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Found 27 results

  1. Minecraft officially released back in 2011 and has since been taking the world by storm. You can now find Minecraft action figures, movies, several alternate versions of the game built as educational tools, and more that have forged a media empire based on that one game alone. In 2014, only three years after Minecraft's official launch, that empire had grown into a property worth billions of dollars. Microsoft approached the owner of Mojang, Minecraft's development studio, and bought the studio and its intellectual property for $2.5 billion. Boasting a bevy of free updates, narrative-based spin-offs, and a thriving community of players and content creators who continue to delve into its intricacies, Minecraft continues to be one of the most popular games in the world. Each week we will be tackling a video game, old or new, that at least one of us believes deserves to stand as one of the greatest games of all time. We'll dive into its history, development, and gameplay, while trying to argue for or against the game of the week. Sometimes we will be in harmonious agreement, other times we might be fighting a bitter battle to the very end. However each episode shakes out, we hope that everyone who listens will find the show entertaining and informative. Outro music: Minecraft 'Squishy's Theme' by The Orichalcon (http://ocremix.org/remix/OCR02327) You can download or listen to the podcast over on Soundcloud, our hosting site, and iTunes. A YouTube version is available as well, so you can watch what we are talking about while we talk about it! If you want to have your opinion heard on air, share your opinion in the comments, follow the show on Twitter, and participate in the weekly polls: @BestGamesPeriod New episodes of The Best Games Period will be released every Monday Don't forget to sign up for Extra Life to help sick and injured kids in hospitals around the US and Canada by playing games! View full article
  2. Jack Gardner

    The Best Games Period - Episode 97 - Minecraft

    Minecraft officially released back in 2011 and has since been taking the world by storm. You can now find Minecraft action figures, movies, several alternate versions of the game built as educational tools, and more that have forged a media empire based on that one game alone. In 2014, only three years after Minecraft's official launch, that empire had grown into a property worth billions of dollars. Microsoft approached the owner of Mojang, Minecraft's development studio, and bought the studio and its intellectual property for $2.5 billion. Boasting a bevy of free updates, narrative-based spin-offs, and a thriving community of players and content creators who continue to delve into its intricacies, Minecraft continues to be one of the most popular games in the world. Each week we will be tackling a video game, old or new, that at least one of us believes deserves to stand as one of the greatest games of all time. We'll dive into its history, development, and gameplay, while trying to argue for or against the game of the week. Sometimes we will be in harmonious agreement, other times we might be fighting a bitter battle to the very end. However each episode shakes out, we hope that everyone who listens will find the show entertaining and informative. Outro music: Minecraft 'Squishy's Theme' by The Orichalcon (http://ocremix.org/remix/OCR02327) You can download or listen to the podcast over on Soundcloud, our hosting site, and iTunes. A YouTube version is available as well, so you can watch what we are talking about while we talk about it! If you want to have your opinion heard on air, share your opinion in the comments, follow the show on Twitter, and participate in the weekly polls: @BestGamesPeriod New episodes of The Best Games Period will be released every Monday Don't forget to sign up for Extra Life to help sick and injured kids in hospitals around the US and Canada by playing games!
  3. With a simple tweet, CD Projekt RED kicked off a storm of internet excitement yesterday. The Witcher developer has been quietly working on their upcoming cyberpunk RPG project for years without a peep. But that silence was broken by a single tweet from the long inactive Cyberpunk 2077 let out a single "*beep*" leading many to speculate that an announcement was imminent. Announced all the way back in 2012, Cyberpunk 2077 has long remained an enigmatic project. A teaser was released in 2013 claiming that the game would release "when it's ready." At one point an early build was stolen from CD Projekt RED and the thief attempted to extort the developer for money in exchange for not leaking it to the world. The developer refused to pay saying that, "the documents are old and largely unrepresentative of the current vision for the game." Here's what little we know of CD Projekt RED's foray into cyberpunk. Cyberpunk 2077 is based on the tabletop RPG Cyberpunk 2020 that was developed by legendary designer Mike Pondsmith, who will also be contributing to CD Projekt's game. It will be an open world action RPG with a heavy emphasis on a single player campaign as well as a multiplayer component. Those two systems are expected to interact in some way. It will be running on REDengine 4, a new in-house engine that improves on the game engine that powered The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. The action will take place in a sprawling urban environment called Night City and follow a group of people called Psycho Squad who recruit dangerous people and entities for a mysterious purpose. In a funding document spied by Game Zone, the developer estimated that Cyberpunk 2077 might release in 2019, though given how ambitious CD Projekt RED's previous titles have been it might be more realistic (and perhaps thematically appropriate) to expect a 2020 release. Whatever the eventual release date, renewed Twitter activity certainly seems to indicate that we will be getting more information on the game sometime this year. View full article
  4. With a simple tweet, CD Projekt RED kicked off a storm of internet excitement yesterday. The Witcher developer has been quietly working on their upcoming cyberpunk RPG project for years without a peep. But that silence was broken by a single tweet from the long inactive Cyberpunk 2077 let out a single "*beep*" leading many to speculate that an announcement was imminent. Announced all the way back in 2012, Cyberpunk 2077 has long remained an enigmatic project. A teaser was released in 2013 claiming that the game would release "when it's ready." At one point an early build was stolen from CD Projekt RED and the thief attempted to extort the developer for money in exchange for not leaking it to the world. The developer refused to pay saying that, "the documents are old and largely unrepresentative of the current vision for the game." Here's what little we know of CD Projekt RED's foray into cyberpunk. Cyberpunk 2077 is based on the tabletop RPG Cyberpunk 2020 that was developed by legendary designer Mike Pondsmith, who will also be contributing to CD Projekt's game. It will be an open world action RPG with a heavy emphasis on a single player campaign as well as a multiplayer component. Those two systems are expected to interact in some way. It will be running on REDengine 4, a new in-house engine that improves on the game engine that powered The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. The action will take place in a sprawling urban environment called Night City and follow a group of people called Psycho Squad who recruit dangerous people and entities for a mysterious purpose. In a funding document spied by Game Zone, the developer estimated that Cyberpunk 2077 might release in 2019, though given how ambitious CD Projekt RED's previous titles have been it might be more realistic (and perhaps thematically appropriate) to expect a 2020 release. Whatever the eventual release date, renewed Twitter activity certainly seems to indicate that we will be getting more information on the game sometime this year.
  5. Part Devil May Cry, part Ninja Gaiden, part Final Fantasy XV, and part something new entirely, Lost Soul Aside has been on the indie radar since mid-2016 when a trailer surfaced showcasing its combat, world, and hints of its story. The original trailer has since been viewed over three million times, bringing a great deal of attention to solo indie game dev Yang Bing. The Shanghai-based developer set up a studio called Ultizero Games and crafted the entire thing (at least up until that point) solo, with relatively little input from others. A site was launched that offered more tantalizing glimpses of what Lost Soul Aside might hold for players, though not much in terms of what the game might actually be about. The only hint of the tale that the game hopes to tell reads as follows: The war ended ten years ago, the unknown monsters then appeared, Kazer accidently [sic] got combined with an ancient race Arena, Then they got on the journey to seek for the mysterious crystals with their own purposes. "This is not for saving the world, just for saving myself." Lost Soul Aside appears to be an open world action game starring a war veteran who has inadvertently become fused with a strange creature that gives him the ability to fly, project energy from his sword, and access to a wide variety of combos and attacks. The action feels very reminiscent of the combo systems seen in Devil May Cry and the modern incarnation of Ninja Gaiden, which Yang Bing has said served as a big point of inspiration. The art style and openness of the environments has garnered comparisons to Final Fantasy XV. The world itself spans across vast locations set on floating islands. Some locations are temperate fields full of flowers, others are parched deserts or ruined structures. Since the initial reveal, Lost Soul Aside has been relatively silent. Yang Bing kept his head down working steadily on Lost Soul Aside all the way up to PSX 2017. On the 9th, he released a short teaser for a demo that would appear at PSX. The trailer shows off a short gameplay segment that people at the show would be able to play, including a face-off against a massive creature with blue energy swords. There's still no release date or even platforms announced (though it is pretty safe to assume it will come to PC). However, the demo has people talking. Sources from the show have reported people lining up for a chance to play Lost Soul Aside and those who have had a chance to play say that it's a fun, responsive indie game well worth keeping an eye on. What do you think of Lost Soul Aside? View full article
  6. Part Devil May Cry, part Ninja Gaiden, part Final Fantasy XV, and part something new entirely, Lost Soul Aside has been on the indie radar since mid-2016 when a trailer surfaced showcasing its combat, world, and hints of its story. The original trailer has since been viewed over three million times, bringing a great deal of attention to solo indie game dev Yang Bing. The Shanghai-based developer set up a studio called Ultizero Games and crafted the entire thing (at least up until that point) solo, with relatively little input from others. A site was launched that offered more tantalizing glimpses of what Lost Soul Aside might hold for players, though not much in terms of what the game might actually be about. The only hint of the tale that the game hopes to tell reads as follows: The war ended ten years ago, the unknown monsters then appeared, Kazer accidently [sic] got combined with an ancient race Arena, Then they got on the journey to seek for the mysterious crystals with their own purposes. "This is not for saving the world, just for saving myself." Lost Soul Aside appears to be an open world action game starring a war veteran who has inadvertently become fused with a strange creature that gives him the ability to fly, project energy from his sword, and access to a wide variety of combos and attacks. The action feels very reminiscent of the combo systems seen in Devil May Cry and the modern incarnation of Ninja Gaiden, which Yang Bing has said served as a big point of inspiration. The art style and openness of the environments has garnered comparisons to Final Fantasy XV. The world itself spans across vast locations set on floating islands. Some locations are temperate fields full of flowers, others are parched deserts or ruined structures. Since the initial reveal, Lost Soul Aside has been relatively silent. Yang Bing kept his head down working steadily on Lost Soul Aside all the way up to PSX 2017. On the 9th, he released a short teaser for a demo that would appear at PSX. The trailer shows off a short gameplay segment that people at the show would be able to play, including a face-off against a massive creature with blue energy swords. There's still no release date or even platforms announced (though it is pretty safe to assume it will come to PC). However, the demo has people talking. Sources from the show have reported people lining up for a chance to play Lost Soul Aside and those who have had a chance to play say that it's a fun, responsive indie game well worth keeping an eye on. What do you think of Lost Soul Aside?
