Archive for the Game Guts Category

Alien: Isolation v. The Order: 1886

Posted in All the Things, Game Guts, Game Reviews, Movie Reviews with tags , , , on March 13, 2015 by trivialpunk

Yes, I’m writing again. Don’t question it; just roll with it. I’m frankly amazed that this website still gets traffic. Wait, maybe not amazed… perhaps touched is the right word. Some of these posts are more than two years in my past, and I’m not really the same writer I was then. So, moving forward, please remember that this is as much a record of my bullshit as it is a repository for it. It’ll make the whole experience that much more surreal when I take myself suuuper seriously.

To be honest, it was our loss of Mr. Pratchett that drove me back here. As an aspiring author and long-time fan, I can’t help but feel the absence. And when I lose things, I need to write. When I need to write, I come here. So, I’m back. I’m not promising weekly updates, but you can find me on Twitch, and I’m going to try to find reasons to come back here as often as possible. Even when I’m gone, I still think about this place. These solitary moments of recording my thoughts and making up terrible puns about video games.

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With that out of the way, I want to discuss two very different games with a powerful common element: narrative linearity. Of course, that doesn’t narrow things down at all. Okay, jump the gun, the games I’m thinking of are The Order: 1886 and Alien: Isolation. Neither one of of these games is shit, despite the liberal use of colons, but they are quite limited in the experiences they can provide. By design, of course. They’re trying to tell carefully guided gameplay stories. You can’t bake a hundred cakes and make an entire fortress lit by squandered birthday pastries. This isn’t Minecraft. Mostly, you’re moving down corridors to do the thing.

Okay, so by now, you’re probably rolling your eyes. The games are way too different to compare. One’s third-person, the other’s first-person. One’s a stealth-based horror game, the other’s a steam-punk modern-warfare re-skin. One has a flamethrower and an angry alien, the other has Tesla weaponry and like eight werewolves. That’s fair, but I spend my days comparing Candy Crush’s excitation curve to WoW’s loot systems, so this isn’t outside the realm of possibility. Basically, my whole comparison is going to hinge on this thought experiment:

Let’s assume that the whole point of playing these narrative games is the story. Let’s pretend that movies are becoming games and not the other way around. Given Alien’s pedigree and 1886’s campaign-mode, I don’t think you’ll have too much trouble with that. Now, as people living within this imaginary world, let’s strip off the aesthetic coating of the story. The narrative and the themes are unimportant now. All that matters are the polygons and how they interact. We’re talking Quake on an oscilloscope level. With me so far? Good, now tell me about the games. I promise I’m not eavesdropping in your house right now. I’ll wait until you’re reading this sentence.

Can you still figure out what they’re about? I’ve gone on and on about integrating gameplay into the narrative of a game’s experience. I’ve held up Alien: Isolation as a great example of it, despite the fact that you’re basically being led by the nose the whole time you’re playing. The gameplay is still interesting gameplay. It presents some unique challenges to think around, and the A.I. is fantastic.

Even without really knowing what’s going on through the haze of the oscilloscope, it’s still clear that you’re hiding from something awful. There’s still a basic crafting system, and the combat’s still pretty clunky. The game of cat and mouse you’re playing with the monster goes on unabated. In my head, it’s even more frightening being stalked through the halls by the hazy green monster.

Alright, let’s give The Order the same treatment. It’s a linear, cover-based third-person shooter with a suite of standard weapons and waves of human enemies. Occasionally, you shoot at some dogs, and there are quick-time events. Now, this is well-polished gameplay, and everything functions very well, but it’s hard to tell it apart from any other third-person, etc shooter. Good thing or bad thing? Compare.

