Video Games Aren't Just Games

Playing Thomas Was Alone instantly expressed why video games aren't just games. They aren't just for kids, they are a meaningful form of expression, of art. As computer tech got better and better, developers and players alike chased the endless thrill of graphically superior games. Yet, the more the hardware improved, the clearer it became how far we are from the ceiling. It also became quite apparent the man power needed to produce art assets needed to create stunning worlds in high definition, which in turn ate away at the budget as well as the investment going into other departments crucial to games.

The better games started to look, the shallower games seem to become. Of course there are some outliers but games like Final Fantasy XIII, the Assassin's Creed series, or the flood of shooters in the pass generation proved where the focus was in game development. Still, stunning big budget games, no matter their graphical prowess, didn't elevate the emotion impact players had. No one really questioned why because it was plainly obvious. It didn't matter how good these characters looked, they were still the skin deep 2 dimensional characters gamers were use to seeing in a prettier, less interactive world, stuck in the tired old stories about saving the planet or universe.

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Started & Finished 2013 (Part 1)

These are the games I started and finished this year (2013) in order of most to least enjoyed.

The Last of Us

Every aspect of The Last of Us clicked with me and this game became an instant classic. The story, the gameplay, the audio/visual all went hand in hand to provide an immersive experience I haven't had in a long time. Accomplishing that with (despite) zombies is even more impressive to me. I think I was lucky enough to be at the right place and the right time playing this game because I was simply blown away. 2 negative things, while I loved the combat, I don't like how most of the time you couldn't progress through the game without killing everyone. Secondly, I ran into couple bugs playing through.

Portal 2

I have little problem calling this a masterpiece and I'm ashamed I hadn't played it sooner. This is a product of a genius studio and right up there at the upper echelon of the generation. The way this game surprises you with the narrative, the characters, and the gameplay is just delightful. Very few games are this funny and very few games are this well designed. I'd bet this is a good game to study if you want to be a game maker. 2 negative things, too much Glados and not enough Wheatly.

Bioshock Infinite

I honestly don't know where all the hate for this game is coming from. When it was released, Bioshock Infinite was showered with praise and before I knew it, people did a complete 180. I guess that's just classic internet...For me, the first hour or so seem really pretentious (with all the religious bs) but I came around on this game quickly. Elizabeth is just a great character and the time I spent with her is something I do not regret or soon forget. I was even surprised by how much I enjoyed the combat. I wasn't too crazy with all the vigor but the skyline made the game an exhilarating fun.

Final Fantasy XIII-2

Even as someone who adores the Final Fantasy series, FF13 was underwhelming in many ways. So when FF13-2 came out, it was easy for me to avoid it. Still, when a friend gave me a sealed copy of it, I wasn't crazy enough to reject it. While I don't think it tops what 13 did well, 13-2 addresses criticisms of its predecessor so comprehensively, it gave me hope for Square-Enix and the Final Fantasy franchise yet again and at the same time, made me look forward to Lightning Returns. Also, that ending...I did not expect that. What a cliffhanger, so dark, so unFinal Fantasy! Although Serah isn't that great and really the whole cast of characters are just okay and the game is surprisingly unpolished for a FF game, it's quite fun to play and I put in 50hours.

Valkyria Chronicles 2

My love for the original (as good as it is) is irrational so I was so glad to get this game for $10 on the PSN. Being in New York, this game was perfect for train rides and gave me a good reason to get some mileage out of that underused PSP. So this game is hands down inferior to the first one in almost every possible way. They've changed their anime style and unlike the first one, which was so elegant and classy, 2's more generic. Story is pretty bad and all the characters are stereotypical. Still, pretty much every playable characters have bits of story and plenty of them are likable. They've also done a great job adapting the series on to a handheld. Missions are bite sized and the game is filled to the brim with content. They've made the game more balanced and pretty much tripled the classes which is a welcome addition. The only thing that really sucks is all the grind that is required to experience all the classes. I don't remember the original being this grindy and it holds the game back because it has enough experience to not result to that. Oh well...it's VC2 and I liked playing it enough to spend 50 hours on this one as well...

