Yesterday, I presented Gomez with the Cutest Character Award, and then I presented the awards for Most Savage Game and Lightning in a Bottle! You can read that here. But, for the rest, let's move quickly into today's awards.
Roguelikes, by all accounts, would not have been my thing a year ago. If you’d asked me what I like in games, my answer would be “precision.” I like to hit every beat on-the-mark, not allowing room for inaccuracy. It’s why I’ve always preferred the shooting in Dead Space and inFamous to Gears of War, why I prefer Ninja Gaiden’s gameplay model to God of War’s, and Super Meat Boy’s pixel-perfect gameplay to the generally floatier platforming of even SNES-era games like Yoshi’s Island. It’s also why I like rhythm games so much. Hitting every button, in its perfect place, just makes me feel efficient and in-control in a way most games don’t permit me to feel.
The easiest way to facilitate that sort of perfectionism is to turn each play session into a sort of rehearsal. Again, think Super Meat Boy; every failed Meat Boy that didn’t make it to Bandage Girl on a particular level is another take of your own twisted and fiery ballet. And though you may have wall-jumped better five runs ago, the run you keep is the best one, the one where you win.
Honing that kind of perfection is what allows leaderboards to be meaningful in most games; who can really master the game the best? But that kind of scorechasing is actually beyond me in most games. I can’t play the same level more than a thousand times, sorry. I’ve played Slayer’s “Raining Blood” in Guitar Hero III more times than I could ever care to count, and maybe finished it enough times to count on my fingers and toes. There’s a point of repetition that’s too far for me in these games.
Bring in 2012, the year where The Binding of Isaac and Dark Souls fans are people everybody wants to understand. And they can; this year churns out three fantastic games that use elements of roguelikes to extreme advantage. Of these, Spelunky and FTL: Faster Than Light are the purest; Tokyo Jungle sits in a strange place between roguelike and Dark Souls-esque precision game, but its random elements in a static map lean into this category enough that I feel comfortable dropping it into this category. ZombiU is similar, but definitely leans towards Dark Souls over roguelike elements.
The more random elements of Tokyo Jungle also are the reason it loses out to the exceptional Spelunky and FTL. Unlike the other two games, random elements like toxicity and creature placement are more generally frustrating than they are interesting. The lack of precision in the actual combat mechanics doesn’t help either.
Spelunky and FTL are just in another league. Their concepts (exploring an ancient cursed cave and piloting a Star-Trek-like ship through multiple galactic sectors to ensure the rebels don’t beat you there) are strange fits for their gameplay styles. Their presentation in music and graphics are some of the most effective of the year. And the “niggling problems” are limited to, well, not having as much content as one could dream up.
FTL and Spelunky sit on opposite ends of their spectrum, though. Where FTL is a game you have to pause regularly to not create total chaos, Spelunky is a rushing dance, rewarding players who move quickly through the level with exceptional gamefeel and in-game rewards. Where Spelunky is a random in simple tile placement and world construction, FTL is always dangerously mysterious, and highly tense in a way Spelunky rarely accomplishes. And even when you know every scenario in FTL, there’s often still a straight percentage-chance that you’ll fail an encounter. In Spelunky, any encounter can be overcome with tight enough control of your explorer.
But, in the end, the completely excellent gamefeel of Spelunky ushers it into a victory. While there’s some minor issues with repetitive tilesets and progress, it’s an absolutely pitch-perfect gameplay system. It stands among the best-playing platformers of all time. The fact that it’s also a really engaging rogue-like would come second if it weren’t for the fact that it means I have a Super Mario Brothers game I can never memorize.
The “Solid Steel Package” Gomie is going to the game that I can’t point out any notable flaws therein. It seems especially poignant this year, where the best games of the year have some really messed up technical issues and narrative problems.
Not so with Super Hexagon! You could argue that Super Hexagon sets its sights rather low, but I highly disagree. You play as a triangle on the outside of a hexagon, which pulsates in the center of your iPhone/iPad/computer screen. Lines fly at you from all sides of the hexagon; you avoid them.
That’s it. And, yes, that sounds incredibly simple. But I think making a game as simple as Super Hexagon is completely outrageous. The audacious confidence that comes along with releasing a game with mechanics that can only draw comparisons to arcade classics like Pac-Man and Space Invaders is insane. Those are, as you probably know, like, two of the best arcade games ever made.
If Super Hexagon is to compete with the arcade classics, it’s shockingly successful in its entertainment. Maybe it doesn’t hang in the company of your Ms. Pac-Mans or Donkey Kongs of the world, but it’s a lot more entertaining than Spy Hunter or Pole Position. And, yes, that is a start.
A large reason Super Hexagon still feels like a relevant gameplay experience is due to its presentation. Those familiar with Terry Cavanagh’s VVVVVV or Don’t Look Back know that he’s an absolute master at combining insane color palettes with perfectly selected music and audio. That remains true here; the music of Super Hexagon is some of the best of the year, in a year where game music has been unstoppable.
Super Hexagon is $2.99, whether you’re buying it on Steam or your iPhone. Its simplistic gameplay with either leave you cold in 15 minutes and send you running back to Tetris or Punch Quest, or it’ll hook you almost instantly.
Stay tuned for more awards throughout the week! And, for those looking for more contentious Game of the Year deliberations than those which appeared on Giant Bomb this year, subscribe to the Nerf'd Facebook Page or the podcast itself on iTunes! Our Game of the Year deliberations should be up by Friday, but due to some recording issues, we're guaranteeing it'll be up by next week. Follow the Facebook page for the official release, as well as our panel's personal Top 10 lists!
I'm Little_Socrates, and I'm gonna be presenting a series of awards for games that are, well, awesome. Before I publish a full version of my Game of the Year list (which is in my lists on the site, with short descriptions,) let's rip into some special awards, eh?
CUTEST CHARACTER AWARD
Okay, he’s a goofy looking potato-man throughout most of your playthrough. But those who have played Fez for a significant amount of time know the exact moment Gomez turns from doofy doughboy to OH MY GOD LOOK AT THAT HE’S SOOOOO CUUUUUUTE. When those eight little cubelets turn into one full, golden cube, or after collecting a devious anti-cube, Gomez’s face effectively turns into a smile of joyous size. And there’s one other moment in the finale where he takes on pretty monumental cuteness, too.
Maybe it’s just the fact that Gomez’s cutest moments are at such rewarding points in the game. It’s always just after you’ve solved something especially devious, or explored a large section of Fez’s gorgeous world, or when you’ve just completed the game! And perhaps it’s to his benefit that he’s the star of one of the few nonviolent games that are any good. But Gomez’s cuteness should probably have faded away at some point in my brain, and it never did. He’s adorable!
In fact, he’s so adorable, that I’m gonna let Gomez present the rest of the awards. We’ll call them The Gomies.
You know what else is adorable? Costumes. And super-heroes are hot in movies these days, so Gomez has a pretty wide range of X-Men costumes to present these awards in! Sure, it might be more topical to have him dressed up as The Avengers, or Batman, or pretty much any super hero other than the X-Men, but I didn’t find fan art of Gomez dressed up as any super-heroes other than the X-Men, so he’s gonna dress as them, dig?
I feel weird recommending Hotline Miami to anybody who hasn’t seen the film Drive. It’s not so much that I think the “true value” of Hotline Miami is lost to those who aren’t familiar with Refn’s recent masterpiece. I think the reason would be that I know someone who enjoyed Drive won’t be disgusted with me for explaining what makes Hotline Miami so incredible.
Hotline Miami is a brutal, addictive, messy game where your sap of an assassin has gotten involved in something way, way over his head. Whether he’s a hitman of his own free will or a prisoner of psychopaths, he’s walking into house after house after office building after sleazy 80’s club and murdering all of the faceless thugs inside. There’s no quarter and absolutely no restraint. The gore is gross for a game presented in pixel art. The game plays with the nature of reality, too, which fits the game’s drug-addled 1989 club atmosphere.
