Thursday, January 6, 2011

Crossing King Carrion at Kill Screen Magazine

How awesome is this art?!
I have a new article up over at Kill Screen's excellent new website. It discusses ideas of progression and difficulty and being 'stuck' in Super Meat Boy and how it helps the player to deal with this in the player's chase for perfection. Or something like that. Thanks to some great editors, I'm really happy with how this has turned out so please head over there and have a read.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Some Thoughts on 2010: Part Four

And with five more games, so ends my 2010 retrospective. You can check out the games I have already talked about in part one here, part two here, and part three here.

Dragon Quest IX

This was my first ever Dragon Quest title, and I had high hopes. I've heard much about the series generally and even more about this game specifically. Certainly, it is the first JRPG I have really enjoyed since Final Fantasy IX, and is also exactly the kind of title I have wanted for my DS for years--namely, a game that is as enjoyable to play for five minutes as it is for fifty.

While the Final Fantasy series seems intent on distancing itself from its roots as much as possible (I have no interest in Final Fantasy XIII whatsoever), Dragon Quest IX is a delightful re-imagining of SNES-era JRPGs with modern sensibilities. The dialogue is alarmingly well-written and full of self-aware humour and bad (i.e. awesome) puns. It takes itself serious enough and constantly throws interesting dilemmas at the player while also constantly lampooning JRPG tropes and cliches.

The story is passable but forgettable, and exists only to prop up the question, yet it does so aptly. Battles are quick and enjoyable and, thankfully, allows you to quickly change between AI settings or switch to full manual control. I hate turn-based games that don't let me control all my people. Dragon Quest IX's AI settings are usually okay, but it is good to be able to switch them off mid boss battle when need be.

Character customisation adds a lot, too. Being able to see every single piece of armour and weaponry on each of your characters adds just enough motivation to buy that new bandanna. I surprised myself by actually considering less-strong shoes for one character just because they matched the rest of her outfit.

I've only just recently tried out the much talked about multiplayer. It is enjoyable enough, though being in another player's world just feels... fruitless. However, pretending you are an AI companion for that player is kind of fun.

I only recall reading one Dragon Quest IX related article this year, and that was a spotlighted blog at Destructoid about how the game deals with the theme of faith.

WarioWare D.I.Y

 Contender for best game manual of the year. In the same year that Ubisoft said it would stop supplying printed manuals with games (it was Ubisoft, right?), WarioWare D.I.Y came with a beautiful, thick little book with fold out covers that I sat down to read cover to cover in the vain hope that if I actually read it, game designers would create more manuals like this.

I am not much of a creator of content in games. In LittleBigPlanet, ModNation Racers, Minecraft, I spend very little time actually creating and much more time marveling at the things others create. Yet, in WarioWare D.I.Y, I found it incredibly simple to create fun mini-games of startling variety that just fit into the games existing style without much polish. It takes effort to make a working LittleBigPlanet level to look 'good', but not so in WarioWare D.I.Y.

Similar to the stunning manuals, if you are patient enough to sit through them, the tutorials are practically beginners lessons at object-orientated programming. Even a kid could sit through these and at the end understand the difference between a FOR... DO loop and a WHILE... DO loop. If you have a kid you think would enjoy programming, this is a pretty decent place to start.

Yet I feel it went under the radar a bit. Perhaps if it allowed more complex controls than just tapping, and if it came with more prepackaged games it would have fared better.  That said, it has the easiest to use online service of any DS game I've played... but that isn't saying much. If only the DS had a better integrated friend system to help spread games more, I would probably have spent many more hours on this game. At present, it is on the top of my "must return to soon" pile.


I first grabbed this game on my iphone, but didn't fully appreciate it until I grabbed it for my macbook in the recent Steam sale. BIT.TRIP BEAT (I am under the impression that the capitals are required) is a torturous, indie reinterpretation of ball-and-board games such as Breakout and Pong. It is an entertaining experience, but it is hard to call the game 'fun'. BIT.TRIP BEAT hurts. It makes you dizzy, it makes you motion-sick, it makes your eyes feel like they are bleeding. The visuals are psychedelic and go out of their way to make things difficult for you. Your targets are logic-defying and mindboggling, and the difficulty curve is steeper than the walls of your house.

