Several entries in this journal are in reaction to essays found in Well Played 3.0, which can be read here.

Limbo-2

Limbo, the game that made me cry. – 01/12/14

It’s fascinating how people emotionally react to some games while others do not. I’ve even read the occasional comment online from someone who’s said they cried during the campaign of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 or Halo 4. Although I grant that the particular scenes they’re alluding to are sad, they certainly weren’t poignant enough for me to stream tears (or the characters weren’t that relatable and interesting, the relationship between two characters wasn’t compelling enough, etc.). Now, I’d be a hypocrite if I said I’ve never had damp eyes after playing some games like The Last of Us, Bastion, and Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep. However, there is one game that has broken me down, and as I played through it, I wondered when and if the buildup of sorrowing events in the story would get to me. Sure enough, when I saw the shocking conclusion accompanied by the saddest of songs and an unexpectedly touching moment, it happened: Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons was the first game to make me cry.

Why? Well, the story was the main culprit, but the music and a brilliant implementation of gameplay (which the developer could have easily made into a cutscene) made the ending all the more emotional and immersive. When it comes to Alice Taylor, I think the story was the main reason she cried as well, but she brings up other reasons too. Did her strong sense of accomplishment attribute to her reaction? What if it was the relief and “peacefulness” after not only the hardships of the game, but also its gruesome presentations of death and depravity that brought her to tears? She brings up a point that many don’t consider: story isn’t the only aspect of a game that can make a person cry.

Limbo and The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom – 01/13/14

Andy Jih is more than right when it comes to the fact that the two games he’s covering are identical in many ways, but so different too. I had the fortune to play Limbo over a year ago and just played through The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom to better understand it before reading Jih’s essay. Both exhibit similar art styles (albeit Limbois replete with mysterious silhouettes of objects and characters while Winterbottom has a distinctly cartoonish look), have puzzle-platformer gameplay, and don’t make use of spoken dialogue. However, when it comes to the games’ narratives, music, audio, and presentations, the differences are almost black and white.

I could continue iterating what Jih has already said, but it’ll suffice to say that his analysis and comparing of both these games is in-depth and accurate.

What I like most about what he’s pointed out are the differences between the games’ presentations. Limbo presents itself as an eccentric, unique game with its nonexistent UI and minimal menu, continuously flowing levels, “non-handholding,” punishing gameplay, and vague narrative. On the other hand, Winterbottom establishes itself as a “normal game” with a full-fledged tutorial with a dozen or so easy levels to start out with, a noticeable UI that indicates various stats, and divided level stages that coincide with the progression of the narrative.

However, I wish Jih had elaborated on his point that Limbo suffers from ludonarrative dissonance. He mentions plenty of times that this is due to a lack of continuity between the gameplay and the narrative, but where are some examples of this? Although I enjoyed my time with Winterbottom, Limbo stands out more to me because of its mysterious, vague narrative and trial-by-error gameplay. We both agree that there certainly is a narrative with an underlying message that the player should pay attention to (which he affirms after his citation of Greg Kasavin’s thoughts on the continuity of the game), but the dichotomy between the gameplay and narrative isn’t as apparent as he makes it out to be. One thing he brings to the table is that the constant use of death and respawning during gameplay doesn’t bode well with the narrative (as in it doesn’t really make sense), and I can see this. But how do the puzzles lack continuity? Why do the gameplay constructions undermine the story? I might be missing something here.

Class Notes (Correction To Last Entry) – 01/14/14

One thing I forget is just how dark Limbois. Child murder, gore, impalement, horrifying creatures, and barbarism are just some of the macabre themes all throughout the game. Another thing I noticed is that I think I better understand what Jih was saying about the ludonarrative dissonance. Is he saying that the serious, mature, and unique aspects of the game (making it “avant-garde”) don’t coincide with the puzzles due to their “gamey” design? If so, I can see that to an extent. This isn’t evident in the beginning since the puzzles make sense within the environment, but when more puzzle solving and mechanics are later added into the mix, the puzzles – by becoming more difficult – make less sense in the context and presentation of the game. In other words, the puzzles are there for the purpose of making Limbo more of a traditional game when it shouldn’t be. However, this isn’t as noticeable when playing the game for the first time. Upon watching it again, that “ludonarrative dissonance” is clearer.