  7. The indie title Mulaka has been gathering some buzz in recent months. The action-adventure game follows the shaman Sukurúame as he races to battle the otherworldly powers corrupting his homeland. Developer Lienzo created Mulaka in the hope that their game will be both enjoyable for players and also teach about the Tarahumara culture. Sukurúame and Mulaka are based largely on the Tarahumara, a people indigenous to northern Mexico. The Tarahumara were known for their stamina and ability to run vast distances in the sprawling landscape they called home, but they were far more than that. To help players better understand the beating cultural heart of Mulaka, Lienzo has launched the first episode of a three part educational series about the Tarahumara. Mulaka draws from the legends and myths passed down by the Tarahumara to create a visually unique world full of incredible demigods and magic - all grounded in real-world locations and beliefs. Lienzo hopes that giving the Tarahumara people a story within a modern game will help to shad some light on a culture many people might never have heard of otherwise. "Even though I didn't know the mythology, it is still part of the city I live in, and the state and the country I live in. So I really feel proud that we can get to share part of this amazing culture with the world," says Lienzo's lead developer Adolfo Rico. The next two videos will be coming soon. Expect to see them go up sometime before Mulaka's early 2018 release on PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. View full article
  8. The indie title Mulaka has been gathering some buzz in recent months. The action-adventure game follows the shaman Sukurúame as he races to battle the otherworldly powers corrupting his homeland. Developer Lienzo created Mulaka in the hope that their game will be both enjoyable for players and also teach about the Tarahumara culture. Sukurúame and Mulaka are based largely on the Tarahumara, a people indigenous to northern Mexico. The Tarahumara were known for their stamina and ability to run vast distances in the sprawling landscape they called home, but they were far more than that. To help players better understand the beating cultural heart of Mulaka, Lienzo has launched the first episode of a three part educational series about the Tarahumara. Mulaka draws from the legends and myths passed down by the Tarahumara to create a visually unique world full of incredible demigods and magic - all grounded in real-world locations and beliefs. Lienzo hopes that giving the Tarahumara people a story within a modern game will help to shad some light on a culture many people might never have heard of otherwise. "Even though I didn't know the mythology, it is still part of the city I live in, and the state and the country I live in. So I really feel proud that we can get to share part of this amazing culture with the world," says Lienzo's lead developer Adolfo Rico. The next two videos will be coming soon. Expect to see them go up sometime before Mulaka's early 2018 release on PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch.
  9. Hey guys, I have been with Extra Life for 4 years now and I am the President of the Grand Rapids guild. So this isn't spam. My little company Afterthought Games is going to be doing a Kickstarter campaign next week for a game we are making called Violent Sol Worlds. We're not allowed to advertise it on the Kickstarter (which is ridiculous) but our plan is to give 5% of our earnings to Extra Life, 10% if we are funded in the first 24 hours. We are also launching a game called Cornflower Corbin the day before and we are going to be promoting both of them at the Maker Faire in our city next weekend. Anyway, I just wanted to post about both here to try to get the word out. I will post again when they both are live. Below are the relevant links if anyone is interested. Violent Sol Kickstarter: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/651297750/1491401610?ref=328434&token=4afc02f2 Cornflower Corbin on Steam: http://store.steampowered.com/app/624780/Cornflower_Corbin/ Thanks in advance for checking them out.
  10. What if I told you that the developers who reintroduced “hella” back into modern lexicon were tackling a 20th century vampire action epic for their next game? You’d be forgiven for refusing to believe me, but it’s true! Dontnod, the same team behind the 2015 hit narrative adventure Life Is Strange, are taking to the streets of 1918’s vampire-infested London, complete with all the stabbing and bloodsucking that entails. Dontnod gave a media-exclusive hands-off demo of Vampyr at E3 this year, demonstrating their progress since last year's already impressive E3 showing. The demo showcased how expansive their incarnation of London is and how its citizens will play a vital role in determining your fate as well as the city’s. You play as Jonathan Reid, a brooding doctor who quite literally moonlights as a recently-turned vampire. London is currently under siege from all ends, including a deadly flu virus and ravenous undead humans called the “Skal". Reid must work to find solutions to end both threats. Fixated on him, however, are an order of cutthroat vampire hunters nipping at his every step. Our E3 demo began with Reid confronting his superior at his place of work, a London hospital. Reid is attempting to determine what caused a number of grisly deaths, only to stumble upon another vampire speaking with his boss. Reid’s boss is quick to remind them both that the hospital is sacred ground among London’s vampire clans, suggesting the game’s dialogue and action choices will carry consequences far and wide. While searching for clues in the streets and alleys, Reid finds himself chatting with a suspiciously hostile man by the docks. It’s here that Dontnod shows off how his vampiric needs will twist each of London’s several districts and the people who reside there. The man is unwilling to cooperate with Reid’s investigation unless he can help him find his mother’s missing ring. It seems that she’s the only person this miserable grump loves, so in the interest of digging up clues, Reid searches the nearby dock. Unfortunately, the misplaced ring isn’t the only thing we find underneath a tunnel entrance. There’s also a nice pile of dead bodies. Turns out our reluctant informant is a serial killer, and after meeting mother dearest, it’s clear the poor old lady has made peace with her son’s vicious ways by covering up for him. Since you’re a vampire, you’ll need to feed off of at least a few of London’s residents to grow in power so you can defend yourself from the hunters. While the obvious choice might be to take out our murdering friend, it’s actually his mother’s blood that’s much higher in quality, and thus grants more experience points to channel into abilities. Dontnod makes the call to end the woman’s existence and reap the rewards. After assimilating her blood by sleeping the day away, we get a chance to see the results of our handiwork, and it isn’t pretty. Mr. serial killer’s home is trashed, with the man in question brooding in the bedroom about all the revenge he’s going to exact on the city. Dontnod informs us that other effects of our actions will include different market prices for items, more undead in the underground and dark corners of the city, increased crime, and a higher murder rate for NPCs. Dontnod also took some time to show off combat, and how you’ll mix traditional fisticuffs and bladework with vampiric bloodsucking. On a more surface level, it mirror’s Batman: Arkham’s third-person punching and dodging, with a bit of teleportation ala Dishonored’s blink ability. Enemies have health bars above their heads, so you’ll know exactly how close they are to death, but if you’re feeling a little aggressive, you can also magically sap blood straight from their skin to recharge your abilities and health. It’s inventive enough, especially once your blood bar is filled to allow some gory finishing moves. Reid eventually performed a finisher that teleported his form into the body of an enemy, tearing him apart from the inside before teleporting back to watch the ensuing explosion. I just hope it doesn’t feel like a weightless mash-a-thon in the final product. Part of Batman’s thrill was feeling every bone crunch. It only makes sense that actual bloodsuckers have as much force behind their punches, too. Vampyr won’t be the first action game Dontnod tackles (2013’s Remember Me saw to that), but their proclivity for taking risks, along with excellent characters and world-building give the game a solid foundation to move forward on. It remains to be seen if the experience will translate to a full open world with side quests and other minutia to tackle, but this will definitely be one shadow to watch over your shoulder for in the future. Vampyr is available this November for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. View full article
  11. What if I told you that the developers who reintroduced “hella” back into modern lexicon were tackling a 20th century vampire action epic for their next game? You’d be forgiven for refusing to believe me, but it’s true! Dontnod, the same team behind the 2015 hit narrative adventure Life Is Strange, are taking to the streets of 1918’s vampire-infested London, complete with all the stabbing and bloodsucking that entails. Dontnod gave a media-exclusive hands-off demo of Vampyr at E3 this year, demonstrating their progress since last year's already impressive E3 showing. The demo showcased how expansive their incarnation of London is and how its citizens will play a vital role in determining your fate as well as the city’s. You play as Jonathan Reid, a brooding doctor who quite literally moonlights as a recently-turned vampire. London is currently under siege from all ends, including a deadly flu virus and ravenous undead humans called the “Skal". Reid must work to find solutions to end both threats. Fixated on him, however, are an order of cutthroat vampire hunters nipping at his every step. Our E3 demo began with Reid confronting his superior at his place of work, a London hospital. Reid is attempting to determine what caused a number of grisly deaths, only to stumble upon another vampire speaking with his boss. Reid’s boss is quick to remind them both that the hospital is sacred ground among London’s vampire clans, suggesting the game’s dialogue and action choices will carry consequences far and wide. While searching for clues in the streets and alleys, Reid finds himself chatting with a suspiciously hostile man by the docks. It’s here that Dontnod shows off how his vampiric needs will twist each of London’s several districts and the people who reside there. The man is unwilling to cooperate with Reid’s investigation unless he can help him find his mother’s missing ring. It seems that she’s the only person this miserable grump loves, so in the interest of digging up clues, Reid searches the nearby dock. Unfortunately, the misplaced ring isn’t the only thing we find underneath a tunnel entrance. There’s also a nice pile of dead bodies. Turns out our reluctant informant is a serial killer, and after meeting mother dearest, it’s clear the poor old lady has made peace with her son’s vicious ways by covering up for him. Since you’re a vampire, you’ll need to feed off of at least a few of London’s residents to grow in power so you can defend yourself from the hunters. While the obvious choice might be to take out our murdering friend, it’s actually his mother’s blood that’s much higher in quality, and thus grants more experience points to channel into abilities. Dontnod makes the call to end the woman’s existence and reap the rewards. After assimilating her blood by sleeping the day away, we get a chance to see the results of our handiwork, and it isn’t pretty. Mr. serial killer’s home is trashed, with the man in question brooding in the bedroom about all the revenge he’s going to exact on the city. Dontnod informs us that other effects of our actions will include different market prices for items, more undead in the underground and dark corners of the city, increased crime, and a higher murder rate for NPCs. Dontnod also took some time to show off combat, and how you’ll mix traditional fisticuffs and bladework with vampiric bloodsucking. On a more surface level, it mirror’s Batman: Arkham’s third-person punching and dodging, with a bit of teleportation ala Dishonored’s blink ability. Enemies have health bars above their heads, so you’ll know exactly how close they are to death, but if you’re feeling a little aggressive, you can also magically sap blood straight from their skin to recharge your abilities and health. It’s inventive enough, especially once your blood bar is filled to allow some gory finishing moves. Reid eventually performed a finisher that teleported his form into the body of an enemy, tearing him apart from the inside before teleporting back to watch the ensuing explosion. I just hope it doesn’t feel like a weightless mash-a-thon in the final product. Part of Batman’s thrill was feeling every bone crunch. It only makes sense that actual bloodsuckers have as much force behind their punches, too. Vampyr won’t be the first action game Dontnod tackles (2013’s Remember Me saw to that), but their proclivity for taking risks, along with excellent characters and world-building give the game a solid foundation to move forward on. It remains to be seen if the experience will translate to a full open world with side quests and other minutia to tackle, but this will definitely be one shadow to watch over your shoulder for in the future. Vampyr is available this November for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.
