One Small Step For Mankind

I want more games that give me a sense of grand scale and freedom. I'm not necessarily talking about size or amount of activities, I'm talking about games that focus on my own experience. Games that feed off the sense of discovery and adventure, ones where your story is different from another player's. Progression that isn't just tied to linear upgrade trees, cutscenes, or icons on the map, but rather by my own discovery. Basically, I know that games can't offer me complete freedom, but I want games that give me the illusion of freedom, of being a tiny spec in a big world without succumbing to traditional power fantasy tropes. I want to have a sense that I can't accomplish everything and that there are things in this world I can't understand.

Well, there's something to be said for baby steps.

I could be describing the hype for No Man's Sky in my first paragraph, the game that people thought would give in to that desire. Instead, what they got is a repetitive crafting game with light survival elements that just happens to have the scale required to make part of that desire become a reality, but lacks a sense of discovery as exploration of these planets becomes a repetitive game of mining, scanning, and chasing icons.

So while NMS may not totally be what the hype was hoping for, it does show a sign of progress nonetheless.

It showcased the fact that games of this scale can be done with a bit of technical wizardry. While I typically roll my eyes when someone says a game has its heart in the right place, this game does have potential, it just needs to have a bit more confidence in the player. When I land on a planet, my brain shouldn't just be chasing icons on my map or HUD, but rather how to best approach chasing those icons given the environment of the planet.

If the planet is freezing cold, I should have to worry more about keeping myself warm enough if I wanted to get to a place to refuel my ship or get to that rare element I need for crafting my next upgrade. NMS has extreme environments on its planets, but the act of keeping me filled up with warmth is more of a nuisance than an actual threat to my survival. I should have to take into consideration the environment of the planet and prepare myself if I wanted to spend any amount of time there. As it stands, I can be on a planet for many many hours with little repercussion. This may be controversial, but it does give in to the sense of adventure that I was talking about previously.

As for the adventuring part of NMS, there is a sense of mystery as we meet with alien factions and learn their language. There's also an overarching goal of reaching the center of the universe should we so desire. I feel this game doesn't get enough credit for these elements. While chasing ?s on my HUD, I ran into a riddle I had to solve which led me to a Monolith which told me a story and gave me three ways to deal with the situation. I failed in answering correctly as a lost a bit of health and reputation without the ability to answer it again. I missed that opportunity.

Being able to miss things is what a lot of games consider a sin. Making discovery and exploration more than just about being powerful by having it be a learning experience is part of why games have a lot of potential. It's a shame then that NMS doesn't completely capitalize on this as things and events repeat quickly and the joys of exploration are somewhat muted by having the player's mind operating like a checklist every time they land on a planet as the dynamism is limiting. Scale does need that dynamism if the player wants to spend a good amount of time playing the game without feeling like they're going through the motions.

So there are three things I would like to see NMS attempt to fix/address: First, the ways we can interact with this giant universe should be increased. Second, it should feel more limiting what we can't or cannot do without resources. Third, Discovery should be more tempting than in is currently with more things out there to discover and possibly more danger to uncover. None of these three things ore mutually exclusive, they should benefit one another. I.E. Discovery gives us more ways to interact which gives us access to more resources, etc. Basically, make the game a bit more dense. It would be hard, yes, but I think I can be done.

I find myself rooting for NMS despite everything and will continue to play it. I want more games to attempt what this game has done with a better emphasis on the micro level along with the macro level. I think it's a hard game to review, so I'll just say that you should try it for yourself at least as a rental or a sale purchase. You may find yourself wanting more than what the game offers, but it at least shows a sense of progress in what games can achieve even as it fails to meet those loft expectations.


My evening with Dark Souls.

After playing Resident Evil 6 to completion the night before, uninstalling it from my PS3, and trying hard not to reminisce on my experience with it, I was very depressed. Not because Resident Evil 6 is a bad game (well it is, but that's not why I was depressed) it was because I feel dependent on others more than I should. I'm not going to tell a very depressing story here, but needless to say I felt worthless. I have high functioning autism as well as having other mental illnesses. All my life I've been called vulnerable, weak, gentle, you name it. It takes me more effort than the average Joe to do many tasks that many people take for granted and do naturally. It takes me a lot of effort to get my thoughts into writing, let alone making it flow together. But I'm going to try and piece this tale together anyway because I feel it's worth telling.

