Quality vs. Enjoyment

A lot of video games have received unconditional love from me in the past, even when they are peppered with mechanics and design choices that frustrate or puzzle me. It can sometimes be hard to reconcile. How can a game have so many faults, but still be so enjoyable overall?

Take Mass Effect 3 for example. While in many ways (most notably combat) it improved over the first two games in the series, there were also a number of things that bothered me to no end. I’ve been slowly replaying it and often find myself yelling at the TV over poor design.

  • Side quests that are completely lacking in context. Run through the Citadel, and your quest log fills up with 2 dozen fetch quests. Occasionally you overhear people talking about these quests, but you don’t need to stop or listen to them, the quest just appears as if you’ve accepted it. There’s rarely any information offered in the quest log other than what star system the item can be found in. These kinds of quests are terrible for immersion.
  • Related to the issue above, the quest log in general sucks compared to the first two games. A bare minimum of information is offered.
  • There’s no sense of place. Every location is restricted to small, contained areas. You fast travel everywhere.
  • Speaking of fast travel, the Citadel Rapid Travel terminals are still in the game and you can interact with them, but you can’t actually use them. You need to use the elevators instead. (Why the hell can you interact with them when you can’t use them?!)
  • The entire game is fan service. Except the ending. Ba dum pssh.

Or how about the Twin Peaks-inspired Deadly Premonition? This game is a cult classic which people tend to either love or hate. I just finished this game after starting it more than 2 years ago, because I could only take the game (specifically the combat) in small doses.

  • Poorly designed combat. Tank controls, an awkward control scheme for aiming, not being able to aim and move at the same time, bullet sponge enemies.
  • The worst final boss fight ever. Long range shooting is awful.
  • Everything is so slow. When you examine something or try unsuccessfully to pick up some ammo but can’t because your inventory is full the text appears, one letter at a time, at a glacially slow pace. You can hold down a button to speed it up, but it’s still slow. A lot of the time as you’re smashing buttons trying to make it go faster you accidentally examine the damn thing again.
  • Lack of inventory space, and irritating inventory management.
  • Cliche “serial killer murdering women” story.

Wasteland 2 was just released a few months ago, but is an old-school isometric RPG in pretty much every way. In trying to hold on to the Fallout 1/2 aesthetic and feel, it makes a number of design decisions which just don’t appeal to modern gamer sensibilities.

  • Terrible inventory system.
  • Weapons that jam, effectively wasting a whole turn in combat.
  • Antiquated skill system. Try to pick a lock or brute force a door and you’re shown the % chance you have of doing it successfully. A lot of time is spent repeating these actions when you fail and if you critically fail, the item you’re working on just breaks and you can’t access it anymore.
  • No ability to respec your party’s skills (unless you hack the save file, which I did a lot), meaning if a party member leaves or dies you might be left with no one who can pick up that skill at a high enough level to be useful.
  • Ugly character models. If you want to make your own characters rather than use the pre-made ones, the character portraits are also hideous.

Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines is a game I call one of my favourites of all time, despite it having a host of problems.

  • Bugs! So many bugs. From minor annoyances like graphical clipping, to crashes, to game breaking issues at certain points of the story.
  • Character designs look nice in close-up, but watching your character move in 3rd person view just looks wrong.
  • While the beginning locations of the game are wonderfully detailed and rich, as you get towards the end it seems like the quality drops off.

Then there are point and click adventure games. All of them. Well, maybe that’s unfair. Let’s say 90% of them. Convoluted solutions to simple problems are a mainstay of the genre. Almost every adventure game I’ve played has had that moment (or many of them) where I have no clue what to do and furiously try to combine each item in my inventory with the others, or with the environment. Or painstakingly move the mouse cursor over every pixel, trying to see if I’ve missed an object. Often the solutions to puzzles are things no logical human being would ever think of. Like combining an inflatable duck with a bandaid, a metal clamp, and a rope to retrieve a key from the subway tracks. Or throwing a pie to ward off a  yeti, as opposed to using a weapon or magic. It’s like they were designed to sell hint guides (when those were still a thing).

It might seem like I’m writing this post just to rant. There may be a little truth in that, but overall it’s about how many problematic elements I’m willing and able to overlook in games because the whole is better than the sum of its parts.