Now that you’ve got that comparison in your head, let’s inject the rest of the games back into our thought experiment. Does the narrative improve the gameplay at all? Well, I’d say it’s certainly more interesting being stalked by and standing up to the Geiger-beasts as a dis-empowered spaceship mechanic. And, for someone like me with nascent fears of alien dick-heads in my darker places, the fear-factor of the experience is increased considerably. That being said, The Order: 1886 is far more kick-ass when you know you’re playing Victorian Batman alongside a host of immortal knights that fights werewolves using steam-punk Teslacutionary weaponry. So, points on both sides there.

Let’s get a little more switchy-the-words-aroundy on this shit: does the gameplay improve the narrative at all? This one’s a little more difficult for me to answer with Alien: Isolation, because I’ve always wanted to play this style of game: hiding from an unknowable Alien intelligence. Being hunted by the world’s most perfect predator. So, the experience of play really highlights the game’s narrative for me. I’m in it. It’s happening. Best game ever, 8/10.

Let’s get somewhere I haven’t already thoroughly documented, though. Alien’s gameplay delivers on the themes and story-elements of its narrative. The gameplay of The Order seriously detracts from the narrative and our character’s, well, character. If we’re an immortal knight that’s been tasked by England to protect its people, why are we perfectly okay with slaughtering them in their hundreds? It would be interesting if we were exploring the kind of dehumanization that arises when someone’s an immortal bad-ass living within an isolated, elitist society that hands out licenses to kill to every member like issues of The Daily Buzzfeed, but it’s not. At one point, the main character makes a specific points of trying to avoid slaughtering people, but there are no gameplay elements that reinforce this option. You take out one guy with a shovel, then you go right back to the slaughter.

Yes, it makes sense that he responds by defending himself in hostile situations, and I’ll forgive him his B.A. in Stoicism, but why bring these elements of mercy and stealth up if we’re not going to use them? Or, if they’re going to be subverted, why not steer into the skid? Hell, give me a line of throw-away dialogue about his mental health or even one from the Queen (you know which one I mean) about his past actions against her rag-tag forces. I don’t need to make a big deal about it, but if we’re stealthing anyways, why do we need to kill? Why can’t we Tesla a knock-out chemical together or even just a tesla-taser? I just had a knife-fight with a werewolf; you’re not going to pull me out of the experience with chloroform, unless that’s you moving around in my closet… Let’s wrap this up before that door creaks open…

Both of these game present tight, focused gameplay scenarios. In one situation, you’re sneaking down a limited set of hallways. In the other, you’re shooting your way down an elaborately designed, limited set of hallways. I enjoyed both experiences for different reasons. I finished them both. Although, given their respective lengths, that’s not too surprising. Still, they were experiences worth having. My question is simply this: did the underlying mechanics create a unique experience? Alien: Isolation has shown us that tightly designed games can create engaging gameplay experiences within a limiting narrative. Whereas, The Order feels like one of those old tie-in franchise games they used to slap on top of third-person shooters, but… uh… they put more money into it?

Take what you can from those bleary thoughts. I’m going to find out what chloroform smells like! I’m sure I’ll wake up at some point… See you on the other side!

Addendum: I know it sounds like I’m really down on The Order, and that, perhaps, I’m a little hyperbolic, as well. He understated.  I really did enjoy playing it. I was talking it over with some friends, and we agreed that we enjoyed watching it being played. And I know that sounds like sarcasm, but it does possess a quality someone might have argued was akin to being cinematic. If you’re in for that, check it out through your usual electronic intermediaries. Also, chloroform smells absolutely rotten.

On Difficulty, Dragon Age: Origins And Streaming

Posted in All the Things, Game Guts, Game Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 2, 2014 by trivialpunk

As some of you may already know, I’ve started streaming on Twitch. You can find my channel here. Stop by sometime and game with me. I’ll still be putting out YouTube videos, but Letsplaying through Twitch is incredibly convenient. I used to spend way too many hours of each day editing and rendering videos. Now, my computer’s down-time has been cut in half, so expect more impromptu streams and a larger variety of YouTube videos.