Gameinformer #250’s Cover Story on Evolve – 01/16/14

Everybody’s heard of Left 4 Dead, but not a lot of people have heard of Turtle Rock Studios. This developer actually started out helping Valve create Counter-Strike: Condition Zero and came up with the main concept of Left 4 Dead. When enough employees were gathered, they became an independent studio as they stayed behind in California while most of Valve relocated to Seattle. Working on the DLC for Left 4 Dead and its sequel for a while, they finally came into their own with an idea for a co-operative/competitive multiplayer game that would eventually come to be known as Evolve. They decided to bring their ambitious game before publishers and settled with THQ, who thought that Turtle Rock Studios was on to something big. However, with the publisher’s bankruptcy about a year ago, the developer had to buy their yet-to-be-released franchise back from THQ with all of their money or let it go. Neither happened. 2K Games swooped in and bought it, setting the developer back on the path to finishing what they started.

Evolve pits four players against one player, but how does this work? The four players are Hunters, who are a diverse bunch of humans with varying abilities and weapons. They’re supposed to hunt down the other player, who plays as a giant monster. However, this is no ordinary monster. It starts out in a fairly small and weak form that the Hunters could take out easily if given the chance, but if the player controlling this dastardly thing eats animals in the surrounding environment, it can become stronger and bigger in a three-stage process of evolution, gaining new abilities along the way like fire breathing and greater strength.

All of this results in a fluctuating game of cat-and-mouse where anything can happen. Can the monster take out all the Hunters one by one in its weakest form? Can a single Hunter defeat the monster in its final stage of evolution? All of these outcomes are possible in this multiplayer-driven game, which is why the balance Turtle Rock has seemed to strike between the Hunters and monster is promising. Although I foresee repetition being an issue in the 15-minute (on average) matches in this game, a cast of Hunters yet to be revealed (there are only 4 confirmed now), a large set of monsters, multiple maps, and the uncertainty and excitement of matches will likely make Evolve an experience that won’t grow tiresome for months and months (and there’s a campaign story to boot). I eagerly look forward to this innovative new IP and how it will accommodate people who love teamwork and/or competition.

GoneHome

Game of the Year: Gone Home (Polygon) – 01/19/14

There were a significant amount of exemplary games last year worthy of the coveted Game of the Year title. The Last of Us, Bioshock: Infinite, Grand Theft Auto V, Super Mario 3D World, A Link Between Worlds, and Pokémon X and Y are big contenders to note, and video game journalism websites and magazines no doubt had one of these games as their Game of the Year.

But one website called Polygon chose a game called Gone Home as their #1 game for 2013. While I did enjoy the game and think Polygon’s editors are – of course – entitled to their opinion, in no way can I see how it should ever earn that prestigious award.

Gone Home is an exploratory game. You play as the sister of Samantha Greenbriar, who has returned home from a worldwide excursion to find the new house her family moved into empty. It’s nighttime and a thunderstorm looms above the house, and she must figure out where everybody has gone, what’s happened to her sister, and what unsettling mysteries lurk behind the history of this previously occupied house.

You get the feeling that this is going to be a horror game that slowly settles you into something that only gets darker and darker, but this is abandoned for another type of story. You get to find out more about your sister’s life as you were away from home, and by doing so, you learn about her tumultuous teenage years and gradual discovery of her sexual identity as a lesbian. This becomes the main focus of the story and gets across a great message that love and emotional attachment indeed are major parts of any homosexual relationship (whether or not it’s right or wrong is up to the player’s personal beliefs, but the message is nevertheless important and true).

The game has a powerful sense of a meticulously designed atmosphere, powerful voice acting, and a well-paced story. However, Gone Home is not without its problems, which Polygon didn’t seem bothered about.

One negative aspect of the game involves the story easing into Samantha’s journey with her partner after spawning several side stories near the beginning to keep the player guessing what’s going to happen until halfway through the game. Several of these side stories are somewhat concluded more than halfway through the game to bring the full attention to Samantha’s story, but one particular story I found even more interesting was the case of Oscar Mason: the previous owner of the house. He was a troubled individual involved with the history of the Greenbriars’ past, and his soul apparently haunts the halls of his house…the very house the Greenbriar family moved in. Needless to say, this became a compelling backstory that wasn’t developed or addressed enough. It was somewhat resolved, but it felt like an incomplete and weak closing to his story.

