Revisiting The X-Files – Beyond the Sea

“I’m afraid. I’m afraid to believe.”

It’s the holidays and Dana Scully is entertaining her parents for dinner. Her dad, played by Don Davis of Twin Peaks fame, says it’s time for them to go. Though Scully and him have cute, Moby Dick-themed nicknames for each other, the relationship doesn’t seem like a comfortable one. It’s obvious Scully loves her father, but there seems to be a lot left unsaid between them. Hours later, Scully wakes up on her couch and sees her father sitting in the chair across from her, silently reciting the Lord’s Prayer. The phone rings, stealing her attention, and when she glances back, the chair is empty. It’s her mother on the phone. Scully’s father has died.

It’s been a while since I wrote one these. I originally planned to write something about every X-Files episode in advance of the new series starting next year, but realized I just don’t have much to say about a number of the episodes. So, I’m just going to focus on the most memorable ones.

Beyond the Sea - Scully and Boggs

Beyond the Sea is the best episode of season 1. It doesn’t have a ton of competition, since the series was still finding its feet, but it’s memorable for a number of reasons. Brad Dourif’s turn as Luther Lee Boggs is outstanding. It’s over the top but totally works and is consistently compelling. This is also the first episode that flips the script and shows Scully as the believer and Mulder as the skeptic. Boggs, who’s currently sitting on death row, claims he has psychic powers that can help S&M with their current case. Mulder thinks he’s full of it while Scully believes he may know something about not only their case, but also about her father. Most importantly, this is a great character episode where we get to learn a lot about Scully. Her path to the FBI was not one that her father supported and she worries that he wasn’t proud of her.  She puts faith in Boggs because he says he can channel her father. And because everything he has to say about their current case proves correct.

There are a lot of nice touches that tell us more about Scully. There’s her discomfort at being called Dana by Mulder. How hard she tries to keep it together after her father’s death and how much harder it gets when sympathy is offered. Scully is a believer, just not in the paranormal. Her faith has more of a religious nature, which can come in conflict with her belief in science. She always wears a crucifix, and though the role of religion in Scully’s life isn’t examined too much in this episode, it will come into play in a number of future episodes.

The scenes between Scully and Boggs seem influenced by The Silence of the Lambs, with the serial killer delving into Scully’s past and into her head to tell her what she needs to hear. Gillian Anderson gets to flex her acting chops in this episode, as Scully runs the gamut between mourning for her father, undergoing a crisis of faith, and raging at Boggs when Mulder is shot.

In the end, Scully realizes she has more faith in herself than in Boggs, and that she doesn’t need him to know what her father would have said.

Saying No and Not Working for Free

Ever since I started making YouTube videos I’ve been running into something I rarely encountered when I was just a blogger. People I don’t know are asking things of me. I get requests to collaborate on videos, to join networks, to post my videos on other people’s websites. It can get a bit overwhelming. I have a hard time responding to these requests. On the one hand many of the people asking seem sincere and enthusiastic about what they do, and I don’t want to be a jerk. On the other hand, a question that has to be asked is – What do I get out of this?

It’s very common in hobby-based content creation for outlets to only be able to “pay” you with exposure. Now, I certainly don’t write or make videos for money – based on the current balance in my AdSense account I should be set to receive my first ever cheque from Google sometime next year. After 6 years of writing here and 1 year of video making. I do it because I enjoy it, I answer only to myself, it lets me talk to people with similar interests, and because I like attention and people knowing my thoughts on things. However as soon as a third party comes in asking to use my work in some way, things change. If I’m asked to share my content elsewhere, do extra work, maybe commit to some schedule, then it turns into work. And honey, I don’t work for free.

What kind of collaborations and such I find reasonable will depend on what kind of effort is required from me, and what I get in return. As of now, the only request I’ve said yes to came from the folks at 1 More Castle (which has, sadly, shut down now). One of the site founders contacted me to see if I was interested in posting my videos on the site. I was really new to making videos and honestly I was just pumped that someone noticed me. So, after some back and forth on the details, I said yes. Luckily, I had only positive experiences with posting there. The requirements from me were minimal – I just made a post in WP to embed my video whenever I had a new one ready (along with some tags and a thumbnail and stuff) and let an editor know it was good to go. My videos stayed on my own channel and there was no schedule or rules to follow. I got a few more hits to my videos, the website readers hopefully had some new interesting content to peruse, and I made a bunch of nice new internet friends.

