Dark Descent. Why is that, mind? Because there's no expectations. And those games rely heavily on atmosphere. And atmosphere is achieved foremost through pacing. With the freedom of making a new, initial impression, more time tends to be spent on making a building impression that, over time becomes something different. While lasting series of games have to deliver something that immedietly comes off as a Magnus-Opus above the ending of the last game, a new series, a closed circle so-to-say, is enabled to build in it's own direction. Especially IPs that aren't just new on paper, but also in feeling/gameplay/story. Ones still tied to the norm of a common shooter always has to work like a shooter, while a shooter/roleplaying hybrid like say, the upcoming Deus Ex, is far more able to deal with progression and pace on it's on terms, outside of what others expect, because simply: they don't know WHAT to expect.

That's what I call "out-of-the-hut" thinking!

Catherine can take these chances, and more; as it's a game nobody expected. Handling adult, difficult issues inside of a foreign medium; posing a completely unexpected kind of gameplay and then smacking a mix of everything between gore-abortion-transexuality onto an already uncomfortable issue. It simply removed itself from all equations in terms of expectations, and as such, dared to go further. It could afford to culminate in a single moment that changed all that had been expected. Because it took the time, (development cycle, as well as player patience), the game was able to make changes you'd normally not expected inside a game. And it's got to do with it's gameplay/genre (which is unique) as well as the direction of it's story, (which also is unique). It makes you re-evaluate things you'd taken for granted. Your relation, your priorities, even who really is the "bad guy", at the end as well as the beginning. And that's what I've come to respect and love about Catherine. It makes you realize that in the end, you're as much facing foreign obstacles that make you adjust, as well as facing yourself and the issues you've brought before yourself, and as such making you re-interpret them; as the main character, as well as the player. Only Planescape : Torment has really made me wonder so much about my own decisions before. And that's a quality. Yes, that's real story-telling.

In the end here, I'm not sure whether I'm even getting to a point. It might be the mellow music, and the bottle of wine, the soft chime of my steel guitar, as well as Catherine waiting in the background, but I'm believing myself to come to a conclusion here. Maybe I've just said a lot, and taught a little, or maybe I've made a great point. It doesn't matter. After all, this is just another chapter, and it's first and foremost question has been answered.

I'll make an update once I've finished Catherine, and sobered up. (Yeah... Right...) Reminding you that you SHOULD care about how your games are constructed, this is the Do_The_Manta_Ray, being cool at your school, signing out. Thanks for reading and feel free to comment, discuss and debate. Any opinions are welcome here, so feel free to express them.

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Intellectual difficulty in games? (Comment on The Witcher 2)

I'd like to make a statement, diplomatic as can be (with just a healthy pinch of sarcasm) on the modern's gamer approach to difficulty and scaling in modern gaming, and the values by which we critisize and judge these titles.

1984, what a time, what a fine time! Big brother has the best of us all; and our vices determine the prices we have to pay in order to get by from day to day. R.E.M is playing in a small, corner-stone pub; the memories of The Clash and Joy Division are beginning to die out, what's there to do? Why not head down to the arcade? It's the beginning of a new era, as Jarvis Cocker said. Sure, we'll go and play, and smoke some fags, play some pool, and pretend we never went to school.



Do you remember when you stood in the arcades, and invested hours and hours into a single machine? "Cha-chink! Rat-rat-rat" Where a single mistake meant death, and there were no such things as checkpoints to guide our passage through said ghost/demon/hellspawn/nazi/irish-accented-mobster filled society? "What a horrible night to have such a curse!"

Wasn't this easy back then.
At a point in time, games lived off their difficulty. They were short, and to the point, one might argue. In fact, it was impossible not to finish them in a single sitting (applying weight from the left leg to the right as you hogged the machine in an embarrasingly wide-stretched standing position), should we so put our mind to it, at least due to it's intended length. Video-games in the arcade was meant as a short-term pleasure, one that would keep you immersed, and pleased; right up until the end, and never, ever outstay it's welcome.