The addictive nature of the game comes through in its core gameplay and music. The electronic drone of Hotline Miami makes you feel like you’re on some sort of intense and powerful drug, and the gameplay is so directly responsive that it’s very easy to fall into a trance-like state. Some people talking about Hotline Miami talk about getting keyed up while playing, to the point they felt near cardiac arrest. This wasn’t my experience. I tuned out the world around me during my playthrough, riding on an adrenaline-filled high.
The morning after my first night with Hotline Miami, I took ill. The rush had fallen off, and reviews of the game were beginning to ooze out of the outlets I read most commonly. With, well, glowing scores. I felt terrible. How had I enjoyed this game so much? It’s a disgusting and violent game, no matter how great the game’s feedback loop.
Then I looked up the most memorable song from the soundtrack.
Not a minute into the song, I was at my desktop, headphones on, booting the game. I finished it in the second sitting.
Hotline Miami is savage towards its denizens and its players. It doesn’t just treat its characters with disdain, but it hates the player equally. And while other games carried similar narrative intentions of disdain towards video game violence, no game makes the player as complicit to violence as Hotline Miami, nor does any game make such a good case for us enjoying it.
(This spoiler tag is for those who want to know a little more about the game’s narrative. It is spoiler-y. If you’re not going to play the game, read away.)
The narrative parallels the player’s arc. We are not “forced” to play violent games. We choose to do so. The game is pretty explicit about this, and it’s very difficult to miss the game’s message during a playthrough. The “true ending” of the game reveals that the psychopaths are U.S. hypernationalists looking to take down “communists infiltrating the nation.” This justification is unsatisfying and a bit ridiculous, but sensible; there is no good justification for the violence committed.
First-person shooters don’t really do it for me most of the time. Occasionally, a game like Halo 3 or the original Modern Warfare will come out and force me through its campaign in a rush. Other times, games like Singularity and BioShock will entice me enough to play through them, with just-solid-enough gunplay and excellent enough level design to get me through to the finale. The Darkness, released in 2007 against BioShock, Halo 3, Crysis, and the original Modern Warfare, was not one of those games. Its ambition and neat aesthetic were something I’ve appreciated from afar for some time, but I’ve never finished the game. Its gunplay is just a bit too wonky, and its only really effective characters are Jenny and Mike Patton’s excellent performance as The Darkness itself.
But somehow, The Darkness II is a successful and greater sequel than anyone could have imagined walking out of The Darkness. It’s got an incredibly engaging and empathetic cast of characters, a strange, post-modern storyline that helped segue into this year’s more reflective games, and pitch-perfect gameplay.
Enjoying my time with the characters of The Darkness II was pretty incredible. I feel comfortable saying that Jenny Romano, your girlfriend, is absolutely one of the best-written female characters in games. I wouldn’t go so far as to call her strong, or independent, or even defiant of the tropes that led to the incredible #onereasonwhy games feminist movement earlier this year. I just found her to be legimitately…human and feminine. She felt honest to me, in a way most game characters do not.
And, strangely, the game seems precognitive of this year’s largest video game themes. The exhaustion for violence in games is reflected in Hotline Miami, Spec Ops: The Line, Max Payne 3, and, if you believe its lead writer, Far Cry 3. Those are, unsurprisingly, also the nominees for Most Savage Game. But I think Jackie Estacado might actually have said it best.
Jackie Estacado said:
“Once The Darkness gets ahold of you, you start to lose control. You start to wonder what the fuck you're doin'. Time slips away from you. And then, all of a sudden, it's like you're sittin' in a theater, watchin' a movie of your own life. And you're up there on the big screen. Big as life, you're a fuckin' movie star. And you're killin' all the bad guys, tearing them limb from limb. And you feel good. You look good. Fuck, you are good. And then you realize something. Everyone else in the theater: they're screamin', 'cuz they're watchin' a horror movie. And you're not the hero... You're the monster...”
I think the thing that is most tragic about The Darkness II is how greatly its shooting has been overlooked. Most people seem to agree that The Darkness II’s storyline and presentation are pretty great, but the gameplay is just this awesome twitch-shooting arcade romp. The evolution of Jackie’s powers over the game is pretty amazing, too, and there are so many awesome powers in the game that it eventually gets challenging to figure out where to specialize your character first (answer; go for Dark Armor, always.)
In a year filled with power fantasies, The Darkness II made me feel by far the most powerful. In fact, I don’t think a shooter is the proper follow-up to The Darkness II; by the end, I felt so powerful that I felt the next game would properly be a Devil May Cry or God of War-style character action game to account for the diversity of It also had a great cast of characters, and turned me from a Darkness nonbeliever to the top editor on the Jenny Romano page. And while I don’t think Digital Extremes has let the electricity out of the glass receptacle yet based on their fantastic ending, I think they’re probably going to have to put that bottle in storage for some time now. The game…didn’t really sell all that well. It sounds like it did slightly better than Catherine. That’s good-ish, I guess. But not necessarily good enough to greenlight another The Darkness game.
Hopefully, we’ll get The Darkness III. Either way, my eyes will be on Digital Extremes’ next project. But, until then, I feel content in saying that this game is the kind of masterwork that won’t strike twice.
Stay tuned for more awards throughout the week! And, for those looking for more contentious Game of the Year deliberations than those which appeared on Giant Bomb this year, subscribe to the Nerf'd Facebook Page or the podcast itself on iTunes! Our Game of the Year deliberations should be up by Friday, but due to some recording issues, we're guaranteeing it'll be up by next week. Follow the Facebook page for the official release, as well as our panel's personal Top 10 lists!
You can find links to the other Gomies posts here:
This Is Not A Film debuted at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival after being smuggled out of Iran on a flash drive. It's got a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, and I found it one of the most boring and miserable filmgoing experiences of my life. Walking out of my college's union theater Thursday night, I felt I had gotten more out of About Cherry, a movie only notable for being the exact opposite of Boogie Nights and for containing the nude breasts of the girl from Chronicle. Needless to say, I disagree with This Is Not A Film's 100% rating.
However, I now find it an extremely useful weapon in the fight for narrative-driven games. Luckily, the thumbnail for the trailer centers on the exact line that is circling my brain today;
"If we could tell a film, then why make a film?"
The Walking Dead has just won the Spike Video Game Award for Game of the Year, along with a smattering of other category victories. People are now lining up because they are faced with the reality that The Walking Dead, a game they've chosen to dismiss entirely as "not a game," is liable to win not just the VGA for Game of the Year, but also several more Game of the Year awards, in direct contrast to their nominations of XCOM: Enemy Unknown, Crusader Kings II, and Far Cry 3. Shane Satterfield of GameTrailers is trashing the VGAs for nominating Journey and The Walking Dead, and yet goes on to point out how much he loves Journey, intentionally omitting praise for The Walking Dead. Our own users are questioning whether or not TWD is a game regularly.
This blog will not be particularly original in format. In fact, it pretty much owes its structure to This Is Not A Pipe, a blog by jbauck that brilliantly approaches disappointment with the Mass Effect 3 ending. At some point, I suggest you read it, as it's been part of a long healing process that is causing me to absolutely adore Mass Effect 3.
But, for a moment, let's return to This Is Not A Film.
The "movie" centers around two directors sitting around a house and making a rogue "not-film." The lead director, the one who "acts" throughout most of the trailer and movie, is under house arrest, will probably go to prison, and has been banned from directing or writing films for twenty years. So, he decides it'll be okay if he acts in a movie by another director, and decides to try to read through his last script to give a glimpse as to what his movie would be like. However, he gives up at one point, asking:
"If we could tell a film, then why make a film?"