Hotline Miami

Finally got to experience what everyone was talking about and it did not disappoint. This is a brilliant game. The way the sights and sounds and the gameplay fuse together to create an atmosphere that is quite frankly, pitch perfect. Man...the joy of playing this dark and sinister game feels wrong in all the right reasons. Fucking awesome though I hated the few boss fights it has...

The Unfinished Swan

Man I love this game. This small, personal, touching indie art house piece of interactive entertainment was overlooked by too many people because everyone had their minds made up when Journey came out earlier that year. This game even acknowledges that game's greatness in a little easter egg but goddamn, people need to play this game!! It's just a great package and every moment I spent in was a joy.

Saints Row: The Third

I liked this game well enough but unfortunately, the Bombcrew sorta spoiled this game for me. I wanted to love this game as much as they did but I found a lot of the humor to be nonimpactful. They weren’t laugh out loud funny and they weren’t cringe worthy bad, they just didn’t do much of anything for me. That’s not to say they weren’t moments. The game has plent of good moments and all the characters are light hearted and likable too. It was awesome when Shaundi went through that plane and my favorite moment is probably the Sublime “What I Got” gag (‘cause I use to be obessed with the band). However, what I really dug about The Third is playing it. The game is just a blast. I think it’s the best playing open world game and the chaos it encourages reminded me of why I fell in love with sandbox games in the first place in the days of GTA3 all those years ago.

Flower

This game is just stunning. The beauty of its visuals and the breathtaking and simply gameplay is like nothing else. I don’t like rollercasters but picking up mad speed and going down a valley in the middle of the night in this game felt like I was on a rollercaster I actually liked. it’s an exhilarating feeling I’ve never really felt while playing a video game. Just a special game in so many ways.

DmC: Devil May Cry

The original Devil May Cry was one of those rare games that absolutely blew my mind when I played it. I avoided DMC2 because of that reason based on the reviews and really enjoyed 3 and liked 4 too so I was one of those people that were super skeptical of this reboot of a game that birthed a genre. Still, I was gonna play it regardless and I think the result is a solid western adapation of a classic Japanese franchise. DmC has a lot going for it. I do still think and prefer the original Dante more as he is way more cocky, cheesy, funny, and just way more likable. Also, as much as there to like about the aesthetics of this game, namely the level design, there were equally, if not more time when it felt like the developers were trying way too hard to be edgy. Dante and Devil May Cry doesn’t try, it just is and that aspect made me me cringe a bunch. Still, the slower and dumb down gameplay is plent of flashy and fun to play.

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My Favorite Movies of the Year

Here are some movies I really liked this year. I’m in film production so you can say I’m into “films” more than “movies” but I would still encourage people to check them out because you’d be surprised how rewarding and refreshing they can be from the typical Hollywood affair. Plus, I enjoy movies from the big blockbusters to the smallest independent films across all genres so it’s a good varied list. Let me know your list if you got one!

Note: Movie releases are all over the place so this is U.S. releases limited and/or wide. I haven’t seen 3 movies I’d really like to: Her, Inside Llewyn Davis, and Nebraska.

10. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

It seems like whenever Ben Stiller directors (i.g. Tropic Thunder & Zoolander), he puts extra care into whatever he’s doing. This film seems like he’s trying to reinvent himself a bit and not only is it a step in the right direction, it’s a resounding success. It’s a small, quiet, and sweet love story with big budget jokes and the result feels so unique and fitting to the daydreamer Walter Mitty. Visually and aesthetically beautiful and cohesive, and musically interesting, it’s a very nice audio/visual experience. This is a wonderfully put together commercial film, just don’t expect to laugh out loud.

