Do I quit BioWare with Anthem?

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I still remember when I got Knights of the Old Republic. This was well before I was deep into games coverage/releases, was a big Star Wars fan and I’d read a review, maybe on IGN that got me excited. I picked up a copy on a Friday night and played it till well into Saturday morning despite my girlfriend’s complaints. I loved Knights of the Old Republic and was completely blown away by the twist, the game was absolutely right place and right time for me.

I remember being excited for Jade Empire, knowing it was from the same studio, but I didn’t rush out to buy it. Actually, I’m pretty sure I ended up getting a used copy after I went to trade a bunch of games after a break up (with the girlfriend mentioned in the above KOTOR story) and got it and a new copy of Psychonauts. I didn’t finish it till years later after I became a “BioWare fan.”

That fandom of BioWare started with Mass Effect. I’d only gotten an Xbox 360 months prior to its release and it was the game I had my sights firmly set on. I picked it up and devoured it falling for the characters and the universe. I decided to go all in here, I picked up the novels and made it my mission to get as much of Mass Effect that was within my means (I was a student at the time, so this wasn’t a lot). I played through Mass Effect about five times working through all possible permutations of story that I could, it was my game, a game I felt understood exactly what I wanted from the medium.

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Of course, I was in at this point, I got the special edition of Dragon Age: Origins and adored that game despite elements I felt were a slight step back from the strides of Mass Effect (what do you mean my character doesn’t speak?) and Mass Effect 2 straight up blew my mind. I was in for BioWare at this point hard. I mean, get this, my girlfriend even gave me her old DS and my immediate reaction was to go out and buy a copy of Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood which I played and finished despite having had only the most passing interest in Sonic. Around this point was also where I finished Jade Empire.

It was Dragon Age 2 and Mass Effect 3 that gave me pause. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed those games, and wasn’t at all someone who raged about the ending of ME3 online, but there was something about both that didn’t quite click with me the way their predecessors had. Maybe I was starting to grow out of it? Actually, that’s probably a big part of it. I’d dropped off the outside fiction at some point after Mass Effect 2 because the books just really weren’t doing it for me. Then Dragon Age Inquisition just pushed me away with its decision to go to a gameplay format that I just wasn’t into with the open world landscapes over designed dungeons. I still finished it, it was just a struggle to maintain interest in the plot where the gameplay kept pushing me back. Of course, among other issues with the game, this design style was compounded in Mass Effect Andromeda, a game I had to fight myself to finish while working hard to give the remotest damn about the story.

That brings us to Anthem, a game I’m struggling to have even a shred of excitement for. I find the world and character design incredibly bland and anytime the story has been presented I find myself quickly tuning out. I’m just not buying what they’re selling here and unless there is a review that convinces me otherwise, Anthem will be the first (should note that I put some time onto The Old Republic) BioWare game I skip in 16 years.

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Which makes me question what I do want from BioWare and the answer to that is probably something they can’t actually deliver. Simply put, I want a throwback RPG of the kind that made me fall for their games. Give me four planets/dungeons/levels (to be completely reductive), a hub to speak to my party and bookends to all that. It was a formula that worked for me in a way that these big open world spaces with large amounts of busy work present in their last two games didn’t. I also felt that this game style really got in the way of me enjoying the story that was presented and story had been a huge part of why I came to their games in the first place. Which isn’t to say breaking the mould presented above hasn’t had its success, Mass Effect 2 is great, Dragon Age 2 does interesting things despite feeling rushed out the door. At this point though, I’m just going to be selfish and ask them to go back to something simple and work forward from there. But like I said, that’s not realistic.

I don’t even know how Anthem fits into all of this, it probably doesn’t which is fine, they shouldn’t be tied down to a formula or game style if that stops being interesting to them. Weirdly, despite my lack of interest, I actually hope Anthem is a success for them as it feels like a genuine underdog at the moment. It just crystalised for me this 16 year journey and connection I’ve had with the company is really coming to a hard end. Maybe I’ll be back for Dragon Age 4, but if their end goal is to make a bigger DA:I, I probably won’t bother.