Mass Effect 3 saying goodbye to Garrus

Mass Effect 3 may have many frustrating design decisions but I still love it because, well, feelings. I’m attached to Commander Shepard, Garrus, Joker, EDI, and the rest of my crew. I love seeing them interact with each other, I love running into characters from previous games, and watching the story come to an end is both heartbreaking and satisfying. Plus I love being a renegade and punching out anyone I can.

Deadly Premonition talking to Zack

Deadly Premonition is certainly not top quality at a technical level, but it pays homage to one of my favourite shows in an oddly sweet fashion and features so many quirkily lovable characters that it’s hard to resist. What’s the frustration of one 8-minute long quicktime event compared to the strange joy of listening to the hero talk to his other personality about attending punk concerts as a teenager?

Wasteland 2 ET cartridges buried in the desert

Wasteland 2 may have used some stale mechanics, but that doesn’t overshadow the detail and love that went into it. The annoyances didn’t prevent me from spending 50 hours in the game, and enjoying most of them. For every annoying dice roll fail there’s some great little detail that brought a smile to my face, from finding Teddy Ruxpin dolls to the hidden cache of Atari ET cartridges. Choices mattered in the game, and being set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland meant a lot of times where were no right or wrong decisions, just different shades of gray.

Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines dialogue with Jeanette

VtM:B may have been riddled with bugs on release. It may have once broken my save file right at the end of the game so I couldn’t finish the game. However, it’s also one of the most darkly atmospheric games I’ve played, with a deep backstory drawing from the World of Darkness RPG, and a collection of great characters. Though I’ve only beaten the game once, since the quality does dip a little near the end, I’ve played through the Santa Monica section more times than I can count and playing as a Malkavian makes a great game experience even better. I’m not the only one who loves this game. Ten years after its release, fans are still making and releasing patches to iron out all those bugs.

Quest for Glory 4. Hero in front of the monastery

And adventure games? Well, they may be frustrating and highly illogical, but not enough to stop me from replaying my favourites like Quest for Glory, The Longest Journey, or Gabriel Knight every few years.

So, does a game need to be of “good” quality in order to be enjoyable? Clearly not. I can overlook quite a lot of issues in games and still find the overall product most satisfying. Pull at my heartstrings, give me a great story and atmosphere, unique and interesting characters, or just amazingly fun gameplay and I can overlook a lot of negatives.

Of course it’s not just technical or mechanical issues that can detract from games. Another question I ask myself a lot as I play games is how problematic portrayals of characters – generally female characters – impacts my enjoyment of those games. This will be a topic for another time though. As soon as I finish Saint’s Row: The Third I’m going to have a lot to process and talk about. It’s something to think about.

Travels in the Mushroom World (Part 1)

After replaying Super Mario 3 for the first time in many years recently and finding out my skills had lapsed, I am determined to improve. I will beat this game, without skipping worlds, and hopefully with as few continues as possible. Here is my story.

World 1 – Starting a new game. Alone. It’s starts well. The sky is sunny, the grass is green. I travel through the world with only one death. Grass Land is no match for me.

World 2 – I make the trek through Desert Hill’s vast sandy environments without much incident. The Angry Sun cannot catch me and I’m too quick for the quicksand. I only have only one death in the cold, sunless fortress then breeze through the rest of the world. The dry heat agrees with me. Perhaps things are turning around? My skills are returning.

Super Mario 3 Boss Bass

World 3 – Hubris! The first two worlds have made me overconfident and I have paid dearly. The sea is a harsh mistress and makes her presence acutely felt. But my true enemy is Boss Bass. The extra lives I earned in the first 2 worlds quickly disappear down a fish’s gullet. I am killed no less than 6 times before I’m able to hobble across the finish line of 3-3. The rest of Sea Side treats me better and though I come close, I’m able to avoid seeing a Game Over screen. But for how long? The little confidence I had built has been shaken, and I have few extra lives left.

World 4 – In the Land of Giants everything is large and imposing, but it’s not these giant objects and enemies that pose the biggest threat. Level 4-2 brings back the trauma of 3-3. The water is rising! The fish are close! They’re smaller now, but faster. Cheep Cheeps. They leap out of the water, intent on attacking me with their cold fish lips and razor teeth. They are often successful. I futilely try to kill them with ice blocks, but even when I score a hit, they always come back. There’s a horrifying moment when I mis-time a jump and plunge into the watery depths, into their domain. I thrash about violently, struggling to get back on land. My first leap fails, as does the second. I avoid one by mere inches before I’m finally able to get back up. The level takes its toll and I go into the next with only 2 lives left. I get killed by a Sledge Brother. I fall into a bottomless pit. Game Over.