9. Like Someone in Love

A Japanese movie from an Iranian director, it’s surprising how well it captures the feel of the culture. The story and the characters are not that original but it’s in the execution that the movie really shines. Nicely understated, expertly paced, and technically restrained. The script is layered, the dialogue is interesting, and well acted too, The dynamics of the relationships are complex and it’s worldview, unlike most films now a days, aren't cynical. It’s a believable movie that’s smart and trusts the viewers are as well.

8. Pacific Rim

A dream came true for anime fans across the world: a mega-budget live action anime movie was made. If you’re into anime and haven't’ seen this, what are you waiting for? For everyone else, just move along, there is nothing to see here except if you’re into Godzilla movies or something.

7. The Conjuring

It’s really quite astounding how good this movie is or maybe that says a lot about the horror genre in general. It’s technically masterful and absolutely refuses to be dragged down by it’s contemporaries. I’m not a horror guy but I've seen my fair share and this is easily one of my favorites. I’m so happy to say this is a great movie without any qualifiers whatsoever.

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6.Stoker

Chan-wook Park (Oldboy) comes to America and if anyone was worried (I was), you can rest easy. Beautiful, quirky, disturbing, creepy, unique, fascinating, awkward, and fairly uncompromising, all done with style, substance, and class. Maybe I’m just a sucker for everything Mr. Park...

5. The Act of Killing

How can anyone go on making documentaries after this film? It’s experimental but legitimate on every level. It redefines a genre and at the same time tells a story like never before. Shows us humanity and tragedy, the birth of a nation and it’s cultural identity, and the heroes/villains that were responsible for it. This story is by far the most serious on the list but the film is probably the funniest too. If we were talking about “most important of the year” or “the one people will remember decades from now of the year” this one would top the list no doubt.

4. The Hunt

This is one of those flawless movies. Believe me, I've tried to poke holes into it since I saw it but there is always some reasonable explanation to every little nitpick I throw at it. Damn you Thomas Vinterberg!!

3. The Wind Rises

Miyazaki’s last movie. It’s also his most sentimental and mature work. Some people were crying like babies in the theatre and I almost did too. It stands tall amongst his filmography and a fitting end to an amazing career. Your retirement is well earned. Thank you and goodbye.

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2. Gravity

If you missed this 3d movie in theatres, well, I’m sorry. I’m really really sorry. There is nothing like when strong narrative and technology intersect. That’s why we all love The Last of Us right? I don’t know how they did it. It’s one of those rare breeds that has incredible commercial appeal as well as tremendous artistic integrity. This is why I watch giant summer tent poles every year, praying that someday they might get it right and oh boy, did they get it right. I also can’t praise Sandra Bullock enough. To deliver acting that good in a box somewhere in a studio is fucking mind-blowing. This movie is out of this world! :D

1. Blue is the Warmest Color

This movie was a punch in the gut and my heart ached for several days after I saw it. It’s just a love story about a lesbian couple but I can’t believe how moved I was. It’s the only gay movie where I completely forgot about that aspect of it. The only reason I wouldn't recommend this movie to everyone is the fact that there is a 8 minute sex scene that’s downright pornographic which doesn't really have a place in such a beautiful movie.

Honorable Mentions: The Grandmaster, Blue Jasmine, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Upstream Color, American Hustle, Spring Breakers

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Started & Finished (2012)

In order of least to most enjoyed, these are the games I played and finished in 2012.

Only one game is from 2012 so please don't laugh at the list.

Kane & Lynch 2

12. Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days

I never played the original Kane & Lynch but I always thought I liked the two protagonists. Playing Dog Days made me realize I didn’t. Kane & Lynch 2 represents everything that’s wrong with the current generation. The characters are 2 dimensional, even worse, impossibly unlikable, the script must’ve been about 2 or 3 sentences, the gameplay is bearly passable with unsatisfying feel and super limited arsenal, and the graphics are poor. I would criticize the length of the game but this is one game I wish ended sooner. The camcorder style of the game is a strong idea but I found it to be more often than not, misused and distracting. I did enjoy Hong Kong as the backdrop but this is a seriously mindless and mind-numbing experience. On some level, I enjoyed it as a commentary on today’s videogames.

