Category Archives: Opinion

Walking Simulator

This is for day 26 of Blaugust

“Walking Simulator” is pretty bad, somewhat derogatory name but for better or for worse it seems to have become its own category of games lately. These games mostly feature you walking, in first-person view, while exploring an environment. Mechanics are minimal – you may be able to jump or crouch, or interact with some objects, but other than that the games are mainly about exploring an environment.

What makes some of these games great while others can be a giant snoozefest?

Story

Without a whole lot of gameplay mechanics to keep the player engaged, the story really needs to hold up. In these games you’re generally not interacting with any other characters directly and story is mainly told through observation or narration. While leaving things up to the player’s interpretation and being vague can work for some games, a combination of vague story and lack of any action makes for a really dull experience. Like Dear Esther. Snippets of narration were given (as far as I could tell they weren’t even in a particular order), visuals sometimes offered clues but, otherwise, there was no solid story. Just a lot of walking. In Gone Home, on the other hand, the main story is very clear. There are little mysteries around the house that aren’t explained but you do learn Sam’s story.

Goal

Stanley Parable corridor

If the story isn’t strong, there needs to be a clear goal. In Slender the goal is very simple – gather pages, don’t die. In The Stanley Parable your goal is constantly shifting based on your decisions, but you are told quite clearly what to do. In The Vanishing of Ethan Carter your goal is to find (or find out what happened to) Ethan. The games I’ve found less engaging – Dear Esther, Serena, Mind: Path to Thalamus don’t have a clear goal. While Sunset does have a goal, that goal is to clean some rich dude’s apartment.

Tone

Having good tone and atmosphere is good, and having a changing tone is even better. Again, with a lack of action or interaction you need to feel engaged in some other way. The Stanley Parable does this best. Comedy (as long as it is truly funny) is a great way to make something interesting. Then at times that comedy turns a bit mysterious and dark, things get creepy. Then, back to funny! Horror is another way to make a game that is lacking in action engaging. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter had me on the edge of my seat from the very beginning. Even among the beautiful, idyllic scenery, there was always a sense of danger and occasionally the unease was broken up by actual scares. Gone Home adds some scary elements without it being a scary game which I think was a good choice.

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter cemetary

On the other side of things, Dear Esther had a mildly unsettling atmosphere throughout the whole game but I was unsure why I was unsettled the whole time. Serena classifies itself as a horror game, without including any scares or creepiness factor until the very end. Sunset has a backstory of civil revolution and war but nothing in the gameplay or immediate environment ever really reflects that. It’s tonally even the entire time.

Length and Pacing

This is a big one for me. Not only do I have a love for short games, but I can also only walk around so much. Gone Home is a perfect 2 hour experience. It doesn’t overstay its welcome. The Stanley Parable can be finished in 10 minutes, but it makes you want to go back and try different things. Though Ethan Carter is on the longer side, there’s enough interaction to make that okay.

Sunset would have been a much better game at 2 hours instead of 4.

The Gone Home Factor

Gone Home VHS tapes

While I think many people enjoyed Gone Home, for people of a particular age group/culture/location, it was catnip. I fall into that group. Besides having good writing and telling an emotionally affecting story, this game hit the nostalgia sweet spot. Taped X-Files episodes on VHS! I used to record it every Friday! Lisa Frank stickers, yes! SNES carts lying around, Street Fighter doodles in notebooks, magic eye posters, the Dream Phone board game. So many references to growing up in the 90s filled every room of this virtual house, and each provided a dopamine hit.


 

Do you have any particular favourites in this genre? Or have you played any particularly boring ones?

The Best and Worst HotS Heroes, according to Pam

This is for day 24 of Blaugust

Here are my highly detailed and scientific observations about how the different Heroes rank.

The Most OverPowered heroes

Criteria: These are heroes that make me sad when I see the opposing team has picked them.

Heroes of the Storm - Kael'thas

Jaina – Not so much her on her own, but once she gets that Water Elemental she’s a real pain the ass.

Kael’thas – His ability to blow up everyone makes up for his squishiness. Once he get to higher levels he does a ton of damage. Paired with Jaina? Oof.

Kharazim – He does way too much healing for a damage dealer. Or way to much damage for a healer. Likelihood of nerf in next patch? High.