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Game of the Year 2018

Previous Lists (and ones): 2010 (Mass Effect 2), 2011 (Skyrim), 2012 (Zero Escape: Virtues Last Reward), 2013 (The Last of Us), 2014 (Dark Souls 2), 2015 (Bloodborne), 2016 (Inside), 2017 (NieR: Automata)

Around September, this list was looking grim, a lot of my enjoyment was coming from games that were released in previous years or remasters, thankfully, a strong group of games hit at the end of the year which really reinvigorated me. One funny thing I’ve noticed is that a lot of my picks are informed by these old games and remasters that I played through the year and I’ll list them where applicable.

Disappointments:

Monster Hunter: World – I don’t know what it was but I just reached a point in this game where I dropped it and had no interest in going back. I actually think that it might have something to do with this one not being handheld. Maybe I just like playing these games and having something going on in the background?

Yoku’s Island Express – Great first half that just dies in the second half as backtracking becomes a complete slog and you gain a power that is far too hard to master.

Mario Tennis Aces – I wanted to love it, it just came off a little dull in the end with its single player modes not delivering.

Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom – I’m still working my way through this one but something seems off when I compare it to the remake released last year. I’m not rushing to go back to it.

Honourable Mentions:

Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon – I’m not a big fan of classic Castlevania but this hit a sweet spot at just the right time giving me something to play on a couple of long train journeys. So close to making my list.

Minit – Cute and clever game but I didn’t really get much more from it and found the ending abrupt.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider – It was flat, but I still really loved the exploration aspects that the previous games had and the tombs are again top notch.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate – This is the first Smash I’ve bought and it’s really hitting a sweet spot. Will be interesting to see how much of it I play from here, but for now this is great stuff.

Didn’t play (or play enough of) that I intend to:

Frostpunk – I gave this a bit of a shake but things go in the way and I was filled with anxiety at the idea of going back to it. I do want to give it another go though.

Unavowed – Played a couple of minutes and enjoyed what I played but never got to sit and put time in.

Return of the Obra Dinn – Picked this up based on the GOTY discussions around it, can’t wait to try it.

Dragon Quest XI: Echos of an Elusive Age – My January JRPG, 2017 I played Final Fantasy XV in January and this year I played Xenoblade Chronicles 2. I’ve been happy with this tradition so far.

Red Dead Redemption 2 – My need for tech got in the way, I got it but then made a decision to upgrade to an Xbox One X…then decided I needed a 4K TV which I just got. I’ll get there in the New Year.

Tetris Effect – This could have made it, unfortunately the two game stores I went to in the town I was visiting over Christmas didn’t have it. Pretty annoying really.

The List

10 – Forza Horizon 4

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I love driving games (it turns out) but I don’t buy them. There’s just something in my brain that tells me I won’t get enough out of it or, it’s just a driving game. So thanks Game Pass for delivering this one to me right when I needed something to chill out to. There is something smooth and satisfying about this entire experience that really hit me right and kept me playing for days on end. It also scratched the rally itch that I always knew was there but would (again) never drop the cash to get scratched. I haven’t played it much beyond the initial week or so, but it was enough for it to hit the top 10 for me. I also just upgraded to a One X and a 4K TV so this will be getting more play time.

9 – The Missing: JJ Macfield and the Island of Memories

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This one hit hard, to tell you why, I’ll have to go into spoilers. About 5 years ago, a friend came out as trans which wasn’t that big a deal to me, I’m a pretty accepting person. About a year or so later, she broke up with her girlfriend and was looking for a place to live, it just happened to coincide with a room opening up at my place and she moved in. It was a real eye opening experience living with her and understanding all of the problems she had to deal with seemingly on a daily basis. Playing this game and having a main character that reminded me (right down to look) of my friend became harder as I realised where it was going and what I was doing as the character. To say I was thankful for the hopeful ending would be an understatement, it was still hard hitting, but I don't know what I would have done had it gone differently. This game may not hit the same way for others, but I think it’s an important play and a really superb and mature work from Swery. Yeah, it doesn't play super smoothly, but the general weirdness and engaging story really pushed me through.

8 – Dead Cells

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This should be higher…why isn’t this higher? Oh right, I haven’t beaten the last boss. Funnily enough, I picked this up again to help get through the Giant Bomb game of the year Podcasts…not once did I get to the last boss though. I need time windows to play this game which was fine as I was traveling around Japan or used it to burn through some podcasts, but now the idea of investing more time into it fills me with anger because I know I won’t get that loadout I want.

