Category Archives: Observations

The Continually Disappointing and Melodramatic Dead

Warning: This post contains ranting. Also, spoilers! So if you aren’t caught up on The Walking Dead or haven’t watched the season 5 premiere (and you still care), turn back now.

Ah, The Walking Dead. I never read the graphic novels, but when the television show started back in 2010, I was excited. I love apocalyptic fiction, and it’s not a genre that’s covered often, or well on television. The BBC series Survivors was enjoyable, but only lasted for 12 episodes, and I guess you could call BS:G post-apocalyptic, but that’s about it. The Walking Dead gave us the end of the world and gave us zombies, which hadn’t been quite so overdone as they are now.

The 6-episode first season was well done. The setup was good, personal relationships and conflicts were established. There was a clear goal of getting to the Atlanta CDC to see if there was hope for a cure.

Season 2 starts with some excitement (oh by the way, the CDC stuff from last season? A hopeless waste of time). Sophia is missing! Carl is shot! The apocalypse is clearly no place for children. The group finds a farm which seems safe enough, owned by a vet who moonlights as a doctor and they stay there. For the entire season. Just hanging out on the farm. The story stopped moving forward, and instead each episode centered on personal drama and all the characters yelling at each other without actually communicating.

Season 3 has the survivors camping out in a prison. We get introduced to the Governor, who’s a bit of a caricature of a villain and Michonne, who everyone loves, but her defining character trait at this point is that she has a sword. Rick goes crazy, but he’s such a boring character that nobody cares. A bunch of major characters die, and the survivors return to the prison. Oh, and now there’s a baby. Because that will end well.

Season 4 brought the Governor back, and this time tries to make us sympathize with him. He just wants a family to take care of, he’s not so bad. Oh, wait, he just decapitated a sweet old Hershel, never mind. Once the prison is left behind, things did pick up a bit. The group gets separated, new relationships form, Michonne develops into an actual character. And then there’s Terminus. Everyone starts heading toward this apparent sanctuary. There’s mystery! There’s intrigue! What is Terminus? Is it safe? Who are these people who run it? The season ends with most of the group locked in a shipping container. Apparently no, Terminus is not safe, but Rick and the others are determined to survive.

That brings us to season 5. I’m so mad I can’t even form proper paragraphs.

  • After all the Terminus build-up – who are these people? What are they going to do? Are they cannibals? Within 5 minutes of the season opener, all the questions are answered. Yup, they’re totally cannibals, and they’re going to kill Rick, Bob, Daryl, and Glenn RIGHT NOW.
  • The four merry men are knelt in front of a trough and we watch 4 redshirts get their throats slit like pigs. Then, it’s Glenn’s turn. Oh no! Not Glenn! He’s going to die!
  • Nevermind, we get Carol ex machina, who blows up part of Terminus just in time to save him!
  • Ugh, this whole situation is so dumb and lacks any kind of tension. We know they’re not going to kill off 4 leads in one scene at the very start of a season. Was anyone actually worried? And having them saved right before it’s Glenn’s turn to die is just lazy. Mix it up a bit. If Bob had been first in the kill line, I might be worried for him. But Glenn? Don’t waste my time.
  • So the whole five episode arc leading up to Terminus is just done, boom. Cannibals all dead, Rick and co. are free in the first half of the episode.
  • This episode also features Tyreese. He’s with Judith (Carol has gone off to be a hero), and watching over one of the people from Terminus. This character plot device tells Tyreese he and the baby are going to die because T won’t kill him. Tyreese is a good guy, he just wants everyone to get along, but he gets the message and eventually pounds the guy’s face into the dirt (though I’m kind of skeptical that he actually killed him since he wouldn’t let Carol go in and see the body).
  • Then, a happy ending! Rick and Carl are reunited with Judith! Tyreese is reunited with Sasha! Carol is reunited with Darryl! Beth’s still MIA, but who cares! There are tears of joy, maybe the rest of the season will be one big love-in.
  • We got two flashbacks at the beginning and end of the episode that showed the people running Terminus and how they had been captured and brutalized by others before, so that’s why they turned into butchers themselves. But there’s a pretty big discrepancy between killing your captors and protecting your own, vs. sending out broadcasts and putting up signs drawing people to you so you can capture, kill, and eat them. And they’re all dead now anyway, so the flashback at the end really did nothing. If you want to explore these characters, fine, but this was a really brief and lazy way of doing it.
  • TDW is very subtly trying to show us that our favourite characters are becoming the monsters they were trying to fight. Oh, did I say subtle? I meant they are using a sledgehammer to drive that point across.
  • The action scenes are starting to feel like they’re just showing off how good the make-up and effects departments have gotten at gore. And they are good. But now it just seems like the show is trying to gross us out rather that create horror in any literary way.
  • There are things that make me think I want to continue watching season 5 – another actor from The Wire, Morgan from way back in season 1 – but I also know I’ll continue to be disappointed. They’ll continue meeting and killing new people. Some big thing will get built up this season only to be resolved within an episode once they finally get there. Characters will yell at each other and question if they have become monsters. And on and on and on.