Singularity

11. Singularity

This game screams b-tier. Clearly inspired by Half-Life 2 and Bioshock, it's plenty competent on all fronts but doesn't impress in any. Story is sorta interesting, gameplay is fine, and the game looks good, sometimes. I'll take this type of game any day over modern military shooters but this game is forgettable.

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Alice: Madness Returns

10. Alice: Madness Returns

The art direction is very nice in this game. The gameplay is varied but the game is few hours too long for it to sustain. The story that has good potential is an enormous let down and this game suffers from severe lack of polish. I enjoyed this game more than I should've because I'm a whore for good art.

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Catherine

9. Catherine

I like the journey more than the destination of this game. All the endings are sort of a let down but it does very interesting things with its "juggle 2 women at once" concept. The puzzle is fun, even if the levels aren't too interesting. The presentation is slick and quality is high. Still, it's a small game that should've had a little more ambition.

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Darksiders

8. Darksiders

Pretty cool game. The art style is charming but not impressive. The gameplay is varied and definitely enough to keep you interested. Still, I always felt like it could've been deeper, smoother, and generally more polished. The script is ok and the voice is quite good. The size of the world is nice and it's a good ride, it just doesn't have much to call its own.

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Red Dead Redemption

7. Red Dead Redemption

Note: I played the GOTY version.

This is a good game. Riding your horse up a hill and seeing the sun rise or set is one of the most beautiful moments in videogaming. It's a sprawling world and I played the shit out of it. That said, I enjoyed GTA IV and in terms of pure mechanics, this is just an update. The characters are less likable, writing is a bit weaker, and everything else generally not as impressive. Coming out 2 years later, Rockstar's sandbox formula is much less forgivable and it's gapping flaws, more pronounced. The disconnect between the game and the story is even bigger here because unlike Niko Belic, John Marston is a family man. Sure it's unrealistic to have a fresh-off-the-boat foreigner massacre his way through the streets of Liberty City but what do you expect from an Eastern Europe scumbag? There are lots of memorable moments but thinking back, so many hours I spent in this wild west felt boring, tedious, and sometimes even frustrating. Also, like other Rockstar open-worlds, the side stuff are all meaningless.

LittleBigPlanet 2

6. LittleBigPlanet 2

Note: I played the GOTY version.

Like Uncharted 2, LBP is one of my favorites of this generation. So like U3, this game couldn't possibly live up to my expectations. This game has awesome levels, good community, and charm, charm, charm. Still, it has that "been there done that" feel because the first one was such an original and astounding game. LBP made be feel like a kid again, LBP2 didn't.

Resistance 3

5. Resistance 3

I've played a bit of R2 but this is the first game in the series I beat. Having played some Ratchet and Clank games, I was able to pick up and enjoy in no time. I really had fun with this game because in the current gen, there is no avoiding FPSs and this game just stands out with the weapons. I'm so sick of shooters but leveling up guns and blasting hordes of Chimerans was so satisfying. Also, though the level of polish in the game varies from level to level, sometimes the environments in this game look damn good. Definitely a step-up from R2. The story is ok, perhaps even good by fps standards but pretty forgettable which is disappointing because there is certainly potential to tell a good tale in this world.

Journey

4. Journey

This is quite a special game. I would call it interactive meditation. Sure it's 2 hours long but those 2 hours are dense with highly memorable moments. Still, if you're a gamer, going through the game is nice but the game is lacking in gameplay and the world feels small. I couldn't help but wish there was more stuff to do and more places to explore. This journey is a great experience but still a one way path and though it's a bold game, it doesn't quite reach its potential.