  12. This isn't super complicated - Good Old Games and Steam have been having massive sales on games published by Deep Silver, which includes the Saints Row franchise. While the sales themselves offer some really great prices, the real steal is that one of the core entries in the series can be downloaded for free. Gamers can get their digital hands on a copy of Saints Row 2 for from either service at the low price of $0. Both versions are essentially the same, though the GOG version comes without any restrictive DRM. The offer from Steam lasts until tomorrow at noon while the GOG offer only extends until the early hours of tomorrow morning. View full article
  13. Jack Gardner

    PSA: Saints Row 2 Free (for Now)

    This isn't super complicated - Good Old Games and Steam have been having massive sales on games published by Deep Silver, which includes the Saints Row franchise. While the sales themselves offer some really great prices, the real steal is that one of the core entries in the series can be downloaded for free. Gamers can get their digital hands on a copy of Saints Row 2 for from either service at the low price of $0. Both versions are essentially the same, though the GOG version comes without any restrictive DRM. The offer from Steam lasts until tomorrow at noon while the GOG offer only extends until the early hours of tomorrow morning.
  14. With the recent release of the Nintendo Switch and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, another game looms large in the background: The original Legend of Zelda, the 1986 title that started it all and taught us all that it's dangerous to go alone. Nintendo's open world adventure forced players to think beyond the limitations of previous console games, forced Nintendo to change how it made games, almost single-handedly created the Nintendo Power magazine, and became both a cultural and game design touchstone. Does The Legend of Zelda, with all of its 1986 technical limitations, still hold up over 30 years later? Outro music: The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past 'The Imprisoning War' by smartpoetic (http://ocremix.org/remix/OCR03308) You can download or listen to the podcast over on Soundcloud, our hosting site, and iTunes. A YouTube version is (sometimes) available as well, so you can watch what we are talking about while we talk about it! A Patreon has been created for those looking to support the show. You can also follow the show on Twitter: @BestGamesPeriod New episodes of The Best Games Period will be released every Monday
  15. With the recent release of the Nintendo Switch and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, another game looms large in the background: The original Legend of Zelda, the 1986 title that started it all and taught us all that it's dangerous to go alone. Nintendo's open world adventure forced players to think beyond the limitations of previous console games, forced Nintendo to change how it made games, almost single-handedly created the Nintendo Power magazine, and became both a cultural and game design touchstone. Does The Legend of Zelda, with all of its 1986 technical limitations, still hold up over 30 years later? Outro music: The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past 'The Imprisoning War' by smartpoetic (http://ocremix.org/remix/OCR03308) You can download or listen to the podcast over on Soundcloud, our hosting site, and iTunes. A YouTube version is (sometimes) available as well, so you can watch what we are talking about while we talk about it! A Patreon has been created for those looking to support the show. You can also follow the show on Twitter: @BestGamesPeriod New episodes of The Best Games Period will be released every Monday View full article
  16. An adorable roguelike is on its way toward becoming a reality as Pixel Princess Blitz reached its funding goal on Kickstarter yesterday. The indie project cleared its €77,700 goal with a whopping €102,418. The money will be used by the Hamburg-based indie group to create the PC version of their sandbox action RPG with a crazy endearing art style. The indie devs plan to port the title to PlayStation 4, PS Vita, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch after the PC version of Pixel Princess Blitz releases mid 2018. Pixel Princess Blitz has huge ambitions to present an open world spread out over a grid that is explored in turn-based form. Encounters and dungeons are tackled in real-time with special attacks, reactive AI, and fluid action. Players will need to use the resources they discover to survive, outfitting themselves with upgradable items. Players who aren't careful could see themselves fall victim to permadeath, a system the devs describe as tough, but fair. Multiple factions inhabit the world and how players interact with them shapes how the story unfolds. In fact, every NPC that players encounter has a backstory and motivations that they pursue - that might even include a romantic relationship with the protagonist, Kuruna. Strengthening ties to NPCs can yield a slew of benefits, like combat companions and perhaps even the chance that they will show up to save your from the brink of death itself! Players take on the role of Kuruna, a young adventurer who travels the kingdom of Verad to help those in need. Some strange activities have been reported in the province of Hummingwoods, so Kuruna begins a patrol of the area that quickly becomes much more than she ever imagined. Keep an eye out for Pixel Princess Blitz sometime next year on PC.
  17. An adorable roguelike is on its way toward becoming a reality as Pixel Princess Blitz reached its funding goal on Kickstarter yesterday. The indie project cleared its €77,700 goal with a whopping €102,418. The money will be used by the Hamburg-based indie group to create the PC version of their sandbox action RPG with a crazy endearing art style. The indie devs plan to port the title to PlayStation 4, PS Vita, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch after the PC version of Pixel Princess Blitz releases mid 2018. Pixel Princess Blitz has huge ambitions to present an open world spread out over a grid that is explored in turn-based form. Encounters and dungeons are tackled in real-time with special attacks, reactive AI, and fluid action. Players will need to use the resources they discover to survive, outfitting themselves with upgradable items. Players who aren't careful could see themselves fall victim to permadeath, a system the devs describe as tough, but fair. Multiple factions inhabit the world and how players interact with them shapes how the story unfolds. In fact, every NPC that players encounter has a backstory and motivations that they pursue - that might even include a romantic relationship with the protagonist, Kuruna. Strengthening ties to NPCs can yield a slew of benefits, like combat companions and perhaps even the chance that they will show up to save your from the brink of death itself! Players take on the role of Kuruna, a young adventurer who travels the kingdom of Verad to help those in need. Some strange activities have been reported in the province of Hummingwoods, so Kuruna begins a patrol of the area that quickly becomes much more than she ever imagined. Keep an eye out for Pixel Princess Blitz sometime next year on PC. View full article
  18. This week the wild bunch reunites to dive into the wild, wild west for a look at the good, the bad, and the ugly of Rockstar Games' 2010 high noon classic Red Dead Redemption. The searchers make some surprising discoveries about whether the open range western should be considered one of the best games period or remain unforgiven. Look, I really like westerns, okay? Each week we will be tackling a video game, old or new, that at least one of us believes deserves to stand as one of the greatest games of all time. We'll dive into its history, development, and gameplay, while trying to argue for or against the game of the week. Sometimes we will be in harmonious agreement, other times we might be fighting a bitter battle to the very end. However each episode shakes out, we hope that everyone who listens will find the show entertaining and informative. You can download or listen to the podcast over on Soundcloud, our hosting site, and iTunes. Since the latest couple of flags on our channel have been dropped expect some incoming uploads to the YouTube channel, so you can watch what we are talking about while we talk about it! You can also follow the show on Twitter: @BestGamesPeriod Outro music: Mega Man 2 'The Quick and the Blue' by The Megas (http://ocremix.org/remix/OCR02090) - if you like it, check out the band's online store (http://www.themegas.com/store.html) New episodes of The Best Games Period will be released every Monday
  19. This week the wild bunch reunites to dive into the wild, wild west for a look at the good, the bad, and the ugly of Rockstar Games' 2010 high noon classic Red Dead Redemption. The searchers make some surprising discoveries about whether the open range western should be considered one of the best games period or remain unforgiven. Look, I really like westerns, okay? Each week we will be tackling a video game, old or new, that at least one of us believes deserves to stand as one of the greatest games of all time. We'll dive into its history, development, and gameplay, while trying to argue for or against the game of the week. Sometimes we will be in harmonious agreement, other times we might be fighting a bitter battle to the very end. However each episode shakes out, we hope that everyone who listens will find the show entertaining and informative. You can download or listen to the podcast over on Soundcloud, our hosting site, and iTunes. Since the latest couple of flags on our channel have been dropped expect some incoming uploads to the YouTube channel, so you can watch what we are talking about while we talk about it! You can also follow the show on Twitter: @BestGamesPeriod Outro music: Mega Man 2 'The Quick and the Blue' by The Megas (http://ocremix.org/remix/OCR02090) - if you like it, check out the band's online store (http://www.themegas.com/store.html) New episodes of The Best Games Period will be released every Monday View full article
  20. Jack Gardner

    Feature: Review: Dying Light

    With Dying Light, Techland really knew what they were doing on a technical level. Environments brim with the detritus of humanity exuding the sense of recent occupation. Character models are lovingly rendered, while zombies are appropriately freaky and grotesque. The gameplay ranges from frantic first-person parkour traversal to stealthy infiltration accompanied by satisfying melee combat and functional gunplay. If that’s all you are looking for, Dying Light will no doubt satisfy you. However, if you are looking for anything else, an intriguing or thought-provoking story, context that validates the gameplay, memorable music, fleshed out characters, anything, you’ll probably want to look elsewhere. Credit where credit is due, Techland designed Dying Light incredibly well. The open world is full of things to climb onto, slide under, jump over, swim through, etc. Players can tackle the problem of going from Point A to Point B in just about whatever manner they choose. The parkour style of movement feels smooth and natural. Dying Light provides the basic mechanics of movement from the start, instead of restricting core abilities behind level progression. Traversal feels complete and powerful from the beginning, but becomes even more empowering and fun after unlocking abilities like ground slides or jumping onto and over enemies. The heart of Dying Light lies in open and unrestricted freerunning through the playground Techland created. It feels like a next-gen experience. On top of the exhilaration of sprinting through zombie hordes, the combat system feels great. Dying Light takes some pains to remind players that they are only human by beginning at feasible levels of strength. Stamina will only allow for four or five swings of standard weapons, though that number increases as players level by simply doing things like fighting or running or completing quests. Leveling will also open up new skills that can be used in combat like a heavy attack or a spin attack. Combat itself is fairly simple, only becoming more complex as more abilities become available. Fighting mostly consists of whacking zombies or people with pipes, table legs, whatever happens to be on hand. Before settling into a comfortable groove, scavenging and creating better weapons will be a top priority for most players. Sure, by the time players see the credits roll they’ll be a zombie hunter with potent abilities and gear, but the road to get to that advanced point is long. There are also guns in Dying Light, though the game generally frowns on their use. Guns tend to be very powerful, but have the significant drawback of being very loud, attracting more zombies. The clunky targeting system also discourages the use of firearms. Only when confronted with other gun wielding humans did I feel compelled to use my frugal ammo supply. Otherwise, Molotov cocktails solved almost every seemingly insurmountable enemy I encountered. Melee and improvised weapons were clearly intended to be the core of Dying Light’s combat, so don’t go into Dying Light expecting a lot of running and gunning. Techland layered a day-night cycle over the traversal and combat to spice up the experience and keep players on their toes. During the night, significantly stronger zombies stalk the streets. These monsters call for either a stealthy approach or a non-stop sprint to the nearest safe house. During the night, players connected to the internet might be invaded by another player as a zombie and matched up with three others as survivors to compete against each other. The mode seems to be designed in the 4v1 mindset popular these days. Unfortunately, I had a pretty terrible experience with this game mode. As I was about to turn in a quest, I was refused access to a safe zone and informed that I had been invaded. Cool! Unfortunately, I was not matched up with any other survivors. Invading zombies are made vulnerable with a UV light and only then can they be killed. Invaders seem to be generally faster than a normal player unless made vulnerable. They can also insta-kill normal players. This session resulted in me dying repeatedly for about ten minutes until I figured out