So that’s it. I obviously didn’t care for the episode, which is disappointing since the build up in season 4 actually made me excited for this premiere. I think I’m mostly just mad that I keep watching the show when it clearly gives me no joy.

Game Reviews by the Numbers

You visit Gamespot, IGN, or Ploygon and see a game has been reviewed and given a score of 8. But what does that mean? Is 8 a good score? Should I play it? I think an 8 is a very positive score, but others, who feel that big gaming sites work mainly within a 7-10 scale for big budget titles may think an 8 is not all that hot. First, I don’t think it’s necessarily true that big gaming sites only use the 7-10 part of the scale. Take Polygon’s reviews for XBox One titles, there are a number of scores for big budget games in the 4-6 range. Same with Gamespot.

The issue is that everything about a game review is subjective. From what aspects of the game a reviewer chooses to focus on, to how they ultimately score the game, to which games they review in the first place. A rating of 8 can and will mean different things to different people. Despite the dubious worth of a numerical score, most sites use them. I use them when I write reviews as well. Why? I like numbers.  I don’t think people should pay attention to numbers exclusively but if I want to know, quickly, how much a reviewer enjoyed a game, it’s a good place to start.

An argument could also be made to say that numerical scores are more trouble than they’re worth. Look at any average 7-rated gamed review and the comments will undoubtedly be filled with exclamations such as “7!? You’re obviously a shill, this game is a 6 at most” or “Are you fucking kidding me, 7? Ridiculous, this game is a solid 7.5.” Of course, a stronger argument could be made that we just shouldn’t read the comments on big gaming sites.

I’m obviously not a professional reviewer, but I use numbers as a way to cap off my reviews and give people a quick idea of what I thought of a game. I’ve only written 9 reviews here, but I think I’ve done a good job at using most of the 1-10 scale.

The Swapper – 10/10
Remember Me – 9/10
The Last of Us (Remastered) – 9/10
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter – 9/10
Revolution 60 – 8/10
Murdered: Soul Suspect – 7/10
The Walking Dead: Season 2 – 6/10
Contrast – 5/10
Moebius: Empire Rising – 4/10

Looking back, I stand by how I’ve scored games. I enjoyed Contrast (5) more than Moebius (4). I enjoyed The Walking Dead S2 (6) more than Contrast. The place where things get a bit tricky is at the top of the ratings. I gave The Swapper, a short indie puzzler a 10, while I gave The Last of Us a 9. These two games are hard to compare, and I’m not really even making the claim that The Swapper is a better game than The Last of Us, but rather that I enjoyed it more. Though The Last of Us has top-notch writing and quality going for it, I enjoyed the 4 hours I spent with The Swapper more than I enjoyed the 12 hours I spent with The Last of Us.

I’d find it difficult to award a 10 to a AAA title, because there’s just so much going on in them, and so many places to find fault. I’m very critical of bad/unnatural feeling controls, and AAA titles are more likely to have complex control schemes. Their stories can be sprawling, with tons of dialogue and voice acting, which is also a place where fault is often found. They’re more likely to rely on tropes that get overused which makes me think the writing is lazy. Gameplay is varied, from conversation systems, to mini-games, to combat, to crafting, and generally some of those systems work better than others. I’m replaying Mass Effect 3 right now, and though I love it, it would be very easy for me to point out 10 things about it that bug me and could be improved, from holding A to run to having to do multiplayer to optimize galactic readiness. So I couldn’t award it a perfect score. On the other end of the spectrum if you took a game like Limbo, there’s very little to complain about there. The art style is simple, yet effective. Gameplay and controls are not complex, but are very well done. There’s no dialogue, the story is simple and the game gets elevated by  fantastically dark atmosphere. The scope of Limbo is small, but it gave me a great gaming experience and I had nothing to complain about. I could give Limbo a 10.

I think every reviewer looks for different things in games, and puts greater weight on some aspects than others. As I said, I’m very critical of controls. Smooth, seemless controls will make me look very favourably on a game. I also focus a lot on the narrative. I like games that tell a good story and give me characters I can either relate to feel strongly about. Entertainment value is the most important thing though. If a game is a lot of fun, I can overlook a number of issues. Take Saint’s Row 4 for example, there are some annoying technical things, but the game is so damn fun that I don’t care. Likewise, a game can have strong mechanics and look great, but if it doesn’t keep me engaged, that’s worth very little.

There are some things that I don’t care much about at all. Replayability is one. I like games that complete a story, then end. If I replay a game it depends entirely on how much I enjoyed it. I replay games that change based on decisions (like Dragon Age), and I replay games that will be the exactly same the second time around (like Gabriel Knight). Whether the game has multi-player or something tacked on to extend the experience past the main single player game has no impact on how much I enjoy the game. Also, I generally won’t harp on game length or cost except in extreme situations. $10- $20 for a 4 hour indie game seems totally reasonable to me. The only review where I thought a short game length was a major negative was Murdered: Soul Suspect. Full price ($69.99) for an 8 hour game did seem excessive. Otherwise, I won’t complain about a game being short as long as the cost is somewhat in line. I’m actually more likely to complain when a game’s length drags on past its welcome.