The other problem is the conclusion to Samantha’s story. It’s very questionable, to put it lightly. Her partner is off to a military base to train in the Army and Samantha is off to college to study Creative Writing, so both will be separated for a long time. Their emotional distress is understandable and sad due to their predicament, but do they stick to their career plans and wait until they’re both living stable lives to live together? No. They run off together in their youth and inexperience with nothing but each other.

I don’t think this is an inspirational or touching ending. It’s disappointing, to be honest. If they were responsible and sensible people, they would have put off their feelings for one another to have a better future together in the long run. Instead, they hastily abandon their pursuits in blind love. It’s a sour ending to a story with a couple I came to understand in some ways, but their actions by the end derailed a lot of the respect and even some of the sympathy I had for them (but perhaps this is just me). It’s one of the main reasons why Gone Home, while an excellent experiment in exploratory storytelling with a bold narrative, has a good message that’s somewhat dampened by the multi-faceted narrative and bad ending.

Toy Soldiers – 01/25/14

Despite some glaring spelling errors, Charles Palmer’s full-fledged review of Toy Soliders is an in-depth look at the game with some musings on the game’s deeper meanings and implications. Nothing more can be added to his analyses of the music, gameplay, mechanics, and the like, but when it comes to what he said in the paragraphs of his introduction and conclusion …those are things that need to be commented on.

It’s really the introduction and conclusion where Palmer shines best, and we’ll start with the former first. He begins with a question posing why children are enthralled by the activity of “playing war.” It’s something that all children (of any class, race, etc.) have always done that unites them and allows them to let their imaginations flow. I love how he says that this fulfills their developmental need “to be strong even when [they] are weak.” Palmer makes me think back to my childhood and how I might have done this in my own ways.

I grew up with few friends and two sisters, so it’s easy to assume that I rarely played war with other kids in a physical manner. But this doesn’t mean I didn’t play a form of it by myself. Why, with my Lego Star Wars and Bionicle toys, I played war all of the time! For example, I pitted the legendary Toa Mahri against the Toa Phantoka and Mistika: two groups of Bionicle heroes that would never fight each other in the story. However, I found the idea of them doing so intriguing. Who would win? Which ones would be the last ones standing? I always performed mock battles and let my creativity run wild with battles like these, and the same goes for my Lego Star Wars sets, which was when I especially used my “imagination and ingenuity” to “see the world differently.” No Death Star? I played outside and pretended my house was the infamous space station and used my Lego X-Wing Starfighter to save the day. You can see this imagination in play in the game too. Toy soldiers come to life, the sounds of war can be heard, and the music accompanies entire battles (things that kids normally imagine when playing war with most toys). However (I’m not sure if this is a coherent point or not), you can see grounded reality as the battles take place in giant toy boxes; you can make out that these boxes are in a child’s room since you see walls adorned with kid-related things. The toy soldiers also return to their original poses once they die before exploding into a bunch of mechanical parts, displaying what they actually look like and what the supposed child (or you, the player) is working with when it comes to the imagination.

One thing that Palmer says is that every playful battle kids simulate is normally a victory for good, but this was not the case with me. I sometimes pretended evil would triumph and thought of stories that ended negatively. I’d always been fascinated by “what if?” stories and was intrigued (and still am) by seeing an alternate reality where a villain triumphs or a hero turns to the dark side. Of course, this wasn’t something I would ever want to really happen, but for some reason, it was something that I (and I believe many other kids) do out of genuine curiosity.

After that tangent, I’d like to close by briefly reflecting on the conclusion of Palmer’s review. I really like how he included how he went through the process of figuring out if this game was worthy of academic research and discovered it was after realizing it had a great narrative…a personal narrative that puts the player in the shoes of an invisible protagonist controlling the soldiers and vehicles on battlefields. This was the story of the game, and it was so effective because – unlike games where a player can control a protagonist that has his/her own personality – the “character” is unseen and in charge of everything, which easily allows a player to imagine himself/herself as the hero. This reminds me of other games that do this like Spore, Civilization, and Halo Wars. Other games that use a similar device make the protagonist a “blank canvas” like in Dishonored, Skyrim, and so forth. All of these kinds of games allow the player to “internalize the combatant’s struggle” and make it personal to varying degrees. It’s an incredible part of game design that’s actually hard to catch if you don’t look hard enough; it’s a very powerful tool that gets players more immersed into a game than usual.

