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.

This is the Way the World Ends

Warning: This post will deal with sexual violence against women, and include examples of it from literature, movies, and games. Read at your own discretion.


Plague has struck. It starts slowly. A sniffle here, a fever there. Then it spreads, faster and faster. Soon, everyone is sick. Then most people are dead. The few humans who were immune start to band together and rebuild, but not everyone has the same goals.

Death comes, but it doesn’t stick. The dead get back up and start walking. Start feeding. Soon the world is overrun. Those left alive are no longer living, they’re merely surviving; going from place to place in search of food and shelter from the horde. Of all the limited resources, trust in other people is the most scarce.

War. Two nations are at a standstill and then someone presses a button. It doesn’t matter who fired first, but soon the warheads are dropping and the world will never be the same. Survivors separate into factions based on differing ideals, and soon a different kind of war is underway.


The apocalypse is rife with opportunities for storytelling. There are so many ways that humans can destroy themselves, and just as many avenues to explore about starting over again. Stories about the end of the world usually describe people at their best – banding together to rebuild – and at their worst. Part of humans at their worst that gets shown in these stories tends to be men capturing, subjugating, commoditizing, and raping women.

Apocalyptic and dystopic fiction was always one of my favourite genres so I’ve read/watched/played a lot of these narratives and unfortunately, I can think of more of them that use this device than ones that don’t. Five years ago, this may not have bothered me. But now that I’m aware of the issue and see how prevalent it is, it’s impossible to stop seeing it.

Rape, or threat of rape of female characters tends to be used for one of three, often overlapping, purposes.

To show how bad the situation is, or how evil a villain is.

  • In the book Blindness a group of violent infected take control over a hospital and the women are subjected to rape in exchange for food.
  • In the movie Waterworld, the male protagonist considers trading the two main female characters to slavers.
  • In the show The Walking Dead, threat of rape is used by The Governor to get information from a woman he has taken captive.

So they can be saved.

  • In the book Dies the Fire a mother and her children are captured by a group of survivalists. The mother is killed, and one of the daughters is about to be raped before she is saved by the male protagonist.
  • In the book The Stand, two of the women who become part of the Free Zone were rescued from a group of other survivors who had repeatedly raped them.
  • In the game Dead Rising one of the psychopaths (who is female) has captured a group of women and is torturing and killing them. You must kill the psychopath and save the women.
  • In Dead Rising 2 one of the psychopaths kidnaps and tries to forcibly marry a woman so he doesn’t have to die a virgin. You must kill the psychopath and save the woman.
  • In the movie 28 Days Later the two main female characters were taken as the “answer to infection”. They were dolled up and handed over to male soldiers to be raped. Ultimately they escape this, saved by the male protagonist.

For character development

  • In the game The Last of Us, Ellie is taken by another group of survivors. Their leader tries to take her under his wing, but when she doesn’t cooperate he decides to kill her. When she injures him, it’s suggested that he intends to rape her before killing her. In the chapter after this experience, Ellie is noticeably quiet and withdrawn.
  • In the book Dead: Revelations a young girl is captured by a man and repeatedly subjected to rape, physical abuse, and psychological torment.

The severity of the sexual violence against women that is portrayed varies, but the thing most of these examples have in common is that it’s completely unnecessary. It’s not driving the story forward. It’s not adding any real character development.

The use of rape rarely tells us anything we don’t already know about a villain. In The Walking Dead, we know that The Governor is a bad guy. We’ve seen him manipulate and kill. We’ve seen him send his own people into the zombie-fighting arena for sport. Why do we need to see him force Maggie to take her shirt off and threaten her with rape in order to get information when we know the thing that makes her vulnerable is sitting in the next room? This seems like something added for shock value rather than any real narrative reason.

Similarly, adding rape to the all too familiar “save the women” trope is a lazy and gratuitous way to make male protagonists more heroic. In The Stand, Dana and Susan’s backstory of having been part of a harem wasn’t even mentioned in the original release of the novel, it was added in as part of the unabridged re-release. Did mentioning their ordeals before they joined Stuart’s group add anything to either of their stories? Did adding in rape somehow make their characters more understandable? relatable? interesting? Not really. In Dead Rising 2, the woman you save from being forced into marriage and sex isn’t even distinguishable from any of the other dozens of survivors you save once it’s over.