Here’s a general rundown of what the 1-10 scale means to me.

  • 10 – This game is special! I got great enjoyment from this game and found very little to criticize.
  • 9 – Excellent, an amazing gaming experience. Probably a couple faults, but nothing major.
  • 8 – Very good. I enjoyed this game but it didn’t blow my mind.
  • 7 – Good. I’m glad I played this game but it did have one or two major (but not game breaking) problems.
  • 6 – Okay. Game had some major problems. The one time I awarded a 6 it was because the first half of the game was very good, and the last half was poor. Probably still worth playing.
  • 5 – Needs improvement. The game had as many negatives as positives going for it. Probably not worth playing unless you really like the genre.
  • 4 – Poor. While not totally without merit, the game gave more frustration or boredom than enjoyment. Not recommended.
  • 1-3 – Honestly, if a game was looking worse than a 4 I would probably stop playing and not write a review. This would likely be due to game-breaking issues, bad gameplay, or hugely offensive content.

What do you think of game reviews and scores? How much weight do you give them when deciding whether to play a game?

Information Overload

Once upon a time, back when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, before the Internet was a big thing, getting help when you were stuck in a game was not easy. The first game I remember getting stuck on was Maniac Mansion. When I got stuck, there wasn’t a lot of help available. Basically I just had to keep trying new things. Sure it was frustrating but, looking back through wistful rose-coloured glasses, it was also kinda nice. I had to figure things out myself.

However, my gaming hobby had barely gotten started before the era of figuring things out yourself started getting eclipsed by the business of game hints. In 1989 Sierra introduced their new hint line – for only $0.75 for the first minute and $0.50 for every additional minute, you could talk to someone who would tell you how to get through their games. I don’t believe I ever called them, but only because I didn’t have a credit card when I was 8. Gaming magazines, like Nintendo Power had sections dedicated to hints and strategies. Prima Games started making strategy guides in 1990, and their guides for challenging games like Myst sold like hotcakes. Hints were on TV too. If you were lucky enough to be a Canadian with access to YTV, Nicholas Picholas would share Turbo Tips with you every week on Video & Arcade Top 10, which premiered in 1991. In 1995 GameFAQs was created, which really got the ball rolling on internet game walkthroughs and guides.

Access to information is great, but when does it become too much? When does it begin to hinder enjoyment of a game rather than enhance it?

Let’s talk about World of Warcraft for a bit. When I first started playing World of Warcraft, one of the coolest things about it was the amount of exploration I could do. Everything was new to me. Every zone had new things to look at, and every quest (whose text I needed to read in order to know where to go) told a new story. There were little surprises, like treasure chests you could find scattered about. Sure, they rarely had anything exciting in them but just finding them and anticipating the contents as you opened them was exciting. Doing dungeons or killing a rare I stumbled upon and having a blue piece of loot for me was unexpected and rewarding. One of my favourite early memories from the game was finding and completing the questline that eventually rewarded me with the Sprite Darter Hatchlings. The quest-giver was quite hidden, so it felt like a secret. Not everyone had one, so it felt special.

If you asked me to name a time something unexpected or surprising happened to me in WoW over the last few expansions, I’d be hard pressed to think of one. What happened? Information overload happened. The Sprite Darter Hatchling questline (if it still existed) could never stay hidden, you’d see a big yellow exclamation point on your map as you came near it. Getting stuck on a quest became near impossible as your map would highlight the area you needed to go. Reading the quest text and actually knowing what was happening in the story became a thing of the past for me, since it was no longer required.

Mods were created that gave you information in-game that you’d otherwise not have access to. With AtlasLoot Enhanced, I could see the loot table of every boss I fought. Good drops were no longer an unexpected delight, because I knew where they all came from. Bad drops became infinitely more disappointing because I knew when they came at the expense of a drop I really wanted. Rare mobs stopped being interesting as soon as I downloaded RareSpawn Overlay so I could see where every one of them spawned and NPC Scan which would blast noise at me as soon as one was in range so I didn’t even need to pay attention to the game. Mists of Pandaria introduced treasures and BoA items you could find around the map. These were fun, until I realized it was much more efficient to check the Wowhead guide and see a map which pinpointed every single one, or download TomTom and be navigated right to them.

Further than just information about objects, there’s also a ton of information available about how to play your character. IcyVeins will tell you how to spec and ability priorities. Mods like SpellFlash will tell you what spell to cast next. Even the default UI will make your spell icons flash when an ability is ready to use. Raid healing was always my favourite thing because it required some decision-making and quick reactions on my part, but even those requirements are reduced by DBM counting down every major ability I need to know about or GTFO screaming when I stand in bad things.

