What I’m Playing This Week

Between the long weekend and being off sick from work one day last week, I’ve had a chance to play a lot of games over the past little while. Here’s what I’ve been playing.

Gravity Ghost

Gravity Ghost

I picked this one up a while ago and just tried it out this past week. What a thoroughly charming game. It has a great art style that looks like pastels on dark construction paper and very relaxing gameplay. It’s about a little ghost girl who is searching the cosmos for her lost fox friend and it manages to be both sad and uplifting. Each level has you collecting stars, or sometimes reuniting animal spirits with their bodies. The game plays with gravity, with different types of celestial bodies causing different reactions and pulls on your character. While there’s a bit of a puzzle solving element in reaching your goals, its also feasible to just float around until you find your way there. Like a happy accident.


I heard this was a great RPG and I was interested to try it out, but not in any rush. When I heard the gameplay used bullet hell mechanics my need to play became more pressing. Undertale is quite charming. It’s full of wit and humour and put a smile on my face at times. However, I’m not overly fond of the gameplay. During combat, you can attack opponents or interact with them in some other way. When you get attacked is where the bullet hell mechanics come in and they really aren’t great. It’s basically a tiny box in the middle of your screen with your character represented by a heart and you need to move around to avoid objects that start moving through the box. I guess that’s technically what a bullet hell (minus the quite important ‘shooter’ bit) is, but it’s not fun or flashy and you have to move around with your keyboard. Ew.

Undertale’s big draw is that it subverts normal RPG tropes. The biggest one being that you don’t have to kill monsters – you can talk to them or interact with them in some way to make them surrender. However, without killing things you gain no XP so the no-kill route is the harder path. I’ve heard people complain when things get too tough that they don’t want to ruin their no-kill playthrough. There’s something very unnatural feeling about this – choosing how you’ll play a game beforehand. Placing these kinds of restrictions on yourself, and having gameplay that totally supports and even encourages this, feels  strange. Inorganic. My favourite parts of many RPGs are being able to use your character’s particular set of skills to complete an objective without combat. Often pumping skill points into things like Intellect or Charisma means you’re not as good of a fighter when combat is unavoidable. Undertale takes this to a whole other level by completely removing any measure of character progression, a very important part of an RPG, and replacing it with… feeling good about yourself for not killing monsters? It does raise questions about how much punishment you’re willing to take to do the “good” thing, but I’m still in the camp that thinks gameplay should be enjoyable. Maybe I’ll write some more about this when I’m further in.

The Beginner’s Guide

The Beginner's Guide

The Beginner’s Guide is… a game. It’s from one of the co-creators of The Stanley Parable, which I loved. This game, on the other hand, I didn’t love as much. It tells the story of a developer named Coda. A narrator walks the player through games created by Coda, giving us his interpretation of what they say about their creator. I think The Beginner’s Guide has some very apt things to say about player entitlement and not respecting the boundaries, of projecting ones own needs and interpretations onto games and their creators. The problem is that it’s just not very fun or interesting to play. The games we’re introduced to are all quite dull, and the narration becomes very disturbing by the end. So, while I appreciate some of the messages, the game itself was repellent to me. What I do like though, is all of the great discussion it has spawned. See Cameron Kunzelman’s review at Paste, or Laura Hudson’s article at Offworld, or Spidey J’s post on Medium.

Silent Hill

PS1 and PS2 survival horror games hold a special place in my heart, but I’ve never beaten Silent Hill. I played it as a teenager, for a very brief amount of time. The sound the radio made when monsters were near creeped me the fuck out and I quit. I maybe played for 30 minutes.

Now I’m older, wiser, and hopefully braver, so I’ve started playing again. I’ve made it to the school, so I’m already doing better. While the graphics of the PS1 don’t hold up particularly well the game still manages to be unnerving. The fixed camera angles are effective and the sound effects are chilling. I’m not thrilled with the tank controls but I want to know what happens enough to continue on.

Out There

Out There

Out There is a mobile game. I’ve very selective about which mobile games I play, but an article by Kaitlin Tremblay on Playboy.com got me interested in this one. It’s a roguelike, a genre I’m generally not interested in, but I liked the concept. You play an astronaut, lost somewhere, in some galaxy, trying to find your way home. You jump from planet to planet, searching for resources that will keep you going, technologies that will help you, and even meet aliens. The events you encounter are mysterious, often deadly, and always deftly written. The resource management aspect of the game is very difficult and you will die a lot. I’d love to reach the end of the game but I’m pretty much done with it now. I enjoyed the couple hours I spent with it though.

Shadowrun: Hong Kong

The Shadowrun series keeps getting better. This isometric, cyberpunk, RPG sends you to China, where your foster father has been killed. Soon you find yourself wanted by the police and need to become a shadowrunner to find out what’s going on. The game sends you on all kinds of interesting missions where you can solve problems with force, magic, wits, or technology.

Shadowrun’s gameplay keeps getting smoother and more refined, and the stories and missions more interesting. Dragonfall was good, but ran a little bit long, around 30 hours. Hong Kong clocks in around 15-18 hours which I thought was a perfect length. I’m even replaying this one to see some things I missed, which is quite an endorsement as I almost never replay games immediately. Also, this game is full of lady characters! So many of the major players are women which is always nice to see.

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!