What about adding rape for character “development”? When I was about halfway through The Last of Us, I was ecstatic that I had yet to see any questionable content about women. I knew how poorly the genre could treat women, and given the dark setting I expected to hear something that indicated women were a commodity in the post-infection world. But I didn’t. Then, Winter came. We were now playing as Ellie instead of Joel. Ellie gets taken captive by David, the leader of another group, who tries to assimilate her into it. When he realizes she’d never join them he decides to kill her. When she fights back and injures him, apparently killing her isn’t enough and he attempts to rape her first. Why? What purpose did this serve? We already knew David was a bad guy, this didn’t do anything to change that. We already knew Ellie was strong and could defend herself; her fighting off a rapist rather than just a murderer did nothing to change that. At this point Ellie had been captured, injured, faced with cannibalism, separated from her only friend in the world and feared for his life. She had been left alone – something she had earlier admitted was her greatest fear. If the goal was to emotionally traumatize her, they had done all they needed to do. And then, almost flippantly, with a couple of seconds of cinematic and 2 lines of dialogue, rape gets added to the equation. I guess she needed to be punished for being so uppity? Fucking awful.

While I think most authors add rape to their stories without worrying about the consequences out of laziness, ignorance, or a desire to be edgy, some seem to use the end of the world setting as a sandbox for depravity. The book Dead: Revelations is probably the worst example I’ve seen, where there are more female characters being enslaved and abused than not. That’s one zombie series I will not be reading any more of.

The only one of the examples above where the inclusion of rape adds any nuance or social commentary to the story is 28 Days Later. It raises questions about who the real monsters are and shows how those in charge of the safety of citizens can be the most dangerous ones, especially when it comes to women. That’s 1 out of 10 that doesn’t make my skin crawl too much, not a very good ratio. Incidentally, 9 out of 10 of these examples were penned by a male, with Dead Rising 2 being the exception.

A scary thing about this post is that I didn’t have to go looking for any of the examples I’ve used here. They’re all from books, movies, or games I’ve finished where the violence portrayed against women has stuck in my head. I’m sure there are more examples that I just don’t remember. The amount this happens in fiction and in the dystopic, end of the world genre in particular is staggering. Adding rape to fiction with fantastical elements, which end of the world stories often have, seems especially gratuitous and hateful. The dead getting up and eating people? Totally believable. The hand of God coming down and setting off a nuclear blast? Sure, why not? Women not getting subjugated and violated by men? No, never, not going to happen.

Media affects how and what people think. Lazily throwing instances of rape into dystopic stories in order to show how dark and dangerous the world is, to prop up male heroes, or to “develop” female characters normalizes it. Yes, rape is something that happens in the real world, but casually adding it or eluding to it in fiction is just not necessary and does more harm than good. Many people are all too familiar with it, and don’t need fiction to remind them of the trauma. We also don’t need reminders or reinforcements that men often have power over women’s bodies. We get to see that in the news, and in our governments. We get to hear men comment on a women’s physical appearance before giving any heed to the things she has to say. We get to hear the vocal subsets of small-minded, awful men who think women need to be punished for having sex, or not having sex with them, or wearing certain things, or just existing in their space.

If rape doesn’t add anything to the story… why add it to the story?

What I’m Playing This Week

Another long weekend, another few days full of games! Here’s what I’ve been playing recently.

Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune

I never got into many games on the PS3 though I did own the whole Uncharted series, which sat unopened on a shelf for a good year. Finally this week I felt the urge to start the series. My feelings about Uncharted 1 are so mixed. It’s very cinematic and I like the combination of platforming, puzzling, and combat. However, the combat can be completely rage inducing. Raising your weapon puts your reticule not where you’d expect it to be, enemies are bullet sponges who never stop spawning and take 6 or 7 shots to take down if you don’t hit them right in the head, they often spawn behind you (how did they get there?), and Drake is very fragile. Plus, the game is super mean about where you respawn when you die. I’ve often found myself dying after taking out a dozen enemies, only to have to restart from the very beginning of the sequence. There were also a couple of jet ski sequences which were the opposite of fun. At one point I rage quit at the very end of the game due to being given only a shotgun with which to take out a bunch of enemies behind cover, at range. I did go back and finish later, when my blood pressure had stabilized.

Now, after all this complaining, I don’t actually dislike the game. It’s mostly a lot of fun, it just has some really annoying aspects. I really hope that combat is more enjoyable in Uncharted 2 though.

Divinity: Original Sin

This is what I’ve been playing most, I think I’ve sunk  almost 30 hours into this game over the last couple weeks. It’s amazing. It’s an isometric RPG, reminiscent of Baldur’s Gate, except it’s even better than BG. It’s almost as good as Planescape: Torment. There’s so much in the game to explore and discover, from the main quest lines to little secrets and sidequests. Combat is tactical and a lot of fun. There’s a lot of reading to do in-game, but the dialogue is often hilarious. If you’re into RPGs, I definitely recommend picking this up.