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Uncharted 3

3. Uncharted 3

The game that had the unfortunate luck of being the follow-up to a console defining killer-app. If you played Uncharted 2, there is no way of coming out of this without feeling a bit disappointed. Still, step back and try to look at this game in a vacuum. If U2 was the culmination of decades of game development, U3 is a celebration of the 7th generation consoles. The underwater levels reminded me of Bioshock, jumping out of the plane paid homage to the opening of Mass Effect 2, desert walking was Journey, horseback riding was Red Dead Redemption, some incredible camera pull-back recalled God of War 3, and the interactive moments perhaps Heavy Rain. All those moments wrap around what the franchise can wholly take credit for including probably the most lovable cast of characters, top of the class writing, the best cast of voice and motion-capture actors in video game history, the most sophisticated real-time animation, and you got a pretty impressive game. Still, a bit disappointing...lol

Shadows of the Damned

2. Shadows of the Damned

Though I'm not particularly a fan of the b-movie grindhouse genre, I could tell it was done well because it didn't come off totally stupid, some of it even clever. This delightful, mostly lighthearted game headed by Shinji Mikami and Suda 51 was a blast. Johnson and Garcia FUCKING Hotspur represent one of the best duos in recent memory and I grew to really enjoy their nonsense. The gameplay has that RE4/RE5 "it takes a bit of getting use to" feel but once you do, it's quite satisfying. The graphics are not the most technically sophisticated but the art direction certainly makes up for whatever its lacking. The darkness effect looks just so damn nice. Anyway, it's a game that doesn't look like much on paper but the execution of it is top-notch. If you're looking for a dumb, fun, demon blasting ride, check out this game.

Beyond Good & Evil

1. Beyond Good & Evil

I played the HD version on PS3. The graphics hold up unbelievably well and some "Uncharted 2" moments were able to wow me. The art direction is incredibly strong in this game and it's an absolute delight to be in this world. Some aspects of the game reminded me of innovations developed in current gen games and genuinely impressed me. The story is well told and satisfying. The script is good and the voice is top-notch. Certain things felt dated but the only one I couldn't forgive was the camera. The gameplay is varied but all-around stripped down and super simple. Still, there is enough motivation in the form of pearls to attack the side stuff. I wish the world was bigger as the game feels a bit condensed. With a final after-credits scene that screams sequel, I really hope we see more of Jade. I urge you to check out this game in its best form for $15!

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PS Vita - Key(s) to Success

Things that are vital to Playstatioin Vita's success.

Note: in no particular order.

1. Secure the system. People argue piracy killed the PSP.

2. Strong 3rd-party support. The PSone and PS2's overwhelming dominance largely was the result of amazing 3rd-party support.

3. Provide games at every price ($1-$50). $40 was expensive for PSP games and $50 is higher. Come on Sony.

4. Drop the price to actually compete with the 3DS. The PS3 is $250 and "it only does everything" but realistic, PSVita is only for games. I realize you can make a similar argument for Wii vs. 3DS but everyone already has a Wii.

5. Slim down. As badass as it is, I wouldn't be caught dead with that in public. I'm a huge nerd but even i'd feel a little geeky busting that out in public.

6. PS3/PSV game bundle. Let me play my console games on the go and vice vera and offer this at perhaps $70 and provide a clear cut bargain and incentive. (I know i'm kinda dreaming with this one)

Let me know what you think is vital to PSV's success.

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My Top 10 PS3 Exclusives

Like the title says, this is my top 10 ps3 exclusives that i've played & finished thus far

Note: i'm currently playing Demon's Souls and this list is subject to change!

10. Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction
 
     the only Ratchet & Clank game i've played. this game has great humor and beautiful cartoony graphics, complete w/ topnotch voice work. the story is nothing special and if i remember correctly, ended in a cliffhanger. nonetheless, the characters all have unique personalities to make up for what's lacking. the gameplay is mostly a 3rd person shooter with some light platforming and light puzzles. great variety of upgradeable weapons gives you lots of ways to handle your foes. this game also earns kudos for best use of the six-axis i've encountered. the game is on the easy side which means people of all ages can enjoy it.