Look, this game is great by the way, it’s smooth as hell, the combat is as close to perfect as you could ask, mistakes you make are largely your own. I've successfully gotten up to the final boss a couple of times but I mean seriously, fuck this game.

7 - Astro Bot Rescue Mission

Also: Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker and Super Lucky’s Tale

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When you talk late additions, it doesn’t get much later than this. I stared playing this on the 28th of December but if you look at those "also" games I’ve added above, it helps explain why I have no issue putting it here.

Captain Toad is one of my all-time favourite games, I loved peeking through every corner of that game to find all its secrets, I'd already done everything in that game on the Wii U, but I still got it again and did everything again on the Switch. After I got a game pass subscription, I was looking for something to play and thought I’d give Super Lucky’s Tale a try and for that price, I really enjoyed myself to the point where I ended up buying the DLC just to play more of it.

So it makes sense that I love Astro Bot, I love 3D platform exploration games I guess. Add in that the VR really takes the secret hunting part of these games to a new level and you have a game that just keeps getting better. I'll stop and stare around every corner trying to find all the secrets, I do that in other 3D platformers sure, but this time I'm actually leaning forward to look, it's fucking magical. Honestly, when I look back in a few years, this might be a little too low, but I’ve only finished a world and a half of it. I should note that this is the first game I’ve played in VR so my rose coloured VR goggles could be in full effect here but I can't help it, I love this game and this world.

6 – Ashen

Also: Dark Souls Remastered

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Dark Souls is my favourite game of all time, playing through remastered this year only solidified that fact. When I cleared Lordran of everything I could possibly do with only the Kiln of the First Flame to go, I felt overwhelming sadness as I knew it had to end.

No game has been able to nail what I love about Dark Souls, but Ashen gives it a pretty good shake. It’s a bit of a different beast beyond similar gameplay mechanics but overall, I think it works. It’s a beautiful and haunting world and you give me that, you’re a lot of the way there. The larger dungeons are pretty edge of seat stuff as well but the bosses weren’t really that great and given there are so few of them, are a bit of a letdown. All that said though, this is the first non From game that has come closest to capturing what I love about that original Dark Souls and that's about as high a bit of praise that I can give a game. I just finished it today and felt a real sense of accomplishment at overcoming the thing.

I should note, I did encounter a pretty rough bug where my AI companion refused to follow me in the game’s first big dungeon, it sucked and almost had me stop the game dead. I pushed on though and eventually got him to follow me somehow and I got through to the checkpoint but man was I ready to drop this one.

5 – God of War

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I’m not the biggest fan of the "Sony House Style" that has seemed to dominate their first party releases these past couple of years. Seeing people go gaga for games like Uncharted 4 has just left me scratching my head and early into God of War, I was just shrugging and thinking, "yeah, it’s just another one of those all right." Then I got to the World Serpent and shit got real. While the story was okay it was how the game looked and played with a really cool open world gameplay loop that hooked me. I’m also thinking back to those tense Valkyrie fights as some of the best pure gaming challenges I've had this year.

A lot of people have said this, but this is the first God of War game I’ve played but still that moment where you go back to get your weapons from the original games, chefs kiss, absolutely spectacular work. I do wish I engaged with the story a little more, gaming is getting there, but for a game that goes for it in a lot of other areas, we’re still treated to a pretty basic parenting issues plot that was about as subtle as Kratos killing one of those giants with a large slab of stone. I’m a big literature guy (snob alert) and this all felt like pretty basic stuff but seeing how it is really touching others, particularly fathers, it seems to be hitting the mark for most.

4 – Octopath Traveler

Also: Final Fantasy V

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I didn’t play Final Fantasy V this year, but Octopath Traveler reminded me so much of the systems at place in that game and how much I loved engaging with them, I ended up buying a boxed cart and the soundtrack when I was in Japan. So yeah, I liked this one a lot.