Divinity Original Sin

Max: The Curse of Brotherhood

I picked up this game for free with my XBox Live Gold membership. It’s a fun little platformer. You play a boy attempting to rescue his little brother, and his special power is that he can build and erase platforms with his magic marker. It’s pretty, the controls are good, and it’s fun so far. It’s not particularly innovative, but at this point I’m pretty desperate for things to play on the XBox One so it doesn’t just sit on the shelf like a $500 brick, and Max is pretty good entertainment.

The Bridge

This is a fun puzzler with mechanics that focus on using gravity and momentum to reach your goals. The controls are simple, you can move your character left and right, or spin the entire puzzle in either direction. So far it’s been a lot of fun, and the puzzles are starting to get more challenging as new ideas are introduced. It’s also quite gorgeous, with levels that look like they were design by Escher.

The Bridge

I’ve also been continuing to pick away at Saint’s Row IV which is still ridiculously fun and I finished The Walking Dead season 2, which I reviewed.


What have you been playing?

The Walking Dead: Season Two (Review)

The Walking Dead is an episodic, narrative adventure game from Telltale Games. After the success of the first season, they made a second season, this time allowing us to play as Clementine. The first episode was released at the end of 2013 and the last, No Going Back, just came out last week.

TDW:S1 was one of my best gaming experiences from last year, so how does season 2 stack up?

The first episode of the season started off great. Playing as 11-year old Clementine, there was a definite sense of vulnerability and the game wastes no time putting her on her own. At the same time, it’s really emphasized how strong Clem has gotten, despite her young age and small stature. She kicks zombie ass and holds her own with the living as well. When a new group she meets refuses to give her the help she needs, she takes matters into her own hands and helps herself. The first episode has some great, if hard to watch moments, like when Clementine has to stitch up a cut on her own arm. It’s stomach-turning, and amazing. Really well done.

The Walking Dead season 2 game

As opposed to season 1, where the zombie threat was just beginning, at the time of s2, zombies seem to be old news. They’re still a threat (though sometimes merely an annoyance), but the real problem is the living. This game does feature a ‘big bad’ in the form of Carver, the leader of a settlement, who provides the biggest threat in episodes 2 and 3. The game did a good job of making me hate the bad guy and root for the good guys, but once this storyline ended, it seemed to go off the rails.

The writing got very sloppy, especially when it came to the other characters. I like Clem’s development (I should, I did get to shape it), but a number of the other characters were all over the place. Character deaths, which I felt were impactful and well-done in S1 became questionable and often meaningless. A couple of deaths in episodes 4 & 5 left me wondering “really? that’s what killed them?” and seemed to happen to try to provide a reason for future character actions rather than feeling organic in any way.

Warning, incoming rant. I really don’t like hating on all the female characters, but the ones left at the end were just terribly written. Jane started off understandable – she knew that other people could be liabilities and was afraid of losing someone she loved again, so she liked to stay on her own and tried to give Clem advice to keep her alive. But then, when she decides that Kenny is a loose cannon, she turns into one herself in order to prove it? What? Her and Kenny’s entire ending conflict felt so contrived, and her behaviour made my decision at the end easy when I assume it was supposed to be hard. But the worst character was Bonnie. I use the term ‘character’ very loosely, as she doesn’t really have any. She spends most of the game agreeing with anything anyone says. Or telling you what to do. “Clem, grab this”, “Clem, squeeze into that small hole full of zombies”, “Clem, go rescue that person from certain death.” Then, after a being nice to her, and compliant all game, she starts accusing Clementine of being useless when she can’t save another character. At this point I just wanted her to get eaten. The worst part of this was that the dialogue options didn’t even give me a choice akin to telling her to go fuck herself.

By the end of the game, I felt like I was watching an episode from The Walking Dead tv show – namely, watching characters yell at each other and make completely nonsensical decisions.  The fact that the supporting characters couldn’t get anything done without the action or direction of an 11-year old also did nothing to endear me to anyone other than Clem.

When I was finally past all the unexplainable nonsense at the climax of the last episode, the ending I got was actually pretty well done and got me a little emotional. However, the rest of the final chapter had already left a bad taste in my mouth.

Rating: 6/10 – Playing as Clementine was enjoyable, and the game started off well enough, but soon went off the rails. A game so focused on story over gameplay really needs to have exceptional writing, but this game doesn’t. Poor character development and meaningless deaths take away from the formula that made the first season so great.

Gaming Questionnaire – My Answers

I guess I should fill out my own questionnaire, here are my answers.