To be continued…

My History with Kickstarter

Some great games have been funded though Kickstarter – Dragonfall Returns, Wasteland 2, FTL. However, many games that get funded don’t actually get released, draw out the delivery timelines significantly, or under-deliver. I’ve seen a number of people on Twitter who seem hesitant to back new games because they had been burned before. I have yet to be burned (that sound you hear is me knocking on wood, because most of the games haven’t been delivered yet). I thought it would be interesting to take a look at all the games I’ve backed, whether they’ve delivered, and how the whole Kickstarter experience has been. As of right now, I have backed 7 games.

Tex Murphy – Project Fedora

Project Fedora KickstarterDate of backing: May 2012
Estimated delivery date: July/August 2013
Actual delivery date: May 2014

Project Fedora is the game that got me into Kickstarter. I love the Tex Murphy adventure games. Love them. From the first time I saw that big box for Under a Killing Moon in Radio Shack with real, live actors on it when I was 11, I’ve been hooked on this series. After Overseer, it seemed like Tex Murphy would be no more, since the software company was sold to Microsoft and they are evil. Then came this kickstarter. I needed to help make this game happen, and pledged a much larger amount of cash than I have for any game since. The devs estimated a 12-14 months development cycle for the game which would put the estimated release date sometime in summer of 2013. The game, Tesla Effect, was actually released in May of 2014, about 10 months after the estimated delivery date. The lateness didn’t both me too much, since there was a ton of communication from the devs, and backers were given frequent updates and peeks at the game as it was being made. I’ve received 78 project updates.

When it released, I was happy. The game delivered what was promised. The quality was a bit uneven – for the whole first half of the game I had a goofy smile plastered onto my face, while some of the second half was a bit of a slog – but overall it was a game I enjoyed and was happy to have supported. It hit me right in the nostalgia feels and for the most part, it was a good game in its own right as well.

The only negative thing I have to say about this project was that almost 6 months after the game was released, I still don’t have my physical backer rewards. I did get all the digital rewards though, many way before the game was released.

Jane Jenson’s Pinkerton Road

Date of backing: May 2012
Estimated delivery date: March 2013
Actual delivery date: April 2014

After signing up with KS for Project Fedora, I found Jane Jenson‘s project. She made another of my favourite adventure series, Gabriel Knight. So of course I had to back this as well, but for a smaller amount that was just enough to get a copy of of one of the two new games the studio would be making: Moebius or a mystery project (which ended up being a GK1 remake). I received 70 project updates total.

Moebius was released in April 2014, a year after the estimated delivery date, and The GK remake came out in October 2014. I wasn’t too disappointed with getting the game late, but I was disappointed with the game itself. It was not good. The quality of Moebius, and the brief looks I’ve gotten at the completely unnecessary GK remake make it likely I won’t support another Pinkerton Road project (unless they switch to a completely new engine at some point). However, I did get what I paid for in the end.

The Curse of Shadow House

Date of backing: June 2012
Estimated delivery date: October 2012
Actual delivery date: August 2013

Curse of Shadow House is an adventure game for mobile devices. I don’t play a lot of mobile games, but I found this project somehow and was in a generous mood so I decided to help fund it. This was a much smaller project than the other two I had backed and the person running it did a really good job with it. The goal was only $8000, and the total funding was a bit over $9k. Some of the physical rewards offered were quite amazing – art prints, handmade necklaces, and journals. I seriously don’t know how this guy made a game and spent all this time/effort/money on physical rewards and shipping with only $9000. He also sent personal messages to every backer to say thank you. Which was very nice.

I got my iTunes code for the game 9 months after the estimated delivery date. The game is decent, it’s a dark adventure games with lots of puzzles. I’m going to admit that I got stuck at some point and haven’t finished it yet though. Over the course of the project I received 47 backer updates. The only iffy part is that this was billed as a trilogy of games, which backers would get all 3 of, and I haven’t heard much about the next two games.

Hero U – Rogue to Redemption

Date of backing: November 2012
Estimated delivery date: October 2013
Actual delivery date: ??

Hero U is another adventure game (noticing a pattern?), this one by the creators of another favourite series – Quest for Glory. Now we’re getting into the games I’m still waiting on. Throughout the process I’ve been getting regular and very detailed back updates (58 so far). There have been a lot of art samples and a lot of discussion of what is going into the design and story of the game. The game is currently 13 months past the estimated delivery date.