Looking up the information or installing an addon is so much more efficient than trying to figure things out or find things yourself. But it is not more fun. Sure, you could just not use addons, not use Wowhead, but that’s a lot like telling someone who complained about content nerfs to just turn off the Dragon Soul buff. Technically possible, but not bloody likely. Why should you handicap yourself?

For a game with such a huge, beautiful world there’s actually very little to discover in WoW that you can’t find in a database first. Exploration can seem like a waste of time. With PTRs, Betas, and datamining, it’s even possible to learn everything there is to know about a new content patch or expansion – every item, achievement, cinematic, quest – before it’s even released.

Of course, WoW is not the only game that can be ruined by having too much information easily accessible. With all the walkthroughs, FAQs and video guides available, it’s possible to ruin almost any game. Information is good and sometimes a game will really stump me so I’m happy it’s there. However, there’s a thin line between access to info that prevents me from banging my head against a wall for too long, and having so much information available that I never have to actually think for myself.  I played a puzzler called The Bridge a couple of weeks ago and I really enjoyed it. At first. The puzzles were all based on gravity, sometimes momentum, and solving them in the first few levels made me feel accomplished, especially as they got more challenging. But then came a puzzle that I played around with for a good 10 minutes and I couldn’t figure out how to solve it. So I looked up a video, got the solution and went on my way. The next puzzle that stumped me I only tried for a couple of minutes. I mean, I had already found a cool video guide that had all the answers, doesn’t hurt to take another peek, right? By the end of the game I was sitting at my computer, right hand on the keyboard, left hand holding my iPhone as a video walked me through the solutions to all of the last puzzles. This is not fun. This is not gaming. I want to think, want to have to try, but all the answers are right there. Looking up the answers is so fast and easy.

I lack self-control when it comes to spoilers, though the pervasive presence of guides makes me think I’m not the only one. Once I’ve looked up a solution, it becomes very hard not to do it again for that game. Soon I’m not even enjoying the game, I’m just following a set of directions from point A to point B.

When it comes to availability of this information there’s no going back, but it does make me miss the days when finding that information was just a little bit harder and thinking for yourself felt more encouraged.

Role Playing Game

RPGs are one of my favourite genres of video games, but what exactly is a role-playing game?

A role-playing game is a game in which players assume the roles of characters in a fictional setting.

That’s not a very comprehensive description, as it could apply to almost any game. Though I control the character Mario in the fictional setting of the Mushroom Kingdom, I’d never call Super Mario Bros a role-playing game. Ultimately, this whole post is about semantics, but I’m interested in how people define this particular genre and what games the RPG moniker it gets applied to.

The first game that really made me question the meaning of RPG was Borderlands, a game that billed itself as a role-playing shooter. The game had a number of mechanics in common with the more traditional role-playing games such as choice of class, a talent tree, and power increases through gear and gaining stats as you level. But for me, nothing about Borderlands made me feel like I was playing a role. Whether I played as Mordechai the hunter, or Lilith the siren, the game never felt any different beyond basic combat mechanics. A talent tree does not an RPG make.

Talent tree for Mordechai in Borderlands

Character building is a huge part of RPGs, and can fall into one of two categories. The first, which I’ll call mechanical character building, happens by gaining experience through quests or combat, which increases your level, which in turn increases your character’s stats or gives you more abilities. Mechanical character building is what makes you feel like your character is getting more powerful. The second type, which I’ll call narrative character building happens by making decisions that affect your character in different ways. Rather than levelling until you get 18 Strength, you’re making decisions that develop your character’s personality, how other characters react to you, maybe even the game world. Without this second type of character building I’m reluctant to classify a game as an RPG.

Druid talent trees

World of Warcraft is a Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game, but I have honestly never considered that an accurate classification. I know that many people play WoW as an RPG – they create backstories for their characters, give them a personality, and maybe even speak to others in-game in character, but this really comes from their own creativity and imagination. Blizzard developed a lot of lore that people can pull their character stories from, but if you take just the actual game content, there’s really not a lot of character building. As someone who does not RP in-game and is not interested in creating my own stories about my character, my Night Elf Druid is really no different from any of a million other Night Elf Druids. Or Tauren Warriors, for that matter. They don’t talk. They don’t have a personality. They don’t make decisions any deeper than do this quest or don’t do this quest. None of the adventures I have in-game effect the larger world, or the story of the game. We can kill the game’s antagonist on Monday only to have him come back on Tuesday. Choosing to be Resto vs Feral or taking Nature’s Vigil over Heart of the Wild make me feel like I’m developing a stat sheet, not a character. For me, the character building in WoW was 100% mechanical.

Planescape Torment conversation options

Another related, somewhat overlapping component of RPGs is choice and decision-making. You can choose your companions in games like Baldur’s Gate. You can choose to join the Dustmen faction, the Anarchists, or the Sensates (or all of them) in Planescape: Torment. You can choose who will rule the kingdom in Dragon Age. All of these decisions affect the game experience in some way, from making different sidequests available to changing the ending.