A schedule? Well, I’ll be streaming Thursday nights with Boris and, occasionally, Squid. If we’re playing Skyrim, then that means we’re playing with Alignment Randomization. Every time we level, we roll a die and get a random alignment from the Lawful-Chaotic, Good-Evil scale, then we play for the next level as that alignment. We’ll be playing Captain’s Chair in FTL: Faster Than Light. One of us gives the orders, and the other carries them out. We’re going to try it with two Captains next… I’ll be gaming solo most nights of the week, otherwise. I’ll tweet about impromptu streams and start putting together a coherent schedule that I’ll post on this site. I’ll be playing Minecraft, Shovel Knight, Geneforge 5: Overthrow and anything else that strikes my fancy. Also, horror games. I’ve got lots of those.

I’ll have my tablet open next to my keyboard for chat. I’ve got microphone hot-keys nailed down and a few pre-made signs for BRBs and the like. Learning how to stream has been a lot of fun! I’ve been doing it for the last week straight. I slept and streamed and slept and streamed. I got kidnapped on Wednesday for socialization purposes. Then I streamed. That’s just how I’m going to game now. I like having people drop in to chat, and I like doing character voices. I do the voices when I’m alone, too, but then I feel weird. With that admission safely tucked away, let’s move on to…

 Valid And Sound

Oh, sorry, that’s our Twitch logo. I wanted to share it because Squid did the pixel-art. He’s mad-talented. I can’t wait to show you more from him in the future. Today, we’re talking Dragon Age: Origins and Difficulty.

Now, I know this is an endlessly reviewed game. There are plenty of reviews on Metacritic and if you’re looking for someone with a personal connection to the game, then look no farther than Simpleek. Many of those reviews will be better than anything I can put together without having finished the game recently or being immersed in the Dragon Age lore. Go check them out if you’re looking for a concise review of the game. I want to talk about what changed between the first time I played Dragon Age: Origins and when I began streaming it this week.

Let’s jump aaaall the way back to 2009 (is a sentence I never thought I’d write). At that point, I was living in a one-room dorm and writing about things on the internet. My computer was a clunky remnant from my broken engagement and my writings were tinged bitter-sweet by loss. It was in this miasma of despair and caffeine that I began playing Dragon Age: Origins. My computer chugged to render the game, but you’re damn right I played the whole thing. It was a beautiful mix of hopeless and triumphant that left me inspired to press on into the fog of the University and the ever-baffling expanse of human relationships.

Jump forward to this week. I’m renting a room in a house and gaming on a much nicer PC. Yeah, I just went through a break-up, but I’m not bitter about it. I’ve learned that you need to love for love and do what you can to accept that it’s not always going to be a thing. Sometimes, things don’t work out, but you press ahead, Dragon Age-style. This time, I sat down to play the game and decided to stream it on Hard-mode. I’ve already beaten it on Normal, so why would I start streaming it on Normal?

Well, the answer to that question came to me pretty quickly. I didn’t remember anything about the game. I knew some plot-points and where some armor was kicking around, but the combat mechanics were utterly alien to me. There was depth to it that I had never really looked for. Now, I needed to dive right into that depth to avoid the fireballs that were splashing across my wounded party. Oh geeze, no! DOGS! AUGH!. *ahem* I started to wonder why I was so bad at this game. I had beaten it, hadn’t I?

That’s a question that still lingers over me when I complete a game on Normal, especially when it seems too easy. Because, maybe it is. But, too easy for what? What does “too easy” even mean?

There’s something to be said for designing a game that everyone can experience and beat. It makes playing something like Dragon Age more accessible to those that just want to pick up and play one of gaming’s most epic tales. There’s a lot of whinging that gets done about games being too easy, but that’s why we have difficulty settings. They’re entirely adjustable. I don’t care what setting someone plays on; I care about how those settings change the game.

When I played DA:O on Normal, I experienced almost none of the depth in the game’s combat system: the game didn’t really require me to. I didn’t have to consider the stats of enemy types, because I just had to move my rogue into back-stab position. I built a really sloppy tank-build, but that didn’t really matter because the enemies didn’t do that much damage. I Never Ran Out Of Poultices. Now, I never HAVE poultices. I have elfroot, briefly.