how to quit the match. I then turned off the multiplayer aspect and never went back. All of this takes place within a world into which teams of artists clearly poured thousands of hours. Abandoned apartments feel lived in, only recently abandoned in a panic. Flies buzz wildly over rotting corpses. Fish swim lazily in the water, gaping aquatically as players pass them by. Lighting changes drastically from day to night, dynamically changing the aesthetic of the world. For a game titled Dying LIGHT, I am glad they nailed lighting. As for the character models, Every important character has a distinct look, although it is very easy for anyone not involved in the main plot to just blend together after a while (that isn’t entirely on the artists, but we’ll get more into that later). The zombies deserve a nod as well. The average roving dead looks incredibly creepy up close. The effect becomes especially unnerving in dark, confined spaces. The special zombies are a different matter. When these variant types of zombies come into play, it appears bizarre that they all hold the same weapons or are outfitted with the same armor. Why is every single slightly larger zombie armed with a piece of rebar and concrete? Despite the technical proficiency apparent in much of its design, Dying Light demonstrates why video games can’t just rely on entertaining gameplay and lovingly rendered environments. The story is an unwieldy mess of clichés and action-dude-isms. Most of the characters exist only as bare sketches of what could be considered functional. In fact, almost every single idea in Dying Light that might be interesting is quietly brushed aside to get to the next pretext that sends the player moving throughout the quarantined city of Harran. *Spoilers follow* In fact, let’s start with Harran. Where is it? That might seem like a simple question, but the reality is that we are never given a reference point. As a fictional city, that’s kind of the point, but without knowing where it is supposed to be we’re left with this strange, context-less city. I actually looked it up on the game’s Wikipedia page to make sure Dying Light actually took place on Earth rather than a different planet or reality. It appears that it is a city-state on the coast of the Mediterranean somewhere near Turkey. Why is this important or why might we care about this in the context of the game? Because the political ramifications of a major city like Harran becoming the epicenter of a potentially apocalyptic zombie outbreak would be important and interesting. However, in-game Harran seems to be completely isolated from the outside world, aside from airdrops of supplies and a miracle drug that stops infected survivors from becoming biters. The opening cinematic tells us that no one knows if people are even still alive in the city. This is the setting for the entire game and it begs so many questions: How was Harran so easily quarantined? Did it involve some sort of unethical application of military force? Why does that quarantine appear to be run by an organization unaffiliated with Harran’s political leadership? Who is in charge? Why can no one confirm that there are still survivors? Why aren’t survivors being airlifted out of the quarantine if they have a medicine that indefinitely keeps people from becoming zombies? Why does it seem to have an airforce that is willing to destroy the city-state? Attempting to answer any of these questions could have provided some great insight into the situation in which Kyle Crane finds himself. Enter our protagonist, Kyle Crane, another one of those faceless, blank slates onto which players are supposed to project themselves. Nebulously described as an “operative,” Crane works for the Global Relief Effort (GRE), the organization that airdrops food and medicine into Harran. He apparently enters Dying Light with no past or connections to the outside world. At no point do we hear him talk about a family or friends or why he accepted a mission to go into a zombie infested city alone. He makes no decisions for himself, instead allowing himself and the plot to be propelled by the people giving him orders. Crane’s mission is to infiltrate the groups of survivors in Harran (groups that GRE apparently knows about, despite the opening cinematic’s words to the contrary) and discover who holds a file that contains information which could destroy the world in the wrong hands. None of the survivors who rescue him question why he airdropped into the city, who he is, where he came from, or any other circumstance of his existence. He seems to win everyone over after sharing his name, lying about being a tourist, and doing helpful chores. Crane’s value to everyone around him stems from what he can do physically, not from any virtue he may or may not possess. He offers no insight into events other than enabling other characters to dump exposition to the player. Crane’s sole character trait seems to be making frustrated quips and remarks after people tell him to go do something unpleasant. We get almost no information about the Global Relief Effort. From the name, it presumably operates globally. Dying Light describes GRE as a humanitarian organization at some point. That’s about all we have to go on, but so much is left strangely unexplained. Why does a single humanitarian organization handle the entire operation of supplying food and medicine to a massive city? It seems to me that having an entire city quarantined would at least summon three or four, maybe some human rights groups to oversee that nothing fishy was going on, possibly a UN envoy. Why does a humanitarian organization have or even need secret operatives? I’d be fine with this if it ever satisfyingly tied into the plot at all, but it doesn’t. Why would they expect one operative to be fine in the middle of a city overrun with zombies? No, seriously why would GRE expect this? Kyle Crane might be the most competent person in the universe, but he is one guy in a city with a population in the hundreds of thousands, almost all of which are now walking dead. What reasonable person would think that he’d be able to get the job done? In fact, at one point it seemed like GRE was both willing and able to bomb the entire city into ash. How on earth are they able to keep up the façade of being a humanitarian organization if they are able to call in massive airstrikes to level the city that they alone seem to control? Am I on crazy pills? Jade Aldemir plays a prominent role in Dying Light as a super competent former kickboxing champion-turned-survivor. Contrasting nicely with Crane’s never-addressed past, we learn quite a bit about Jade. She has a strong sense of family, probably resulting from the loss of her parents at the beginning of the outbreak, which causes her to be very protective of her younger brother, Rahim. That bit of information alone makes Jade more compelling than our protagonist, but there’s more! Crane’s arrival results in the death of one of her friends among the survivors, adding additional traumas on top of what it must be like to lose your entire city. She was already a great fighter before the outbreak, hence her great survival skills and respect she receives from the group. As a bonus, she has emotions other than irritation and yelling, which seem to be the only two our protagonist knows (yelling counts as an emotion for Crane). Looking back over the events of Dying Light, It seems clear to me that Jade should have been the protagonist, dealing with life in the quarantine zone as the outbreak occurred and later contacted by the GRE to carry out the world saving mission. Instead, Dying Light gradually disempowers Jade by the slowly killing off everyone she holds dear before Rais, our main antagonist, finally kidnaps and kills her. Her final act heroically saves Crane’s worthless life at the cost of her own. Her character was a fantastic opportunity for a compelling protagonist. Instead, she is ultimately made into an object for the player to retrieve from Rais as part of an ego struggle between protagonist and antagonist. Oh, Rais. This was the character that was supposed to present an ideological counterpoint to Kyle Crane, the man almost with no idea, let alone an ideology. Rais apparently worked with the GRE at one point, but went crazy after his brother was killed and became a weird, violent warlord in Harran. He justifies this life choice by spouting philosophical musings that may or may not pertain to the given scenario and taking up a vicious rivalry with Crane. I think Techland meant for Rais to lend the rest of the game an intellectual core that it otherwise lacks. He has a few good lines about how Crane has no agency and just does what he’s told, but those glimpses of the writers saying something true never amount to anything remotely substantial. They feel like moments of clarity in the midst of a fever dream. By extension, Rais comes off as a violent, verbose buffoon, rather than anything remotely memorable. I can honestly say that if I wasn’t writing a review of Dying Light right now that I would have almost completely forgotten about everything in the story. It left no impression on me other than one of crushing boredom and irritation. Sitting through hours of this game’s plot tainted the fun I had during the gameplay portions, eventually killing all desire to attempt side quests. Minor setbacks that normally wouldn’t have bothered me became agonizing. The map system sometimes doesn’t work properly or is otherwise unhelpful. The lack of fast travel during the campaign proved to be incredibly irritating (I get why, I was just very ready to see the credits roll). Also, accidentally brushing the PS4 touchpad brings up the menu screen for some reason. All of my frustration with Dying Light’s narrative finally culminated and almost broke me during the home stretch when I kept missing a critical jump and repeatedly respawned at a checkpoint where I had to “calm down” a zombie child, an in-game euphemism for the deeply disturbing act of killing a zombie child. This unscripted gameplay moment affected me more strongly than any portion of the central narrative and as I repeated it over and over, I felt sick. I questioned why the profoundly disquieting nature of dealing with the undead wasn’t dealt with more, why none of the characters encountered in the main campaign seemed to think of the living dead as anything other than an obstacle. There were so many moral quandaries with the act I was forced to repeat, and yet not even quipping, irritated Crane seemed to give it a second thought. It was a moment that could have meant or said something insightful and instead it was ignored like all the other narrative opportunities presented in Dying Light. It was a potent moment of horror at what I was doing to progress, so casually and thoughtlessly invoked for shock value. A game that so insensitively and nonchalantly raised something so powerful for shock value without reaching for a deeper meaning felt almost like a narrative betrayal. As I finally made that tenuous jump and crossed the threshold of a new checkpoint, I realized that I had come to loath almost everything about the context provided for Dying Light’s gameplay and visuals. Conclusion: There is so much to love about Dying Light, so much potential for zombie-infested stories. It presents a world full of danger and provides a wide array of abilities with which to players can fight or flee. Gorgeous visions of human decay permeate Harran, interspersed with pockets of hope within surviving communities. Large scale systems work together to move and motivate vast hordes of biters. These elements all function smoothly and provide a solid core experience. While the gameplay, visuals, and overall game design can more than pull their own weight, the tepid, vapid, torrid narrative drags those positive elements down into the muck. I highly respect Techland as a developer for their work on the criminally underrated Call of Juarez: Gunslinger. However, their writing team managed to almost single-handedly kill my enthusiasm for the experience. If you’re still on the fence about Dying Light, wait until it inevitably goes on sale for $20-$30. The gameplay will entertain you, but you'll suffer through the story. Dying Light is available now for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. View full article
  21. Jack Gardner

    Review: Dying Light