FF7 Golden Pagoda

Thinking about RPGs from a decision-making and effect point of view makes me think again about JRPGs. Take Final Fantasy 7 for example. There’s actually very little decision-making in this game. In terms of mechanical character development, you don’t even build your character you really just choose weapons and materia to use. Cloud is Cloud and nothing you do changes his story. You can choose to do certain optional content – recruit Yuffie and Vincent, fight the Weapons, breed chocobos – but again, that doesn’t really impact your character or the narrative. The only part of the game that really provides you with something different based on your decisions is who you go on a date with at the Gold Saucer. Final Fantasy or Shadow Hearts, two series I love, don’t really let me develop a character. The protagonists are written in one way and I’m just along for the ride.

The Walking Dead decisions

So what about games that allow you to make decisions and do a lot of narrative character building, but have no mechanical character building? The Walking Dead is full of choices to make and allows you to shape Lee’s personality, but there is no levelling or gearing up. You don’t get stronger, you just develop the story and cultivate relationships with your companions. Is this an RPG? I personally feel that this kind of decision heavy game provides a much more immersive role-playing experience than something that allows me to adjust 100 different stats, traits, and abilities on a character sheet. But that’s just my opinion.

To me, what makes an RPG is decision-making and character building. Without the ability to have input into the character’s development and choices, I really don’t feel like I’m playing a role. The subgenre of the game – it could be a shooter, or turn-based strategy, or action – doesn’t matter, so much as being able to have an effect on events in the game.

What I’m Playing This Week

This past week I bought a lot of video games, I even had time to play many of them!

Divinity: Original Sin

I wrapped up my game of Divinity with 65 hours played. It’s been a while since I’ve spent that much time completing a game. I was going to write a full review but I honestly have nothing too clever to say. It’s a very solid, enjoyable isometric RPG and if you liked Baldur’s Gate or Planescape: Torment, you should play it. I could do without the rock, paper, scissors though.

Richard & Alice

After finishing Divinity, I wanted to play something short. Richard & Alice fit the bill. It’s an indie adventure game, set in an apocalyptic winter wonderland. It’s not much to look at, but it tells a thoughtful and melancholy story about what people will do to survive.

Richard & Alice

The gameplay is simple and the puzzles are straightforward, but the writing is where this game shines. Two hours well spent.

Mass Effect 3

I started a replay of the whole ME series and while back and I’ve been slowly making my way through it. I had only played ME3 once before, right when it came out, and apparently I have a terrible memory because the whole beginning felt completely new to me. I considered ME2 my favourite of the series before, but I’m really digging how wide open this one is, and I love reuniting with my old crew and building up a giant military force to fight the Reapers. I’m playing Renegade this time around, and enjoy getting to punch a lot of people in the face. I also got most of the DLC, so I’m looking forward to seeing that content for the first time.

I gave the multiplayer a shot for the first time and found it surprisingly fun. I’m determined to get to 100% galactic readiness for this playthrough, so I’ll be playing a bit more of it. I play as a Vanguard in multiplayer, which makes me regret not being one in the single player game this time around. There really is nothing better than Biotic Charge > Nova > shotgun blast to the face (and maybe a melee strike for good measure).

Destiny

Honestly, neither of the terms “MMO” or “FPS” fill me with girlish delight, but the Destiny hype machine was so big that I had to try it. It is a beautiful game, and the combat mechanics are solid. I’m playing as an Awoken Titan – obviously. Purple punchy person > everything else. The first thing I noticed was that my kick-ass Awoken lady was not wearing a sculpted breastplate that would kill her. So, kudos to the design team.

I’d like to add a gorgeous screenshot here but… XBox.

I really enjoyed the first few missions – the combat was fun, Peter Dinklage was talking to me. When I got to my 4th or 5th story mission it all started feeling the same. Also, the story missions are pretty light on story. You pick up grimoires as you progress through the game which give you backstory on the different races, factions, enemies, weapons, etc. However, you can’t access this information in the game. You need to go to the Bungie site, or download the Destiny app on your phone. Seriously. Putting contextual information in the actual game is so passé.

I played with a friend and that made the normal missions more enjoyable, but then we did a strike mission which was terrible. We came up against this bullet sponge spider tank that took way too long to kill and would one-shot me any time I made a mistake. I’m only level 7 so far, so I’ll keep playing to max level, but it looks like it will be just more of the same. Neverending games really aren’t my thing, so I’ll likely finish the story missions, proclaim that I’ve beaten the game and not play again unless under duress (much like I did with Diablo 3).

The Testament of Sherlock Holmes

This is one I’ve been slowly making my way through for a month or two. Though I’ve always considered myself a fan of adventure games, they’ve begun to make me wary as the puzzles often make no fracking sense. Luckily, this is not the case for most of the puzzles in this game. Testament of Sherlock Holmes has an intriguing story, it looks and sounds pretty good, and best of all, the puzzles do not make me want to tear my hair out. The puzzles are logical and make me feel smart when I solve them. There’s no mindlessly trying to combine every object in your inventory here. Holmes is a dick and can be annoyingly loquacious, but he’s a genius so I can tolerate it.