The last update did give some solid numbers though. The developers say they have completed: 100% of the design, 85% of the art, 50% of the programming, and have just started the writing. The new tentative delivery date is summer 2015, so the game is in all likelihood going to be delivered 2 years late. I am a bit disappointed with the time frame of this project. I’m no development expert, but considering the scope of the game, 2.5 years for development and delivery seems a bit long, and I’ve reach the point of impatience.

Kona

Date of backing: September 2014
Estimated delivery date: April 2015
Actual delivery date: ??

Kona is an episodic survival adventure game, from a small studio in Quebec. I really like exploration games when they’re well done, and though the though of exploring in the cold, Canadian winter makes me shiver, I really like the concept for this game. I’ve received 16 backer updates so far. It seems like the devs are dealing with financial stuff at this point, which makes me think the April date for episode 1 is a bit of a pipe dream. It is good that they still seem to be raising money though.

Fallen: A2P Protocol

Date of backing: September 2014
Estimated delivery date: March 2015
Actual delivery date: ??

Fallen is a turn-based tactical RPG that’s a cross between Fallout and XCOM. Again, I feel like having a delivery date only 6 months after the project was funded is quite optimistic, though it looks like they’ve already made a playable build. It looks good, though I’m still skeptical about the date.

Something that does not give me warm, fuzzy feelings is that since the project was successfully funded on September 6th, I’ve only received one backer update, and that was more than a month ago. Lack of communication does set off some warning bells.

The Black Glove

The Black Glove is being made by a number of the devs that worked on Bioshock, and you can really tell that by the art and trailers that have been released.  The game looks amazing, right up my alley – the atmosphere and eeriness of Bioshock without the shooting. However, the game is only 27% funded with 7 days left to go. Unless a miracle happens, this may be the first thing I’ve backed that doesn’t get funded. And that makes me sad, because it looks great.


Seven obviously isn’t a huge sample size, but here are some things I’ve learned about backing games on Kickstarter:

  • Take estimated delivery dates with a grain of salt. Or a whole tablespoon of it. Sometimes the estimated delivery date next to the pledge level is not for the actual delivery of the game, but when to start expecting the other rewards. For example, Project Fedora gave me a date of Dec 2012, but that was for digital rewards. In the FAQ section of the project they said they expected a 12-14 month delivery cycle. So it’s tricky to know what you should be expecting when. But even if the date is for the game itself, count on it being late.
  • I’m starting to get wary of episodic games, or projects that promise multiple games. I’m generally pretty confident that the first game/episode will be delivered, but budgeting time and money for multiple releases is harder to pull off. For these projects I feel like I should only back as much as I’d be willing to pay for one release so if the subsequent ones don’t come out, I’m not losing too much.
  • Communication is key. Check to see how many updates are being posted. Updates do tend to be much more frequent during the funding phase than the development phase, but it can still be an indicator of how successful the project will be. I look for updates that show the devs have a very good idea of where they want to take the game, and have things like art or design documents to show backers, or maybe even builds already in progress.
  • Kickstarter is a lot of fun when you’re heavily invested in a project. I checked the Project Fedora page daily as it was being funded, and poured over each backer update with glee. Though my other experiences have generally been positive, none of them have been as exciting as that first one.

Have you backed many games on Kickstarter? How has your experience been?

Shame

I have a confession to make.

This is hard for me to admit.

I am bad at Super Mario Brothers.

As someone who spent a lot of time playing NES 20 years ago this is a very difficult thing to come to terms with.

I didn’t accept it at first. “I never owned an SNES, so I need a few minutes to get used to Super Mario World.” “I haven’t played Super Mario 3 in 20 years, I’ll remember everything in a couple turns.” “The dog made me run into that koopa.” “It’s because I’m playing Luigi. Mario’s better, I want to play Mario.”

Super Mario World

After I had died a number of times without my skills improving much, I got mad. “Holding down a button to run in a platformer, what terrible, stone-age design” or “Is this it? Get a leaf and fly over every level before you find the secret that lets you skip half the game? That’s dumb,” and “How am I supposed to use this blocky controller, it’s terrible.” Also: “Stop watching me play and laughing at me when I die! This is your fault!”

Super Mario 3 death

Then came the questions and self-reflection. Is this it? Am I bad at video games now? Was I ever good at them? Am I a gamer? Has this entire part of my life been a self-aggrandizing delusion? Can I really continue to write about video games with any kind of authority when I’m so fucking terrible?