    With Dying Light, Techland really knew what they were doing on a technical level. Environments brim with the detritus of humanity exuding the sense of recent occupation. Character models are lovingly rendered, while zombies are appropriately freaky and grotesque. The gameplay ranges from frantic first-person parkour traversal to stealthy infiltration accompanied by satisfying melee combat and functional gunplay. If that’s all you are looking for, Dying Light will no doubt satisfy you. However, if you are looking for anything else, an intriguing or thought-provoking story, context that validates the gameplay, memorable music, fleshed out characters, anything, you’ll probably want to look elsewhere. Credit where credit is due, Techland designed Dying Light incredibly well. The open world is full of things to climb onto, slide under, jump over, swim through, etc. Players can tackle the problem of going from Point A to Point B in just about whatever manner they choose. The parkour style of movement feels smooth and natural. Dying Light provides the basic mechanics of movement from the start, instead of restricting core abilities behind level progression. Traversal feels complete and powerful from the beginning, but becomes even more empowering and fun after unlocking abilities like ground slides or jumping onto and over enemies. The heart of Dying Light lies in open and unrestricted freerunning through the playground Techland created. It feels like a next-gen experience. On top of the exhilaration of sprinting through zombie hordes, the combat system feels great. Dying Light takes some pains to remind players that they are only human by beginning at feasible levels of strength. Stamina will only allow for four or five swings of standard weapons, though that number increases as players level by simply doing things like fighting or running or completing quests. Leveling will also open up new skills that can be used in combat like a heavy attack or a spin attack. Combat itself is fairly simple, only becoming more complex as more abilities become available. Fighting mostly consists of whacking zombies or people with pipes, table legs, whatever happens to be on hand. Before settling into a comfortable groove, scavenging and creating better weapons will be a top priority for most players. Sure, by the time players see the credits roll they’ll be a zombie hunter with potent abilities and gear, but the road to get to that advanced point is long. There are also guns in Dying Light, though the game generally frowns on their use. Guns tend to be very powerful, but have the significant drawback of being very loud, attracting more zombies. The clunky targeting system also discourages the use of firearms. Only when confronted with other gun wielding humans did I feel compelled to use my frugal ammo supply. Otherwise, Molotov cocktails solved almost every seemingly insurmountable enemy I encountered. Melee and improvised weapons were clearly intended to be the core of Dying Light’s combat, so don’t go into Dying Light expecting a lot of running and gunning. Techland layered a day-night cycle over the traversal and combat to spice up the experience and keep players on their toes. During the night, significantly stronger zombies stalk the streets. These monsters call for either a stealthy approach or a non-stop sprint to the nearest safe house. During the night, players connected to the internet might be invaded by another player as a zombie and matched up with three others as survivors to compete against each other. The mode seems to be designed in the 4v1 mindset popular these days. Unfortunately, I had a pretty terrible experience with this game mode. As I was about to turn in a quest, I was refused access to a safe zone and informed that I had been invaded. Cool! Unfortunately, I was not matched up with any other survivors. Invading zombies are made vulnerable with a UV light and only then can they be killed. Invaders seem to be generally faster than a normal player unless made vulnerable. They can also insta-kill normal players. This session resulted in me dying repeatedly for about ten minutes until I figured out how to quit the match. I then turned off the multiplayer aspect and never went back. All of this takes place within a world into which teams of artists clearly poured thousands of hours. Abandoned apartments feel lived in, only recently abandoned in a panic. Flies buzz wildly over rotting corpses. Fish swim lazily in the water, gaping aquatically as players pass them by. Lighting changes drastically from day to night, dynamically changing the aesthetic of the world. For a game titled Dying LIGHT, I am glad they nailed lighting. As for the character models, Every important character has a distinct look, although it is very easy for anyone not involved in the main plot to just blend together after a while (that isn’t entirely on the artists, but we’ll get more into that later). The zombies deserve a nod as well. The average roving dead looks incredibly creepy up close. The effect becomes especially unnerving in dark, confined spaces. The special zombies are a different matter. When these variant types of zombies come into play, it appears bizarre that they all hold the same weapons or are outfitted with the same armor. Why is every single slightly larger zombie armed with a piece of rebar and concrete? Despite the technical proficiency apparent in much of its design, Dying Light demonstrates why video games can’t just rely on entertaining gameplay and lovingly rendered environments. The story is an unwieldy mess of clichés and action-dude-isms. Most of the characters exist only as bare sketches of what could be considered functional. In fact, almost every single idea in Dying Light that might be interesting is quietly brushed aside to get to the next pretext that sends the player moving throughout the quarantined city of Harran. *Spoilers follow* In fact, let’s start with Harran. Where is it? That might seem like a simple question, but the reality is that we are never given a reference point. As a fictional city, that’s kind of the point, but without knowing where it is supposed to be we’re left with this strange, context-less city. I actually looked it up on the game’s Wikipedia page to make sure Dying Light actually took place on Earth rather than a different planet or reality. It appears that it is a city-state on the coast of the Mediterranean somewhere near Turkey. Why is this important or why might we care about this in the context of the game? Because the political ramifications of a major city like Harran becoming the epicenter of a potentially apocalyptic zombie outbreak would be important and interesting. However, in-game Harran seems to be completely isolated from the outside world, aside from airdrops of supplies and a miracle drug that stops infected survivors from becoming biters. The opening cinematic tells us that no one knows if people are even still alive in the city. This is the setting for the entire game and it begs so many questions: How was Harran so easily quarantined? Did it involve some sort of unethical application of military force? Why does that quarantine appear to be run by an organization unaffiliated with Harran’s political leadership? Who is in charge? Why can no one confirm that there are still survivors? Why aren’t survivors being airlifted out of the quarantine if they have a medicine that indefinitely keeps people from becoming zombies? Why does it seem to have an airforce that is willing to destroy the city-state? Attempting to answer any of these questions could have provided some great insight into the situation in which Kyle Crane finds himself. Enter our protagonist, Kyle Crane, another one of those faceless, blank slates onto which players are supposed to project themselves. Nebulously described as an “operative,” Crane works for the Global Relief Effort (GRE), the organization that airdrops food and medicine into Harran. He apparently enters Dying Light with no past or connections to the outside world. At no point do we hear him talk about a family or friends or why he accepted a mission to go into a zombie infested city alone. He makes no decisions for himself, instead allowing himself and the plot to be propelled by the people giving him orders. Crane’s mission is to infiltrate the groups of survivors in Harran (groups that GRE apparently knows about, despite the opening cinematic’s words to the contrary) and discover who holds a file that contains information which could destroy the world in the wrong hands. None of the survivors who rescue him question why he airdropped into the city, who he is, where he came from, or any other circumstance of his existence. He seems to win everyone over after sharing his name, lying about being a tourist, and doing helpful chores. Crane’s value to everyone around him stems from what he can do physically, not from any virtue he may or may not possess. He offers no insight into events other than enabling other characters to dump exposition to the player. Crane’s sole character trait seems to be making frustrated quips and remarks after people tell him to go do something unpleasant. We get almost no information about the Global Relief Effort. From the name, it presumably operates globally. Dying Light describes GRE as a humanitarian organization at some point. That’s about all we have to go on, but so much is left strangely unexplained. Why does a single humanitarian organization handle the entire operation of supplying food and medicine to a massive city? It seems to me that having an entire city quarantined would at least summon three or four, maybe some human rights groups to oversee that nothing fishy was going on, possibly a UN envoy. Why does a humanitarian organization have or even need secret operatives? I’d be fine with this if it ever satisfyingly tied into the plot at all, but it doesn’t. Why would they expect one operative to be fine in the middle of a city overrun with zombies? No, seriously why would GRE expect this? Kyle Crane might be the most competent person in the universe, but he is one guy in a city with a population in the hundreds of thousands, almost all of which are now walking dead. What reasonable person would think that he’d be able to get the job done? In fact, at one point it seemed like GRE was both willing and able to bomb the entire city into ash. How on earth are they able to keep up the façade of being a humanitarian organization if they are able to call in massive airstrikes to level the city that they alone seem to control? Am I on crazy pills? Jade Aldemir plays a prominent role in Dying Light as a super competent former kickboxing champion-turned-survivor. Contrasting nicely with Crane’s never-addressed past, we learn quite a bit about Jade. She has a strong sense of family, probably resulting from the loss of her parents at the beginning of the outbreak, which causes her to be very protective of her younger brother, Rahim. That bit of information alone makes Jade more compelling than our protagonist, but there’s more! Crane’s arrival results in the death of one of her friends among the survivors, adding additional traumas on top of what it must be like to lose your entire city. She was already a great fighter before the outbreak, hence her great survival skills and respect she receives from the group. As a bonus, she has emotions other than irritation and yelling, which seem to be the only two our protagonist knows (yelling counts as an emotion for Crane). Looking back over the events of Dying Light, It seems clear to me that Jade should have been the protagonist, dealing with life in the quarantine zone as the outbreak occurred and later contacted by the GRE to carry out the world saving mission. Instead, Dying Light gradually disempowers Jade by the slowly killing off everyone she holds dear before Rais, our main antagonist, finally kidnaps and kills her. Her final act heroically saves Crane’s worthless life at the cost of her own. Her character was a fantastic opportunity for a compelling protagonist. Instead, she is ultimately made into an object for the player to retrieve from Rais as part of an ego struggle between protagonist and antagonist. Oh, Rais. This was the character that was supposed to present an ideological counterpoint to Kyle Crane, the man almost with no idea, let alone an ideology. Rais apparently worked with the GRE at one point, but went crazy after his brother was killed and became a weird, violent warlord in Harran. He justifies this life choice by spouting philosophical musings that may or may not pertain to the given scenario and taking up a vicious rivalry with Crane. I think Techland meant for Rais to lend the rest of the game an intellectual core that it otherwise lacks. He has a few good lines about how Crane has no agency and just does what he’s told, but those glimpses of the writers saying something true never amount to anything remotely substantial. They feel like moments of clarity in the midst of a fever dream. By extension, Rais comes off as a violent, verbose buffoon, rather than anything remotely memorable. I can honestly say that if I wasn’t writing a review of Dying Light right now that I would have almost completely forgotten about everything in the story. It left no impression on me other than one of crushing boredom and irritation. Sitting through hours of this game’s plot tainted the fun I had during the gameplay portions, eventually killing all desire to attempt side quests. Minor setbacks that normally wouldn’t have bothered me became agonizing. The map system sometimes doesn’t work properly or is otherwise unhelpful. The lack of fast travel during the campaign proved to be incredibly irritating (I get why, I was just very ready to see the credits roll). Also, accidentally brushing the PS4 touchpad brings up the menu screen for some reason. All of my frustration with Dying Light’s narrative finally culminated and almost broke me during the home stretch when I kept missing a critical jump and repeatedly respawned at a checkpoint where I had to “calm down” a zombie child, an in-game euphemism for the deeply disturbing act of killing a zombie child. This unscripted gameplay moment affected me more strongly than any portion of the central narrative and as I repeated it over and over, I felt sick. I questioned why the profoundly disquieting nature of dealing with the undead wasn’t dealt with more, why none of the characters encountered in the main campaign seemed to think of the living dead as anything other than an obstacle. There were so many moral quandaries with the act I was forced to repeat, and yet not even quipping, irritated Crane seemed to give it a second thought. It was a moment that could have meant or said something insightful and instead it was ignored like all the other narrative opportunities presented in Dying Light. It was a potent moment of horror at what I was doing to progress, so casually and thoughtlessly invoked for shock value. A game that so insensitively and nonchalantly raised something so powerful for shock value without reaching for a deeper meaning felt almost like a narrative betrayal. As I finally made that tenuous jump and crossed the threshold of a new checkpoint, I realized that I had come to loath almost everything about the context provided for Dying Light’s gameplay and visuals. Conclusion: There is so much to love about Dying Light, so much potential for zombie-infested stories. It presents a world full of danger and provides a wide array of abilities with which to players can fight or flee. Gorgeous visions of human decay permeate Harran, interspersed with pockets of hope within surviving communities. Large scale systems work together to move and motivate vast hordes of biters. These elements all function smoothly and provide a solid core experience. While the gameplay, visuals, and overall game design can more than pull their own weight, the tepid, vapid, torrid narrative drags those positive elements down into the muck. I highly respect Techland as a developer for their work on the criminally underrated Call of Juarez: Gunslinger. However, their writing team managed to almost single-handedly kill my enthusiasm for the experience. If you’re still on the fence about Dying Light, wait until it inevitably goes on sale for $20-$30. The gameplay will entertain you, but you'll suffer through the story. Dying Light is available now for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.