Oh, I played well at the depth the game required on Normal. I believe you have to in order to beat the game. It’s not like it was easier, but it was simpler. And if you meta-game hard enough, then simple looks like easy. The game isn’t any harder to execute on Hard-Mode, but the decisions I’m making rely on more complex considerations. Does that mean it’s harder?

Or does that mean it’s a different type of game? The Dragon Age: Origins game I played on Normal was a Final Fantasy-esque real-time RPG with MMO controls. The Dragon Age: Origins I’m playing on Hard-Mode is more like an RTS with a pause button. The considerations I need to make to survive are different and the chances that I’ll die are far higher. Is that harder or just more complex?

I will definitely agree that DA:O would be a much harder game if I had to play Hard-Mode in real-time from the word “Go”. That’s not the case, though. The ability to pause the game and zoom out changes the player dynamic a lot. Being required to do so in order to survive alters it irrevocably. That’s not a bad thing if there’s something for the player to experience in that dynamic, though.

Switching to Hard-Mode changed the game, but that change opened the game up. It forced me to engage with its systems in a completely different way. It’s also made streaming the game a lot of fun. I’m learning a ton from people that come by the chat. Strategies and builds are rich areas of discussion, and helping each other survive in DA:O is part of what makes it a gaming community. Sharing knowledge is, well, it’s still sharing. Nothing brings some people together like a challenge we can work on. I mean, look at Dark Souls.

But, let’s focus. The depth of the game was unchanged between Normal and Hard. However, my relationship to that depth changed immensely when I switched difficulties. There’s a depth versus complexity trade-off that’s discussed briefly in this Extra Credits Video and it has interesting implications for what we’re discussing here. These differences led me to have to dive further into the game, but greater depth often leads to greater complexity. The question I’m left with is: how foreboding is that complexity?

Well, the game encourages you to start on Normal. The first time through, I’d guess that most people probably experience most of the game’s content in N-mode. If they’re looking for a little more bite from the combat system, then they can skip up to hard. There, they might discover, as I did, that there’s more to this game than an MMO re-skin. The story pulled me through the first play-through, but the gameplay is pulling me through the second one. That’s a damn good engagement curve, if you ask me.

Does Normal sell the depth and complexity of the game’s combat mechanics a little short? In my opinion, yeah, but it does so to make the overall game more engaging for more people. If you’re someone who knows they like a challenge, then Nightmare and Hard-mode are ready and waiting for you. If you decide that you fripped up, then you can always scale it down (at any point). That’s really thoughtful in a game as long as this one, especially if you want to bump the difficulty up later on.

It’s hard to define what makes something “Hard”. Execution challenges, decision-moments and reaction times are nicely quantifiable variables, but they’re meaningless without the human experience they create. After all, it doesn’t matter how strong your twitch-kill game is, I guarantee that a computer could do it better. The fact that a game is tuned to specific human reaction times and sensory modalities is part of what makes it difficult. The game asks us to push the edges of our awareness and pwn that much harder, but that difficulty is a reflection of the game’s interaction with the player. The game that emerges from a multi-player match relies on the players’ relative abilities mediated through the game, but the game considers those relative human abilities in its design. That’s why we have noob-toobs  for effpeaesses and a Pause function in Dragon Age: Origins. The games provide the tools you need to succeed.

You can go elegant, the way Dive-Kick did, or you can sprawl the way DA:O does, but you still have to be accessible. And while it could be argued that Normal is too simple to Require a deep understanding of the mechanics and Hard is too complex to invite newbies to engage with it (if you’re not already familiar with RPG mechanics, then it’s even more-so, because this shiz is relative), I think it’s an elegant use of the difficulty setting. Normal makes the game approachable. It lets people experience the story without having to spam F5 and F9, but, when you’re ready, the Darkspawn lurk in Nightmare. It’s a gateway I’ll pass through someday; I’ll see you on the other side.