Anti-Semantics – Fez & Phil Fish – 01/26/14

It’s always nice to stumble upon something new and wonderful on the Internet, and a wonderful example of this is the YouTube gamer who calls himself ‘Satchbag’s Goods.’ He’s one of the “intellectual” gamers on YouTube who releases content similar to what Errant Signal or The PBS Game/Show come out with. These are channels that normally give a philosophical analysis or in-depth commentary on a social issue behind a game, game genre, or the game industry as a whole. Such videos include “Do Video Game Stereotypes Hurt Men?” and “Keep Your Politics Out of My Video Games,” which are intriguing looks into topics that aren’t typically explored in the realm of video games.

So, with Satchbag’s Goods, he decided to take a look at Fez and the controversy surrounding Phil Fish, and his exposition of the game and something related to Fish is quite excellent. He points out that the game seems like it has its own personality since it exhibits dialogue that “breaks the fourth wall,” so to speak, especially when the game pretends to crash and reboot as an actual part of the narrative. He points out how the game’s visuals are inspired by an art style called retro futurism, which is especially exhibited in the promotional material for various entertainment media in the 70s and 80s. It’s classified by vibrant neon colors, sharp edges, and use of galactic space, which can be seen in Fez’s 8-bit graphics. And he also shows how the game is extremely different compared to arcade games when it comes to death and failure. The former make the player focus on survival so they can avoid the penalty of paying to continue. Fez (and other Indie games like Limbo) hardly punishes the player for dying. It may present hard puzzles at times that result in a few deaths, but the game respawns the player near to where he died, which makes him focus on other things that the designer wants him to do like collect items or take in and observe the beautiful environments.

But the most interesting issue Satchbag’s Goods brings up is the connection artists have with their art and how that influences people’s decisions/opinions on their works. There’s no question that Fez is a gorgeous game with a mind-bending and innovative mechanic – to move around and shift perspective in a 3D environment that’s presented in 2D – that makes for some unique puzzles and compelling challenges to overcome. However, its creator, Phil Fish, has shown himself to be (in my opinion, at least) an unlikeable, rude, and pretentious individual that reacts too personally to unwarranted criticism. Should one be compelled to not support him by refusing to purchase his game, or is it logical to ignore the creator and enjoy his work for what it is even if the person enjoying it disagrees with/dislikes him? I think it ultimately depends on the person. If the artist is simply unlikeable, then I don’t believe there’s a problem with enjoying their art. However, if they directly support something or do something one morally disagrees with that he/she participates in with one’s money…that’s when things get up in the air. It’s why no one should hold anyone in an unrealistic light simply for what they’ve created. We’re all imperfect people that do things that seem contrary to our nature, and Phil Fish – with his cheerful and beautiful game Fez – is a prime example of this.

ps-vita-wifi-system-largeIs the Vita Really Dying a ‘Slow, Painful Death’? (Push Square) – 01/29/14

Nintendo is in an unfortunate situation right now with the Wii U. The marketing for the console has failed by and large (so far) to captivate average consumers, unlike with previous and current systems like the DS, Wii, and 3DS. The company simply hasn’t communicated what makes the Wii U different and worthy of purchasing even though it’s as powerful (if not a bit more) as the PS3 and Xbox 360 and has a gamepad that creates unique experiences only possible on it (such as with ZombiU and the upcoming Watch Dogs).

The second issue is with games. While there is an assortment of high-caliber games coming out this year (Super Smash Bros., Mario Kart 8, Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze, etc.), there have only been a few notable games that warrant the console’s merit since it released a little over a year ago. New Super Mario Bros. U, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD, Super Mario 3D World, Pikmin 3, and Wonderful 101 are the Wii U’s cream of the crop, but there needs to be more of these games in addition to more third party games. When it comes to the latter, Nintendo is struggling to get third party developers to make games for the Wii U, and several publishers (like EA) and developers (like Crytek) have said they have had issues with the Wii U itself and how Nintendo has communicated with them, respectively. Nintendo needs to get its act together soon or they’ll be facing some trouble.