The next five or ten minutes or so centers around the explanation behind this line. It's easily the best sequence in the documentary, and it's the only reason I haven't written an inflammatory rant questioning how this film is so beloved instead. In essence, by showing clips of his previous films, our lead director explains that the independent director is a more adaptive personality, responding to what he's been given. He shows a clip of an amateur actor who is offended at a jewelry shop, and explains that he'd have never intended to ask his actor to become so deliriously upset, but instead he wound up with an intensely human reaction that is shockingly empathetic. In essence, the amateur actor becomes the director; because the director doesn't know what the amateur will be able to do, the director has to adapt to the amateur's skill set and work to focus on their strengths. Next, he shows a clip of a woman running through an airport; here, the location is director. The repeating parallel vertical lines moving quickly enhances the tension of the scene, but the woman's face is invisible behind a veil; there isn't really any acting happening here, no "particular face" that the actress needs to wear. Here, the director acquiesces to the location and uses its strengths to enhance his vision.
A film is too much more than words on a script; it comes to life through its actors and its locations, and the director simply gives a lens through which to view them. The director gives up in outrage. How can he tell a film without any actors in his apartment?
Back To Games
We all acknowledge that there's a lot of reasons people play games. Quickly, let's break out some of the clichés: to have fun, to escape, to view art, to simply "enjoy", to hear meaningful and modern stories, to spend time, to socialize, to see a creator's expression, to challenge themselves, to grow, to see technical achievement, to replicate a real-life goal, etc.
Ultimately, interactivity isn't even inherently subject in those goals. Several people enjoy the stories of games, socialize, or have fun with games by watching Let's Plays on YouTube, or Endurance Runs here on Giant Bomb. That experience is not a game; it is a viewing of entertainment media, more similar to television or film than playing a game. Think "This Is Not A Pipe" here.
But the subject in question is still primarily a game, and so the Let's Play is a representation of a game, an abstraction of the playthrough of a game. This becomes immediately obvious when one tries to watch, say, a playthrough of Sam & Max Hit The Road on YouTube, and the player barely bothers to talk to the Woody Allen fisherman character I would have absolutely showered with clicks in order to hear all his dialogue. I am not playing the game, but simply watching the game does not remove me from the experience of playing all the same.
Let's Plays inherently put us in a sort of game-playing limbo between playing and not playing a game. We are obviously not playing a game, but we may be playing with the abstraction all the same. When one watches a Let's Play, you're often engaging with the game on a metainteractive level, saying "I would have chosen to do this" or "NO, YOU IDIOT. IT'S RIGHT THERE! I ALREADY SAW THE SOLUTION! GOD!" But in that moment, especially in a puzzle game, you are still interacting with the game.
Therefore, interactivity is less defined than simply pushing buttons to make things change on the screen. Heavy Rain is a strong example. Its Quick Time Events and wonky controls definitely help to define Heavy Rain as a game, although the story does indeed adapt slightly if a character chooses to encounter a situation a specific way. The "game" of Heavy Rain, however, is really in its mystery; who is The Origami Killer, and can you deduce it before the game reveals itself? That's ultimately why the plot of Heavy Rain is such a betrayal; the ultimate reveal is too implausible, thematically unsatisfying, and just plain unreasonable to ever satisfy the "metagame" of Heavy Rain.
Enter The Walking Dead.
The Walking Dead is a prime example of a game that engages us more with its narrative elements than with its gameplay. It is a game that can be experienced with another player's hands on the controller, so long as you are in charge of Lee's decisions, and it can be emotionally affecting without that control as well. The "metagame" of The Walking Dead, of course, is about choice and the characterization of Lee. Similarly to Mass Effect, Lee is only a shell if you choose to allow him to be one, and if Lee is a robust and dynamic character, it is because The Walking Dead gave you the tools and relationships necessary to shape him into the character you want him to be. He can be a petty survivalist or an altruistic communal thinker, a leader or a wilting flower, a kind but troubled man or a distant and forceful ex-convict.
Shaping Lee is, in my opinion, the primary gameplay mechanic of The Walking Dead, and the secondary mechanic is considering your options when there is no good option. Imagining the next result is a more vital part of The Walking Dead than mashing the Q key to avoid getting eaten by a zombie. And deciding whether or not Lee is a good father based on your own choices and responses to questions is more essential to The Walking Dead than taking the belt off the generator to get a look at the barn.
This is not satisfying to a lot of players, obviously. The argument will probably rage for weeks now as to whether or not The Walking Dead deserves to be a game, or, beyond that, if it's any good. In "This Is Not A Pipe," jbauck effectively divides the responses to the Mass Effect 3 endings into four separate categories, using Robert Frost's " Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" as a baseline for these responses. Using this same idea, responses to The Walking Dead can be broken down into several categories:
1) It's an emotionally affecting poem that allows you to pour yourself into its well.
These are the people who have adored The Walking Dead and feel they understand its purpose. To them, the game is about shaping Lee and his relationships with other characters, as described above. Maybe they're new to adventure games, or maybe they've been playing Myst, Monkey Island, and visual novels for years. However, they have trouble understanding how The Walking Dead could have ever lost. To these people, the victory of The Walking Dead is encouraging.
2) It's definitely a poem, it doesn't have to rhyme to be a poem. You're all a bunch of knob-eaters.
These people have been championing interactive fiction for years, or understand the history of games. They already know that an adventure game and a visual novel totally count as games, at least in their eyes. They are people like Jeff Gerstmann, who @MattyFTM has done a good job quoting in respect to this issue. Here's the quote, which pretty effectively summarizes the argument.
"There’s really no need to maintain such a narrow view of gaming. The answer to the question “what is game?” changes every year. If you disqualify The Walking Dead now, would you disqualify Monkey Island back in 1990? Zork in 1980? All of those games fall on slightly different spots on the play-to-watch scale, I suppose, but to say that The Walking Dead isn’t even a game is a bit much. Instead of worrying about what gaming is or isn’t, focus on what you like about games and why. It’s perfectly OK to think that The Walking Dead is lame, boring, or not for you. But to go all the way to the end and start saying that it doesn’t even fit in the same category as other, “real” games starts to feel a bit elitist, right?"
- @Jeff Gerstmann, doing a better job of answering this post than I ever could. Via his Tumblr.
This situation is frustrating to this group of people, because this shouldn't really be an argument. To these people, the victory of The Walking Dead is reasonable.
3) This poem isn't very fun to read. This guy seems depressed, and why is he hanging out in the cold?
These people play games for some form of enjoyment, either narrative or gameplay-wise. While most will champion gameplay over narrative, they will also fall in line and agree that Uncharted 2 was one of the best games of the generation because it was so much goshdarn fun. Gameplay is generally central to the argument for "fun" by these people; the gameplay must be at least serviceable to carry a fun story, and fun gameplay can cause players to completely ignore a dumb story. For this group, The Walking Dead isn't just mostly unenjoyable, it's almost threatening to think it might supplant the kind of games they enjoy. To these people, the victory of The Walking Dead is terrifying.
4) Wait, I thought this was a short story competition.
These people feel they missed a memo in which games like The Walking Dead were suddenly being considered Game of the Year nominees. Maybe they weren't playing games at all during the heyday of adventure games, but suddenly they find themselves surrounded in a revival. The Walking Dead's support is so universal as to be confusing. They might ask, "don't we usually try to find innovative gameplay mechanics and technical achievement to give this award? This game only has QTEs and massive technical bugs. And what makes this so different from Mass Effect, anyways?" Some of the people have played TWD, and others have not. To these people, the victory of The Walking Dead is baffling.
5) Maybe it's technically a poem, but the part everybody enjoys is the author's biography.
These people understand that The Walking Dead has quicktime events, puzzle-solving, and action sequences, but didn't find that they enjoyed any of them. This group argues that The Walking Dead's strength is in its narrative, which we've come to learn does not change a whole lot from playthrough to playthrough. While they may or may not have ultimately found The Walking Dead enjoyable, it's not for the reasons that they consider a game the best medium in the first place. To these people, the victory of The Walking Dead is frustrating.
6) Poems aren't as good as novels. Why are you wasting your time with this drivel?