Addendum: If you’re interested in Difficulty Scaling in DA:O, then check out: DA:O Difficulty and DA:O Challenge Scaling

Crafting Horror Mechanics and Mindsets

Posted in All the Things, Game Guts, Game Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on July 25, 2014 by trivialpunk

Last time, we were comparing the elements that create a jump-scare to the elements that create an entire horror movie. Today, we’re going to expand on that and talk about creating player mind-sets in horror games.

Finding primary sources for this is difficult, because horror experiences are so personal. I can tell you what I was thinking at a given moment of gameplay, but it might not be the norm. We can discuss what designers wanted their players to feel, but whether or not that translates to the player experience is going to depend on a lot of factors external to the design.

So, we’re going to go broad and stick with a few concrete perspectives. To do that, we’re going to start with Dead Space 3.

Now, we all know the crafting system in Dead Space 3 rocked our immersion with its micro-transaction frippery, but is that the only issue with it? I would argue that it also creates entirely the wrong mind-set in the player. When you’re crafting a weapon in DS3, what are you thinking about?

Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m thinking about how much damage it’s going to do. I’m thinking about how many pieces they’ll fly into. Or, I’m considering the merits of perpetual-stasis ripper-saws against those of a glowing death-ball cannon. If you watched my Painkiller video of yore, you’ll have probably figured out my point already: in none of the scenarios I’m considering am I the prey.

I’m preparing for battle, so I’m preparing to hunt, or, at least, to take down a dangerous opponent. The dynamic I’m thinking in is that of a predator. That’s empowering; that’s the opposite of the way I should be thinking. I should be thinking, “I hope this will keep me alive, but I’m not sure if it will.” If I’m going to min-max, then it should be for all the right reasons.

But my question is, if you’re already thinking about your strength and how to combat an opponent, aren’t you already in the wrong mind-set? This is one of the things that makes horror RPGs so questionable to me: RPG elements are usually about growth towards success and away from dis-empowerment.

The way we usually employ leveling systems isn’t going to cut it; we need our level-ups to reinforce our position in the monster dynamic. There are several ways to do this. One way is simply to ensure that your growth never makes you equal to the monsters. This can be accomplished by simply making the monsters more powerful, but then it’s pretty hard to distinguish between standard monster progression and an atmosphere of oppression. Lulz.

Again, though, if we’re in that mind-set, then we’ve already lost the first battle. Let’s step back: what does our level-up system tell the player about how they’re growing? If you can grow in strength, then your ability to combat the enemy grows, as well. But, what if you grow in pivoting speed? I know it sounds silly next to Strength, but that’s why we just don’t include Strength.

Our character could grow in areas that reinforce its prey-like nature. The ability to pivot quicker or sprint longer would give the player the tools to escape enemies more easily, but it wouldn’t make the escape itself trivial. An ability that allows the player to sense their enemies seems like a good idea, but that also increases the player’s ability to combat the enemy.

Another thing to remember, here, is not to allow the level-up mechanics to interact with the puzzles or the challenges in any way that makes them easier. Doing that gives the player Avatar-strength, which is exactly what we’re avoiding in the combat. The message should be: your growth helps you survive, not succeed.

For example, let’s say we give players the ability to unlock an emergency u-turn button. That ability shouldn’t then interact with some puzzle that requires that you turn around more quickly, unless the speed with which you turn has no bearing on the challenge.

Let it be a convenience. What do I mean? Well, if you’re doing a riddle that requires that you pull on six hang-man’s nooses that are spaced around a room, then quick-turn lets you navigate to them more easily, if you’re in a third-person shooter. However, if there’s a timed-element, then quick-turn makes this portion easier by making the navigation easier.