Now, why on earth am I talking about the Wii U when I’m supposed to be discussing the Vita’s situation? Well, the reason why is that Sony is practically in the same exact position with it as Nintendo is with the their newest console. The Vita has suffered from bad marketing by not letting consumers know how it separates itself from competitors like the 3DS and smartphone game apps (iOS and Android). There are great games for the Vita too (Tearaway, Killzone Mercenary, Soul Sacrifice, etc.), but they haven’t been released consistently since the handheld came out. Like with Nintendo, Sony needs to get its act together and entice developers and publishers to make games for the Vita. They need to communicate the handheld’s impressive specs, neat features (like the touchscreen and touchpad), and great design for playing games on the go. It’s an excellent handheld that’s easily on par with the 3DS, but it just hasn’t had the same success yet. I’m really hoping Sony will continue to support the Vita and make the right decisions for it (and I wish the same for Nintendo with their Wii U).

You Had Me At “Secret Octopus” – Octodad: Dadliest Catch Review (IGN) – 01/31/14

When I first saw footage of Octodad: Dadliest Catch in action, it truly was one of the most absurd games I’ve seen yet, akin to indie games like QWOP, Surgeon Simulator 2013, and McPixel. You play as an octopus disguised as a human male, who is happily married with children living in a typical suburban neighborhood. The main objective of the game is to be as convincing as possible as a normal dad and husband by performing mundane activities such as mowing the lawn, shopping for groceries, and helping around the house. However, there is indeed a catch. Octodad’s four limbs (two tentacles for each arm and leg) are controlled individually. This results in utterly ridiculous yet hilarious gameplay as Octodad flails about in every direction on-screen as the player attempts to get him to do the simplest of tasks. He knocks over and bumps into everything, and – for the most part – no one in the game seems to care all too much. Cam Shea (the reviewer) says it best.

Octodad’s humour isn’t derived from an arcane difficulty or overly elaborate controls, but from physical comedy, pure and simple. It’s just innately funny controlling Octodad as he staggers and stumbles. If John Cleese were an invertebrate, his silly walk would look something like this. Dadliest Catch revels in the inherent humour of its concept, littering areas with physics objects to get caught on or to clamber up, or liberally applying that slapstick staple – the banana peel – to its environments.

Shea does an excellent job of convincing his audience that this game is worth anyone’s time simply due to its wonderful slapstick comedy. He praises its silly and creative premise, use of dialogue, and ability to make the ordinary tasks of everyday life into levels that are entertaining to watch and play. But he does say the game is fairly easy, which is questionable since I have heard other reviewers complain about how frustrating it can be and how it cannot be mastered, such as Tara Long from Rev3Games. They acknowledge that this is an intentional design choice that’s part of why the game is funny (and I do to, of course), but I can see where people like Long are coming from. The gameplay has its charm, but it’s a double-edged sword that can make or break a player’s experience with the game that depends on personal taste in games and humor.

Though there’s no mention of the music (if there is any for that matter), Shea covers all of his bases by covering the appeal of the main character, narrative, gameplay, replayability, and some aspects of the audio. He specifically implies how the story and gameplay work so well together to create – as Shea says – a “genuinely funny” game. You control an octopus that moves about like a human with no skeleton during gameplay. Yet, the narrative suggests that every character is practically blind to your bizarre appearance and movement. It creates conflict between these two aspects of the game since they don’t realistically bode together, but that’s okay. This is meant to be, resulting in the primary experience a player will have while playing the game: laughter.

Shea gave the game a 7.8 out of 10, which – in combination with his well-written review – serves as a great incentive for me to buy this game when it comes out for the PS4. I’m not sure if I’ll enjoy it as much as he did, but just from the review, I know I’ll laugh a lot, and that’s a good enough reason for me to check it out.