These people don't take video games all that seriously. They're fun, sometimes they're emotional, but ultimately, they're entertainment. A game having an ultra-serious narrative as its big plus seems completely silly to these people, as they'd rather have spent the twenty-plus hours playing The Walking Dead or an RPG just reading a good book instead. To these people, the victory of The Walking Dead is trivial.
The conflict arises from the distance between arguments 1 and 6. The people who fell into the first category (also, those liable to give it a Game of the Year Award) absolutely value the types of stories a game can tell, while the people in the sixth category absolutely do not. The range of opinions in the middle definitely show that The Walking Dead is obviously not a binary experience, but it's the distance between the two extremes that will allow for so much dissent and disagreement about the game in general.
Personally, I find myself in the first two categories. I really enjoyed The Walking Dead, and I'm a bit frustrated that people don't want to consider it a game. But, rather than simply let this end with me preaching more than I already have, I'm going to play devil's advocate and try to posit arguments from the dissenting sides. I feel that I emotionally resonate with each and every one of them, and so I'm going to discuss The Walking Dead from both sides. Let it be known that I do really like The Walking Dead.
And, perhaps most importantly, there will be spoilers from this point out if necessary. You should really finish The Walking Dead.
Now, then, let's begin.
Games are in a weird place right now. Retail releases have largely been considered disappointing this year, with the only standout favorites being Dishonored, XCOM: Enemy Unknown, and Far Cry 3. The downloadable space is getting huge, and I have a feeling there'll be hardly a person out there who doesn't have at least one downloadable game on their Top 10 lists this year. And the downloadable space is getting weirder; while art pieces like Journey and The Walking Dead usually lose out to games like Mark of the Ninja and Bastion, they seem poised to win most Downloadable Game awards this year. Hell, Tokyo Jungle, Fez, and Dyad all came out to critical acclaim this year.
But I think indie also got bigger, and it continued to get weirder. Articles like @patrickklepek's Worth Reading have pushed games like Frog Fractions and dys4ia far beyond their normal exposure. People are looking for more personal and artful experiences, and "fun" is sometimes falling to the wayside in the search for "art." Papo & Yo was perhaps one of the most divisive games of the year for this reason; some found it artful and resonant, and others found it dull and trite.
But the entire conversation is terrifying for those who just want to have some fun. Do games really have to always be this serious, all the time? Can't we reward Far Cry 3 for being a brilliant play experience with awesome gamefeel, even if it's tone deaf to its misogyny and primitivism? Rewarding The Walking Dead seems like a step away from what games used to be. Hell, games are already running from it constantly; analysts won't stop saying we'll be playing all our games on phones in ten years. It's easy to imagine the VGA judge from Entertainment Weekly having only played The Walking Dead on their iPad, even though we should probably logically know better.
Giving The Walking Dead Game of the Year isn't only unsatisfying because these people didn't get much out of it, it's a signal of the downfall of the thing they've come to love for so long.
Okay, I'll be straight here; I don't think The Walking Dead is the best game of 2012. My last blog was about how the game is technically broken. I think it's got narrative issues, and its Episode 5 solutions for dealing with Kenny can be unsatisfying and cheap. Episode 1 is not especially good to begin with. Episode 4 is light on a lot of content, and Episode 2 is barely connected to the rest of the story. The emotional watermark of Episode 3 is a high one, but I really don't think it's enough to mark TWD as Game of the Year.
So I understand entirely where these people are coming from. They want a game to win Game of the Year, and preferably, it's a game that comes in a box from a store shelf. Smaller, bite-sized experiences can't compete with the vast expanse of a game like Far Cry 3 or Borderlands 2, especially when they're narrative-focused. This is where Shane Satterfield sits; this is where a whole lot of people sit with him. The idea of an adventure game or visual novel ever winning Game of the Year is baffling; even in 1990, Secret of Monkey Island can't compete with Super Mario Bros. 3, and there's never been a point where they've stood out as the best title of a given year.
Granted, a downloadable still has a shot with some of these people. You can jump and play online in Journey; Fez's gameplay is the primary mechanic; FTL is pretty much all-game, all-the-time. But The Walking Dead doesn't really deserve that kind of support, and they're confused as to why it's really even part of the conversation.
The Walking Dead is full of quick-time events, mediocre puzzle-solving, and middling-to-bad action sequences. It can be a bit frustrating to play. And therefore, why should it win Game of the Year?
Well, as I've discussed above, I don't think the primary gameplay mechanic of The Walking Dead is the part where you mash the Q button; I think it's the part where you decide who Lee is going to be.
Unfortunately, I can't relate to this side because, in this case, I feel the opposite is true. I play table-top roleplaying games with no combat mechanics because I think there is a game to creating a character and telling a story, even if it follows a pretty established narrative.
But I realize that most of what I've written in that regard probably sounds like hogwash to someone who disagrees, and I empathize with that. I feel the same way about someone trying to explain to me why XCOM: Enemy Unknown's base building elements are successful and how the tutorial for those parts is even remotely acceptable, or someone trying to explain to me how good The Ocarina of Time is. I offer you the chance to reject my writing because it's reasonable to reject a game or an opinion. And if you reject the perception that The Walking Dead's gameplay is metacontextual, then yeah, the gameplay is kind of rubbish, and it's absolutely undeserving of an award.
I approach television with largely the same lens; in the time it takes me to watch one season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I could read House of Leaves all the way through. You want me to watch, like, ten seasons of a TV show to hear one story? Sorry, but I'm not sorry. I'm out.
Of course, there are exceptions. I'm watching Breaking Bad because I also find it entertaining. Twin Peaks is short and sweet, and Firefly is lucky it's only one season long.
But this approach is thrown around a lot with games, and it does tend to make me sad. I mean, I've spent 300 hours with the characters of Persona 4 over my own playthrough and watching other people play, and it's probably been the most intense relationship I've felt with a piece of fiction. Metal Gear Solid 3 grabs me in the same way. The stories of video games can definitely be better than books regarded as "the best books."
The question, however, lies in the time commitment. Again, the time it took me to play through The Walking Dead's season is equivalent to watching ten movies. Will The Walking Dead's five episodes ever compete with the experience of watching, say, Citizen Kane, Vertigo, Apocalypse Now, Alien, Star Wars, Blade Runner, Casablanca, and Seven Samurai?
Well, actually, no. But only because they're playing different sports.
"If we could tell a film, then why make a film?"
Longevity is the advantage of episodic media. The Walking Dead's significance may well be lost as a marathon, I'm not sure. The large advantage of The Walking Dead's episodic format were the months we'd spend waiting between episodes after each cliffhanger. It caused us to attach to the characters when we weren't even playing; take a look at the #ForClementine hashtag for evidence of that happening to several players.
This does happen over the course of a non-episodic game of considerable length, too. If somebody tells me Xenoblade Chronicles is their favorite game of the year, I'd say "I certainly hope so." Because if you put yourself through that roughly 120-hour game without ever emotionally attaching yourself to its characters, you have fucked up. Sequels can do this too; Mass Effect is the obvious example, although the ending is exceptionally controversial in that regard.
But in episodic media, the waits are built-in, expected, and breathless. I'll make a comparison to yet another previous blog; my blog about Slendervlogs. I talked a lot about what made Slenderman "scary" inherently, but I missed perhaps the most important element; we're always watching for him. You see, when you spend three years watching a series where he can show up at literally any moment (and, when they're good series, he doesn't,) it starts to creep on your mind. I've seen him over the last year in a hospital, a school, a forest (obviously), an airplane, people's homes, etc. He's basically been everywhere I could possibly be afraid of him, and he's been on my subconscious for the last year or so. That is what makes him scary; the fact that when each entry stops, he only goes away until I next see him.
And by "I next see him", I do mean "I." You see, those videos are first-person found-footage videos almost exclusively; that immerses the viewer in the experience, as we're all aware. It changes the subject to the viewer, and that increases the terror tenfold.