Super Mario Brother game over screen

I know the last phase of this is supposed to be acceptance, but no. I won’t accept it. I’m going to keep playing, keep practicing, until I’m awesome again. Or at least not completely shitty. I will kick shells into my enemies. I will jump on the heads of koopalings. I will not get killed by anymore Boomerang doucheBros, or  fall to my death. I will master that awful blocky controller.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

What I’m Playing This Week

I have so many games on the go right now, that I set a goal of finishing games I was already playing rather than starting new ones. I totally failed at this, I keep picking up new games.

Mass Effect 3

I’m still slowly plodding through ME3. I’ve been able to continue to stay a total Renegade (though I refuse to just outright kill General Oraka.) Mass Effect 3 is such a puzzling game to me. Every 10 minutes I rediscover some really dumb design decision that bothers me, but it still manages to be immensely playable and enjoyable. The combat is the best of the series, plus there’s all the back story and nostalgia of running into practically every character you ever met in the previous two games.

Mass Effect 3 Omega DLC

I just started doing some of the DLC content, which I never did the first time around. Right now I’m helping Aria take back Omega. This is the DLC I was least excited about, I’m saving the best (Citadel, hopefully) for last.

Long Live the Queen

In Long Live the Queen you play as the Princess Elodie, who is getting ready to be crowned Queen. But can you keep her alive – safe from assassins, magic, and public revolt – until then? LLTQ is a kind of choose your own adventure with surprisingly complex systems. Every turn Elodie has the choice of leveling up 2 of 42 possible skills (things like Royal Demeanor, Archery, or Foreign Intelligence) in order to prepare her for being queen. Elodie’s mood also affects how quickly she learns, so that needs to be managed as well in order to optimize.

When I started playing this game, I felt like an utter failure. Every time an event happened that tested one of these skills I failed because I had chosen to learn something else. It was a bit off-putting. However, after playing through a couple times I learned that I didn’t have to pass every check, and it was better to level a few skills up a lot rather than try to learn everything. It’s a pretty cool game, and I’ve been having fun trying to discover all the different events and endings. I’m stuck trying to find out what really happened to Elodie’s mother though, I really want to get that achievement.

PT

I have a complex relationship with scary games; I love the idea of them, but I’m quite wimpy and find them difficult to play alone. I’ve been wanting to play PT since it was announced, but never even worked up the guts to install it. Until last weekend. I got together with a few friends (including my mom), and a few bottles of wine and we beat the hell out of the Silent Hill demo. It was very disturbing. I really applaud the makers of the game for how they made travelling down the same hallway over and over again such an engaging experience.

I’ll admit that there were a couple times 3 of us screamed in unison (but not my mom, she’s a rock), but we got through it okay and ended up completing the demo a few times. It’s pretty cool how the experience is always a little different. We almost never saw the ghost, and we never got killed in the time that we played.

Alan Wake

Alan Wake

Continuing with the scary games, I’m also playing Alan Wake. This game is spooky, but not too scary – I have no problem playing it alone. I’m on chapter 4 of 5 and  I’m really enjoying it so far. The game is very cinematic and focuses a lot on story, while still having good gameplay. The atmosphere of the game is enhanced by manuscript pages you find lying around (Wake is an author), which can be downright creepy when they start foreshadowing future events.  The pacing so far is fantastic and makes Alan Wake a very entertaining ride. I do tend to stream when I play this, in case anyone hasn’t played and wants to see it.

Wasteland 2

I told myself I wasn’t ready for another sprawling, text-heavy, 60 hour epic after I finished Divinity: Original Sin, but I jumped right into Wasteland 2 after getting it for my birthday anyway. It’s a lot of fun. I love isometric, turn-based combat. I love post-apocalypse stories. I love good writing, easter eggs, and 80s pop culture references (Teddy Ruxpin!). Wasteland 2 has all of these things in abundance. I’ve only put in about 10 hours so far, but it’s a lot of fun. There are some minor annoyances when it comes to using skills, but I’ve overcome them by playing the game on easy. Usually I don’t like to do this, but I don’t want to get frustrated with invisible dice rolls making me fail too many events or having to min/max every character. Easy mode is preferable, and less time-consuming, than save scumming.

Yes, I did pick out the stupidest looking outfit.

Yes, I did pick out the stupidest looking outfit.