The Opposite of Accessible: Street Fighter IV – 02/05/14

I tend to be turned off to an essay if it breaks my subjective opinion of “professionalism.” I’m lenient, of course, to some informal language, a few grammatical errors/oddities here and there, and so forth, but when it comes to repeated use of words typed in all-caps, dozens and dozens of unnecessary paragraph breaks, vulgar language, and sentences that look like they were never edited, Vandenberghe’s work has all of those things. The introduction was adequate enough to catch my attention, but the entire mid-section of the essay – the moment-by-moment retelling of the writer’s experience with Street Fighter IV – was off-putting because, overall, I felt like I was reading the hyperactive, rambling thoughts of a young teenage boy. However (emphasis on that word), despite the fact that I didn’t enjoy the way Vandenberghe wrote this, I found myself heavily relating to what he said after I had played an hour or so of the game for myself. And when he dropped that bullet list near the conclusion, Vandenberghe just about redeemed himself.

The thought process the writer went through as he played the game for the first time was nearly identical to mine. Without any guidance or explanation of the modes on the main menu, I picked ‘Training’, chose a character that looked appealing and an enemy for myself, and went off to the fighting stage. I was surprised to realize that this mode did nearly nothing for me as a new player as soon as the match began. Besides ‘Command List’ (which only displays somewhere between 15-20 moves a character can perform), I must figure out the majority of the basic, advanced, and secret techniques by myself or with help from Street Fighter IV professionals on the Internet. As Vandenberghe said, “this information is not even available to be discovered – it must either be deduced or explained by an outside source.”

This is the primary reason why most fighting games remain inaccessible apart from outside assistance (walkthroughs, other players’ tips, guides, etc.). They fail to properly educate new audiences, which discourage them from taking on the veteran players that have dominated these games for years in their exclusive circle. So, when it came to the bullet list the writer compiled on what fighting games should do in the future, I shook my head in vehement agreement at every point he made. And the reason why is because everything he says doesn’t ruin the game for the experienced players. They will get the same, complex, hardcore fighting games they’re looking for, while new players can extensively train with step-by-step tutorials, practice sessions, and easier modes. One thing that Vandenberghe didn’t mention – if I’m not mistaken – is that the hardcore players should be able to skip all of these things, turn off any assistance features with ease, and be able to ignore modes geared to new players. His recommendations are just great.

All I can think about as I write this is Injustice: Gods Among Us. It’s revolutionary in regard to this topic because it has nearly everything that Vandenberghe put in the bullet list. It’s a game that invites all to participate, no matter your previous experience with fighting games. Street Fighter, Marvel vs. Capcom, and Soul Calibur could learn from what NetherRealm Studios did for Injustice.

Corpse on camera – Outlast Review (Push Square) – 02/10/14

When I ventured into the survival-horror genre of video games for the first time, it was probably, I shamefully admit, due to watching YouTube commentary videos from personalities such as PewDiePie, SeaNanners, etc. Watching these guys scream, squirm, and utter odd and peculiar things from playing scary games entertained me for a spell, which led me to play all of the main Resident Evil games (1 through 6), the Dead Space trilogy, and Alan Wake. I’ve loved all of these games (with the exception of Resident Evil 6…ugh) and am looking forward to playing other games like The Evil Within, Amnesia: The Dark Descent and A Machine for Pigs, and Dying Light. Oh, and I almost forgot Outlast, which I downloaded for free thanks to my Playstation Plus subscription. I cannot wait to play that too!

I write for Push Square, but I don’t know all of the writers as much as I would like to. Graham Banas was assigned to review this game and did a stupendous job listing all of the important aspects of the game with good honesty. He starts out by applauding Red Barrel Games for creating such an ambitious game as their first one out of the gate and immediately answers the question on everyone’s mind: does Outlast make for a good port on the PS4? He firmly confirms that this is indeed true and might be the best way to experience the game. That’s exactly what I was hoping for.

Banas then briefly summarizes the disturbing premise of the story and admits that it may turn off some folks, but for those looking for jump scares and an impeccably detailed and horrifying atmosphere, this is the game for them. He moves on to talk about the main mechanic of the game that I also find to be unique and clever: a video camera. The dank and drab corridors and rooms of the asylum that the player travels through is extremely claustrophobic and designed to keep one on his toes, but the camera allows you to see in the dark. However, it does require batteries, which drain rapidly, of course. The player must be able to see in this hellish building, so I imagine that searching about for batteries and constantly worrying about your camera’s battery life adds to the tense survival vibe of the game.

He notes how there is no combat in the game and how you must avoid all enemies in the game (akin to Amnesia). And while this may sound tedious, it does not retract any of the horror from this game. The audio and music only accentuate this according to Banas, and while some frame rate slowdown times and long loading screens dampen the immersion some, the overall game is an excellent title that offers a memorable, thrilling experience.