Surely, whenever you turn on your "Mortal Kombat", your "Street Fighter" or even your "Jackie Chan's Fist of Fury"; you can't help but notice the option for the so-called "campaign/story" referred to as the "ARCADE MODE". It's a sign of the times; the past for when fighting games were the rough equal length of any other title, and for the modern, as the simple-minded skill-based trail-and-error found in the old arcade-games being a relic of the past only properly displayed through a title where the singular purpose is to beat the soddin' snot out of your single opponent. No dimensions, no presumptions. Longevity was defined by how long you could make your brutality last.

Ironically enough, games in the modern era are judged harshly on just what made the good ol' Arcade prosper, their replay value, longevity, and general length. Does this title not hold you by the hand? Obviously something has been done wrong by the developers. And the rare title like "Otogi: Myth of Demons", "Devil's May Cry 3" or "Demon's Souls" (see any connection between these titles?) actually stand out in mass-media simply for being more like the games that we grew up around. Harder, more punishing.
Why is that?
Back in their days, games were designed to sweat us; stress us into making mistakes, by which we'd lose our hard-earned "cash", and once again have to repeat the title from it's start. But no more. Games these days are designed in a far more user-friendly ideal. Why again? Consoles. I know many of you are console-gamers, and why wouldn't you be? It's uncomplicated, your quality-assurance is equal to your neighbor, and in most cases, it's cheaper. And here is the problem. "It's easier". Consoles are becoming the new coin-op, replacing the spirit of the arcade by attempting to reach out to greater audience.

Difficulty is optional.

Is that a comment on today's society? Most likely, but it's besides the point.


"Games are becoming, more and more; a far more realistic prospect in terms of escapism."


"JUST ONE MORE TURN" A known phenomenon that seemingly almost only occurs in games like CIV 4 and Total War, where you NEED to plan ahead.


How many of us can argue that while playing Modern Warfare, we tend to mostly shut our minds off? There's a rush. A rush of colours and noise out of which our stimuli is achieved. When we make a kill, it's with glee; and there's a certain sense of pride in our "skills". There is little thought behind it beyond viably attempting to counter whatever weapon or strategy that the enemy is using with one of your own. Not "what do I do", but "how do I stop them from doing this?" There's precious room for higher brain-functions, in all honesty.
Now, that is how the game was designed, and it doesn't necessarily have to be a point of critisism. Many people play games just in order to turn their minds off, to relax and rest their chemistry.

This approach, however, is more and more becoming to define gaming; how do you counter what the enemy is currently doing? The rock/scissor/paper ideal has always been at the heart of gaming; but strangely, as we move on to new technical and dimensional vistas, we're still tied around this same old defining ground-zero, out of which all is built.
There is precious room for free-thought, for roaming minds, for new tactics. For the new, artifically rendered horizons, are after all, just an extension of the ground we've been standing on for so long.
Gone are the days we stood in the arcades where punishment and high difficulty was a reason to come back to a game. Gone are the Ninja Gaidens, the Contras, the King's Quests.


The King is dead, long live the king.

Clearly a lot of "intellectual" imagination went into the making of this game.

Speaking of the King; have you played "The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings"? Truly an AAA title if I've ever laid eyes on one. Jaw-dropping graphics that require equally a powerful machine as a healthy collection of Klenex to play; a story very much outside of the norm for most games, or even most films; simply due to the fact that it's too smart. It is a dark fantasy based around political interests, with our protagonist not so much controlling the tide of events, but more caught up inbetween them, making ripples with each and every action that he does, the unwitting center-piece he proves. It makes you feel like a bad-ass, sure; but it also makes you feel small, and spiteful of the world around you. Almost anti-social.
"How could such a claim be staked to a gamer?"

Besides clearly being the best looking, and best-written game I've ever laid eyes on; I hear a lot of complaint about the combat system. "It's too hard." Gamers, and even reviewers are throwing a tantrum-fit due to a high difficulty. Not once is it mentioned that the combat is unfair, for it certainly isn't. You can dodge at any point, and utilize a combo-system that includes multiple charges, spins, ripostes and parries. Your magical abilities and at the same time, defensive abilities are tied to the same cool-down, so you have to make the choice. "Do I parry and counter-attack? Do I wait for the enemy to attack, fooling him into thinking I'll deflect, and attack at the proper moment? Do I use a magic shield to guard me, while throwing enemies to the ground with a telekenisis-blast and then executing a few qucik strikes while the shield protects me? Do I take care to scout in what enemies I'll have to meet in advance, build traps and brew potions and concoct bombs; or do I do a mix of it all?"