Yet, I keep returning to it. This game is certainly not for everyone. Hell, this game might not be for anyone. But despite the fact I can't defeat the second level, I still want to keep playing it. Though, I no longer try the iphone version. I almost vomited on the bus one too many times.

Metro 2033

The gunplay in Metro 2033 is nothing special. The mutant enemies are arbitrary and forgettable at best and rage-inducing at worst. Towards the end these green blob... things made me rage quite more than once and nearly prevented me from finishing the game.

But the sense of atmosphere the game invokes is unprecedented. Walking around the train stations of Moscow's post-apocalyptic Metro, the world and its people felt real. Their day-to-day problems felt real, and I felt like a part of them. A lot of the worldbuilding is probably owing to the novel, but it pays off excellently. When the gameplay falls through, the fiction keeps you going.

The atmosphere is not just in the towns, however. The sense of cold and the sense of that bare, stubborn struggle of survival are so visceral. From saving individual bullets to wheezing through a spoiled oxygen mask filter instead of wasting a new one, it just felt so... real.

Playing a game in Russian certainly added something, also. It just felt right. I think it is a silly and demeaning analogy to say it felt like playing gaming's version of watching a world movie, but that is what it made me want. Metro 2033 made me hungry for more international games than the typical English and Japanese ones I have access to in this country.

I can't recall reading much about Metro 2033, but I'm sure things were written. Please leave me links to any pieces you remember reading.

iPhone Games

My initial list for these posts had about twenty more games in it, but instead I thought I could put them all under this heading. I stress, though, that that is not because all these games together are only as important to me as one other 'real' game. It is simply because I cannot afford the time to write about twenty more games.

I have purchased (or downloaded for free) fifty-two iPhone games since purchasing my iPhone in February 2010. In that time I have played many games that I have thoroughly enjoyed and still often return to at the bus stop, on my lunch break, or just lying in bed. I hold these games largely responsible for the little playtime my DS has received.

Top games include Angry Birds, or course, but also Adam Saltsman's Canabalt and Gravity Hook work perfectly with the touch controls. Solipskier is another great title, requiring you to just keep your finger on the screen. Osmos works beautifully with the touch controls (far better than its PC counterpart), and Spider uses the iPhone's unique abilities superbly to create a very interesting and fresh platformer that also tells a spatial narrative. Meanwhile Tractor Beam is an interesting take on Asteroid which uses physics in some very interesting ways.

All these games are great games because they would not (or do not) work on other platforms. Too many big publishers try to release ports of big console releases on iPhone for $10 that play horribly, yet the indies and the smaller companies have understood that there still exists so much potential in simplistic, minimalist controls, and these are the games that have made the iPhone such a great gaming platform.

That said my most-played and most enjoyed iPhone game was, surprisingly, one using on-screen controls. Pix'n Love Rush is a great little platformer that I have trouble explaining why I enjoy. Each level is mere seconds long, and you complete a five minute game by perfecting as many of these levels as possible, racking up your multiplier as you go. The visuals are delightfully retro (of course) and there are many nods to previous generations of games, as well as a great chiptune soundtrack. Perhaps it is the retro indie platformer obsessive in me, perhaps it is my love of score-chasing, but Pix'n Love Rush just struck a nerve in me and I found it very hard to stop playing. I even wrote a little reader review for Kotaku about it!

And those are the games I played in 2010. How about you? Any particularly interesting ones that tickled your brain that I didn't cover? Any articles I should have linked to but didn't? Let me know! And thanks for actually reading all these. It's been a pleasure to relive all these games, and now I am tempted to start new games on all of them!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Some Thoughts on 2010: Part Three

The past two days I have posted Part One and Two of my 2010 retrospective where I have just written a few paragraphs on the games that shaped my past year. In Part Three I finally move on to some Playstation 3 games and, shock horror, some 2D indie platformers.