Banas only makes me want to play Outlast even more with his well-paced, concise writing here. His 8 out of 10 score is completely unnecessary compared to the great content of his review. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to sit down and play the game soon…and scream like PewDiePie or SeaNanners in the process.

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The First Few Hours Don’t Tell The Tale – Elder Scrolls Online Preview (Gameinformer) – 02/10/14

People who have played The Elder Scrolls Onlinebeta are keeping footage and some details under wraps, but journalistic outlets and famous YouTube gamers have been given permission to reveal these things to an extent. Gameinformer is one such example, and editor Daniel Tack wrote a short article on his impressions of the game after playing several hours. I’ve played the game as well (albeit not as long), but his thoughts are interesting to point out.

Tack makes a defense for the game on the outset. He admits that it has a slow, boring, and linear beginning that might turn a lot of Elder Scrolls and MMO fans off, but firmly states that once players start exploring areas, discovering more quests, and dig deeper into the RPG elements, it really bring out the profound content and fun the game has to offer. I think he states it best here:

Let’s get this out of the way. I think the new player area of Stros M’kai does the game a great disservice by presenting a rather drab introductory experience. I was absolutely delighted to find that this experience rapidly changes as characters move into the world and explore areas such as Daggerfall and beyond. The contrast is a stark one; it’s almost like two different games, and changed my outlook and expectations for this title significantly.

His first and main point to justify this claim is that the game really feels like and turns into a truly open-world experience as you play more and more. There’s so much to do as multi-faceted quests and skills are unlocked, which give the game an authentic vibe, especially when it comes to the cities of the game (they seem like real places with real, unique people unlike other MMOs). Quests can even unlock new skill and ability trees, which is a whole other reason to scavenge the rich world of Tamriel. He goes as far to build off the aforementioned quote by saying this:

The experience was overwhelmingly positive in the new areas from levels 10-15 that it honestly feels like two different games. Combat becomes interesting and involved, with many abilities to choose from. Monsters become more exciting than the same humanoid in a cowl shooting fire for three hours. The characters that were annoying to meet in the beginning area begin to ooze flavor. Things get fun and interesting fast.

I’ve only played about four hours of the game, and although I naturally haven’t experienced what he’s saying, I can see it to an extent. As you boot up the game, you’re immediately taken to the character creation menu. I took about an hour to make this spiky lizard guy named Josephus.

I haven’t played many MMOs or games in general with this option, but it’s one of the best ones I’ve seen and used…period. The character options are intuitive and are limited in comparison to the plethora of customization options in Skyrim. However, I still felt like I was getting the most out of customizing my character, and he actually felt even more unique than my Argonian in Skyrim. Once I got past this, I was introduced to the linearity and somewhat boring opening level that Tack was talking about, replete with lots of needlessly convoluted dialogue, quests that were dead easy, and even some upsetting latency. However, despite the fact this lag remained between my input and character’s actions, I began to see the world open up as I found myself in a section of Skyrim. What’s amazing is that players will end up in different locations across Tamriel in the beginning, so since Skyrim was the only Elder Scrolls I’d played excessively, I felt right at home in a vast, snowy, and rocky terrain spotted with Nord villages. I also began to feel more comfortable with the menu where you manage your inventory, skills, etc. Although it’d take a few hours to become more accustomed to, I really like its presentation. There are dozens of features and options, and they’re condensed and organized in what seems like the best way possible. Other than that, I think fighting the enemies was pretty fun, I enjoyed the quests I performed, and I absolutely loved the top-notch voice acting and music.

One problem I see with the game, however, is that playing with friends won’t be as fun as I imagineand that other players in the world will interrupt the fights and quests I go on. I also have concerns with the time it takes to travel around the world, which took extended amounts of time with certain quests I did. But most importantly, as a potential purchaser of the Imperial Edition of the game on PS4, this game needs to have two things. One, the controls need to be mapped out very well on the Dualshock 4, which I’m concerned about since the PC version requires so many keys to be used. And two, ZeniMax Online Studios absolutely needs to give me a massive load of content and replay value if I’m paying $100 for the game itself and a monthly subscription fee of $15. That’s a significant if not an almost unreasonable amount of money to pay to play this game, but unlike a lot of people, I’m open to throw my money at them if I feel like I’m getting my money’s worth. After all, I’ve really played an MMO before and absolutely love the Elder Scrolls universe, so I’m more willing to do this than most. In the meantime, I’ll be waiting anxiously for reviews and opinions on the game once it releases this April.