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The main complaint I hear about Octopath is the lack of a larger story, this was never an issue for me. Yeah, some of the questlines were a bit of a drag but the good ones more than made up for it and the combat systems were so damn good. I sat there for nearly 20 minutes in some cases working out and taking down some of the tougher bosses in the game and the sense of accomplishment beating them was great. Most importantly though, I just loved playing this game be it for 20 minutes or over an hour and the Switch is the perfect platform for this game.

I didn't think I wanted a throwback JRPG given I love the general melodrama that often gets presented in voice acting and overblown cut scenes, but here we are. Given the game’s success, it’s going to be cool to see if they continue with the series, if they do, there are a lot of options.

3 – Celeste

Also: Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze

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I love 2D platformers, Super Meat Boy and the modern Rayman games are among my favourites. Celeste and DKTF are damn good ones in the genre and having never played DKTF before, going through it was a treat. But man did I sharpen my platform skills on Celeste before moving to Donkey Kong.

What a treat Celeste is, precise and tight platforming that also plays like a puzzle game. It gives you great variation too with different “powers” for every level feeling similar to Braid in a way. Importantly though, the story is really touching and I was so drawn to the characters to the point that when you see that photo at the end, it’s really a nice way of saying goodbye. I should also mention that the soundtrack is one of the best game soundtracks I can recall from the last couple of years, whenever I hear a track, I'm immediately take back to the various worlds.

I was going to place this a lot higher on the list but as I started to think back on it, it just kept moving up because my memories of it are so damn strong, it’s earned its spot.

2 – Xenoblade Chronicles 2: Torna – The Golden Country

Also: Xenoblade Chronicles and Xenoblade Chronicles 2

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Now look, this is basically a vote for Xenoblade Chronicles 2 which I played in January this year and absolutely absorbed. So much so that I immediately went out and got a 3DS copy of Xenoblade Chronicles and that was my February. I love these games, I love their worlds and engage with the underlying messages at play, even with all the anime bullshit awkwardness that made playing in front of my girlfriend awkward at times.

On its own, does Torna deserve to be Number 2 on my list? Probably not, but that’s not how I’m working this list, this for me is an all-encompassing thing so this is where Torna falls. That said, it’s still a really good advancement of the formula that was set in the second game, the combat is has been refined and there is a real great reason to do the side quests in the community system. It's funny, towards the end I was wondering if they were going to go all the way with this and give us the ending I knew was coming, they went all the way though. If you’re a fan of the second game, you sort of know where this goes, but getting to that point and seeing it play out really hit me. Monolith Soft now have a fan in me and I can't wait to see what they do next.

1 – Yakuza 6: The Song of Life

Also: Yakuza 4 and Yakuza 5

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In 2015 I went to Japan for the first time and decided I wanted to play through Yakuza 4 finally (I’d finished all games in the series to that point) but I never got past the first chapter. This year, before again going to Japan, I set myself a goal of playing through 4 and 5, got through 4 and the first three and a half chapters of 5 before going. While I was struggling with 5, it started to really engage me as I got to the fourth part, there was just something about Shinada that hit me. Cut to being in Japan and feeling some genuine anxiety at not having finished the game before I left. I finished it the day I got back, the next day I was at PAX AUS and they had the After Hours Edition of 6 on special.

Playing through 6 was a pretty emotional experience, not just because I had become so attached to the world and the characters in it but also because it was a fresh reminder of this amazing country I’d visited less than a month earlier. Going into a convenience store in the game was enough to make me wish I was back on holiday.

As a game, it delivers what it needs to, the combat is solid, the side missions can drag but are fun and some of the side activities are damn cool. But it’s the story that I was here for, Yakuza stories have a tendency to get a little ridiculous and while this one was no exception, I was pretty surprised at how convoluted it didn’t get. At their heart, they're just ridiculous soap opera and while i was initially taken aback by them pushing some characters I'd grown to love in the background, the new characters all delivered. As the credits rolled and I got through the various endings, unlike some others, I was content with where it ended.

It’s not the best game of the year, but it sure as hell is my favourite, I loved every second I spent with it and hell, it's the main reason I knew my way around a large part of Shinjuku and also the main reason I had my girlfriend take the below photo. Looking forward to next year.

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My Complicated Love Affair with L.A. Noire

This entry was originally posted on my personal blog More Harman Than Good.  
 