ModNation Racers

The most frustrating release of 2010. At its core is a devilishly fun kart game with interesting weapons and balanced design that can easily give Mario Kart a run for its money. Yet, around this core are layers upon layers of horrible user-interface design and slow loading times, as though the designers just didn't want anyone to play it.

A patch was released, but it fixed very little. I will probably never play this game again, which would be sad enough if the kart-racing at the game's heart was no so fun. I don't recall reading much about the game, but I did write a rather lengthy rant myself.


Yet another indie platformer, yet another much-talked-about, opinion-splitting game. I would like to say Limbo transfixed me enough for me to finish it on one sitting, as it did for many others, but one puzzle towards the end had me beat for several days. In fact, I ended up having to ask my brother how to beat it. Many had issues with the game's unforgiving, exploitative design, but I solely blame myself for not being able to defeat this certain level.

Limbo nailed so much perfectly. The mood, the atmosphere, the minimal soundtrack, the puzzles. Underneath, the game could be any physics-based platformer, but the presentation made it so much more. It will be sometime before I forget the sequence with the spider and the lost boys. The transition from the game's ending back to the main menu was also superb and tied in beautifully with the game's overall themes of death and loss.

If anything, its only fault was that it played its cards too early. The woods were far more immersive and memorable than any of the later industrial stages. I understand why the stages progressed in this fashion, but they just weren't as enjoyable. Several puzzles also relied too much on twitch reflexes, that meant some players were stuck long after they knew how to progress.

People wrote many things about Limbo. Nels Anderson looked at Limbo specifically and 2D indie platformers generally and asked if they should be applauded for their unqiue thematic presentation, or criticised for their by-the-book platforming design. The debate continues for some time in the comments. Kirk Hamilton probably wrote the most interesting review of Limbo over at Paste and also tackled that one horrible-designed puzzle that nearly wrecked the game for so many players (self-included). Countless other great pieces were written both for and against Limbo all over the internet, too.

Limbo also allowed me to first dare put into words ideas I have about a concept I have been calling player privilege. They were very rough ideas, and they have changed much since those two posts (thanks largely to the many comments both posts received), but it was Limbo that first helped me to squeeze the words out.

Super Meat Boy

Yet another indie platformer! One of the things I found most fascinating about Super Meat Boy was the amount of hype surrounding it before it was even released. Hype... for an indie title! So much so that on several occasions, several months apart, I assumed it must have already been released. Team Meat did an excellent job of forming a community and getting them excited about the game in a way few indies have managed.

When it was finally released (I was resetting my 360 constantly to update the Games Marketplace) I was rewarded with the purest, most enjoyable platforming I've experience since Donkey Kong Countr II (possibly an odd comparison, but I was never much of a Mario player). This was not platforming in the same way as Limbo, which used platforming as a vessel for a puzzle game and an atmospheric experience, and not in the same way as VVVVVV which just changed around a few mechanics. Rather, Super Meat Boy took the existing mechanics of run, dash, jump, and wall-jump and polished them to a mirror's sheen until it all just felt so, so, so right.

The game is just a joy to play in every respect; it really is that simple. Some may find the difficulty too high in places, but I never felt like I was 'stuck', even when I was repeating the same level dozens of times. In a similar vein to Nels's post above, Michael Abbott wrote a good post applauding Super Meat Boy and other 2D indie platformers and claims that platformers are the gaming equivalent of jazz music. The development blog at Team Meat's website has many good reads from the development process, such as this one about risk and reward.

Heavy Rain

Ah, Heavy Rain. Despite getting so much wrong, it somehow managed to get so much right. I enjoyed the one time I played the game through, but I have no inkling to go back and try a second time to see what difference outcomes are possible. The story was drab, generic, sometimes illogical, and could have been pulled from any weeknight crime show, but the simple (some would say meager) interactivity really added something for me. I'm not certain just how often my actions actually made a difference, but it always felt like they made a difference, and that was important. It's also why I am reluctant to play it again.