Leoric – Does way too much damage for a tank. Undying the most annoying ability ever.

The Most Underpowered Heroes

Criteria: These are heroes that make me sad when I see the my team has picked them.

Heroes of the Storm - Tassadar

Gazlowe – Gaz is really clutch at interrupting people who are trying to collect a tribute or hand in dubloons. Otherwise… I’d prefer any other specialist.

Tassadar – He’s kind of half a support, and I’m always confused as to whether I should pick a real support when someone takes this guy. Doesn’t do much damage or healing. He’s good at finding Nova and, in my experience, yelling at the rest of the team for not utilizing his shields properly.

The Lost Vikings – Does anyone play these well? Though honestly, I think I’ve seen them in maaaaybe 1 ranked match. Ever.

Sgt. Hammer – I love you Hammer, but you’re bait in a ranked match.

The Heroes Most Dependent on Player Skill

These heroes are wildcards. It totally depends on who is playing them.

Heroes of the Storm - Nova

Murky – Some Murkys soak up XP like a mofo. Some Murkys leave their egg in the base the entire game.

Nova – A good Nova is likely to go 40-0. Let them get to level 20, and she’s going to kill you and your entire family. A bad Nova rides their pony around for the entire game OR spends a lot of time shooting creeps.

What do you think? What characters make you cringe when you see they’ve been picked?

Good Stealth, Bad Stealth

This is day 19 of Blaugust.

This post was inspired by an article over at Midnight Resistance (this was going to be a comment, but there are no comments!) In the post, Andi complains about stealth sections in non-stealth games and asks readers to tell about their least favourite stealth sections.

I am usually not a fan of stealth in games. I’m too impatient to wait for enemy patrols to pass by or throw rocks as distractions. Here are some games that feature stealthy parts that I really didn’t enjoy.

The Last of Us

TLoU

I’m sure I’ve complained about this one before. I found the stealth sections, particularly in the first half of the game, extremely frustrating. Ammo and supplies were low, Joel only had a access to a couple different weapons. There were many areas with a good half dozen infected standing around and you had to stealth around, taking them out one by one. Usually one or two could be taken out fairly easily, but the others required you to throw bottles and things to distract them. I don’t mind stealth so much when sneaking by enemies allows me to avoid combat altogether, but in most of these sections combat was inevitable.

My biggest issue? I have a shotgun! I want to use it. Technically I could use it, but it alerts all the enemies in the area and taking on more than a couple at a time generally resulted in a horrible death. So I was forced to stealth around, stabbing zombies in the neck until there were only one or two left. These sections slowed the gameplay to a crawl and were the main reason I wasn’t overly impressed by my first few hours with the game.

Arkham… Anything

The first time you hang upside down from a gargoyle to make a surprise snare of an enemy and leave them dangling by their ankles it’s quite a rush. Same thing with dive bombing out of the shadows to take down a henchman with a gun. But the sixth? The tenth? The twentieth? It gets kinda old.

All of the Arkham games (at least the first 3, I haven’t played Knight yet) are filled with gargoyle rooms. Here the enemies are numerous and usually armed so you need to sneak around to take them out, lest Batman get overwhelmed. Honestly it gets old after a while, especially in the rooms that have a dozen enemies or more. Get to the face punching, Bats.

Dishonored

Maybe it’s unfair to put this in here since Dishonored is a stealth game. Or an action-adventure game. It’s up to the player. Sort of. You can choose to go around killing everything, or you can ostensibly get through the game without killing anyone (or at least very few people). How many people you kill can impact the ending of the game.

I tried to go the no-kill route when I played. That lasted about 12 minutes. Since the no-kill experience was ruined I had no choice but to turn into the most murderous bastard alive. The problem? The combat sucks. It’s clunky and not fun at all. So while the stealthy route is presented as a choice, it’s not much of one. You either go the mechanically solid but very slow stealth route, or you go through the game being subjected to the shitty shooting mechanics. In this case, the best choice to me was to quit.

But wait…

There is one game that, surprisingly, had stealth sections that I found very enjoyable.

Wolfenstein: The New Order

Wolfenstein the New Order stealth

Wolfenstein is one of the best games I’ve played this year. It has a good story, really solid shooting mechanics, and all the weapons feel unique. It also has stealth. What is it that makes stealth in Wolfenstein feel so rewarding, while most games make it feel like a chore?