Currently I post my retro videos as user submissions on another retro gaming site. No one contacted me about this, I just thought it would give my channel more traffic. Again, the videos stay on my channel, I just email in a link and description for them whenever I make them. I get some views from this, but have not really felt any sense of community building. Low effort, low return.

When it comes to sites or people asking for original content with no compensation I have to ask – why would I do that? My bf let me know today that a gaming site was looking for staff writers to do a weekly column. It could be a good source of exposure so I checked out the posting and the application for it. Then I got to the fine print at the bottom, which quietly explained that they could offer no monetary compensation. Sigh. Exposure isn’t pay, and writers shouldn’t be asked to work for free.

Professional writers, especially in the video games industry have a hard time making a living wage. I’m not a professional writer. I’ve never made a pitch, I’ve never worked with an editor. I’ve been paid to write something a grand total of 1 time. However, because I think that writing and journalism should be careers that are viable for talented people, I’d never write for free for any site that collects revenue. The more people that create content for free, the more people think that this is the way it should be. That people don’t need to be compensated for their work. Why pay a writer when some schmuck with no business sense will do it for free?

I’ve sort of veered off topic (see? no editor). At least I resisted the urge to go into a tangent about game companies using fans as free Alpha/Beta testers. Oh wait, I guess I didn’t resist. Coming back around to the original topic… if you’re a content creator, how do you respond to requests for collaboration or for you to share your work elsewhere? My current tactic is to ignore anything I’m not really interested in, which is not the most mature response. I don’t want to be a jerk to people who are interested in my content but at the same time, there has to be something in it for me and I want to be sure I’m getting at least as much out of it as I put into it.

Best 100 Games of All Time

This week Edge magazine put out a list of the best 100 games of all time. The list has caused some stir. Partially because most of the games are really recent. Partially because as far as I can see, the list is completely without context or explanation. And partially because “best” is a totally subjective term and the whole idea of the list is stupid.

However… who doesn’t love stupid lists? So, I’m making my own. I dunno if there even are 100 games I can apply the word best to, but let’s try!

1 Planescape: Torment
2 XCOM: Enemy Unknown
3 Portal
4 Shadow of the Colossus
5 Mass Effect (series)
6 Star Ocean Second Story
7 Shadow Hearts Covenant
8 Knights of the Old Republic
9 Saint’s Row 4
10 Civilization (series)
11 Beyond Good and Evil
12 Bastion
13 The Witcher (series)
14 Dragon Age 2
15 Super Mario Brothers (series)
16 Quest for Glory (series)
17 Mario Party (series)
18 Vampire: The Masquerade Bloodlines
19 Final Fantasy X-2
20 Wolfenstein: The New Order
21 The Guardian Legend
22 The Swapper
23 The Pandora Directive
24 Tomb Raider
25 The Walking Dead s1
26 Batman Arkham Asylum
27 Spec Ops: The Line
28 Gun Nac
29 Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers
30 Final Fantasy 7
31 Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
32 Monkey Island (series)
33 Under a Killing Moon
34 The Fall
35 The Cat Lady
36 Parasite Eve
37 Valiant Hearts
38 Final Fantasy 10
39 Snatcher
40 Alan Wake
41 Felix the Cat
42 Divinity: Original Sin
43 The Longest Journey
44 The Blackwell series
45 Ori and the Blind Forest
46 Dead Space
47 Shadowrun: Dragonfall
48 Fatal Frame 2
49 Legend of Dragoon
50 Metro 2033
51 Dead Rising (series)
52 Dragon Age: Origins
53 The Dig
54 ESPN NFL Football
55 TMNT: Turtles in Time
56 Limbo
57 Rayman Legends
58 Fallout (1&2)
59 Theme Hospital
60 The Last of Us
61 Baldur’s Gate (series)
62 Wasteland 2
63 Her Story
64 The Stanley Parable
65 Braid
66 King’s Quest (series)
67 This War of Mine
68 Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments
69 Tetris
70 Pillars of Eternity
71 Star Tropics
72 Gone Home
73 Remember Me
74 Planet of the Eyes
75 Dragon Age: Inquisition
76 Alice: Madness Returns
77 Gran Turismo (series)
78 Mario Kart (series)
79 Bioshock (series)
80 Deadly Premonition
81 The Vanishing of Ethan Carter
82 Afterlife
83 Resident Evil 4
84 Loom
85 Zuma
86 God of War
87 The Last Door
88 Fallout 3+
89 Lost Odyssey
90 Heavy Rain
91 Child of Light
92 D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die
93 Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura
94 Sunset Overdrive
95 Spyro the Dragon
96 Until Dawn
97 Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons
98 Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare
99 Murdered: Soul Suspect
100 CS:GO

Well, what do you know – I got to 100. Honestly, after the top 30 or so the order doesn’t mean a whole lot. And after 60 or 70 I’m just listing games I liked a fair bit.