This weight on my decisions and actions largely comes down to the fact the Heavy Rain is continually moving forward. If a character dies, the game continues to progress. Much like I mentioned for One Chance and Minecraft, that my actions were final made them more meaningful to me.

What I also found interesting about Heavy Rain was not just how my conscious decisions affected the narrative, but how the narrative was affected by me stuffing up. Missed quick time events were the difference between life and death for a character is some situations. I'm interested to see other games implement ways for the player to incidentally affect the outcome, not just consciously.

The game's problems can't be ignored, however. The early scene in the shopping mall that sets up the entire story is completely non-nonsensical and ridiculous and has been lampooned quite well in both flash and song form. The treatment of Madison Paige as a constant victim of sexual violence (and not much else) was also problematic. Denis Farr had an excellent post at The Border House blog about that.

A couple of other pieces worth reading are Julian Murdoch's 'review' (I would call it a review, at least), and Ian Bogost's opposition to Heavy Rain being billed as an 'interactive film'.

Assassin's Creed II

This technically isn't a 2010 game, but 2010 was the year that I played it. Many people that I follow on Twitter had been discussing how much they were enjoying Brotherhood, so I decided I should play the original sequel in order to check out the sequel's sequel. Sadly, that looks unlikely to happen anytime soon as it does not look like I will be completing Assassin's Creed II any time soon.

Curtly, I am not enjoying it. The game has some very strong systems at its core, and improves on the gameplay of the first game greatly. However, the writing is consistently terrible, the pacing is non-existent, and the story might as well not-exist. This all combines to create a complete lack of intrinsic motivation--I can do so many cool things in this game, but there is just no point to do it.

Perhaps this is largely because I cannot care for the world and its inhabitants in the same way I care for those of The Capital Wasteland, Panau, or Liberty City. The nuances that most open-world games have are missing; the world around you just doesn't react to your actions. In one mission there is a full-on war being waged on the streets of a city. Among the sword fights, an old lady was sweeping her doorstep. Around the corner, two old men sat casually on a bench. These were not standalone occurrences and completely pulled me out of the experience.

There is a lot of potential here, and perhaps a gamer less-inclined to care about story and fiction than myself could really just enjoy jumping around and fighting guards (which really is quite fun). Much like ModNation Racers, the game-breaking flaws frustrated me so much because what Assassin's Creed II gets right, it gets very right. I would have been interested to explore Ezio's growing up into an assassin, but it all happens too slowly and then too quickly. He is a master of parkour before he has any right to be, and then he is committing cold-blooded murder without a second thought moments later. I would have liked to have seen a steadier progression, perhaps some sign of shock or reluctance at his first murder. Perhaps one day the gameplay will return me to the cities of Italy, but for now the nonsensical story and horrible plotting is keeping me well away.

And so ends Part Three of Thoughts on 2010! One more part and five more games to go!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Some Thoughts on 2010: Part Two

Yesterday I posted Part One of my 2010 retrospective where I am just writing a few paragraphs about the games I played this past year. Yesterday I covered Bioshock 2, Mass Effect 2, Minecraft, Sleep is Death, and Halo Reach. Part Two continues with games in no particular order.

Red Dead Redemption

Red Dead Redemption was easily my most anticipated game of 2010. No one can suck me in with a series of pre-release trailers like Rockstar. Grand Theft Auto IV is still my favourite game of this generation of consoles and the simple idea of 'GTA on horses' was enough to get me excited--as much as Rockstar urged that Red Dead Redemption was more than that. I was looking forward to the same level of incredible world-building, unforgettable characters, and biting dialogue (and hopefully without the same juvenile, gutter-trash dialogue).

My expectations were not surpassed so much as rendered null. In many ways, Red Dead Redemption is just GTA with horses, but in many other ways it is completely different. The characters are more plausible (if rarely any more likeable). The overall tone is more mature. The world is staggeringly beautiful in a way completely unlike Liberty City. Often I would just pause atop a mountain, mid-mission, just to watch the clouds over the plains.