I can’t totally put my finger on it, but I have a few ideas. The first person perspective makes things more interesting. Whereas in The Last of Us I was watching Joel stab a zombie in the neck, in Wolfenstein I felt like I was stabbing things in the neck. Hmm… that sounds a bit psychotic now that I’ve typed it out. Anyway, the first person perspective was certainly more immersive.

Wolfenstein also made great use of sound to let you know when you were safe or not. From dogs softly snoring to Nazis in mech suits stomping around, you didn’t necessarily have to see your enemies to know they were there. I find relying on sound much more interesting than the magical ability to see through walls.

The biggest reason, I think, is that failing at stealth in Wolfenstein had a much different result than failing in other games. If you got spotted in The Last of Us, the ensuing scramble would likely bring every enemy running. And then you’d die. If you got spotted in Batman when you hadn’t taken out enough armed enemies, everyone would start shooting. And then you’d die. When you get spotted in Dishonored you have to take part in unenjoyable combat. Or die. In Wolfenstein, what happens after you’re discovered is still enjoyable. It might make things a bit harder, but it’s not a death sentence most of the time. Plus, the ensuing firefight is always a heck of a lot of fun.

What are your thoughts on stealth? Any particular examples stand out as good or bad uses of it in games?

Video Game Crushes

This is day 13 of Blaugust.

Today I saw two posts, from And Then She Games and Mrluvvaluvva about video game crushes. I like this topic and game crushes was one of my favourite questions from the gamer questionnaire I made a while back, though some people scoffed at it. PS, if you’re looking for a Blaugust topic and haven’t done this yet…

So, here are some of my crushes from video games.

Cullen

Dragon Age: Inquisition

Cullen - Dragon Age Inquisition

/swoon

Cullen has supplanted Alistair as my main Dragon Age man. Sorry Alistair. He’s sweet, handsome, has a nice solid desk, and wears a feathered ruff that David Bowie would envy.

Katrina

Quest for Glory 4

Katrina - Quest for Glory 4

When I run into her outside of The Dark One’s cave at the beginning of Quest for Glory 4, I know this woman is clearly bad news. But I don’t care. She’s dark, mysterious, powerful, and always leaves you wanting more (at least until she reveals her true nature and tries to plunge the world into darkness). Also, she’s voiced by Jennifer Hale.

Sephiroth

Final Fantasy 7

Sephiroth

Yeah, I know. I’m the worst. Shut up.

Jeanette Voerman

Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines

Jeanette Voerman - Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines

As a fellow Malkavian, Jeanette was constantly hitting on me when I visited her at her club, the Asylum. Aaand, it worked. Her mad musings are kind of poetic, and we get along just like fire hoses.

Gabriel Knight

Gabriel Knight

He’s kind of a jackass, but he has really nice hair and is full of smart ass comments. He also happens to be a Schattenjäger, hunter of shadows. Plus in the second game, The Beast Within, there’s this kinda hot FMV scene with him and Baron von Glower.

 The Boss

Saints Row series

Saints Row 4

Since you make your own character in Saints Row, The Boss is basically just me, as a gang leader, with purple hair and Laura Bailey’s voice. So putting her on my crush list is kinda masturbatory and narcissistic, but fuck it, I love her.

Who are your video game crushes?

Player vs. Character

This is my 6th post for Blaugust.

I was playing The Witcher 3 the other day (yes, still). Geralt and a fellow witcher were trekking out to a cave to do witcher things and  all of a sudden, a child’s voice calls out. Someone may need help, Geralt thinks, while his companion chides him – they’re in the middle of nowhere, there are no children here. I know it’s not a child calling for help. The voice is odd and echoey, it’s clearly a monster pretending to be a child. Geralt, seasoned monster hunter, should know this as well. From an RP and common sense standpoint, I should ignore the voice, and continue on. But, from a player of video games with completionist tendencies standpoint, I can’t. It could lead to a quest, experience, items, some kind of content I may not see otherwise. I guess you could call this a choice, but it’s not much of one for me. I follow the voice. Surprise, it’s a foglet. I kill it and get back to my quest.