  22. Jack Gardner

    The Challenges of an Open World Narrative

    Earlier this week, I wrapped up my review of Divinity: Original Sin and one of the minor problems that I briefly mentioned was the lack of narrative direction. I understand why it isn’t there; Larian studios didn’t want to funnel their players into any one predetermined path. Doing so would undermine the entire appeal of their game and diminish the sense of freedom Original Sin allows its players. As I thought about my experience with Larian’s modern take on old-school RPGs, I couldn’t help but feel like this was something of a missed opportunity. Original Sin was certainly entertaining, but will I ever feel compelled to replay it? Will I remember the details of its well-worn plot or the characters in a month or two? The somewhat somber conclusion that I came to was a flat no. I’ve always been a proponent of games as both a vehicle for both narrative and enjoyment. However, it seems that when one sacrifices narrative for enjoyment the entire package suffers as a whole. I still get the itch to play the first Mass Effect and experience the adventure again, despite the fact that the gameplay is clunky at best. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I rarely feel the need to go back and revisit Guitar Hero, though it was amazing amounts of fun when it initially released. And that isn’t saying that all games should have narratives; it is merely an observation that fun seems to be this ethereal and transient thing while well told stories last. I have a running bet with a friend of mine on which game people will still talk about in twenty years: BioShock Infinite or The Last of Us. It is a silly bet with $50 on the line, but if I am completely honest, people will probably still talk about both titles. The dialogue will continue, not because they were both fun (though they are both quite enjoyable to play), but because of the stories they tell and how they go about telling them. I wouldn’t be willing to place a similar bet on there being ongoing discourse about the narratives in Divinity: Original Sin, Crackdown, The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, Dark Souls, or Grand Theft Auto 4. The greatest strength that these games provide, player agency, seems to diminish the effect their stories might have otherwise exerted. This brings me to what I feel is a valid question: Why? Why is it that open world games seem to have fewer stories that connect with players? The first conclusion that I find myself drawn toward is that open world game design clashes with traditional narrative structure. There is a concept in Joseph Campbell’s ‘The Hero With A Thousand Faces’ that stipulates many stories have a ‘call to adventure’ wherein the narrative beckons the protagonist to begin their quest. There is also an addition to that idea referred to as a ‘refusal of the call’ where the protagonist for various reasons declines the initial appeal. Though ‘The Hero With A Thousand Faces’ was written with traditional, linear narratives in mind, these two ideas are useful when talking about open world structure. An open world completely destroys almost any attempt to create a similar type of story, and yet many of the narratives we find in open worlds cling to a linear structure. Since the players in most video games are the protagonist, this means that the hooks meant to invest them into the story must be effective or else most players will find various reasons to ‘refuse the call’ while going from initial plot point A to important plot point B. This was exactly my problem while playing Skyrim. I sank over one hundred hours into Bethesda’s open world and never made much progress on the main storyline. There was always a new cave to explore, a new sidequest, a new dragon shout clue. Any dramatic tension that might have been built up disappeared the instant an unexplored map marker appeared. I’d guess that many of you have similar experiences with open world games. The opportunities and incentives to refuse the call simply win out through sheer numbers over the singular call to adventure. You might argue that this is a problem that could be solved through design by including more motivations to follow the core storyline. I’ve heard ideas thrown around ranging from providing a timer to create tension like those found in The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask or Dead Rising. Another idea would be to incentivize the main quest with better loot or various other digital rewards. That sounds all fine and dandy, but when you bring the idea of curbing or influencing player behavior in an open world game to the players themselves, you are met with a resounding, “LOL, NOPE.” Creating effective drama in a narrative is like shooting a bow and arrow. The string of the bow tenses as it is pulled further and further. If you hold the arrow back for too long your arm begins to get tired and there is the possibility that the string or bow will break. Releasing the arrow after it has been fully drawn causes it to shoot far and fast, but if you let the string go slowly slack, the arrow will just clatter to the ground harmlessly. Drama demands a certain amount of tension; tension which most players in open world games dislike because it makes them feel like they are ‘on the clock’ so to speak. This gives people a sense of being rushed or forced down certain paths, which they then resent. On the opposite end of the spectrum are the people who don’t care and do what they want anyway, which has the effect of deflating tension until it is non-existent, killing the drama. At this point, it might be fair to question the point of having a narrative in an open world experience at all. Perhaps it is best to look at how narrative in the genre has evolved to its current state for additional insight. Open world games began as text adventures in the 70s, but the first graphical attempt at an open world came in the form of 1979’s Adventure on the Atari 2600. While the game itself gave few clues as to what story, if any, was being told, the instruction manual provided players with the tools to contextualize the collections of shapes on-screen. In 1986, The Legend of Zelda refined the idea of an open world by adding engaging combat and puzzles, though the narrative was still largely contained within the game’s manual. Then, in 1998, Ocarina of Time released and became the go-to example of how to pull off an open world. To this day Ocarina is considered one of the greatest games of all time, lauded for its tight gameplay, exploration, and narrative. For the first time, an open world game had a narrative that was not only successful in a functional sense, but also in a way which seemed like it captured the essence of adventure. That part of the game might seem tired and less revelatory over a over a decade and a half later, but when it released people were amazed by the cheeky Princess Ruto, the odd society of the Gerudo, and the journey of a young boy to save the world. Ocarina of Time managed to tread a very thin line; one that encouraged and rewarded exploration while also minimizing distractions from the player’s pursuit of the narrative. Have you ever noticed how a lot of the areas you initially pass by in Ocarina of Time have paths and secrets you can only access with gear later on; gear that you only acquire by progressing through the story? Ocarina manages to gate various areas in this manner, but it never feels distracting or irritating. I’d guess that’s because it provides incentives to proceed, both in terms of new gadgets, but also by using what has become one of the most iconic gaming annoyances: “HEY, LISTEN!” Players who get overly sidetracked are reminded that they’re supposed to be saving the world and not wasting quite so much time competing in fishing challenges or fighting chickens. These gates and mechanics result in a tightly controlled story which funnels the player from dungeon to dungeon. While players might have accepted this in ’98 and have come to accept it as a staple of The Legend of Zelda series, they certainly wouldn’t appreciate such tactics in a game like Far Cry 4. Ocarina balances the openness of its world against its narrative needs very well, but it isn’t perfect, something that has become more apparent to me over time. It is a classic hero-saves-the-kidnapped-princess story, a tale we have all heard more than a few times. Sure, it has a few unique twists, but that isn’t enough to make the narrative feel completely new. It is an old story told very competently, which is high praise for a video game, but it isn’t Shakespeare, Dickens, or Dumas. Unfortunately, it seems that a lot of developers at the turn of the century took the success of Ocarina of Time to mean that bigger open worlds with more things to do was what players truly wanted, not recognizing the need for a change in storytelling tactics. That leads us to the current day. Rapidly advancing technology has given developers more tools with greater power than ever before, ballooning the costs of development for open world games and causing more developers to play it safe by sticking with providing larger and larger worlds. Many gamers and developers seem to be stuck in the idea that bigger is better when it comes to open world video games, while forgetting the lessons of Ocarina of Time. With a smaller game world than most open world games since, Ocarina of Time is more successful on a narrative level than Skyrim’s massive realm. I feel the need to clarify that I don’t mean to talk smack about Skyrim. There are many, many things that it does much better than Ocarina of Time and its scale is utterly gorgeous, but on a narrative level it calls flat for me. The problem is that when a game touts its massive game world and sells millions of copies, many other developers attribute the success, at least in part, to how large the game world was. That’s the reason we see CD Projeckt hyping The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt as having a game world larger than Skyrim and 30 times as large as The Witcher 2. As a side note, it seems a bit backward to me to tout how large a title’s in-game world is before players have gotten their hands on it. What if the general reception of the game is terrible? Doesn’t that just mean there is more of it to find unenjoyable? A great parallel of this mindset can be seen in the film industry. On the one hand we have Transformers, a series of films that trots around the world with giant robots beating the crap (oil?) out of each other that succeeds in being huge, loud, and flashy, with each film trying to be bigger than the last; and it is all so incredibly boring. On the other hand, we have 12 Angry Men a classic film from 1957 about a jury arguing over the guilt of a young man on trial for murder. Almost the entire film takes place in a small jury room and it is riveting. The film makes good use of the small space, shooting from interesting angles while dramatic tension is created between the various members of the jury. The size of the set isn’t what makes a film interesting, and neither is the size of a game world. It seems kind of like we are stuck when it comes to storytelling in open world games. Developers can attempt to tell a story that our players can completely ignore, which leads to lazy, uninspiring narratives; they could lightly sprinkle the narrative into the game in such a way that it is both unimportant to the player and the game itself; or we can tightly control the gameplay options to restrict the open world and tell our story appropriately. All of these options seem to come up a bit short if a developer wants to tell a meaty, interesting narrative in an open world. It might seem odd to look for a solution in linear titles, but that seems to be the only recourse to find a moderately comparable solution, since there are nothing quite like open world games in any other form of media. Observing some of the most interesting narrative titles from the last decade or so reveals what could be an interesting answer and possibly the future of video games: Game mechanics as storytelling tools. There is a tendency to view mechanics in games as simply a means to an end; that they are just how games work. It is a shame that we look at the basic means by which this medium functions and just shrug them off. But those underlying mechanisms are one of the characteristics that set video games apart from other mediums. Perhaps that is why some of the best games of our time have made use of mechanics to aid in storytelling. Look at Jonathan Blow’s Braid which uses its core time reversing mechanic to devastating effect. It completely turns the tables on the accepted theme of princess rescuing that many games have adopted as a shorthand for adventure. It reveals a troubled protagonist who has created his own version of events while ignoring the truth of what happened; someone who desperately desires to rewind the clock and take back what they did, but ultimately finds that this is one thing that can’t be fixed. For a more blatant example, look at this year’s Transistor from Supergiant Games. The mechanics of the combat contain several layers of meaning. On a surface level, they build the world of Transistor and reflect the digital nature of Cloudbank. Each combat ability stems from a person who has been absorbed into the Transistor and must be combined in different ways to unlock each individual’s history. Using these abilities, these souls, naturally brings up questions about humanity and the moral questions of what you, and by extension the characters around you, are doing. These mechanics are both core to how the game is played and compose the heart of their respective games. This is what open worlds need to strive to do. Developers can escape the confines of linear storytelling if they ingrain the mechanics with weight and meaning. *spoilers for Shadow of the Colossus ahead* The melding of mechanics and story was a concept that Shadow of the Colossus (one of my favorite games of all time) understood very well. In fact, I’d be willing to argue that it is the only open world game that has succeeded in doing so in a nearly flawless manner. Every single mechanic in Shadow of the Colossus tells us something important. What’s that? Wander swings the sword clumsily? That makes sense since it is revealed later that he stole the sword. He rides his horse Agro very competently and it comes when whistled for? They probably have a deep bond that will be exploited later for dramatic effect. He shoots arrows very well? He was probably hunter or an archer of some kind. Within the space of several minutes with no dialogue the player can make some accurate assessments of Wander’s character. As the player progresses through Shadow of the Colossus, they slay enormous magical beasts for a mysteriously imprisoned entity in exchange for the soul of a deceased loved one. For every colossus that Wander kills, the game makes it clear that this is a sinister task with grave consequences via inescapable dark energy which pierce Wander’s body. At first the change is so subtle many players don’t notice, but after several of the creatures are dead, Wander begins to change, both on the outside and the inside. Small horns begin sprouting from his head, his hair turns black, and his skin goes white, eventually taking on the look of someone near death. But as these changes occur, he also gains more stamina and health, tangible things in the game that help the player overcome the remaining colossi. Wander’s willingness to give up his humanity over the course of Shadow of the Colossus speaks to the lengths to which he will go for the sake of his love, a sacrifice that becomes all too clear in the final moments of the game. Though the world is open, the minimal design ensures that there aren’t many distractions beyond the beautiful views encountered en route to the next colossus’ location, thus naturally overcoming the player’s urge to wander and break dramatic tension. It seems to me that in order to tell a completely successful narrative in a video game, developers need to embrace the things that make video games different and use them to tell their story. For too long, open world games have relied entirely on player agency while neglecting to consider the importance of what their mechanics are saying. And this isn’t just a problem for open world games, but something that a lot of linearly designed games also get wrong. Integrating mechanics meaningfully into the narrative will be what brings video games into their own. The industry is on the cusp of a change in design philosophy and I can’t wait to see what comes next.