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360 box art
 

Disclaimer: I understand that Rockstar weren’t responsible for the development of L.A. Noire. However, the game does fit strongly into their catalogue which is probably the reason they picked it up. So reading Rockstar below should take this into account.

I love L.A. Noire, when all is said and done, it will likely be one of if not my favourite game of the year. While it still has basic gameplay flaws inherent in similar Rockstar titles of the open world genre, it manages to overcome these issues with the introduction of some mechanics. The main reason that the game has me enamored though relates to the character interactions. Unlike other Rockstar games where you are just an observant in the cut scene, this game gives you limited choice as to how you interact with the game’s diverse cast. 

It is a minor thing, but it is with these interactions and the crime scene investigations that help to engage the player into the setting. From this the narrative becomes more than just the standard GTA style one mission to the next to generate the next cut scene. It really feels like a modern version of the classic adventure game with some open world action thrown in for good measure.

Unfortunately, my relationship with the game becomes complicated when it comes to the story. These open world style Rockstar games are often strongly referential of other works. This often worked for them in the Grand Theft Auto games as those games relied heavily on satire. In fact, it didn’t seem that great a surprise that the references so heavy in Vice City and San Andreas were put to the side in GTA IV to help with its more serious story. Of course, with this GTA IV also had the issue of imbalance with its tone maintaining the excellent satire while attempting to tell a highly personal story.

L.A. Noire is a serious game, but it is also highly referential. Perhaps it is just me because I am strongly familiar with the works of James Ellroy, but I have trouble seeing beyond that influence. Here you have a fantastic game engine and the ability to show real character but it is essentially used to produce what I see as a facsimile. As a result of this, the story isn’t doing anything overly original in narrative, character and the themes. This isn’t to say that video games shouldn’t be able to tackle this era necessarily, but with the subject/setting already well represented in both literature and film, mediums that can directly focus the viewer on the narrative, it puts the video game on the back foot. In my mind it also hurts that I am able to identify all character archetypes in the game because I am so familiar with this style of fiction. 

It creates conflict for me because while I do love this setting and enjoy playing the game, I’m just not getting anything new from the narrative experience of the game. A large part of why we engage in narrative is because we are able to take something from it be it character, themes or just the story. Gaming is interesting because we can walk away from a game without getting anything from such areas but still enjoy the act of playing the game. I should note that I am aware that the gamer who hasn’t experienced this type of fiction in other mediums before* this may be their first experience with this type of story or setting. If that is the case, I wonder if they will take the same one would take from a similar story in another medium. I certainly hope so.

I think it largely speaks to how we work as gamers in that we can love a game through just its design even when we recognise the ancestry of the narrative and setting. Most large games are derivative of other works in the genre.** With L.A.Noire though, it seems like they are striving for it to be something beyond the standard video game experience, particularly with its story. Again though, for me, it is a work that is a facsimile. Good, but not as good as the originals on which it was so heavily inspired. 

I love the game and I love playing it, the story however just isn’t giving me anything to think about, all it does is make me want to go back and re-read some Ellroy or watch L.A. Confidential again. I hope that with what one seems is a hit behind them, Team Bondi is able to go on and make an original game that not only provokes with its game design, but also with a complex narrative with its own themes and ideas. If though they just made L.A. Noire 2, hey, I’d probably play that too.

*May I make the bold assumption of suggesting this is the majority of people playing the game?

**To be fair, most summer films are too, same goes for popular fiction.

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Duke Forever? Maybe

This is a blog post earlier posted here on my personal blog More Harman Than Good.
 

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Disclaimer: I haven’t played Duke Nukem Forever, I haven’t pre-ordered it and have zero investment in it. I’m interested to check it out for the sake of curiosity but I’m not overly excited for it.