The game does fall down in many of the same places Grand Theft Auto IV did. While many of the characters were more tolerable, few are likable. Rockstar's obsession with satire has rendered another world of empty, despicable characters. Then there is the notorious trek into Mexico where both the story and pacing go off the rails before the games final part brings things back together for one of my all time favourite game endings.

Red Dead Redemption was also responsible for some stunning pieces of games writing this year, too. Michael Abbott's battle with Armadillo's anti-semite shopkeeper was an early favourite. Another great piece of writing seems to have disappeared from the internet, I am afraid. I distinctly remember reading this piece where a player was playing as a pacifist, walking around a multiplayer free-roam map just tracking wildlife and being murdered by more violently-inclined players. If anyone knows the piece I am talking about, I would greatly appreciate a heads up in the comments. EDIT: If anyone can track down a piece of games writing on the internet, it is Ben Abraham, and he came through for me this time. Here is the piece I was thinking of: "Call of the Wild West" by Brendan Caldwell.


Another great indie title for 2010, VVVVVV is a straightforward platformer that takes the core mechanic (jumping) and tweaks it to completely change how you approach the game. Instead of jumping, in VVVVVV you flip. When the flip key is pressed, the character falls up until they hit the ceiling, where they will stay until you flip back and fall down to the floor. In the same vein as Portal, this change meant that I had to completely rethink how I approached puzzles that I had already solved a dozen times in previous platformers with a simple jump.

The game's presentation is slick, too. I can understand if some people have had enough of the latest retro trend, but VVVVVV's 8-bit graphics and chiptune soundtrack is stunning. It is on Steam these days, too. Strongly recommend you check it out if you are yet to.

One Chance

An interesting and memorable little browser-based game that forces you to make decision and then live with them. In a way, One Chance is a perma-death experiment. Every decision you make is final. You cannot restart; you cannot try again. And when you complete the game, that is it; you cannot start again.

Interesting, that I found a game that I spent little more than a quarter-hour playing memorable enough to including on an end-of-year list. Or perhaps that isn't surprising at all. When games force the player to live with their decisions, the player will have a more meaningful experience, just as Minecraft forces the player to perpetually move forward in time.

When faced with permanent consequences, you might be surprised by the decisions you make. It has a few bugs, but generally runs quite smoothly. It will only take about ten minutes to play and is really worth trying out.

Just Cause 2

I almost missed this one. When it first came out, I played the demo, enjoyed it, but not enough to consider buying the full game. This last fortnight, though, I found it on sale and decided it was time. The story is terrible and the voice-acting even worse (what is with that woman in charge of the communist faction?) but the game beneath it is crazy fun.

Overall, the game feels like San Andreas combined with the rope tool of Garry's Mod. What makes the game work is its systems. Everything is tweaked in just a way to ensure cool stuff always happens. For instance, when you leap off a car and open your parachute, the car will only need the smallest impact to explode and add some extra drama to your escape. Or, my personal favourite: maybe two missions into the game I was being chased by men in jeeps. I did not expect it would work, but I tried to use my grappling hook to anchor one jeep to the road. Sure enough, the jeep lurched forward to forward-flipped onto its roof. There is little more satisfying in a videogame than when you think "I wonder if..." and then you actually can.

The central play-style of the game is also well-treated by the the fiction. The story of mercenaries and agencies is disposable, but the central concept of having to cause chaos to unlock missions and weapons ties in well with the sandbox 'dicking around' themes of the game.

Not that you need the motivation, just moving is fun. Jumping from a helicopter to land on a motorbike to then leap off just as it explodes into a service station as you leap onto the front of another car and then back up into another helicopter is just pure, rollicking fun. How long it will remain fun without a story worth caring about, however, I can't yet say.

Nels Anderson has a great post about the absurdity and possible campness of Just Cause 2, which I enjoyed reading many months before I played the game.


I never enjoyed Devil May Cry or Bayonetta. I don't dislike them, mind you. I can appreciate that both are very slick games, but I just don't enjoy them. So I was very excited when I tried the Vanquish demo and actually enjoyed it. It's a fresh take on the cover shooter in that it punishes you for staying still--an odd move when your central mechanic is taking cover.