  1. When did you start playing video games?
    I started playing games as soon as I could sit up at the computer, when I was 3 years old. I’ve been playing ever since.
  2. What is the first game you remember playing?
    I’m using a very loose interpretation of the word ‘remember’ here, as I actually asked my mom what the first game I ever played was. We weren’t 100% sure of the name, but we think it was Cross Country USA, a game about trucking on MS-DOS. My first console game was Super Mario Brothers, but that was a few years later.
  3. PC or Console?
    Console.
  4. XBox, PlayStation, or Wii?
    XBox. Though for the newest generation I’ve played a lot more games on the PS4. Come on XB1, release some games I’m interested in.
  5. What’s the best game you’ve ever played?
    Planescape: Torment. It’s an amazingly immersive and well-written RPG based on AD&D rules. The story and characters are all amazing, and it’s backed up by very solid gameplay.
  6. What’s the worst game you’ve ever played?
    WWII Combat: Iwo Jima. Part of the problem came from the fact that this game was the definition of a generic, low budget, military shooter. And part of the problem was that testing it was my job. I’ve done QA on a number of mediocre games, but this was a special experience. While QA was expected to test this game for 8 hours a day, the developers were doing something else I guess, and we were only getting a new build every week or two. This made for the most tedious gaming experience I’ve ever had.
  7. Name a game that was popular/critically adored that you just didn’t like.
    To the Moon. It had a really good, inventive concept, but I found the main characters endlessly irritating. They completely ruined what would have been a very sweet and poignant story, and I spent the last half of the game clicking through their dialogue as fast as I could, waiting for the game to end.
  8. Name a game that was poorly received that you really like.
    Remember Me currently has a metacritic score of 6.5 from critics. This is bullshit. Remember Me is a really fun action platformer with an interesting story and a lot of great female characters.
  9. What are your favourite game genres?
    RPG and action-adventure.  I also really like clever puzzle games.
  10. Who is your favourite game protagonist?
    Jade from Beyond Good & Evil. Jade has strength, smarts, and sass. She wields her camera to expose truths as expertly as she wields her jō (staff) to kick ass.
  11. Describe your perfect video game.
    I’d combine the story, writing, and character depth of The Last of Us, with the gameplay of Tomb Raider. It would take place in space, or on some distant, unexplored, gorgeous planet.
  12. What video game character do have you have a crush on?
    Alistair from Dragon Age: Origins.
  13. What game has the best music?
    Final Fantasy VII. It’s good on its own, but I especially like it when it’s remixed or recreated.
  14. Most memorable moment in a game:
    The beginning of Under a Killing Moon. The first time I saw it, it just looked 100x cooler than anything I had seen before. The music and sound were great – it had James Earl Jones reading Poe quotes! FMV is often looked down upon, but in Under a Killing Moon it showed me a whole new idea of what games could be.
  15. Scariest moment in a game:
    The radio in Silent Hill. It was so unnerving that it made me turn the game off and never turn it on again.
  16. Most heart-wrenching moment in a game:
    Saying goodbye to Garrus before you head toward the final showdown in the Citadel in Mass Effect 3. All the goodbyes at the end of the game were hard, but this one was the worst.
  17. What are your favourite websites/blogs about games?
    I really like Polygon for gaming news. It goes beyond the normal review and previews and often looks at gaming from different points of view. Also, I really like The Astronauts blog. It’s written by game developers and often has really fascinating insight on game design and good articles like The 7 Deadly Sins of Adventure Games or How Gamers are the Ultimate Trolls.
  18. What is the last game you finished?
    Broken Age.
  19. What future releases are you most excited about?
    I’m really looking forward to Dragon Age: Inquisition this fall. Also, a little further out, Rise of The Tomb Raider, since the previous game is my game of the year so far. I’m also looking forward to Life is Strange, by the studio that made Remember Me. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, Inside, Torment: Tides of Numenera. Lots of games!
  20. Do you identify as a gamer?
    Yes. I’ve been playing video games for most of my life. It’s something I spend a lot of time on – not just playing but also reading about, writing about. I know the term ‘gamer’ is starting to become a dirty word in a lot of circles, but I don’t let the loudest and most awful parts of the community detract from how I identify myself.
  21. Why do you play video games?
    For entertainment mostly, though games can entertain in a way unlike books or movies. I love really being able to put myself in a game, feeling what a character is feeling, and having decisions be difficult. I love the sense of adrenaline they can give when you face a particularly challenging or stressful scenario. And I like that games are ultimately something I like to enjoy on my own while playing, but there’s never a shortage of analysis and people to talk to about the games I’ve played.

If you haven’t already, go answer these on your blog or in the comments here.