  23. Earlier this week, I wrapped up my review of Divinity: Original Sin and one of the minor problems that I briefly mentioned was the lack of narrative direction. I understand why it isn’t there; Larian studios didn’t want to funnel their players into any one predetermined path. Doing so would undermine the entire appeal of their game and diminish the sense of freedom Original Sin allows its players. As I thought about my experience with Larian’s modern take on old-school RPGs, I couldn’t help but feel like this was something of a missed opportunity. Original Sin was certainly entertaining, but will I ever feel compelled to replay it? Will I remember the details of its well-worn plot or the characters in a month or two? The somewhat somber conclusion that I came to was a flat no. I’ve always been a proponent of games as both a vehicle for both narrative and enjoyment. However, it seems that when one sacrifices narrative for enjoyment the entire package suffers as a whole. I still get the itch to play the first Mass Effect and experience the adventure again, despite the fact that the gameplay is clunky at best. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I rarely feel the need to go back and revisit Guitar Hero, though it was amazing amounts of fun when it initially released. And that isn’t saying that all games should have narratives; it is merely an observation that fun seems to be this ethereal and transient thing while well told stories last. I have a running bet with a friend of mine on which game people will still talk about in twenty years: BioShock Infinite or The Last of Us. It is a silly bet with $50 on the line, but if I am completely honest, people will probably still talk about both titles. The dialogue will continue, not because they were both fun (though they are both quite enjoyable to play), but because of the stories they tell and how they go about telling them. I wouldn’t be willing to place a similar bet on there being ongoing discourse about the narratives in Divinity: Original Sin, Crackdown, The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, Dark Souls, or Grand Theft Auto 4. The greatest strength that these games provide, player agency, seems to diminish the effect their stories might have otherwise exerted. This brings me to what I feel is a valid question: Why? Why is it that open world games seem to have fewer stories that connect with players? The first conclusion that I find myself drawn toward is that open world game design clashes with traditional narrative structure. There is a concept in Joseph Campbell’s ‘The Hero With A Thousand Faces’ that stipulates many stories have a ‘call to adventure’ wherein the narrative beckons the protagonist to begin their quest. There is also an addition to that idea referred to as a ‘refusal of the call’ where the protagonist for various reasons declines the initial appeal. Though ‘The Hero With A Thousand Faces’ was written with traditional, linear narratives in mind, these two ideas are useful when talking about open world structure. An open world completely destroys almost any attempt to create a similar type of story, and yet many of the narratives we find in open worlds cling to a linear structure. Since the players in most video games are the protagonist, this means that the hooks meant to invest them into the story must be effective or else most players will find various reasons to ‘refuse the call’ while going from initial plot point A to important plot point B. This was exactly my problem while playing Skyrim. I sank over one hundred hours into Bethesda’s open world and never made much progress on the main storyline. There was always a new cave to explore, a new sidequest, a new dragon shout clue. Any dramatic tension that might have been built up disappeared the instant an unexplored map marker appeared. I’d guess that many of you have similar experiences with open world games. The opportunities and incentives to refuse the call simply win out through sheer numbers over the singular call to adventure. You might argue that this is a problem that could be solved through design by including more motivations to follow the core storyline. I’ve heard ideas thrown around ranging from providing a timer to create tension like those found in The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask or Dead Rising. Another idea would be to incentivize the main quest with better loot or various other digital rewards. That sounds all fine and dandy, but when you bring the idea of curbing or influencing player behavior in an open world game to the players themselves, you are met with a resounding, “LOL, NOPE.” Creating effective drama in a narrative is like shooting a bow and arrow. The string of the bow tenses as it is pulled further and further. If you hold the arrow back for too long your arm begins to get tired and there is the possibility that the string or bow will break. Releasing the arrow after it has been fully drawn causes it to shoot far and fast, but if you let the string go slowly slack, the arrow will just clatter to the ground harmlessly. Drama demands a certain amount of tension; tension which most players in open world games dislike because it makes them feel like they are ‘on the clock’ so to speak. This gives people a sense of being rushed or forced down certain paths, which they then resent. On the opposite end of the spectrum are the people who don’t care and do what they want anyway, which has the effect of deflating tension until it is non-existent, killing the drama. At this point, it might be fair to question the point of having a narrative in an open world experience at all. Perhaps it is best to look at how narrative in the genre has evolved to its current state for additional insight. Open world games began as text adventures in the 70s, but the first graphical attempt at an open world came in the form of 1979’s Adventure on the Atari 2600. While the game itself gave few clues as to what story, if any, was being told, the instruction manual provided players with the tools to contextualize the collections of shapes on-screen. In 1986, The Legend of Zelda refined the idea of an open world by adding engaging combat and puzzles, though the narrative was still largely contained within the game’s manual. Then, in 1998, Ocarina of Time released and became the go-to example of how to pull off an open world. To this day Ocarina is considered one of the greatest games of all time, lauded for its tight gameplay, exploration, and narrative. For the first time, an open world game had a narrative that was not only successful in a functional sense, but also in a way which seemed like it captured the essence of adventure. That part of the game might seem tired and less revelatory over a over a decade and a half later, but when it released people were amazed by the cheeky Princess Ruto, the odd society of the Gerudo, and the journey of a young boy to save the world. Ocarina of Time managed to tread a very thin line; one that encouraged and rewarded exploration while also minimizing distractions from the player’s pursuit of the narrative. Have you ever noticed how a lot of the areas you initially pass by in Ocarina of Time have paths and secrets you can only access with gear later on; gear that you only acquire by progressing through the story? Ocarina manages to gate various areas in this manner, but it never feels distracting or irritating. I’d guess that’s because it provides incentives to proceed, both in terms of new gadgets, but also by using what has become one of the most iconic gaming annoyances: “HEY, LISTEN!” Players who get overly sidetracked are reminded that they’re supposed to be saving the world and not wasting quite so much time competing in fishing challenges or fighting chickens. These gates and mechanics result in a tightly controlled story which funnels the player from dungeon to dungeon. While players might have accepted this in ’98 and have come to accept it as a staple of The Legend of Zelda series, they certainly wouldn’t appreciate such tactics in a game like Far Cry 4. Ocarina balances the openness of its world against its narrative needs very well, but it isn’t perfect, something that has become more apparent to me over time. It is a classic hero-saves-the-kidnapped-princess story, a tale we have all heard more than a few times. Sure, it has a few unique twists, but that isn’t enough to make the narrative feel completely new. It is an old story told very competently, which is high praise for a video game, but it isn’t Shakespeare, Dickens, or Dumas. Unfortunately, it seems that a lot of developers at the turn of the century took the success of Ocarina of Time to mean that bigger open worlds with more things to do was what players truly wanted, not recognizing the need for a change in storytelling tactics. That leads us to the current day. Rapidly advancing technology has given developers more tools with greater power than ever before, ballooning the costs of development for open world games and causing more developers to play it safe by sticking with providing larger and larger worlds. Many gamers and developers seem to be stuck in the idea that bigger is better when it comes to open world video games, while forgetting the lessons of Ocarina of Time. With a smaller game world than most open world games since, Ocarina of Time is more successful on a narrative level than Skyrim’s massive realm. I feel the need to clarify that I don’t mean to talk smack about Skyrim. There are many, many things that it does much better than Ocarina of Time and its scale is utterly gorgeous, but on a narrative level it calls flat for me. The problem is that when a game touts its massive game world and sells millions of copies, many other developers attribute the success, at least in part, to how large the game world was. That’s the reason we see CD Projeckt hyping The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt as having a game world larger than Skyrim and 30 times as large as The Witcher 2. As a side note, it seems a bit backward to me to tout how large a title’s in-game world is before players have gotten their hands on it. What if the general reception of the game is terrible? Doesn’t that just mean there is more of it to find unenjoyable? A great parallel of this mindset can be seen in the film industry. On the one hand we have Transformers, a series of films that trots around the world with giant robots beating the crap (oil?) out of each other that succeeds in being huge, loud, and flashy, with each film trying to be bigger than the last; and it is all so incredibly boring. On the other hand, we have 12 Angry Men a classic film from 1957 about a jury arguing over the guilt of a young man on trial for murder. Almost the entire film takes place in a small jury room and it is riveting. The film makes good use of the small space, shooting from interesting angles while dramatic tension is created between the various members of the jury. The size of the set isn’t what makes a film interesting, and neither is the size of a game world. It seems kind of like we are stuck when it comes to storytelling in open world games. Developers can attempt to tell a story that our players can completely ignore, which leads to lazy, uninspiring narratives; they could lightly sprinkle the narrative into the game in such a way that it is both unimportant to the player and the game itself; or we can tightly control the gameplay options to restrict the open world and tell our story appropriately. All of these options seem to come up a bit short if a developer wants to tell a meaty, interesting narrative in an open world. It might seem odd to look for a solution in linear titles, but that seems to be the only recourse to find a moderately comparable solution, since there are nothing quite like open world games in any other form of media. Observing some of the most interesting narrative titles from the last decade or so reveals what could be an interesting answer and possibly the future of video games: Game mechanics as storytelling tools. There is a tendency to view mechanics in games as simply a means to an end; that they are just how games work. It is a shame that we look at the basic means by which this medium functions and just shrug them off. But those underlying mechanisms are one of the characteristics that set video games apart from other mediums. Perhaps that is why some of the best games of our time have made use of mechanics to aid in storytelling. Look at Jonathan Blow’s Braid which uses its core time reversing mechanic to devastating effect. It completely turns the tables on the accepted theme of princess rescuing that many games