The star of the game is not the cover system or the guns or the horribly cliche characters, but the suit that will have you boosting, cartwheeling, sliding, and throwing oversized missiles back at oversized mechs. Interestingly, you do not acquire upgrades for the suit as the game progresses. You finish the game capable of nothing you could not have achieved at the start of the game. Rather, it is your understanding of the suit and what you can do with it that must improve. The stead learning curve complements this nicely and by the end of the game you will be darting around like an expert, ready to begin again on the next difficulty setting.

Similar to Just Cause 2, the story is an absurd throwaway... perhaps. I have a theory that Vanquish's story is not cliche so much as it is a deliberate, tongue-in-cheek parody of western videogame tropes. I have a half-written blog about this that I will hopefully get finished in the new year if I ever get the time to say it. Suffice to say, I'm not sure if Vanquish is the Japanese response to the Western shooter, or the Japanese pointing and laughing at the Western shooter. Perhaps a little of each.

And that is Part Two and five more games down. Unless I think of more that I have forgotten in the next couple of days, I will have ten more games across two more parts in the coming days.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Some Thoughts on 2010: Part One

Like most of you, I played quite a few games this year, and I've had one or two interesting thoughts about most of those games. I'm not very good at end-of-year lists or rankings, so instead I thought I might just write a couple of paragraphs about the games that I remember of 2010, something I found interesting about those games, and some good pieces of writing I read about them. This won't be an exhaustive list, nor is it in any order other than the order that the games came to mind. Feel free to add your own thoughts in the comments, or links to any other interesting articles from this year. Suggestions of games I have missed are also welcome, but you might want to wait until I finish the series!

Bioshock 2

Nearly every review of Bioshock 2 that I read called it "the perfect sequel to a game that didn't need a sequel". For my part, it was a delightful return and fleshing out of a world I never expected I would visit again. I was wary the game would ignore the themes of the first game (much as the second half of Bioshock ignores its own themes when you are asked to continue taking orders mindlessly after the encounter with Ryan), but Delta's mental conditioning and the way it affects his decisions is blatant from the start. As you go on your quest for Eleanor, you know exactly why you are doing it: because you have no choice.

Gameplay and mechanics wise, Bioshock 2 improves on the first game's already solid systems nicely. The more open-ended design adds new dimensions to the city of Rapture and combined with the various new weapons and plasmids adds a whole new layer of potential tactics.

Bioshock 2's greatest achievement for me was that I truly felt like a Big Daddy. I felt big and bulky and heavy. My feet clunked on the timber flooring, my drill crushed the skulls of splicers, my rivet gun recoiled as the rivets punched through the air.

Also interesting was how my choices affected gameplay. Instead of the number of little sisters I saved just affecting what cut-scene plays at the end, it instead affected the kind of person Eleanor became and the decisions she made. Towards the end of the game, choices are no longer yours to make and you must stand by helplessly as Eleanor makes up her own mind. Yet, it was your decisions earlier in the game that determined the kind of person she became. You stand by helplessly, knowing that the choices you made allowed this to happen.

Probably my favourite Bioshock 2 related writing this year was Justin Keverne's "Groping the Map" series on Pauper's Drop. Definitely still worth checking out.

Mass Effect 2

Mass Effect 2's cinematic trailer ranks as one of my all time favourite game trailers, just behind practically ever Grand Theft Auto IV trailer. It was good enough for me to finally play through Mass Effect so that I could play Mass Effect 2. Sadly, I found the game only a fraction as enjoyable as the trailer. After all of Mass Effect and more than enough hours of Dragon Age (by which I mean ten very dull hours) I am completely over Bioware's "gather a party and save the universe/middle-earth" plotline. 

Which is not to say I couldn't at least appreciate Mass Effect 2 is a good game, just one I didn't enjoy. Unlike Dragon Age, the universe is at least interesting and well thought-out (even if you only get to discover most of it in the 'codex' menu). And the symbiosis between player and character in Commander Shepard is done superbly.

Yet, the gameplay was disappointing, and I couldn't help but feel I had done it all before. I didn't 'quit' Mass Effect 2 so much as just stopped playing one day and never started again. I just didn't see the point.