The only major complaint I have about Wasteland 2 is the character models, especially during character creation. Holy shit, they are ugly. Tie a porkchop around their necks so the dog will play with them- ugly. I ended up using all pre-made characters in my initial party because I really didn’t want to look at the terrible custom-made character avatars during my game, and I couldn’t bear to give any of them the name Jasyla.

Zuma’s Revenge

Zuma's Revenge - XBox live arcade

Zuma! I loved the original Zuma, and noticed that there was a sequel on XBox Live Arcade the other day (it came out in 2012, I am obviously oblivious), so I snapped that right up. I bought it on Tuesday and finished the last of the 60 levels 2 nights later. Zuma is my perfect mindless puzzle game. Somehow the developers managed to make the process of shooting coloured balls into other coloured balls fresh with the introduction of boss fights at the end of every level, along with coins you can earn by beating target times and scores to level up spirit animals who will boost your abilities a little bit. This sequel did seem to scroll back the difficulty from the original quite a lot though – the only times I ever “lost” a puzzle was when I was trying for achievements.

Lone Survivor

Lone Survivor

More scary games, this one is a psychological survival horror. Even with pixelated graphics this game manages to be quite nerve-wracking because of the setting and the unearthly, hair-raising sound effects. The encounters in Lone Survivor are weird in an almost Lynchian way, so the story has managed to capture my imagination. I’m looking forward to finding out how it all ends, but I don’t think it will be a happy ending.

The Yawhg

The Yawhg

I hadn’t heard of this game until I picked it up as part of a bundle. I really wanted something short to play so I could say I’ve finished something and this fit the bill. The Yawhg is a strange game. It’s kind of like a digital board game or choose your own adventure, but the encounters on each “space” are random, so you don’t always know what you’re going to get. You play between 2-4 characters and the goal, if you can call it that, is to prepare for “the Yawhg” which is going to come and destroy everything. Each character has stats like Mind, Strength and Wealth, which get built up by completing activities. This is an amusing little game that made me laugh out loud a few times as the encounters often entered the realm of the bizarre. Also the soundtrack is tops. I played through a couple times in 40 minutes before deciding I had seen everything. Game complete.


So, what have you been playing this week?

Creepiest Moments in Games

It’s October, and time for all things scary and disturbing. No I’m not talking about GamerGate (ba dum pssh), I’m talking about scary games. I can be pretty wimpy when it comes to on-screen scares, but I’ve still played my share of horror games. The thing that tends to get to me most in horror games is the sounds. I can handle jump scares or gore, but too many scary noises and I’ll likely need to turn it off and take a break.

Here are some of the creepiest moments from games I’ve played.

Silent Hill – Radio

SH was one of the first horror games I ever played. It was the first horror game I quit after barely an hour because I was too creeped out to go on. Watching the beginning of this video, with less than impressive PS1 graphics and wooden voice acting, it may be hard to believe that this game could be really scary, but it was. That radio sound… /shudder. And it wasn’t just an awful sound, it mean that something was coming.

Fatal Frame 2: Crimson Butterfly – Laughter

Fatal Frame 2 takes the cake for scariest game I’ve played. Creepy twins, ghosts, a combination of both jump scares and intensely creepy situations. Plus there was a scene with a well, and those have been traumatizing since The Ring. The malevolent, maniacal laugher in this scene was the worst.

Slender – The whole damn thing

This game is intense. I will admit that I’ve never actually played this game myself, but I’ve watched over the shoulders of a couple other people playing it. Well, trying to play it. They both quit before they found all 8 pages. The game environment is very sparse, but that adds to the terror. The worst part is the sound  the game is filled with the sounds of your footsteps, ragged breath, and pumping heart. As you find pages, things get even worse as the camera starts to shake and the creepy sounds go into overdrive.

Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines – Ocean House Hotel

VtMB isn’t really a horror game (though some of the bugs and character models can be quite horrifying), but it’s definitely filled with creepy moments. The haunted Ocean House Hotel is the scariest part. You’re sent to find something that will exorcise the spirits from the house and you discover the story of a man who went crazy and killed his family (it’s very Shining-like). While you’re going through this, you encounter ghostly apparitions, poltergeists who send objects flying at you, and doors that open on their own.

 Alan Wake – Chapter 1 Nightmare

I just started Alan Wake recently because I figured I should play something scary before Halloween. I’m not finished yet, but so far it’s a lot of fun. It’s very cinematic and no too scary, but the combo of maniacal laughter and being trapped in this scene (about midway through the video) right near the beginning of the game really creeped me out.

 What games creep you out?

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.