The Testament of Sherlock Holmes

Metro 2033

Metro is a game that interested me when it first came out, I just never picked it up. Since it got remastered for the latest gen consoles, I figured I should finally give it a go. I think I’m about halfway through Metro 2033 and I’m enjoying it. Though it bills itself as survival horror, I’d call it more of a straight up FPS. It has some spooky things in it, but it’s really not a horror game. One of the best parts of the game is the atmosphere. While I’m in the metro stations they are bustling; NPCs are talking to each other and reacting to my presence. The environments are wonderfully detailed. In the tunnels and above ground our character reacts to radiation and bad air, has to wipe dirt and blood off his gas mask. For the most part the HUD isn’t visible, so you don’t see health levels and only see ammo quantities while you’re reloading or bring up the weapons menu. The combat is challenging, especially before your weapons are modified and the mutants you fight come from everywhere, so it can get intense.

Pixel Puzzles: Japan

I bought an indie bundle last week because it had Lifeless Planet in it, which I wanted to try. I originally wrote off the other games, but when I actually looked at them, many seemed interesting. Last night I was looking for something I could play while catching up on the week’s Big Brother episodes, and discovered Pixel Puzzles. It’s basically just a collection of digital jigsaw puzzles. The images are all lovely and the pieces float around in a koi pond.
PIxel-Puzzles-Japan

Before I knew it, I had put together 11 puzzles. Pixel Puzzles – all the fun and relaxation of a jigsaw puzzle without the fear your cat will knock all the pieces onto the floor.


What have you been playing lately?

Gamergate

I didn’t want to talk about this topic because I wanted the whole issue to suffocate from lack of attention and die away. However, I find the whole thing so frustrating that I feel the need to write words about it to work through it and try to understand. I wrote a comment on a post about this (one of the few times I’ve weighed in on a public comment section) and the 400 other responses I keep getting emailed by Disqus have given me things to think about and things to rage about. I won’t claim to have read everything there is to read about the issue, it’s just too much shit to wade through. But I’ve read articles from both sides, I’ve read the comments, I’ve read through the GamerGate hashtag for as long as I could stomach it.

On the surface, GamerGate claims to be against biased and corrupt game journalism. Okay, being against bias and corruption seems like a logical thing. So where does the whole thing get so crazy?

Let’s look at some of the specific claims and complaints.

It is a conflict of interest for game journalists to have relationships with game developers. This could mean a writer is friends, or lovers with a game dev. It could mean a writer supports a dev’s work via Patreon. Yes, relationships can create bias. So can things like personal experience and tastes, but that’s beside the point. The important question for me is – what effect do these biases have?

A game writer gives publicity to a friend’s game it might not have gotten otherwise. Why is this something to get upset over? Having connections in an industry will give you more exposure in that industry. This is common sense, not corruption.

How about prominent game writers or developers coming to the defense of someone who is being harassed and attacked? Again, not corruption. This is a rather expected response.

Press and developers being too cozy? People in the same industry, with similar interests, who attend the same events will make friends. Maybe even start relationships. How many people have met a significant other or made friends at work? Why is games journalism a field where this is so taboo?

I think a big part of the problem is that people are taking game journalism way too seriously. They’re trying to impose very strict ethical guidelines in a place where they just don’t make sense. We’re not talking about coverage of politics (although this has gotten very political), or lawmaking, or international relations. We’re talking about video games. Most of game journalism is not news. It’s opinion. A game review is opinion. Social commentary about gaming is opinion. Agree with it, don’t agree with it, then move on with your life. If a journalist writes about a friend’s game and their bias clouds their review, is it the end of the world? No. And there will be 300 other reviews of that game that you could read which would balance their opinion. People have ridiculous expectations. Did gamers really see game journalists as infallible sources of consumer information before? Unless you’re reporting the specs of a new console, we’re not talking about facts. Whether a game is good or bad is not fact. It’s subjective opinion.

The inciting incident for GamerGate was Eron Gjoni writing a 9000 word manifesto on all the terrible things his game developer ex-girlfriend Zoe Quinn had done. Namely, cheating on him with some men who were game journalists. This caused all kinds of outrage and was apparently evidence of how corrupt the industry is. Zoe Quinn had slept her way to coverage and good reviews of her games. The problem was these reviews didn’t exist. One of the journalists had mentioned her game in passing, but it looks like this happened before they had any sexual relationship. What I took away from Gjoni’s post was not that the gaming industry was a vile pit of corruption, but rather that I probably don’t ever want to date Zoe Quinn or Eron Gjoni. What I take away from the shitstorm the post caused is that a lot of people erroneously think that this woman’s sex life is any of their business.

The term misogyny is getting thrown at GamerGate supporters a lot. Are they really upset about corruption in journalism, or are they just using this as an excuse to harass women out of the industry? While I believe that the true misogynists make up a small (though very vocal) minority of the people involved in this, it’s hard to reconcile the people who do not have this intent. Why is Quinn – who is a developer, not a journalist – bearing the brunt of this? If unethical journalism is the true target, why is she the enemy?