The latest issue of Game Informer (Australian edition) arrived the other day and there was an article in there by the local editor Chris Stead talking about Duke Nukem Forever and the ways in which it has divided the games press. This has been a topic I have been watching with a little interest because I’m not entirely sure I understand where a lot of the journalists are coming from in regards to some of their statements. The article then got me a little fired up with some of its suggestions regarding both how far the games industry has come since 1996 and also how far society has come.*

One of the big statements I hear about Duke is that somehow the jokes in Duke Nukem 3D were relevant in 1996 and that this relevance doesn’t translate to a more modern and mature society. Duke 3D was a self aware (if immature and misogynistic) parody of 1980’s action films and their heroes. It was released in 1996, 8 years after you could say that Die Hard sort of killed that brand of film. Basically, Duke Nukem 3D wasn’t exactly culturally current at the time, it was nostalgic parody. Do you know what Sylvester Stallone’s big film was in 1996? Daylight. The year after that he made Cop Land. Schwarzenegger? Eraser (hardly the type of film that Duke was taking on) and Jingle All The Way, a year later he made Batman and Robin. The brand of film that Duke was parodying just wasn’t really being made at that point in time.

So now that Duke is coming back, what has changed exactly? Well The Expendables made over $200 million dollars in worldwide box office and it was seen as a sort of return of the 80s style action film. Oh and Ian Spector has likely made a lot of money writing parody books about Chuck Norris, you know them, you might have even quoted them, if not, you can find them on Amazon or in a book store.

I will take the point that the games industry has evolved and the characters that are being developed for games are more rounded than Duke ever was but the industry still has a long way to go in that area. Big action still sells and sells big, just look at the Gears of War franchise. People buy games like Halo and Call of Duty and couldn’t care less about whatever story is being told in the sigle player, they just want to play online. I’d guess there is still a big audience out there who loves the immaturity that a Duke game would bring.

The key thing that has changed here is the games journalist, a lot of them grew up and a lot of the new ones are generally well read individuals who seem to have a good grasp on the ways in which games are evolving. This is a great thing because we are starting to see some well written articles that go beyond the standard reviews of games. I can see how Duke Nukem Forever would offend their mature sensibilities because they probably like to think that the industry and gamers are beyond that. The games journalist doesn’t reflect the games audience though. Society as a whole needs to be taken into account and I just don’t see the evidence that 80s nostalgia parody is outdated.

Duke Nukem Forever might be a bad game and if it is, the games press can take all the shots they want at it. This cultural relevance angle doesn’t really fly for me though other than the intelligent games journalist feeling ashamed of the game. That is fine, but they need to take into account that there is an audience there for this stuff. People’s nostalgia for 80s action is potentially even greater now than it was in 1996 (not to mention the games audience is bigger now) and if the gamers are there for that, they’re there. I think that society still likes that immature level of humour. I’d like to think I’m wrong and we’ll find out in May, but I’m not sure it will be the characters relevance that will keep the audience away.

*To be fair, Stead does examine some of these issues that I’ve explored here, I just took issue with his placement of Duke in a cultural historical sense.

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Immersion in the Old West, Under Sea and Outer Space

This entry originally appeared here on my personal blog More Harman Than Good.
 

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As I read over last year’s game of the year winners, two games seemed to dominate both lists, Mass Effect 2 and Red Dead Redemption. This was unsurprising for the most part, both are games that are quite good. The reasons they are good though go beyond any technical aptitude or even in some regards, consistent story. Reasons generally stated for both games being as good as they are come down to immersion.

A similar thing happened with Bioshock in 2007. While the game was far from the being the most technically apt shooter, it was good enough. What drew the players into the game though was the immersion into the city of Rapture. Almost second to the world was the story which was fairly standard fare for a first person shooter, there were though key sub-textual themes that I’m sure any gamer with an arts degree (guilty) found engaging.

The examination of themes in Red Dead Redemption (moving on, religion, racism etc.) isn’t quite as strong as Bioshock, but it is good to know that video game writers are layering these topics into their narrative. The story is also a little schizophrenic, particularly when the character journeys to Mexico. When it is strong, it is amazing, some of the characters you meet in the game are particularly compelling. However, when it is weak, I found myself pushing through to get to the better bits. Unfortunately, because this is a game, getting to those bits was filled with frustration in a lot of cases because the game has issues on a technical level. I went back to the game recently and had trouble changing weapons, something I always found problematic in the game. So how does this game that has these problems win game of the year awards? Because while there are technical and story problems they aren’t enough to overshadow the fact that Rockstar created a world so immersive, open and complex that the player can’t help but lose themselves in it. Ever wanted to be an old west gunslinger? Well here is your chance.