That is what makes The Walking Dead's format effective; by involving the player directly, it can keep us personally involved in the character of Lee, and his relationship with Clementine. But the longevity kept us always thinking about our responsibility to Clementine, waiting with baited breath for the next episode to be announced.
The Walking Dead would not have succeeded as anything other than an episodic game, and it cannot be helped that The Walking Dead is a stepping stone in the narrative of games.
Little_Socrates is also known as Alex Lovendahl, the host of the podcastNerf'd. Little_Socrates is also working on his Game of the Year awards, which will be posted on Giant Bomb in the coming weeks!
The Walking Dead series by Telltale Games, in case you’ve missed out on it, is easily one of the most impressive role-playing games of 2012. Mind you, it’s got none of the traditional RPG level-up or combat mechanics in place; it eschews them for quality conversational roleplaying in its place. The characters feel extremely relatable and human, and yet the game places you in incredibly difficult situation after incredibly difficult situation, leaving many people struggling to make choices under quite duress. It’s a type of roleplaying more related to the Lupin the Third tabletop game, or full-on conversational roleplaying games like FIASCO. The episodic delivery of the game also lends the experience a lot of its power; as opposed to getting tired of these characters and the style of the game by playing through the experience in three days, the delivery system has made the game a year’s worth of agonizing. The comic-book aesthetic, intelligent dialogue, and quality voice-acting help an already interesting game become a gaming-wide phenomenon, an early front-runner for Game of the Year in the eyes of many players.
At least, until you encounter your first progress-stopping bug. Maybe the game crashes on you three times, as it did with my fellow podcast host @Commisar123. (Speaking of which, we’ve started recording again and releasing on Thursdays! And out show is only an hour long per episode now, to accommodate the fact that none of you know who we are yet.) Maybe the framerate and loading problems on the PS3 version cause normal scenes to take entire minutes longer than they’re supposed to take, ruining the dramatic timing and sense of storytelling the game can bring to the table.
Or, if you’re extremely unlucky, you encounter a bug so unfightable that it makes you completely incapable of completing an episode.
There’s Lee. He’s on a train, and from what I’ve gathered, he is somewhere between a half hour and an hour from the end of Episode 3. As you can see, there’s a door that’s meant to be opened, and the cursor is just short of clicking on the door. Unfortunately, the cursor will NOT move to the door; it seems to hit an invisible forcefield at that point on the screen, short of allowing me to continue the game. I’ve tried altering my resolution, going into windowed and fullscreen mode, using a 360 controller, uninstalling the game and reinstalling it, rewinding my save, but none of it will solve my bug. Seriously, if there’s a chance it’s a driver-related issue (I know very little about computer support) inform me as I’d love to at least prevent the problem from happening again. I’d email TellTale tech support, but they don’t have an email address that I can find, instead relegating all tech support to a forum full of other complaints, including one identical to my own.
Sadly, the bug was not patched out with the release of Episode 4, and my copy of Episode 3 remains broken. I’ll never be able to finish the episode on this playthrough, forcing me either to start the entire game over and hope it works or play through on another console, buying the game again.
But the game will let you continue past a broken episode, and so, like any good TV viewer, I caught up on what I’d missed with the closest thing I have to Entertainment Weekly; Patrick’s “Faces of Death” retrospectives. And then I’ll move on to the next episode. Yes, I don’t get to choose whether Kenny or I performed a horrible deed shortly after my bug entered, but I’m moving forward all the same.
I was pretty damned sure the third episode of The Walking Dead was the best as of yet while I was playing it, and actually watching what I missed and reading Patrick’s wrap-up confirmed it. It’s emotionally heart-wrenching throughout, and I’m not ashamed that I got a bit misty watching the climactic scene. Long Road Ahead is a hard, hard episode, and the dialogue had been raised far beyond the standard for the medium. I’ll forever be sad I didn’t get to play through the episode in its entirety on this first playthrough.
But, of course, Around Every Corner has been released, and it’s time to move on.
And I expected it to be harder to move on. But the fourth episode of The Walking Dead is still so emotionally resonant and so much more mechanically engaging than any of the episodes before it that it’s easy to forget that frustration. It’s not flawless; an honest review of the episode would probably call out some of the humor at awkward moments. But this episode is maybe better than Long Road Home, the episode which made me truly fall in love with this series.
When I came up with this blog, I hadn’t played Around Every Corner yet. In fact, I’d written what will (probably) be the large majority of the blog before I booted up the episode. I expected to still feel burned about missing Episode 3. Maybe it’s just because I got lucky and the game “randomly generated” choices I agreed with for everything I missed, but I felt I was able to fill in the gaps and move on with one of my favorite gaming experiences this year.
I can’t turn around on this; buggy games are still a problem. The Walking Dead is pretty lucky it’s in this episodic format, or else I’d still be bitter and probably unable to finish the game. Then there’s the people out there who lost their saves in Fez. One of them is a good friend of mine, and he’ll be part of Nerf’d Game of the Year discussions; the game’s practically built for him, and he only lost a good half-hour or so of play time, but it’ll still weigh heavy on his mind. It’ll weigh heavy on mine, too.
But heavy weight defines Game of the Year. Whether it’s the inconsequentiality of a game like Saints Row: The Third, the mistakes The Witcher 2 makes in allowing you to define your own Geralt, the long, dreary section of Red Dead Redemption that is Mexico, or the fact that Mass Effect 2 has characterization problems and trades primarily on promises, Game of the Year asks us to really put everything in perspective and evaluate what we’re doing best and what we need to do better as we move forward. So long as the people debating Game of the Year work to improve the industry in whatever way they can, large or small, it can actually matter. Yes, there’s the perfectly appropriate act of just writing up your own top ten list for giggles and then not talking or evaluating games for the rest of the calendar year, but that’s a lot more masturbatory than what I’m trying to talk about.
The whole Game of the Year conversation forces us to come together and decide what matters most to us at any given time. Last year, I’d probably say it’s safe to assume most gamers put bugs and narrative on the wayside to get a highly expansive experience in Skyrim; I opted for narrative in Ghost Trick and style in Saints Row: The Third. The year before, it’s a bit tougher, but narrative and polish are both pretty notable for Mass Effect 2 and Red Dead Redemption, while the more mechanically-oriented people tended to opt for Civilization V or StarCraft II. Again, I opted for a slightly different alternative in Deadly Premonition and Super Meat Boy.
And so long as these conversations remain two-sided, they still matter. Hell, even some reviews and lists nobody ever reads can matter; Matthew Floratis (aka @litrock) is writing high-quality essays and reviews over on Screened that, well, almost nobody is reading, but he’s getting to be a better writer and viewer as the year goes on. If he continues to watch movies and comment on them rather than just give up because the audience is so small, it’ll be a worthy cause.
But conversation shapes us. You never know which forum user who reads your review is going to turn out to be the next popular designer or important programmer of the month. And, perhaps more pertinent to each and every one of us, we shape the tastes of the people around us, causing our friends to find things more similar to the things we introduce to them.
This blog was ready to go, waiting simply to be edited and submitted, before a conversation happened that changed everything again.
The Walking Dead deleted my brother’s save when he booted up Episode 4.
And so the conversation about bugs attacking the experience of The Walking Dead continues, even after I’ve moved past my primary frustration. I’ll have a lot more to say on that experience this week on Nerf’d, as we’ll primarily be discussing TWD, Dishonored, and XCOM. But we can continue the conversation beyond the show, right here and right now.
I’m in the midst of preparing my Rush “Fly By Night” review for my music blog. It’s in pure stream-of-consciousness notes mode. That’s not a process I normally uphold, but within the first moments of Fly By Night, I knew that kind of attention would be required. So, I have two pages of notes on the album. They total to about 1200 words, which I’d probably reduce to 600-800 and then expand to 800-1000. I know what score I’d give the album, and I’m already pretty happy with my write-up process thus far.
However, I’m feeling very ambivalent about the process of reviews. And, in some small way, it’s because of Tony Scott.