I won’t deny the possibility of corruption in any industry that makes money but 98% of the examples of corruption in journalism I’ve seen brought up by GamerGate are about Zoe Quinn. Give me more examples of actual journalists being corrupt. Show me how this has affected people’s lives in real negative ways. Otherwise, it’s pretty easy to write the whole thing off as an excuse to harass people.

Gaming sites are attacking gamers. After the Zoe Quinn “scandal” was brought to light, and after Anita Sarkeesian released a new Tropes vs. Women video, both women were subject to harassment and threats. Soon after this a number of gaming sites published articles with titles along the lines of “Gamers are Over”, which denounced this behaviour and condemned gaming culture as being toxic and entitled. The gamer stereotypes, lonely white males in basements, were presented as being on their way out, and angry because their hobby was evolving while they were not.

First of all, I think inflammatory titles like “Death to Gamers” are unnecessary and do more harm than good. Biting the hands that feed you is also pretty stupid. I identify as a gamer. However, I’m also a reasonable human being. When gamers are decried for being angry, socially inept douchebags, I don’t feel personally attacked. I know they aren’t talking about me. I think that people could be more careful about their language to avoid the appearance that they’re making sweeping generalizations about certain group, if for no other reason than it would not encourage the creation of more stupid hashtags.

Ultimately, this is all semantics. Gamer doesn’t have a set meaning. It means different things to different people. Gamers come from all walks of life, like different games, and have different opinions. Staunch support or opposition to “gamer” culture is silly because it’s not a single, definable thing.

Social Justice Warriors are destroying gaming and game journalism. People criticize the things they love. Suck it up, buttercup.

There are two main complaints here. The first is that gaming journalists are using gaming sites to push radical social justice. People just want to play games and have fun, they don’t want political agendas shoved down their throat. No one wants games to stop being fun. However, many people want to raise concerns about certain issues in games to raise awareness and hopefully encourage games to evolve. If you think reducing the amount of people who are marginalized by games will make them less fun, there’s probably something wrong with you. If this isn’t an interest of yours you don’t have to read these articles. Even in the most left-leaning of gaming sites that I frequent, these articles do not make up the majority of what gets published. There’s plenty of other kinds of articles – straight up reviews, previews, news, interviews. If you don’t want to read someone’s opinion on lack of female characters in the new Assassin’s Creed, no one is forcing you to.

The second type of complaints seems to stem from games like Gone Home getting well reviewed. Apparently, enjoying games that do things differently is a threat to the more traditional games. Or positively reviewing this type of game means you’re corrupt because how could anyone enjoy a “walking simulator”. This one seems almost too silly to respond to. The industry evolving is good. More choices are good. No one is taking your preferred games away.

Game journalists are glorified bloggers and have become irrelevant.

So let me get this straight. Game journalists are just bloggers (which is apparently a pejorative term? ouch). They are irrelevant. So, if they are irrelevant and their opinions carry no weight, why are people so mad about them saying that gamer culture is dead? Who cares what they think? Why do they need to live up to such high ethical standards in order to talk about games? Make up your minds, folks. Either Polygon and Gamespot and Kotaku should be sources of unbiased, unadulterated, objective facts about video games, or they’re irrelevant and their integrity shouldn’t matter.

If you really think that game journalism should no longer have a place in the industry, then stop visiting gaming sites and giving them revenue. Watch YouTube videos, read personal blogs, or get opinions from your friends. Let game journalism die its slow (inevitable, according to many GamerGate supporters) death. That many are opting to harass journalists instead calls the true motivations of GamerGate into question.

Doing it Right: Remember Me

Doing it Right is a feature that looks at games that I think are making positive strides in regard to females and representation in games. While it’s important to call out games when they are sexist and reinforcing negative stereotypes, I think it’s equally important to recognize the games that are succeeding at elevating themselves away from that. 

Remember Me was released by Dontnod Entertainment in June of 2013. It’s an action-adventure game set in future Paris, in a world where memories have become a commodity. A large corporation, Memorize, has developed technology to allow people to upload and share their memories, as well as get rid of the unpleasant ones. This gives the corporation an immense amount of information and power as they have access to everyone’s memories and the ability to erase them. The main character Nilin is a memory hunter who can steal and remix people’s memories and is intent on taking Memorize down.

Remember Me Nilin

Review

Remember Me was not very well received and the reviews were mediocre. To each their own, but I thought the game was very enjoyable. It looks great – it’s really cool to see the familiar Paris landmarks in a futuristic setting. It reminded me a little bit of how Earth is portrayed in The Fifth Element. I appreciated the story because it was something different from the norm. The specifics were kept a mystery for much of the game and you didn’t always know if you were working for the right side, so it kept me intrigued.