have adopted as a shorthand for adventure. It reveals a troubled protagonist who has created his own version of events while ignoring the truth of what happened; someone who desperately desires to rewind the clock and take back what they did, but ultimately finds that this is one thing that can’t be fixed. For a more blatant example, look at this year’s Transistor from Supergiant Games. The mechanics of the combat contain several layers of meaning. On a surface level, they build the world of Transistor and reflect the digital nature of Cloudbank. Each combat ability stems from a person who has been absorbed into the Transistor and must be combined in different ways to unlock each individual’s history. Using these abilities, these souls, naturally brings up questions about humanity and the moral questions of what you, and by extension the characters around you, are doing. These mechanics are both core to how the game is played and compose the heart of their respective games. This is what open worlds need to strive to do. Developers can escape the confines of linear storytelling if they ingrain the mechanics with weight and meaning. *spoilers for Shadow of the Colossus ahead* The melding of mechanics and story was a concept that Shadow of the Colossus (one of my favorite games of all time) understood very well. In fact, I’d be willing to argue that it is the only open world game that has succeeded in doing so in a nearly flawless manner. Every single mechanic in Shadow of the Colossus tells us something important. What’s that? Wander swings the sword clumsily? That makes sense since it is revealed later that he stole the sword. He rides his horse Agro very competently and it comes when whistled for? They probably have a deep bond that will be exploited later for dramatic effect. He shoots arrows very well? He was probably hunter or an archer of some kind. Within the space of several minutes with no dialogue the player can make some accurate assessments of Wander’s character. As the player progresses through Shadow of the Colossus, they slay enormous magical beasts for a mysteriously imprisoned entity in exchange for the soul of a deceased loved one. For every colossus that Wander kills, the game makes it clear that this is a sinister task with grave consequences via inescapable dark energy which pierce Wander’s body. At first the change is so subtle many players don’t notice, but after several of the creatures are dead, Wander begins to change, both on the outside and the inside. Small horns begin sprouting from his head, his hair turns black, and his skin goes white, eventually taking on the look of someone near death. But as these changes occur, he also gains more stamina and health, tangible things in the game that help the player overcome the remaining colossi. Wander’s willingness to give up his humanity over the course of Shadow of the Colossus speaks to the lengths to which he will go for the sake of his love, a sacrifice that becomes all too clear in the final moments of the game. Though the world is open, the minimal design ensures that there aren’t many distractions beyond the beautiful views encountered en route to the next colossus’ location, thus naturally overcoming the player’s urge to wander and break dramatic tension. It seems to me that in order to tell a completely successful narrative in a video game, developers need to embrace the things that make video games different and use them to tell their story. For too long, open world games have relied entirely on player agency while neglecting to consider the importance of what their mechanics are saying. And this isn’t just a problem for open world games, but something that a lot of linearly designed games also get wrong. Integrating mechanics meaningfully into the narrative will be what brings video games into their own. The industry is on the cusp of a change in design philosophy and I can’t wait to see what comes next. View full article
  24. One of the biggest “huh” moments of E3, overshadowed by the console war between the PS4 and Xbox One, was the revelation that a new game based on the 1980 film Mad Max was in the works by Avalanche Studios simply titled Mad Max. We were given a live, hands-off demonstration of Mad Max in action. How does Max hold up in the 21st century? Slated as a next-gen, open-world title, Mad Max will put players in the boots of the titular Max himself as he struggles to reclaim his classic Interceptor car from the marauders of the post-apocalyptic wasteland in which the game is set. Along the way, Max is aided by the twisted genius of the deformed Chum Bucket, a mechanic who builds Max a new vehicle called the Magnum Opus, which can be upgraded in a variety of different ways. In the demonstration, Max needed to get to a place called Gas Town for unspecified reasons. Along the way, he saw some wrecked cars along the road and stopped to scavenge them for supplies. Scavenging will be an integral part of surviving in Mad Max and will net you all kinds of new equipment and upgrades. By searching the wreckage, Max walked away with a beat-up, but serviceable harpoon cannon. This new weapon was put to use a few moments later when Max was ambushed by bandits while driving toward Gas Town. Using the harpoon cannon rips pieces of other cars off, exposing enemies or even destroying the vehicle outright. During this encounter, one of the bandits managed to jump onto the roof of the Magnum Opus and started trying to get into the car. The demonstrator took the opportunity to show off how the game’s physics can be used to repel boarders, swerving to and fro, eventually dislodging the tenacious bandit. After the dust had settled, we were told that if we went back and searched the bodies and vehicles, we could probably find more cool stuff, but in the interest of time we pressed on. The map system in place right now looks like a placeholder for the final design, but it functions. Really important areas will be highlighted on the map, but random encounters, roving bands of marauders, and smaller sidequests will not be. While the roads are always the safest routes to take, players will be able to cut through the more dangerous wilderness to find riches and glory. Off-road exploration of the desert wastes will be necessary to find some of the coolest gear and locations. Encountering a bandit camp roadblock and an entrenched sniper, Max stepped out of the Magnum Opus to take care of both on foot. The combat in Mad Max is brutal and intense. Max will use whatever he can to best his adversaries, be it fists, shotguns, or explosive harpoons. Using these weapons, Max caused havoc in the camp and destroyed the roadblock before sneaking up behind the sniper to finish him off with a silent takedown. It was at this point that the demonstrator paused to make it clear that Mad Max is not a stealth game, nor do they encourage that type of play, but there are times when you can make use of the element of surprise. After taking the sniper’s rifle and making his way back to the Opus, Max continued on his way, before encountering a walled fortress blocking his route. The gates of the fortress glowed red, alerting players that the Opus would need to be upgraded before being able to bash through them. This is where the team at Avalanche has tried to make Mad Max shine. There are numerous ways to approach a combat scenario: head-on with guns blazing, long range sniping/mortar attacks, by using vehicles, etc. In the demo, Max used his newly acquired sniper rifle to take out a couple of sentries on the fort’s walls. This caused an alarm to go up and loud bells began clanging within the enemy camp. Max had awoken the horde, which began pouring from the now open gate. Running back to the Magnum Opus, Max jumped in and floored the accelerator, rushing straight into the oncoming sea of marauders. Then the screen faded to the slogan for the title, “Only the savage survive.” Everything we saw was from a pre-alpha version of Mad Max, and is subject to change as the final version is still quite a ways off. To be honest, not much is known about the game, but from what I saw I thought it looked like an intense, visceral, and potentially fun experience. Look for Mad Max in 2014 on Xbox One and PlayStation 4. View full article
  25. Jack Gardner

    Preview: Mad Max Returning After 28 years

    One of the biggest “huh” moments of E3, overshadowed by the console war between the PS4 and Xbox One, was the revelation that a new game based on the 1980 film Mad Max was in the works by Avalanche Studios simply titled Mad Max. We were given a live, hands-off demonstration of Mad Max in action. How does Max hold up in the 21st century? Slated as a next-gen, open-world title, Mad Max will put players in the boots of the titular Max himself as he struggles to reclaim his classic Interceptor car from the marauders of the post-apocalyptic wasteland in which the game is set. Along the way, Max is aided by the twisted genius of the deformed Chum Bucket, a mechanic who builds Max a new vehicle called the Magnum Opus, which can be upgraded in a variety of different ways. In the demonstration, Max needed to get to a place called Gas Town for unspecified reasons. Along the way, he saw some wrecked cars along the road and stopped to scavenge them for supplies. Scavenging will be an integral part of surviving in Mad Max and will net you all kinds of new equipment and upgrades. By searching the wreckage, Max walked away with a beat-up, but serviceable harpoon cannon. This new weapon was put to use a few moments later when Max was ambushed by bandits while driving toward Gas Town. Using the harpoon cannon rips pieces of other cars off, exposing enemies or even destroying the vehicle outright. During this encounter, one of the bandits managed to jump onto the roof of the Magnum Opus and started trying to get into the car. The demonstrator took the opportunity to show off how the game’s physics can be used to repel boarders, swerving to and fro, eventually dislodging the tenacious bandit. After the dust had settled, we were told that if we went back and searched the bodies and vehicles, we could probably find more cool stuff, but in the interest of time we pressed on. The map system in place right now looks like a placeholder for the final design, but it functions. Really important areas will be highlighted on the map, but random encounters, roving bands of marauders, and smaller sidequests will not be. While the roads are always the safest routes to take, players will be able to cut through the more dangerous wilderness to find riches and glory. Off-road exploration of the desert wastes will be necessary to find some of the coolest gear and locations. Encountering a bandit camp roadblock and an entrenched sniper, Max stepped out of the Magnum Opus to take care of both on foot. The combat in Mad Max is brutal and intense. Max will use whatever he can to best his adversaries, be it fists, shotguns, or explosive harpoons. Using these weapons, Max caused havoc in the camp and destroyed the roadblock before sneaking up behind the sniper to finish him off with a silent takedown. It was at this point that the demonstrator paused to make it clear that Mad Max is not a stealth game, nor do they encourage that type of play, but there are times when you can make use of the element of surprise. After taking the sniper’s rifle and making his way back to the Opus, Max continued on his way, before encountering a walled fortress blocking his route. The gates of the fortress glowed red, alerting players that the Opus would need to be upgraded before being able to bash through them. This is where the team at Avalanche has tried to make Mad Max shine. There are numerous ways to approach a combat scenario: head-on with guns blazing, long range sniping/mortar attacks, by using vehicles, etc. In the demo, Max used his newly acquired sniper rifle to take out a couple of sentries on the fort’s walls. This caused an alarm to go up and loud bells began clanging within the enemy camp. Max had awoken the horde, which began pouring from the now open gate. Running back to the Magnum Opus, Max jumped in and floored the accelerator, rushing straight into the oncoming sea of marauders. Then the screen faded to the slogan for the title, “Only the savage survive.” Everything we saw was from a pre-alpha version of Mad Max, and is subject to change as the final version is still quite a ways off. To be honest, not much is known about the game, but from what I saw I thought it looked like an intense, visceral, and potentially fun experience. Look for Mad Max in 2014 on Xbox One and PlayStation 4.
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