Rarely will I classify a single game my Game Of The Year, but 2010 has a clear winner in Minecraft. Probably the only release this year that I sunk more than a hundred hours into, and I don't regret a single one. Minecraft means something different to each player. I never built more than a single-room hut, and I was never more than a tourist on the various multiplayer servers. For me, Minecraft was about the lonesome exploration of new worlds. I spent countless nights exploring the deep places of various worlds, filling chests with diamond and redstone, then moving on to another.

The game could evoke emotions unlike any other game. Distress, anger, exuberance, sorrow, disbelief--all from a procedurally generated world with no set goals. That every action is final and irreversible certainly had a say in this. The experiences and memories I have from my all-night sessions of Minecraft easily surpass any other gaming experience I had this year. Surprising, considering I am usually one for the authored narrative.

And then there is Towards Dawn. What started as a simple musing tweet of "I wonder what it would be like to play as a nomad?" has turned into a forty-day-and-counting adventure across strange and beautiful lands. Though, it has stalled the last few weeks over Christmas, I'm afraid.

Many people wrote many things about Minecraft. Experience Points had many a good post, as did Rock Paper Shotgun with their "Mine the Gap" series and their Game of the Year post. Meanwhile, at Binary Swan, Gerard Delaney was one of the first to unwrap, for me, just why Minecraft feels so good.

Sleep is Death

For the few days after Jason Rohrer's experimental title was released, my brother and I played nothing else. The stories we created were quick, nonsensical, and improvised, written on-the-fly as we hastily found default sprites to further the story. The potential of the game was massive, but sadly I feel few have realised it. I guess the community it required just wasn't there in the way it was for Minecraft. That, or I am just unaware of it.

The greatest element of the game was cooperation. I've seen too many 'player' players play the game as though they were in competition with the 'director' player, a competition where they must break the story that the director has planned. Of course, this is a competition they usually win as breaking the story is easy. This isn't fun for anyone. It's like going left from the start of 1-1 in Super Mario Brothers then complaining when you can't go anywhere. Rather, if you cooperate with the director, the game can be an amazing experience.

In one of my brother's and mine first game, when neither of us really knew what we were doing, I managed to paint an entire scene blue by accident. My brother played along by saying "Ah! Flood!" So we went with this. His family jumped onto the bed and sailed it out to sea, living on a diet of fish until they found an island. It was these experiences that made this game awesome. Sadly actually setting up a game was always difficult and I have thus not been motivated to put much more time into the game in recent months.

Halo Reach

The end of the Halo series, as far as I am concerned, and also the most complete Halo title to date. Bungie has taken the best of the first Halo, added the improvements of the sequels, and removed the ideas that never quit meshed. The story and pacing is adequately tragic, with the helplessness of Noble Team mounting gradually at first then exponentially later. It only suffered from a lack of subtitles informing the player of how much time passes between missions. Some were actually weeks apart, and the missions would have made more sense if I was aware of this at the time.

The juxtaposition between your initial setup of Your Very Own Spartan(TM)'s armour with the customised, individualised helmet of said Spartan smoldering in Reach's rubble was excellent. Many people would have spent many minutes perfecting their ideal Spartan, excited that they would be seeing that Spartan in single-player as well as multiplayer. And then, the second they start campaign, they know that that Spartan, their Spartan, will be dead. It worked stunningly well.

I found matchmaking far more enjoyable than Halo 3, too, but that is mostly because I seem to not such at Reach while I sucked quite incredible at Halo 3. Firefight, however, despite the myriad of new options, I found somewhat lackluster compared to ODST. I can't quite put my finder on why, though. Perhaps it is the map design. Reach firefight is excellent for a short game, but it can't put a light to the multi-hour marathon's I had on the open levels of ODST.

Roger Travis wrote a great post at his Living Epic blog that looks at Halo Reach in the framework of the classic epic which is a bit heavy going at times, but is well worth the effort.

And that will do for Part One of 2010. To be continued tomorrow!