Remember Me - Future Paris

The combat was fun, and quite similar to the Arkham series with basic melee attacks, combos, dodging (instead of countering) and a couple ranged abilities to take advantage of. However, unlike the Arkham games, I never felt like the fights were excessively long and hand cramping. Every so often you’d get access to a new special ability which kept a sense of progression throughout the game. You could also create your own combos which gave combat a surprising amount of depth. You could add attacks that regenerated health or reduced the cooldowns on special abilities, allowing you to tailor combat to your enemies or your personal preferences.  Aside from combat there was also a lot of fun, though not particularly challenging, platforming. All of the action was very fluid and slick-looking.

The one part of the game I had the most issues with was the memory remixes. Though this was a very innovative idea, I didn’t think they were executed all that well. It was interesting to watch them, and see how a small alteration could result in a vastly different outcome, but they weren’t that fun to play. The controls were irritating and the solutions were pretty much a guessing game. However, there were only four of these sequences in the game so they didn’t detract too much.

Overall though, I’d definitely recommend the game. Nilin is a great main character with lovely voice acting, and the story will keep you entertained. Some of the dialogue occasionally veers into melodrama, but I found those instances rather fun and campy. I played this on PC and it took about 10 hours to finish. I really recommend playing with a controller rather than mouse & keyboard if you play on PC, the controls are 100x better (if I had played through with the keyboard my rating would have been lower).

Rating: 9/10 – Smooth combat and platforming, a beautiful futuristic setting, and a novel story concept make this game well worth playing. There is the occasional sequence that is less well done, but overall the game is a lot of fun.

Nilin

Remember Me’s protagonist Nilin is one of the most powerful and well-known memory hunters. Before the game begins the authorities had arrested Nilin and attempted to wipe her memory because they feared her and what she could do.

Remember Me Nilin

Nilin is a mixed-race female who stands in stark contrast to the bevy of stoic, white males who usually lead games. While there are actually quite a lot of female protagonists, they are also generally white so it’s refreshing that Dontnod wanted to represent someone else.  The developers know that different can be scary to some consumers, but thought it was important enough to do it anyway.

“…we wanted Nilin to stand out. I think these sort of issues become self-fulfilling prophesies; people saying that only white males sell so then everyone only does white males. If you start believing these things you get your head inside this cold marketing strategy that you cannot get your head around. It becomes a pretty fucking racist and misogynistic way of thinking about lead characters.”
– Jean-Maxime Morris (source
)

Nilin is capable, sarcastic, and compelling. She’s also very human. She has to make a lot of difficult decisions throughout the game, she hurts and manipulates people to achieve her goals and we get to see that Nilin is internally conflicted about many of these actions. When it comes time to act though, she never lacks conviction.

Remember Me has a distinct lack of the male gaze when it comes to Nilin and the other female characters. Nilin is beautiful, but the camera never treats her as a sexual object – there are no gratuitous butt shots in the game.

A World of Women

Remember Me’s future Paris is filled with women characters. The game opens with an image of a woman. And not just a woman, an older woman, a demographic which gets very little representation in games. Though this character is only used to help set the stage for the game world, choosing her face as the first one we see makes me feel like the developers aren’t afraid to do something different.

Remember Me Memorize ad

Women play many of the most important roles in the game and they are all powerful, smart women with their own motivations. Women get to be both the protagonists and the antagonists.

Besides Nilin, we also get Astrid Voorhees, the power-hungry and sadistic governor of La Bastille prison, who delights in wiping the memories of her prisoners. She respects Nilin’s power, but also considers it a challenge to overcome.

Scylla Cartier-Wells is the president of Memorize and built it up to become the most powerful corporation in the world. Though brilliant, she’s also bitter due to events of the past and approaches the business of memories without thinking about who is being hurt.

Remember Me - Scylla Cartier-Wells

These are strong, independent women who are real characters. They have their own backstories and goals.

Even the characters who are more minor still get fleshed out and we learn something about them. Olga Sedova is a feared bounty hunter trying to make money to save her sick husband and one of the only opponents that manages to give Nilin a real challenge. Alexia Forlan is in the midst of leaving her husband because she doesn’t want to be his trophy wife anymore when Nilin comes into their lives. Kaori Sheridan is one of Paris’ most brilliant architects and holds the secrets to gaining entry into the most secure places.

It’s very clear that in the future world of Remember Me there are a lot of women in the most powerful and respected jobs.

Overall

In addition to being a fun game with a cool story, I found Remember Me to be a very positive experience from a feminist perspective. Nilin was presented as a strong, capable woman, but not a perfect one. I think that showing game protagonists as complex and nuanced characters is a great thing, not just from a feminist standpoint but also from a writing standpoint. Most people aren’t all good or bad, most people aren’t 100% confident they’re doing the right thing all the time. Creating more characters like these in video games will take games to a much deeper and powerful place. Aside from Nilin, Remember Me was full of female characters who had their own stories and were often leaders in their fields. It’s really nice to see a big budget game where females fill so many of the roles and none of them are being exploited.

Dontnod has just announced they are working on a new title – Life is Strange – with Square Enix. It looks like another game that will be full of interesting female characters and I’ll be following it closely.