So, then, what IS the issue? The game requires you to think. But unlike our lovely Portals, or our Puzzle Quests, it doesn't make it obvious. As the political part of the game is beyond the norm, so is the combat. For it's a mix requirement of reflex-based skill and a cool, tactical acumen. How do you deal with a mob of six simoultaneous enemies if you can't rush into the middle, parry all their blows and dish out equal punishment? You'll have to force them apart, circle them and attempt to find a weak link in the chain, strike where the iron is hot; and if you find none, then create situations that fit previously mentioned circumstances you by a combination of all your pastly mentioned abilities.

It's ridicously rewarding once you get it right, and believe me; it's a learning curve akin to "Kingdom under Fire: The Crusaders". Ironically enough another game that actually made you think ahead.

Certainly, there's brain-scratchers like Portal that challenge your intellect, or a thousand WoW's to test your patience, and a million Halos to test your reflexes, but how many games do you really recall that combine these three different elements? And honestly, the ones that you can name; something tells me that you remember them fondly.
Why? They stood out.

The Witcher 2 stands out.


Patience isn't exactly a providence in gaming, and like honesty, the idea of it turns people off.


 There are times when even the simplest pleasure lose their edge due to a sense of monotonous routine.


But personally, I don't want gaming to get stuck in a loop. We have to move forward, in every direction. Gaming certainly should be for everyone. But it's common knowledge not everyone likes the same thing. Some people hate fighting games, others hate strategies. I personally have a deep-rooted disgust for the CoD series, which I personally feel have been releasing nothing but reskins ever since CoD 3, and which everyone can agree, since CoD 4.

This year looks promising in gaming, with many brave, new ideas being tried out. Guild Wars 2, La Noire, and The Witcher 2 all stand out as singular in what they're trying to accomplish. And I want that, and I think we all do. For gaming to move on, and make more unique scenarios; to dare to be different from the rest. How great wouldn't it be to pick up a controller and say to ourselves; "this is something genuinely new to me.?

As and old-time gamer, I'm still living in the days of Soul Reaver 2 and Planescape: Torment, but I remember the novelty of those games at the time; and only rarely have I experienced that sense of sheer euphoria at being a gamer since. And it's due time I felt excited over the prospect new, rather than the prospect of something nostalgic.


Gaming is slowly becoming a cornerstone in the mass-media of today to the point where it's impossible to brush off as trivial; everyone, ranging from parents to politicians to us, gamers, ourselves, have a say in it. As it's growing, so are we; and as games constantly learn from our feed-back and our opinions, be it through complaints, praise, our even the way we approach and play the games, maybe we can learn something in return. Besides, the few rare games out there from which we can learn something mean all the more in the long run.

I don't know about you guys, but I'd like to think that my favourite hobby can teach me something more than:

  1.  How to increase my finger-dexterity (Any shooter, fighter you could name)
  2.  How to best manage and redistribute my resources (any strategy game you could think of)
  3.  How important it is for my characters to pee (The Sims, and... Uuuh, Duke Nukem Forever?)
  4.  And how best to one-handedly polish and spit-shine a cucumber (Bayonetta, Dead Or Alive)

Maybe games can even teach us to look past our impressions, and allow us to find a way out of the trappings of expectations. It'd certainly make for more interesting games. And possibly even more interesting gamers.

As Yeats said;

"In dreams begin responsibility"


As gamers, we're all already dreamers, and it's hard to argue that learning to take responsibility for something, especially our dreams, could be a valuable lesson.


This is the Do_The_Manta_Ray, being cool at your school, signing out. Thanks for reading and feel free to comment, discuss and debate. Any opinions are welcome here, so feel free to express them.
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