What do you think? Any omissions (that are likely omitted because I haven’t played them). Any surprises?

Dragon Age: Injudicious

Dragon Age: Inquisition was one of my favorite games of the year last year. It had its shortcomings to be sure, but there was enough sweet story and charming interactions with other characters to make up for it. Plus, it was a Dragon Age game!

I played through the game once. However, it was a 300 hour playthrough. I did everything. I always meant to play again. I wanted to choose the Templars instead of the mages, I wanted to have another romance (or 7), I wanted to let the Chargers die and leave Hawke in the Fade. I want to find out who the hell this Blackwall guy is that I totally missed. But, after 300 hours of playing I needed a nice, long break from the game.

I finally went back to it this past week when the Trespasser DLC was released. I picked up all three of the DLC packs and hopped back in. I started with Jaws of Hakkon. This was a mistake. I wish I never played (or paid for) this content. The few hours of gameplay it offered put a spotlight on all of the annoying aspects of the game and offered none of the good parts. It also made me re-examine the game as a whole.

We all know where Dragon Age shines. It’s in the conversations, friendships, romances, and rivalries with your companions. It’s in the choices you make and seeing the results of those choices in the world. It’s in the banter. It’s in shaping an Inquisitor into what you want her to be. The rest, looking back at the game a year later, is kind of shit. Open world was a huge mistake. Adding the ability to jump (and making it use the same button as interactions) introduced all kinds of annoyances. Collection quests are bullshit. Inventory management and the crafting process are annoying (even if the gear is pretty). The codex… fuck the codex, I shouldn’t have to read a novel to understand what’s going on. Making your average conversation with an NPC have a free-roaming camera instead of fixed, more “cinematic” fixed camera angles make conversations feel cold and unengaging. Combat could be okay, if every fight didn’t take a million years and feel exactly the same. Also, I’m pretty sure this game gave me a repetitive strain injury from clicking left stick every 3 seconds to look for items.

DAI map

There’s just so much shit to get through in order to get the parts that make the game worthwhile. Jaws of Hakkon just added another huge, open map with more shards to collect and too much combat and travel time, with nary a glimpse of what makes Dragon Age charming. And it made me realize…that’s what 90% of my experience with the main game was.

I continued on to play through the other DLC. The Descent was good. It didn’t fall into the same traps that Hakkon did. It was nice and linear, there was more story and interaction with other characters. I actually got to see close ups of characters I was talking to during conversations. There was still some shitty collecting of gears but there was an actual purpose to it (opening doors) and you didn’t need to get every single one. It did have a lot of boring combat and for some reason there are no walls in the Deep Roads, meaning I Leaping Shot to my death about a billion times. If you don’t play an archer, Leaping Shot is the most fun and visually appealing ability, plus it makes noise like bowling pins being knocked over, so not using it is not a reasonable option. However, the DLC was decent. Some of the Dragon Age Charm was there.

Trespasser is the last story DLC so I expected a lot of story. For the most part I got it. It had a number of charming bits. Seeing my companions again after so long was nice. Though when I met up with my boo Cullen, I said hello then 3 seconds later we were married. That was a bit jarring. It was great to go to the theater with Josephine and the spa with Vivienne, to hear the bard sing again. Then there was a bunch more combat in more high up areas with no walls. Lots of falling. The end was alright, though it’s the narration during the credits that ended up being my favourite part of the whole thing. Cassandra’s great. Makes me almost want to play the game again to romance her.

However, I think I’m done with my Inquisition experience. Going back for the DLC made realized just how much useless, un-fun filler is in the game and I just can’t bring myself to take part in that again. No matter how much I want to kiss all my companions.

