Sunday, August 25, 2013

I Want More Than A Just Movie

I learned something new over the last week about video games.  I already understood the obvious statement that everyone loves great game play with a great story.  I understood the idea that not all great games had stories, but they are still fun to play.  What finally occurred to me was that an amazing story doesn't make up for mediocre game play.

After years of putting it off, I finally finished Alan Wake last week.  The story for this game is pretty intricate.  It offers up compelling characters, excellent voice acting, and an interesting narration that hasn't been used before in too many games.  With all these things in mind, I found the game play to be really uninteresting and redundant.  I would have to make my way from point A to point B.  Along the way, I grab a couple weapons and upon arrival, an extended cut scene to tell the story.  After the cinematic ended, I would have to travel from point B to point C and the routine of weapons, shooting, and walking would continue.  This  cycle happened over and over and over.

I reached the point where I was begrudgingly playing the game just so I could find out what happened next in the story.  Towards the end, I started to care less and less about the outcome because I was so frustratingly bored with the actually game play.  Luckily, I stuck it out just for the sake of seeing it through to the end.

Plenty of people are going to disagree with me and say that they loved the game no matter what.  Don't fret, this is far from a review.  I realized that as much as we preach about the value of a well told story, there has to be some respectable game play to go with it.  I don't know why it took me so long to realize that.  With my new found understanding of just how detrimental this can be, I'm going to have a little more appreciation for games with solid game play.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

No Shame In My Game

For years, I have heard about the game Half-Life 2.  Despite owning The Orange Box since 2008, I have never really tackled that particular title.  This isn't a review, or a sermon about gaming nostalgia.  I'm writing to come clean: I played this game on "easy".

I am habitual about playing games on the hardest difficulty I can muster.  I like the challenge of a difficult game almost as much as I like the bragging rights.  But with Half-Life 2, I didn't even attempt the medium setting, let alone the hardest.  There is always this underlying talk in the gaming community about how much people are waiting for Half-Life 3.  It was obvious, that the second game in the series left players on quite the cliffhanger.  I had to experience this for myself.

There have been many games that I played with the difficulty cranked to eleven, but in doing so, I was usually so busy blasting through enemies to pick up all the story details.  With such casual game play, I discovered that Half-Life 2 is the source for a lot of Easter eggs in newer games. While I didn't go so far as to play the first Half-Life, I was able to absorb the entire story by simply playing the game on easy and taking my sweet time.

With this revelation, I decided to replay Bioshock Infinite.  It helped that I needed to knock out a few achievements for collectibles.  Instead of combing through the game on 1999 mode (which is also an achievement), I set it down to the easiest setting.  It was the best decision I made in that game.  I noticed tiny details in the environment, the excellent music that surrounded me, and I truly understood all the twists and turns in the story.  

So I have no shame when I say "I played that game on easy".  While it's fun to brag and give yourself a challenge, you should try dialing it back once in awhile.  Think of it as the difference between finishing a marathon, and going for a walk with your best friend.  Both are winning situations.

Thursday, August 8, 2013


Now I make no qualms about the fact that I love a sale.  It is the highlight of my Tuesday to check out the new Gold Deal of the Week on Xbox.  In May or June, there was a huge deal on Sega games, and I excitedly bought up Sonic 1, 2 and 3 for like, 160 MSP each.  Dude.  All that nostalgic fun for under $5!?  Heck Yes.

And playing them has led me to the conclusion I always make when I go back and play old games.  How the heck did gaming get popular??  These games are so difficult it makes me want to chuck my controller out the window.  I am seriously struggling to get past the first world in Sonic 1.  And I got all the way to the end and the airship defeated me and all of my continues on Sonic 2.  I have barely even tapped in to Sonic 3.

I have also had a few other observations.  I was just playing and really wished I had the patience to live tweet the level, because I felt exceedingly clever at the time.  Let's see what I can remember.

First of all: Sonic is a game made to be played fast.  Like, unbelievably fast.  Sometimes Sonic isn't even on your screen because the little dude is zipping all over the place.  That said, the game is designed so that if you play it that fast, you will die. All. Of. The. Time.  Because there are like a billion bad guys and they are all strategically placed so that when you come off of that ring, you will hit him. When you bounce off of that wall that you didn't expect, you will be shot backwards directly into a crab.  Oh yeah - and everything shoots random bullets, and all of them kill you too.  And they will ride across multiple screens with you, or get to your screen before you've even see the bad guy.  Awesome.
Sonic has a serious case of bitchy resting face.

And the little sign at the end?  When you spin it around Sonic gives you the peace sign.  He might as well just be flipping you off.  Dude is a grouchy little guy.  He's got that crabby face all the time, and heaven forbid you stop moving the controller for a second.  He's immediately impatiently toe tapping.  Alright, man, if you're so ready to get flung into the next pit of lava, let's go.

Also, what kind of lesson is it teaching us that if you have money, you can't die?  But the second you're broke, you're toast.  Nice one, Sonic.  The original gold digger.

Finally, and most fun, playing a game that I haven't played in years reminds me of awesome game memory.  These classics imprint themselves on your mind and never leave.  I still remember which trees hide coin blocks.  Where to jump to get to the secret high locations full of rings.  And, of course, which bad guys will get you. Every. Single. Time.  Those I remember best.  I wish I could go back in time and make sure that you guys all got to take advantage of the sale and play these great games again, for super cheap.  But regularly priced they are still a steal.  Go pick at least one up, and relive your youthful frustration.

Monday, August 5, 2013

A Little Something About Narrative

In the time that Linz and I have taken our hiatus, I managed to squeeze in a ton of gaming every chance I could.  Long, short, mobile, flash, shooters, puzzle, PC, console, and more.  Predictably, I am drawn to games with story and a strong narrative.  But I am learning that there are very different types of storytelling within games.

One of the few games that I actually didn't play was The Last of Us.  I was playing side by side with someone else, each our own games.  When cut scenes popped up on their play-through of The Last of Us, I would pause whatever I was doing and listen in.  It is an intense game with beautiful art and graphics.  The whole experience was very moving and each cinematic told more and more story.

Alternatively, I have been playing Half-Life 2 for the first time.  This game is steeped in storytelling and it's own serial mythology.  The graphics are almost a decade old, so clearly they don't come near the standard set by Naughty Dog for The Last of Us.  However dated, I am far more attracted to the story in Half-Life 2.  The only thing I can attribute this to is that the story unfolds within the game play.  I am actually playing the story and finding things out along the way.  We try something and it fails, now the team has to move on to something new.  Or we discover new types of enemies together and work out ways to kill them. 

Thinking things through, I seriously doubt that one way of storytelling is better than the other.  Cut scenes with amazing graphics have a great way of showing me what is happening in the classic sense.  It does, however, remove me more from the experience that is just playing the game.  I am forced to sit still and watch what can sometimes be a very lengthy scene.  Alternatively, Half-Life 2 allows me to stay in that character.  I don't have to leave my first-person vantage.  However, there are times when important things are being said by some NPC and I'm missing it because I'm busy shooting, or screwing around in a room trying to jump on boxes or find new areas.  In these cases, I am my own worst enemy.

It's really up to each individual which type of game and storytelling they prefer.  Both games are pretty awesome and you should take the time to check them out if you haven't already.  But this should give you something to think about and talk about at the breakfast table.