The Witcher 3 - Geralt shrugging

There’s a disconnect between what I’d choose as my character vs. what I’d choose as a player. As a player, I’m always going to go for the option that may give me more content even if it means taking an action my character would never do.

I find this kind of “optional” quest comes up a lot in RPGs and I don’t think it’s something that’s handled very well. I could be playing an evil wizard, but if I come upon a little girl whose kitten is stuck in a tree, goddamn it I will get that kitten out of the tree. There are NPCs who I’d really like to slap for treating me like an errand girl (or boy) but rather than give them sass, which is what I or likely any character I make would like to do, I run and get their dry cleaning for a few slivers of XP and a nominal reward.

Do you ever  find your choices as a player in games don’t line up with the character you play in games?

Blizzard and Free to Play

This is my 3rd post for Blaugust.

It’s been a year now since I quit World of Warcraft. For a while I thought I was done with Blizzard games forever, but apparently not quite. First there was Hearthstone, with which I’ve had a bit of a love-hate relationship ever since the alpha. And now there’s my new go-to game, Heroes of the Storm. In the 9 years I played WoW – between monthly subs, expansion costs, server transfers, and race changes – I’ve put quite a bit of money in Blizzard’s pocket. So, since I quit, I decided I was done giving them money. I would only play for free.

What I’ve noticed is that the FTP experience is completely different in HotS than it is in Hearthstone.  Last week, there were two good articles on Hearthstone that touched on the FTP aspects. On Polygon, the thought was that Hearthstone, now multiple expansions in, is becoming less friendly to new players. Steve at Multiball! is of the opinion that being a non-paying Hearthstone player and earning cards slowly isn’t the worst thing in the world, and is actually making him a better player. As someone who played Hearthstone quite a bit in Beta (and spent some money on packs at that time), then stopped playing until after 2 expansions had come out, I found the huge increase of new cards a bit overwhelming. While Naxx only introduced 30 new cards (along with a bunch of solo content), the Goblin xpac introduced 143 new cards. Going up against all these cards I had never seen before, never had a chance to play, made games difficult. The only decks I had luck with were budget, rush-type decks (which, incidentally, a lot of people look down their noses at). I got to work doing my dailies for gold and I think I was able to get the first 2 wings of Naxx, along with the cards that came with them. I was also able to craft some cards with dust, but I definitely still felt at a disadvantage. Plus, having to make the choice between spending my meager gold on the Naxx content vs. packs that would net me more cards and options, wasn’t really fun. Even arena mode, which doesn’t rely on crafted decks costs at least 2-3 dailies worth of gold. I got tired of it, and uninstalled. Again. Now that The Grand Tournament is coming out, with another 132+ new cards, it’s pretty much guaranteed I won’t be going back to Hearthstone. While the slow and steady approach to card collecting is certainly viable for some, I don’t find the rewards for the time and effort put in are enough for me.

Heroes of the Storm shop

So what about Heroes of the Storm? This is another FTP game that’s full of things you can spend money on, but you don’t really have to. Heroes need to be purchased, for either in-game gold, or real money, though there is a free rotation that you can play each week. There are also many ridiculously overpriced skins and mounts that can be purchased for real money only (for the most part), but since these have zero effect on gameplay I don’t consider these something I’m missing out on by not spending any money. Heroes is nice in that there are a few ways to earn gold. First, just completing the tutorial gives you 1000g, to help get you on your way. You also get a nominal amount of gold for each game completed (more if you win). There are also daily quests, which give between 200-800g each, when you reach level 5 on any hero you get 500g, and as you level up from 1-40 there’s another 16k gold to be had. So it’s much easier to gain currency, especially in the beginning, in HotS than it is in Hearthstone. There’s really only one type of content that is gated, which can be overcome with money or gold, and that’s ranked mode. You need to own 10 heroes before you can play that. The reason why I don’t mind this gating is that it makes sense. Due to the drafting process, you need 10 heroes in case the worst happens and every hero you like gets taken before you get to pick. It really makes sense that you need to own the heroes because then, ostensibly, you should know how to play them. This being a team game, you don’t want people trying out new characters in ranked mode.