Snatcher (Retro Game Review)

Everyone’s been talking about Metal Gear Solid 5 lately and I’d never played a Kojima game (aside from PT). I do plan to play through the Metal Gear series at some point, but thought I’d start with one of this other games, Snatcher, on Sega CD.

Here’s what I thought of it. It’s a bit longer than my usual videos (and took forever to put together), but I had a lot to say.

Top 5 Gaming Pet Peeves

I’ve got a new video up about my top 5 gaming pet peeves. Who doesn’t like talking about things that bug them in games?

If you’re not a video watcher, my pet peeves (right now) are:

  1. Games that don’t let me invert the Y-axis.
  2. Episodic games.
  3. Durability and gear repair.
  4. People who constantly correct you about minor details, or try to “teach” you about a game that you clearly already know a lot about.
  5. Quibbling about review scores.

Feel free to share your pet peeves!


Things I Don’t Get About Gaming: Respect for One’s Time

So here’s something I’m becoming more and more perplexed by as time goes on – gaming’s relationship with time. More specifically, the relationship between time and enjoyment.

I’ve talked before about how I find it strange that “short” is so often used as a criticism of games, or something included in the negative column of a review. I’ve actually made a whole video about it. I love short games. They don’t overstay their welcome, you have less of a chance to get bored. There’s less “busy work” like fetch quests or loot grinding. If it’s a story-focused game, the narrative is usually tighter. That’s not to say I don’t like long games too – I love a lot of those but honestly I probably would have enjoyed Witcher 3 or Dragon Age: Inquisition more if I spent 50 hours with them (which is still a very long time) rather than 100+. Did looking for weapon and armor patterns or shards add anything to the game but extra playtime? Not really.

Destiny loot grind

Today there was an opinion piece about Destiny over on Polygon. My history with Destiny is quite short. I picked it up not long after release and gave it a fair shake. It looked nice – not exactly glowing praise. Are there really any current gen AAA games you can’t say that about? The shooting mechanics were solid. The story was almost non-existent, and what little there was was wedged into a phone app rather than in the game. The gameplay got repetitive and boring real quick. Playing alone was dull. Playing with a friend (who outleveled me) was dull (and full of death). Loot grinds are dull. Plus, the number one strike against games for me right now – it doesn’t end. So I quit. This was not the game for me.

Anyway, one quote from this article made me kind of sad.

I’m like many of you in that I only have an hour, maybe two, of non-working game time every night. So I tend to play games that allow me to make some forward progress in that time. Diablo 3 was a perfect game for that rhythm, as you could play a little here and there and always gain a bit of level or some loot.

Destiny actively pushed players like me away with its endgame leveling scheme, which depended on an arcane “Light” system. You were completely reliant on random item drops to level up and, while there were certain things you could do to maximize your time, if you didn’t pull any good items in your evening of playing, you were sunk. The time was all but meaningless.

It felt like a grind that ended with a slot machine that would determine whether or not you wasted your time. It sucked, and it sucked hard.

I understand that things like gears and levels serve as both goals and rewards in games. However, shouldn’t the simple act of playing the game be something worth your time? Shouldn’t playing be fun? Fun might be a bit reductive – but it should be engaging, or entertaining, or thought-provoking, or interesting. If the time you spend with a game is only worthwhile if X happens (you get a piece of gear, you gain a level, you get an achievement, you win) but is considered a waste of time otherwise, is that a good game? Does it deserve your time?

Say you play for an hour. At the 58 minute mark you get a piece of gear. Whether it’s useful or not will certainly impact your enjoyment and mood for those last 2 minutes of the game. But what about the first 57 minutes, before the loot dropped. Were you enjoying yourself? If not, why are you playing?

My thoughts on this have evolved over the years. I can think of many, many times in World of Warcraft where I spent hours in a raid and was just miserable the whole time (heroic Garrosh springs to mind). These times weren’t contained to a certain tier or xpac, there were lots times I spent in WoW that were unequivocally NOT FUN. But I did them for some larger goal – an achievement, a boss kill, a better arena ranking.

Now I’ve come to a point where if I were to play a game for 2 hours and consider my time wasted I don’t think I’d be going back to that game. Life’s short. There are a lot of games to play.

What do you think? Is it worth it to power through uninteresting gameplay, to do things you consider a waste of time, in search of some bigger in-game goal? The more work you put in, the better the “win” will feel? Or do you think games should always be fun (or at least interesting) to you in some way?