You see, Twitter is a glorious place; your favorite directors, actors, games journalists, game developers, and like-minded fans all congregate to share themselves and anything they think is awesome. The idea that people throughout the media should congratulate each other more comes to life in 140-character bites.
And, through that process, I was somehow exposed to the writing of FilmCriticHulk. For those unfamiliar, think of him like a more compassionate Zodiac_MF. All-caps, little regard for grammar, but very insightful writing. And, through an article he wrote in response to Tony Scott’s suicide, I was exposed to his conversation with Quentin Tarantino and the “Never Hate A Movie” mantra.
Now, the “Never Hate A Movie” mantra is already something I abide by at some level. The worst movies, in my opinion, are those that are just competently made but are extremely, extremely boring. But films like Birdemic: Shock and Terror, songs like “Friday,” “Imma Be”, and “Phone Home,” games like AMY or Dead Rising 2, these are such interesting products that I struggle not to be captivated in their embrace. But, in the effort of pursuing things with worth, I tend to abandon them, struggling to spend more time with the better films and games.
However, the “Never Hate A Movie” article exposed me to the following quote:
“IT'S THE SAME THING HERE. REMOVING THE HATE CREATES A NEW AND BETTER CLIMATE. IT'S SHOWS US THAT BEING SO FOCUSED ON DESIGNATING MOVIES AS AWESOME OR SUX, PREVENTS US FROM HAVING THE BEST POSSIBLE CONVERSATIONS.
FOR INSTANCE, IT'S NOT A QUESTION OF IF THE DARK KNIGHT IS THE AWESOMEST MOVIE EVER OR IF IT'S OVERRATED, BUT THE MILLIONS OF OTHER THINGS THAT MAKE THE FILM INTERESTING. LIKE ITS TREATMENT OF JOKER AS THE ULTIMATE ANARCHIST, THE LOGIC OF WHICH TAKEN TO IT'S FURTHEST POSSIBLE POINT. LIKE HOW IT'S SECRETLY A GREAT "GAME OF CAT + MOUSE" MOVIE THAT WORKS AS A CHASE START TO FINISH. LIKE HOW IT MIGHT BE GREAT LEARNING TOOL FOR RE-INTRODUCING THAT ATYPICAL STORYTELLING INTO BLOCKBUSTERS. LIKE IT'S THE UNCONVENTIONAL TREATMENT POLITICS, BOTH IN TERMS OF PERSPECTIVE AND SPECIFIC TOPICAL REFERENCES. THE DARK KNIGHT HAS A MILLION GREAT CONVERSATIONS WE'RE NOT HAVING BECAUSE WE'RE TOO BUSY TALKING ABOUT ITS WORTH!
AND IT CAN BE ANY CONVERSATION YOU WANT. YOU CAN GO HIGHBROW, LIKE HOW THE SUPPOSEDLY "THEATRICAL" FILMS OF MIKE LEIGH MIGHT BE SOME OF THE MOST VERSED IN CINEMATIC CONVENTIONS. OR YOU COULD GO LOWBROW: TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN MIGHT BE A VAPID TURDBOX FULL OF SOME OF THE MOST EGREGIOUS NONSENSE EVER THROWN ON CELLULOID, BUT SOMETIMES IT'S KIND OF FUN TO STARE INTO THE UNABASHED ID OF MICHAEL BAY AND SEE WHAT'S ACTUALLY IN THAT CRAZY BRAIN OF HIS. THE VALUE OF WORTH WILL ALWAYS END IN A STALEMATE, BUT THE VALUE OF THESE CONVERSATIONS ARE LIMITLESS.”
And, well, uh, I’ve been thinking about it a lot this morning.
I know I enjoy these kinds of conversations; conversations about why something works or why something doesn’t, or what it means, or how it works rather than simply whether it does or doesn’t. And I know I’m willing to put the work into making them as detailed as possible. While perusing the net for conversations about Slender Man because, well, I’m a pretty huge fan of Slendervlogs and the terrifying Slender game, I came across a Giant Bomb user asking why he was scary.
And, then, this tumbled out of my fingers.
I don't get it, what about an internet meme is scary?
What about any horror creature is scary? They're used properly to threaten characters you care about; in the case of a game, that's usually just you. Most people aren't watching these and then being scared to sleep at night, they're just enjoying them and rooting for their favorite characters to succeed (which they rarely do.) They've also done a good job with pacing so far in MH and EMH; each individual entry does a decent job building up tension, while EMH has the body count to match it.
Basically, Slender's only been propagated by found-footage horror series, the same as Blair Witch Project (which I really ought to see) and Paranormal Activity. The Slender game pretty accurately presents the creature's high speed and stalking tendencies as featured in the different series, and it builds the music so that you know something "bad" is going to happen. Slender isn't an amazing game, but its one-and-done experience was enough to scare me in the daytime. And there's plenty of Slender materials that don't work very well at all, and so they haven't caught on.
...you want more?
I've been thinking a lot about the more popular Slender stuff lately, mostly because I think he's the first monster that's even remotely scared me since I saw Alien, and the different series have scared me on multiple occasions. As a result, I've been working on a Slender tabletop game for some of my friends to play, a sort of low-systems horror RPG to get people used to roleplaying. While working on it, there's a number of things that I've distilled that I think work about Slender as a monster. Obviously, he's a stalker and we haven't liked those since Michael Myers stole the screen in 78; there's more to him than that. For one, he always exists beyond the accepted or known; he's no "town boogeyman," he's a myth come to life. This is separate from The Wolfman, or Shelley's Frankenstein, in that he's a reflection of our ignorance rather than a constant paranoia. By the same token, Slenderman is anonymous, and as a result it is of course fitting that he springs from the internet, a den of anonymity. The suit he's continually pictured in causes distrust due to our distrust of corporatism, but this also creates a smart juxtaposition between his appearance and the trees he's regularly surrounded by, making him seem more alien. His traditional motive, to "take the children," has been altered many times now; MH seems to have him as a soul-devourer, EMH seems to pose him as something more complicated.
As for his actual powers, they're regularly shifting from series to series, perhaps expanding on the mysteriousness of the character. Different series seem to agree on his lightning speed or his ability to teleport, but the functionality of it remains unknown; all that matters is that he can probably be anywhere at anytime, including just about any room of your house. The "tentacles" are a primal fear, and they add to his unnatural appearance along with serving as potential weapons. There's a reason they're often not included, though, and it's because they simply make him more extraterrestrial than they make him mysterious and truly "alien." That said, these previous two powers (also the main ones) express an existence "beyond"; think less Pennywise the Dancing Clown and more IT, less Mind Flayers and more Elder Gods. Of course, this juxtaposes strangely with his suit, which is decidedly modern; it's entirely possible that he is some sort of new cosmic being, and EMH has delved into this concept the farthest.
The big three also have two other combining traits that add to his effectiveness; the fact that he causes physical sickness (usually expressed by intense coughing fits, though all three series have moved beyond that to include other more serious symptoms) and the fact that he brings along with him something more dangerous (insanity, human stalkers, and, in the case of EMH, other monsters.) Our society is currently terrified of death and, by association, illness; most of us don't keep ourselves in very good shape, and the lasting legacy of Slender's primary audience has been typing too much on our computers. Meanwhile, each series has a "masked man equivalent," an anonymous and cryptic human of questionable allegiance who absolutely nobody should trust. These are presumed to be previous Slender victims and/or part of his cadre of Big Bads, meaning either Slender will mindslave you or he'll bring along somebody who'll probably just kill you.
As for the series themselves, the feedback loop and constant immersion system of YouTube series has a lot going for it. Episodes are rarely announced until the day before they're released (if not just hours before release,) meaning it requires pretty regular check-ins to stay up to date on your own. They operate more like weekly serial adventures than most horror series have been able to accomplish. Obviously, film, literature, and games would take more time to pump out. Television has the problem of filling a same-sized block every week, not to mention commercial breaks. A web series is quite a bit more free-form, there's no set distribution system, and the found-footage genre requires less editing than most television series would. Found-footage has also served as another effective system, as it can explain bad acting and short scenes as amateur filmmaking and boring people. Meanwhile, visual and audio distortion, regulars whenever Slender is near/on-screen, are just plain creepy; we expect our tech to work, and when it doesn't, we currently get some really messed-up results. Even Paranormal Activity's getting in on the action, taking on some screen tearing reminiscent of MH in its newest trailer.