Heroes of the Storm is a game I feel satisfied about not spending any money on. I don’t feel like it’s holding me back, or that the people who throw money at the game are having more fun or outperforming me because they spent money. My one concern, for the future of HotS, is that too many heroes get added. Right now there are 39 heroes which seems like a reasonable number. What I don’t want to see is over 100 heroes in the game, like LoL has. One of the strengths of HotS is the low barrier to entry, and adding dozens more heroes would negate this. In order to be really good at the game, you need to not only know how to play your own hero, but have at least an idea of the abilities of the heroes you’re up against, or playing with. 

What do you think? Do you play either of these games? How do you feel spending real money impacts them?

The Witcher, Diversity, and those darn SJWs

So, this topic has been around for a while, but doesn’t seem to be going away. Damion Schubert at Zen of Design talks about it quite a bit, which is what keeps it on my radar. I’ve written about The Witcher 3 and how it treats women, but stayed fairly silent on the issue of racial diversity since I don’t think my voice in this matter is that important. But I feel like I have to respond to all the “Omg, you terrible SJWs are the real racists for complaining about too many white characters. And also you’re ruining the entertainment industry. And the world!!!”

Jesus fucking christ, I’ve never come across so many people who are so unable to contextualize information and are so incapable of critical thought.

First things first…

Critique is not condemnation.

This seems rather obvious to me, but apparently isn’t to a lot of people. The people pointing out “hey, everyone in this game is white except for one demon lady” are not following it up with “therefore, CDPR are a bunch of racists and you shouldn’t buy their game.” They’re not even insinuating it and I have no idea how people are extracting that from the articles and reviews that have been written. They’re pointing out a lack of diversity, then generally moving on to talk about all the things they love about the game and how great it is.

It’s funny (and when I say funny I mean pathetic and sad) that those complaining about how the game-ruining SJWs are offended by everything are themselves offended by everything. Someone said The Witcher needs more diversity? Someone said Doom was too violent? They get offended on behalf of the developers, the fans, and the game itself, and take to YouTube or blogs to spew bile at those who dare to not thoughtlessly consume the game in question. Many people think Anita Sarkeesian has made a career for herself by being a professional victim, so they then make themselves into minor YouTube celebrities by creating video after video ranting about her. Professional victim vs. professional whiner? Professional asshole? What’s worse? What value are you adding to the world?

No game is perfect, and it’s really no different to criticize a game for its lack of diversity than it is to criticize its graphics. Acknowledging and talking about problematic elements can lead to better creations or at least interesting conversations. Having a problem with one aspect of a game doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it or don’t want others to but, to some, making a comment about diversity is ruining it for everyone.

Hmm, went on a bit of a tangent there.

So about The Witcher 3 and how white it is… I don’t have a problem with white characters (if I did what the hell would I play?), or a game that feels culturally Polish (I am Polish after all). What I have a problem with is the reactions people have to this particular piece of critique.

First, there’s the “historically accurate” response. It’s fantasy. Calling it historically accurate is an oxymoron (and moronic). Next.

Second, it’s based on pre-existing works of fiction. …So? The books do feature a place called Zerrikania, where the people are not white. It was a choice not to feature any Zerrikanian’s in Witcher 3. Also, as I talked about in my post on women in The Witcher, content doesn’t get directly translated from book to game. Developers make changes, choose what to include and what not to, add their own ideas. Source material is a guideline, not a rule.

The third argument is the only one that carries any weight at all with me. Poland, where the developers are, is overwhelmingly white. If all you see is white people around you, it’s not totally unreasonable to think that you would create something that reflects that (if a game was made or set in Toronto and was mostly white I’d definitely have some words to say about that). It’s not a wholly solid argument as you are creating for a global audience, but whether adding more diversity to the game was just something that wasn’t considered or something that was avoided due to a lack of frame of reference, it’s the only argument I’ve heard that I don’t dismiss outright. However, even assuming the best possible intentions in this scenario, the lack of people of colour is still worth pointing out. Maybe the developers will think of it next time. Maybe they won’t care. Either way, it’s worth having the discussion.

It’s rather scary how a whole subset of gamers are so vocally opposed to thinking critically about the media we consume. Sure, 90% of the time I play a game my main goal is entertainment, but just as I’d comment on awkward controls or bad voice acting, you can bet I’m going to comment on things like a lack diversity, and seek out those kind of critiques to read.