9. inFamous

     possibility the best superhero game ever. this sand-box adventure provides some seriously satisfying, silky smooth action. the story isn’t gripping but the ending is perfect. you can play as either good or evil and the world’s atmosphere will evolve w/ you. the graphics aren’t the best but during heavy combat, I felt the compromise was well worth it. the comic-book style cut scenes are well done. the voice work is good, even if the script is not. the short list of boss fights are epic and awesome. this game could easily be higher up on the list, only if the mission variety wasn’t so disappointing.


8. Heavy Rain

     this is a special game. Quantic Dream further developed what they started with Indigo Prophecy and this time around, the story is much stronger. the voice cast isn’t stellar but the script is strong. even w/ some of the blemishes, the graphics are some of the best on the console. it’s interactive gaming that sometimes succeeds on redefining what it means to game. however, for a gamer, the gameplay amounts to not more than quick-time-events. this concept is still in its infancy and I want to see where it goes from here.


7. Uncharted

     what can I say? I love drake, elena, and sully. the minute this game started spinning in my ps3, these characters came alive like no other virtual people this generation. the passion and love that went into those characters were undeniable. they were breathing and bursting with personality. the graphics are still among the best on the system. the script is funny and the voice, brilliant. the shooting is a little wonky, the platforming is fun, and the puzzles are clever. it’s short and sweet, really sweet.


6. God of War 3

    the final act in the god of war “trilogy”. the graphics are just ridiculous. omg…the scale…the fidelity…the epicenes…anyway, hands down the best combat system in the series, adding on top of the improvements made in 2. the story is probably the worst in the series and the puzzles also. the game definitely plays it safe but it’s the kind of blockbuster treatment that haters can only dream about in their games.


5. Killzone 2

    another visual stone cold stunner. the bold and gritty art style is immediately striking, it’s too bad that the campaign is so by-the-number. i like what they did on the gameplay side. never has pumping bullets into enemy flesh been so damn satisfying. the sense of weight in this game feels realistic and immersive. the cover is unique, if flawed. enemy a.i. is impressive and the multiplayer is fresh. I find myself going back to this game time to time to kill some helghast


4. Uncharted 2
   
    the ps3 killer app. drake is back and holy fucking shit, i think he made people care about the ps3. set-piece after set-piece, this is THE blockbuster rollercoaster ride. get ready for the imitators… the same quality script and the same quality voice. the jaw-dropping graphics and scripted event, and the much improved shooting and combat mechanics. the fun co-op and competitive multiplayer. this is how sequels are done fools.


3. Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots

    look, i’m bias. it’s my list, get over it or sue me. solid snake’s last mission and you bet it’s fan service. epic show down with liquid. raiden redeeming himself (i’ve always liked him), and shadow mosses. kojima tied everything together (more than he needed to) and filled that blu-ray disc w/ cut scenes like it was his job (it was). disappointments include the beauties in the beasts and how it has to install the chapters every time but hey, i get to have a cig break with snake…


2. Little Big Planet

    there are things in this world so goddamn charming, it’s simply irresistible. lbp is one of them. it’s genius. this is the kind of innovation that pushes the game industry forward. it’s creations tools and content sharing is a clear vision of the future and light years ahead of anything out on any console. the physics needs a bit of tweaking but this game is brilliant. the music is off the hook and so is the campaign. long live sackboy!


1. Valkyria Chronicles

    imagine an epic anime series, real time strategy, turn based strategy, rpg, and 3rd person shooter, all rolled into one piece of entertainment. now, imagine that being done w/ style, grace, and japanese polish. now, either your head exploded or you’re saying it’s not possible. valkyria chronicles is the diamond in the ruff. a pure gem. a masterpiece. the story is powerful and the characters, loveable. the graphics, beautiful and so is the music. the japanese voice is spot on and it’s an available option. the gameplay is deep, rewarding, and most importantly, so much fun. the quantity of music is little scarce. the physics is weak but doesn’t come in to play. 50 hours well spent.

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