Mass Effect 2 does a similar thing, it puts you in the role of a space captain able to take your ship to different planets. The game has a vast science fiction environment for you to explore and new people to meet. Like Red Dead, Mass Effect 2 has story structure problems which comes down to both being such long games. Similarly, while the game is technically competent, it isn’t perfect and not the best example of a third person shooter. Both games though allow strong diversion from the main narrative, and it is perhaps it is these diversions that immerse the player into the role of the character. Having the freedom to do what you want as a player goes beyond just going on a critical path and shooting everyone you see. Players it seems like to become the character and giving them open world environments where not everything they do involves combat helps to draw them in

I’ll be writing a little bit more about immersion and game environments over the coming weeks. To me, it is the topic that makes games the key unique experience that they are. It is also what I think is key to driving games forward as a story telling medium and getting strong stories in the form.

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A few points about Mortal Kombat in Australia

 Mortal Kombat is the latest game to be refused classification in my home country. This is rather disappointing news as I was quite looking forward to the game. I still am because I know that I will be able to play it as an import, but let’s get to a few important points about the flawed classification system in Australia and why the industry is never likely to see an R Rating any time soon.

  • First of all, I have seen a few comments from international observers who must think we live in some sort of police state over here. I can assure you that this isn't the case. Australia is a very relaxed country truth be told and we are quite liberal on artistic classification. This is part of what makes game classification so frustrating and why gamers in Australia feel particularly picked on.
  • Naturally, the major flaw of the system is the lack of an R rating. Had Australia had one, Mortal Kombat would be released. Why isn't there one yet? Well a few different people with different political backgrounds need to agree on something. At the last meeting, the federal government backed the move, unfortunately the federal government is part of the Labor party, not everyone else who needed to agree with them was from the same party. Are you beginning to see the picture? States have their own governments and political agendas.
  • These people (State's Attorney Generals) are more often than not senior politicians. Generally speaking, old men. Not only are they most likely not gamers, they generally couldn't care if Mortal Kombat was or wasn't released in Australia. In fact, if most of these people saw the game, they would probably agree that it shouldn't.
  • Where the hypocrisy lies is that the only reason the game can't be sold in this country is because it is a game. If the DVD that Warner Bros gave the classification board of the game was given to them as a film, it would probably be given an R (although this is unlikely due to its cartoonish nature, it would probably be hit with an MA, but yeah...) and people would be able to buy it. In fact, within a week of the games US release, I'm sure I will no doubt be able to access Youtube to watch every Fatality in the game. An act that anyone over the age of...I don't know, 8 would be able to do with a lot more ease than actually performing the feat within the game.
  • The Fatalities which the classification board seems to take most issue with are actually one of the most non interactive things in the game. All the game requires you to do is essentially enter a few buttons to unlock a film. A gory film, but still a film. Button presses in this case don't directly correspond to violence.
  • With all that being said, Mortal Kombat shouldn't get an R rating anyway. This game should be and, I'm assuming that Warner Bros are planning on resubmitting it will be MA (gamers only over the age of 15). There is no sexual violence in this game, the game isn't psychologically disturbing, the games depiction of violence is so cartoonishly over the top that if a 15 year old mistakes it for reality they have psychological issues of their own.

 
So best of luck to WB, I do hope you resubmit the game and it is given its rightful MA rating. If you don't then it doesn't really matter to me, like I said, I'll still find some way to play it. Personally what I want to see happen is for retailers such as JB Hi Fi and EB Games go to the various State's Attorney Generals and show them how much money they are going to have to refund to consumers on pre orders they have taken. Retailers in Australia have recently complained about Australians importing products to get a better price. I'm sure governments are happy to see businesses lose money because of an outdate system right?

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Sesame Street a good test for Double Fine and Kinect

While reading the various news stories on Double Fine's upcoming Sesame Street title, I couldn't help but think of other industries and what all ages means in those formats. Looking at a few forum posts, it was clear that some people were only interested in this if they were younger or had kids. Before I get into detail though, it is great to see that companies with licences are taking on projects from smaller studios. First we had the Universal deal with Back to the Future and Jurassic Park, now this.
 