...that's all I've got for now.
Hopefully, that helps explain it a little bit; I'm actually just happy to have written it down somewhere.
Now, that didn’t take me a twenty minute writing session; that post took me an hour to write, including a mild bit of research to decide on an episode of Marble Hornets, and not including an hour and a half or so of sporadic notetaking where most of those ideas came from in the first place.
I loved writing it.
But that takes a lot of work, and I’m not certain anyone would really enjoy reading it. I’m willing to do that with music, with movies, with games, but only if people legitimately seem interested in reading it. It’d be a great opportunity to write about a handful of my absolute favorites (and least favorites; I would love to take a field day with Lil’ Wayne’s “Phone Home”.) I’ve been aching over a write-up on The Beach Boys lost recordings recovered for The Smile Sessions, as I think that’s probably the most fascinating piece of music since Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
So, I guess, that’s why I ask you. Would you be interested in reading more in-depth analyses, or are reviews working for you? I’ll probably incorporate some of these ideas into my future reviews if I continue to write them, and I probably wouldn’t stop writing reviews completely if I made the switch, but there’d be a lot more emphasis on this kind of writing if I was seriously going to make a change. And, occasionally, more in-depth writing is more appropriate than a review; in the case of Slender or The Smile Sessions, those are the only approaches I could imagine taking.
Please post in the contacts or message me if you have any thoughts on the matter; I’ve posted a near-identical version of this blog on my two other blogs, and if I don’t get heavy responses from any of those locations, I’ll probably post a survey on Facebook, and lord knows that’s far, far less interesting than the information I’ll get from all of you.
So I never posted my Top 10 list to Giant Bomb. I apologize for that. Let's remedy that now. If you want to hear more Game of the Year Deliberations in the style of Giant Bomb, we recorded ours just as Giant Bomb uploaded their final day, and you can listen to that here.
I'm sitting here next to Skyward Sword...again. So today I'm gonna drop some thoughts on Epic Mickey! This won't be a full review, as I'd only want to write a review having seen more than two hours of the game. That said, I don't think I'll ever see more than two hours of Epic Mickey, so that's okay by me!
So...Epic Mickey. 2010's major release disappointment; the gaming world lauded praise and press upon the game before its release, only to trash the game when it was all said and done. Its camera didn't work right; it was repetitive; it didn't go far enough. My question is, why did nobody see this coming?
Literally every preview of this game after the Game Informer cover (including the Game Informer cover story itself) looked supremely underwhelming. I feel that they were extremely open about the level of creation using the ink and thinner; namely, that it wouldn't be very high. The camera looked terribly uncontrollable in every preview of the game, and camera controls are almost inherently poor on the Wii. And I'd seen nothing in the art design that looked even remotely promising.
And yet, some people still lauded praise on the game after release. Adam Sessler notably loved the game, managing to argue it into the top 5 nominees for best game of 2010 on his show X-Play. So, when I saw the game at a friend's house, I asked how she liked it. She said it was pretty fun, but that she wasn't playing it. She offered to let me borrow it, and I (of course) accepted. An opportunity to play one of the most controversial titles of the year? Sign me up!
But, unfortunately, my decision was poor. Epic Mickey is a disappointing title. It's pretty amazing, really, how bad the game turned out to be! Epic Mickey somehow manages to be less than the sum of its parts; I would mostly blame this on incredibly boring level design. The 3D platforming sequences are simplistically easy, and the 2D platforming levels are literally without challenge. The way the thinner pits work in the 3D sequences is misguided; it's clear they're thinking it'll allow you to bounce back to dry land, but instead the dry land is so far away that it just forces you to die. There's simply nothing really to enjoy in Epic Mickey, and its technical problems hold it back even farther.
It's worth noting that the music has loads of technical issues, restarting its loop midway through combat encounters and midway through the loop! You'll hear the same ten seconds of a sixty-second song over and over again. It's supremely disappointing because the music itself is totally fine, but the game itself forces that music to be looked upon poorly.
Meanwhile, a poor decision that allowed the game to feel more repetitive than it probably ought to is naming each area of a level. For example, in the "It's A Small World" take-off area, the Asian and European areas are named as separate areas; however, they are aesthetically identical apart from one structural landmark and inklings dressed in the continent of choice's most racist wardrobe. By simply calling the whole area the "It's A Small World" level, room by room, the game would feel more like one cohesive area, perhaps similar to a Zelda dungeon.
Again, the small decisions like these would bother me less if the game had any pluses, but it really doesn't. The aesthetic mostly feels like an amateurish attempt at the style of Tim Burton or American McGee's "dark wonderlands", the creation mechanics are extremely limited, and there's almost zero story to speak of. Having now looked up the story online, the story itself is pretty much the premise of the game, which is seriously disappointing for those looking for a narrative.
Still, maybe it's worth talking about Epic Mickey. Not as a game itself, mind you; any conversation about the game Epic Mickey should really be had about American McGee's Alice (either the classic for innovation or the new one for the actual game.) Rather, Epic Mickey is worth talking about for its creation process. Warren Spector, creator of the classic Deus Ex, gave many years to this game. Instead, it turned out to be a farce. I was never fooled by Epic Mickey, but somehow, lots of people were. We should remember that our favorite creators can become misguided and create something that otherwise would have gone without notice.
So, I embark on a new year! I resolved this New Year's to write about a game, a movie, and an album per week. Of course, you know how to follow me here on Giant Bomb, but you can also follow my movie posts on Screened or my music posts on my blog. Meanwhile, Nerf'd is preparing for its next season which will begin sometime next week, and you can connect with us on Facebook here..
I was sitting here, talking on Giant Bomb. Of course, it's Game of the Year time here on the internet, and everybody's talking nonstop about what games they think deserve to be nominated and for which categories. In a thread about ilomilo, I posted that I didn't think that game was going to be something I seriously considered. A lot of people have been praising the music, as it's quite cheery and unique, but I didn't think it compared to many of the best songs I heard in games this year. I posted examples.
Then the boy heard somethin' he hadn't heard in a long time. Now how'd that go again?..
...yeah, that's it.
Suddenly, a wave of emotion carried over me. I NEEDED to write about this song. So indulge me, if you will, as I ramble about what is probably already one of the most discussed moments of the year. I will be talking about some specific story beats of Bastion, though, so perhaps stop reading if you haven't yet played Bastion. You really should play Bastion as fresh as you can.
Bastion is a weary game. Similar to Infinity Blade, it is about cyclicality. Through its final moments and the New Game Plus, the game establishes that a trust in mankind to not repeat its mistakes is folly. There's an implicit statement that mankind's nature is to war; the Caelondians and the Urans are incapable of resolving their differences without the Calamity, and The Kid is the only one who can resolve them even then.
Build That Wall, of course, is a representation of that conflict, a thinly veiled threat at Caelondia from Ura. Caelondia continues to wall off the City, and Ura keeps "digging their holes." The Urans are somewhat dwarf-like in that they live underground and are technologically advanced; however, there's an emphasis on East Asian visuals and culture in their presentation. Ultimately, I'm not sure that cultural distinction pays off; Caelondia is certainly more European/American, but there's no evidence that either is encroaching on each other's cultures. And, of course, the designer of the Calamity is Zia's Uran father, which carries few analogues within either the cultural or military/political relationship between the West and the East. What the distinction does is establishes the Urans as perhaps more traditional culturally, while our two examples of Caelondians are heavy drinkers with a taste for western heroes (as evidenced by the game's musical score and their use of spirits as an upgrade, among other things.)