The Deeper Game of Pokémon – 02/14/14

As an avid fan of the Pokémon franchise, I understand what the game is, what the creatures’ names are and what they look like, how deeper things like Natures and EV training work, and so forth. But despite my fairly deep knowledge of the game and the topics surrounding it, Eli Neiburger’s unique title of his essay instantly caught my attention: “How The Word’s Biggest RPG Inadvertently Teaches 21st Century Kids Everything They Need To Know.”

What a claim! Although I think he is exaggerating some for the sake of drawing in the reader, he makes a wonderfully surprising argument for why Pokémon has become such a great force in video game culture and how it teaches players valuable skills that can be applied to real life. Of course, he isn’t saying that the information and methods gained within Pokémon are useful (such as Pokémon names, types, etc.). He’s talking about how the games serve as motivators, expanders, and bases for several aspects related to knowledge.

Neiburger makes the claim that these games about Pocket Monsters are superior learning tools compared to the ones used in educational settings. While this may seem ridiculous at first, he makes his case with a compelling analysis of Pokémon and the different kinds of players and communities surrounding it. He begins talking about how the game is a phenomenal literary tutor, offering thousands upon thousands of lines of text to read that indirectly teach players new words and grammar. Why? In the game, the acquisition of new information gained from NPCs is something that’s extremely important for possibly gaining a new item, insight into the deeper narrative, or even a new Pokémon for your team. The same works for battles too. Instead of not feeling motivated to try again after losing a battle, the Pokémon games encourage players to figure out what went wrong without too much penalty; no one is discouraged from learning from their mistakes to come back stronger and smarter.

Both of these examples stem from the fact that Pokémon is something that allows players to not only rejoice in the victory that comes from battles, but also in the joy it gives by coming to be as much of an expert on the game as you can be. Neiburger points out that modern education does not encourage kids to “try challenging tasks repeatedly until they find success.” There also isn’t a focus on having students “being able to subconsciously determine which facts must be stored onboard and which can be left in our extended knowledge corpus.” On the other hand, Neiburger says, “Pokémon teaches kids that learning more every day is fun, and that’s unfortunately a very rare lesson in the classroom,” and that there is, “more sophisticated thinking and applying deeper analysis,” when it comes to playing Pokémon. Finally, there is another quote I want to include from his conclusion.

While school programs struggle to adapt to the 21st century, it’s unfortunate that such a powerful framework for learning, that requires research, collaboration, documentation, analysis, understanding of complex systems and development of advanced conceptual frameworks, is being forcibly set aside when it’s time to learn. Especially when it provides such a powerful and accessible model for how science is actually done, and the killer combo of no requirement to memorize facts, but a clear advantage in retaining them that leads to low-effort, experiential learning.

I can attest to seeing and experiencing everything that Neiburger has pointed out; I see it in the games, on the Internet in communities, and when fans are interacting with each other in real life. There’s this surprising amount of exchange and dissemination of useful information to everyone that wants to be a part of the community. There are so many people that want to learn more about Pokémon, and this knowledge is gained by focusing on what’s important and retaining it, which makes every person feel accomplished just from this very act itself. There are even those that are willing to teach freely for the sake of a different kind of accomplishment and fulfillment in helping others…it’s unfortunate that this same passion, desire, and success isn’t visible among kids in many schools today. Science, history, math, English, all of these subjects and more are exciting in their own way, but since most educational systems are set up so that only the end result matters (i.e. grades), many students will not focus primarily on the journey all throughout the middle of taking classes: the learning.

This is something that has hindered the purpose of education for years, and it looks to continue for who knows how long. It’s just fascinating how a video game can do nearly everything right when it comes to the process of stimulating a shared love for knowledge in people. Through this article, Neiburger not only shows a prevalent problem in our education system, but a remedy as well that can be taken and adapted from the world of video games for the betterment of education. It’s just another reason why video games are a medium everyone can learn from in countless ways.