Games have always had some difficulty balancing the all ages thing. You have games that are designed for kids that are a little too technically complex which appeal to older games from a technical stand point, they leave the gamer wanting on the story side of things though. You also have games for the same audience that are too simple in both story and gameplay turning off the older gamer. Nintendo seem to generally find a solid balance with this, Kirby's Epic Yarn comes to mind, while its story is rather simple, it pulls it off because of its charm. The thing about the term all ages though is that as a rule, it should appeal to all ages. Fiction for example has a number of novels designed to appeal to both children and adults, comic books are the same. The best example of this though, is film and the rise of Pixar. What Pixar manage to do is capture the imagination of adults that helps them to enjoy the film they are taking their kids to. They do this either through nostalga or tapping into complex emotions which speak to everyone, not just the child.
 
So is this what Double Fine are trying to do here? Are they designing a product that can be enjoyed by both kids and adults? One of the hurdles here is the licence, Sesame Street as opposed to an original IP is firmly lodged in childhood. At the same time, the level of nostalga for Sesame Steet characters is rather strong, the licence is used for adult clothing after all. Put is simply, there are people over the age of thirty who have fond memories of Sesame Street and at the moment, seemingly as a means of escapism, older people seem to be clinging to nostalga as a way of recapturing their youth. The second part of what they are doing is using Kinect, a device that has been strongly targeted at all ages, specifically families. Having used the hardware a little recently, it is solid but the wait for better and varied experiences seems to be the main call of a lot of gamers. This could be the type of game to do that.
 
While I don't think that this Sesame Street game will break any new ground, I've personally been waiting for a solid Kinect adventure game, the tech lends itself to the genre. Double Fine are known for their creativity and their ability to take fairly common game experiences in new directions. Personally, I have faith in them, I just hope the licence isn't what holds them back. What I mean by that is that I simply have a hard time imagining myself alone in my bedroom playing this game. Ah who am I kidding? All Double Fine games end up in my collection eventually. However, as I see other complex all ages works in other industries such as the comic book series Owly (which a number of older readers buy) and of course Pixar, we can only hope that the complete experience of an all ages game hits soon be it Sesame Street or not.

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A piece of my thesis

For your reading pleasure, allow me to note a moment in my thesis where I mention the Fallout series:
 
" The post apocalyptic setting is a common science fiction setting often termed as a sub genre. It is also a setting used in popular genre works outside of literature. The 1968 film Planet of the Apes for example takes place in a post nuclear environment as do a number of popular video games including the Fallout series. The post apocalyptic setting allows the artist to explore a destroyed world while raising issues associated with the cause for the disaster, in the two examples above, the fear of a nuclear war. Similarly, The Road uses its setting as a comment on modern environmental concerns. "

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A video game influence

I do a lot of writing, I play a lot of games. Do games influence my writing?
 
The other day my housemates were having a joke that I don't really seem to do much all day but play video games despite the fact that I do a hell of a lot of writing when they're not home. One of my housemates quipped that I am probably just stealing all my plots from games. It was a pretty interesting thing to think about. I think that most creative people are influenced by a great deal of mediums. I consume many books, comics, films and of course, games. It only makes sense that these various mediums have an influence on my work.
 
Naturally though, games are a little more unrefined than the other mediums. What a lot of games do seem to get right lately though is plot. While dialogue and character in a lot of games may be a little lacking for the most part, most developers know how to structure a plot. Of course, more often than not a three hour plot will be extended out to make a 10 hour game and that can often make the story fell a little awkward. Anyway, I'm not saying anything new here, back to the question at hand.
 
So the other day I was plotting a story, could be a short story, could be a novel, I haven't really decided yet. As I was working on the characters and their motivation I sort of realised that my main characters situation was somewhat like that of a favorite game character, Manny Calavera. I don't feel like I should drasticly alter my character because of this for a couple of reasons. The first is that Manny himsel is a vessel for a number of film noir characters and that is the general feel I am going for with this work. The second is that the similarities are only really on the surface (employment situation) and even there they are minor. I feel like though that my subconscious led me down this path because I played Grim Fandango. 
 
Of course there was another time when my subconscious ran me into problems. I was reminded that my plot was a little too similar to something else causing me to put an entire project in the bin but that didn't happen here. It's just a matter of knowing the differences between influence and copy and being able to justify those influences if anyone ever asks.

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