Perhaps, then, that's why Build That Wall is minimalistic; while the song is played on an acoustic guitar (associated with the Spanish traditionally and Americans nowadays,) it evokes many elements of slave spirituals, adding to its extracultural nature. There's a popular explanation as to the sweetness of Zia's vocals; she does not know the meaning of the lyrics because she was brought up in Caelondia, and only sings the song because her father sang it. However, The Kid is familiar with the song; I'd requote the bit Rucks says when you first hear it, but it's literally right above the video. Two explanations for that one; either The Kid is familiar with the song before the Calamity or has some limited memory of previous Bastion-based time-loops.
Of course, the game begins questioning whether we're at the beginning of the story or not. There's nothing presented to tell us this isn't where the story probably started, except for that this might not be The Kid's first trip through the world post-Calamity. This...is cool, but ultimately is similar to the Inception-ending mental wankery a lot of folks got really, REALLY into. So let's just assume maybe The Kid knows the song because he's simply familiar with it, but it's been a long time since he's heard it. If Build That Wall is at least known amongst people in the City, its meaning is probably known by at least a few. If Zia does know the meaning of the song, maybe it enforces what we already know from having played the game; she wants to know more about the Ura, and willingly goes with them when the Bastion is attacked.
Ultimately, Build That Wall is Bastion's most human element. It is the element that really gives us insight into the Ura and makes them sympathetic. Without their very human resentment towards the Caelondians, they would be the "faceless victims." This allows us to consider saving Zulf when the chance comes; that allows us to see the Urans accepting The Kid if he does. There's probably a lot more to be said about the song, but right now I'm writing far too much about Persona 4 for class to motivate myself to do so. Hopefully this reminded you of just how awesome Bastion really is. I know I'd kind of forgotten.
I am emailing to inform you that I am extremely disappointed with the announced plans in Japan for UMD-to-Vita conversion. The games I have purchased for my PlayStation Portable are Rock Band Unplugged, Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core, and Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops. Currently, none of those titles are part of the PSP to Vita UMD Passport list, and the entire catalogs of Square Enix and Konami are absent. This feature is a meaningful part of purchasing a PlayStation Vita to me, and these games being absent will affect my purchasing decision.
Furthermore, even if these products are added, the lack of a proper transfer pricing structure in the Japanese version of this process is almost outrageous. As a consumer, I perceive the difference between prices simply to be in relation to demand for the game. I originally perceived the UMD-to-Vita conversions to be a form of customer service and appreciation, not a new pricing structure lumped onto a luxury device. Each game should carry a flat rate that covers bandwidth costs and even some profit, but I believe these discrepancies are unfair. Even if the titles I desire are added to the list, a higher price point will prove prohibitive, as I would rather buy new titles than pay a high convenience price.
The PlayStation Vita is certainly a product that interests me; between Persona 4 The Golden, Uncharted: Golden Abyss, and Lord of Arcana, there are a fair number of titles I would purchase given ownership of the Vita. However, none of these are games that make me want to own the handheld specifically to play them. A proper application of this UMD-to-Vita service by SCEA would certainly ease my concerns about the product. Hopefully, others send in similar emails or are satisfied with the device.
Today, I completed the Persona 4 Endurance Run. I beat Persona 4 in the last couple of weeks, and my roommate beat Persona 4 a week before that.
Normally, that would mean you were DONE with a game. But with Persona 4, I am STILL experiencing the game through the anime. When that's finished, if it's not out already, I'll probably be heavily anticipating the release of Persona 4: The Ultimate in Mayonaka Arena, a sequel to a game that ends so completely it almost should never have a sequel. I don't mean to imply it's "their fault" I'm experiencing this eternal Persona 4 conclusion. After all, I'm the one who's finishing the game almost three years after its release.
I don't think I've ever had an experience quite like this before. The second and third times I reached the ending, I got pretty choked up, but, again, there's always MORE Persona 4, so no open tears. How many media do you get where you've reached the conclusion and the experience just won't end?
I could be done with Persona 4, of course. I could stop watching the anime and ignore Mayonaka Arena. But that world, those characters, and that story are all so compelling that I feel like I never want to leave them, despite never really wanting to play the game again. Sure, there's a lot left to see; I've never seen the conclusion of the stepmother, Hisano, or band girl social links, and there's a number of Personas I haven't gotten my hands on yet. But to simply experience those sequences the same way again doesn't appeal to me; I'd need a new voice to enjoy the game with, or some dramatic new experience to occur before I could play the game again.
And yet, I still don't want this Persona 4 run to be over. As a result, my roommate and a couple Persona-loving friends are even developing a Persona tabletop RPG (I'll probably upload some updates to that shortly as well.) I'm playing Persona 3: FES now, but I'm having trouble empathizing with the characters as well as I did those of Persona 4, and the story is taking a LOT longer to get moving. The most compelling thing about the game so far is the fact that I know its ending, and the brilliant foreshadowing they've done leading up to said ending.
Has anyone else had a similar experience with another piece of media? I feel like I could write a damned BOOK on Persona 4, analyzing and editorializing on each specific element. To be honest, before I wrote this, I started by attempting a piece on "I'll Face Myself", one of the more recognizable and specific pieces of music in Persona 4. But, distracted by schoolwork, I found it easier to just work on a description of my experience with this game's ending, and my personal lack thereof.
Want more discussion on Persona 4? Listen to my podcast Nerf'd! We talk about it all the time, and will probably be talking about it more and more as wel spend more time with the anime and our in-development tabletop RPG.
P.S. I will get back to that piece sooner or later, though, as I actually do think it's a brilliantly used piece of music.
Hey guys, I was feeling really demotivated until a couple hours ago, and had to write something else before this blog, but IT’S OUT NOW!
*ahem*. Let’s get started.
PERSONA 4, WHY DID YOU STEAL MY LIFE AWAY FROM ME?
So last week I told you I was going to play Terraria and LA Noire. I also said I’d probably be reviewing an IOS game.
Well, that didn’t happen because Persona 4 stole probably about 40 hours from me between now and Friday. I had been at the second dungeon until pretty recently, and now I find myself deep into the fourth. Needless to say, I really like Persona 4.
I’m running into a mild personal issue, though. Until very recently, I’ve felt like I’m just always a step ahead of the Investigation Team, and I wish my character had as strong a memory as Chie. Hell, it takes her forever to remember things too, in the end. Also, guys, I might not pick Chie; Rise’s warmed up on me really fast, as much as the ER team hates her.
LA NOIRE RUINED FALLOUT FOREVER
After having spent a ton of time with LA Noire over the last couple weeks (currently on the first case of Disc 3,) I watched the Honest Hearts QL and IMMEDIATELY FREAKED OUT. It’s really sad, because I really love Fallout 3, but I now really see the creepy deadened doll-face thing people have criticized Fallout for doing since its release. It’s absolutely scary-looking, and I don’t know if I’ll ever enjoy those older games again.
That said, LA Noire’s not perfect either; in particular, some of the more Prince-of-Persia-y elements of that last Homicide case are completely out of place and severely damage the tone of that entire desk. But damn, did it make Fallout scary looking.
DUNGEON RAID IS GROWING ON ME
I stand by everything I said in my initial review of Dungeon Raid, but the game’s been taking a lot of my time. I’ve also been working on Angry Birds so I can feel more comfortable doing a review of it, but it’s hard not to pretty continuously play Dungeon Raid. Especially now that one of my friends is playing pretty heavily too.
NERF’D FIGHT NIGHT: ROUND 1
Jake and I are setting up a local fighting games tournament. I’ll totally let you guys know how it goes, but it mostly focuses on recent releases such as Marvel vs. Capcom 3 and Mortal Kombat. We’ll probably do a post-tournament breakdown show as a result, assuming it doesn’t conflict too heavily with our E3 plans (aka sit at home and watch press conferences, then discuss.)
That’s all for this week. Again, next week is deep in E3 stuff, so expect reactions to that.