I've had Dark Souls on my "to play someday" list for many months now. I bought the game a month or two after launch and never touched it. I played Demon's Souls when that first came out and remembered enjoying it a lot, but never could get past that Tower Knight boss so I tossed it aside and ended up trading it in. After finishing Resident Evil 6's 4 campaigns, I felt like I needed a break from the whole "popcorn movie" type game and play a game that was supposedly methodical instead of balls to the wall action packed. Simply put, I wanted a game that I could suck myself in, boost my self esteem, and make me feel like a badass while making me feel like I accomplished something. I thought Dark Souls would fill the niche quite easily....And I wasn't disappointed.

I've spent 10 hours on the game according to the save file and I feel like I've completed less than 1% of what the game had to offer me. I started out with the tutorial (of course) that explained the basics of the controls as well as have a taste of the game's on the edge of your seat combat with the Asylum Demon. And indeed, the game is very much a game where every action you take has to be done with care because one hit from a boss can easily take more than half of your life away and have you knocked back. I died a couple of times fighting the tutorial boss, but it wasn't so hard to fight my way back to him, so my frustration levels were kept to a minimum.

It wasn't until later, when I started to get out in the open world, that the game raised my blood pressure. The game gave me no sense of direction and there were multiple passages to which I could take. My objective was to ring two bells, that was all I knew. I didn't really know where to find the bells or how I should go about doing it. In fact pretty much all of the game's systems, with the exception of the controls, are hidden from the player and not explained. Usually a game will walk you through its systems one at a time with long bubbles of text to read through, but not this game. And I'll admit, I initially thought that was kinda too harsh. But it grew on me because most of what I learned in life, I learned by discovery, not by being told what they were. Pretty much every skill I have, I learned by practice. The game taught me how to play it, but it didn't teach me how to uncover it, if that makes any sense.

I ventured off into The Catacombs first, and was swarmed by skeletons that wouldn't die. I found a bonfire, but it was guarded by a man who can take 3/4 away of my health with his fireballs; combine that with the hordes of skeletons, and it wasn't a pretty sight. After awhile I stopped doing that and tried going on another path that was much easier for me to handle.

Everything was all fine and dandy for me until I reached the third floor of a tower and went through the white fog. There I met the Taurus Demon. We didn't get along well...

Where to begin with this guy? First off the battle is fought on a very narrow bridge that can barely support the damn monstrosity. The only way to dodge his attacks is to somehow to roll in between his legs. And there are arrows coming out of nowhere hitting me.

This was my attitude with the game for almost three hours. Not only was the boss virtually impossible, but getting to him was starting to lose its charm. Every time I lost a bit of health from the undead knights on my way to the Taurus Demon, I uttered "FUCK YOU!" and "GODDAMN IT"...Maybe utter is underestimating it a bit...Normally I don't get this angry at a video game, but in a game where I spent hours trying to beat this guy, I lost it a bit. That feeling of dependency suddenly took over me and I felt more than a little depressed and frustrated.

Then something amazing happened; you see those arrows that came out of nowhere actually were from snipers on top of the tower. After giving myself a mental facepalm, I took them out before going to face the demon, but I still proceeded to die from it. One time before facing the snipers, however, I decided to go after my souls first. This accidentally triggered the demon. I proceeded to quickly run to the tower and take out the snipers, the demon following behind. Luckily, the demon stayed at the edge of the tower while I slayed the snipers. I thought to myself, "huh, I guess I should try that plunge attack that I used for the Asylum Demon." I proceeded to do so and took a good chunk of his health off. I muttered "Gotcha bastard!" and did that same plunge attack 4 more times and killed him.

Suddenly all of the trials and hardships of my past were rewarded with joy. And most of all, it gave me a great sense of accomplishment and the notion that I can achieve anything with a little practice. Every battle up to that point was a practice of my patience and willingness to be careful and examine my options. Every battle felt tense and strategic, testing my might. Perseverance is an important tool, and this game reinforces that notion well. It's a testament to how video games /can/ teach people life skills. If I examine my options and learn from experience, surely that makes me independent. It may take more effort on my part, but giving in to my depression would've meant giving up, but I didn't. I saw the battle all the way through.

I'm currently further on in the game in the Undead Parish area with the blacksmith. And ever since the Taurus Demon, not a single curse was uttered. Hopefully I can keep it that way, and hopefully you all can see the importance of not giving up.