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Now, this can be contextual, as well. If the puzzle is just a random timed puzzle for reasons, then it’s not really a big deal that your level-progression assisted you through it. However, if it’s a timed puzzle because the forces of darkness are slowly possessing your soul, then your level-progression has assisted you in fighting them, altering the dynamic once more.

Growing empowered doesn’t have to be a negative aspect of a horror game. It could always be shown to be an utter illusion, but, since it’s already an illusion, it’s difficult to experience the difference, at times. However, if progression leads you towards something awful, then we’ve altered the dynamic, again.

Think about Cthulhu. (but not too hard) As an entity, it is beyond grasping. However, in their studies of Cthulhu and the Occult, many adventurers find fantastic powers and strange, overwhelming artifacts. The deeper an adventurer quaffs, the madder it becomes. That’s another way to look at a power-progression.

Let’s say we’re in a house with a small ghost. Every day, that ghost grows slightly in power. In order to combat that ghost, we’ve got to learn about it and grow in power, as well. However, in order to grow in power, we must make sinister deals with Otherworldly creatures. These deals let a little bit of something slip through and we’re suddenly racing our madness with our intellect.

I envision this as a haunting-Occult sim that grows in insanity as you make deals with more and greater numbers of spirits. I’d include a Pact system that would eventually allow you to banish the evil from your house, but only after you’ve endured some messed-up shit and if you don’t die. However, it could also be a platformer that grows in complexity as you begin seeing more and more of the spirits populating the levels. You could probably get some funky level-replay value out of that. Remember the ! blocks in Super Mario World? Like that but with demons.

My point isn’t necessarily the gameplay: my point is the player mind-set. We must never stop asking: how do the systems we’re utilizing work together to influence how the player is thinking about their gameplay experience and, thus, their choices? That experience is where we need to concentrate our unnerving efforts: a frightening back-drop is nothing without it.

Speaking of backdrops, what about those environments and our relationship to them? Well, that usually depends on the systems in the game. If you’ve got a standard physics system, then you and the floor are well-acquainted. If you can swim, then water’s your buddy, guy! How about stealth mechanics? Shadows are your friend! And barrels. I like hiding behind barrels.

Think about how your relationship to the environment and the creatures changes between Outlast and Amnesia. Both of these games are about exploring the creepy-dark and finding baddies therein, but Amnesia has a stealth mechanic and Outlast has a hiding mechanic.

If you’re cornered in Outlast, then you can make a break for the next bed or locker and hide there. There aren’t really a lot of decisions to make about that: you just sprint and hide when you’re out of LoS. That’s about as much as you need to think about the environment, and that’s about as much as I did think about the environment.

However, in Amnesia, where every box might hide you and every shadow conceal you, you’re paying attention to the environment. You’re thinking about what the monster can see. You’re engaged with your surroundings. Yes, not being able to look at the creature helps, but only because you’re concerned about what the creature can see, so you’re thinking about the creature.

If you’re just thinking about avoiding the creature, then you’re not really threatened by it, because you’re not thinking of it as a threat. You’re thinking of it as an obstacle. You don’t think of its parameters, because they never come into play. You just react. See monster, run out of sight, hide, repeat. Or, see monster, stay out of sight, use sounds to avoid it, repeat.

A monster in Amnesia is an artificial intelligence to be played around. There are unknowns in its programming and risks you can take. You can successfully stack two boxes on top of each other and cower in a corner without knowing if that will hide you. That’s a qualitatively different experience to picking a locker to crouch in for a while before being found or not. One’s a coin-flip, the other’s a die roll.

For our player, the math behind it is not as important as the experience. That experience informs their mind-set, which informs their choices, which folds back in on their experience. Yes, that is a conceptual cluster-fuck, but we’re self-aware beings, so you weren’t expecting an easy answer, now, were you?

In any event, this is just a handful of perspectives. As I said last time, horror is like a finely-tuned melody. Any one of these elements that I’ve discussed, in good light or bad, can be part of a successful horror experience. The difference lies in how well the pieces fit together. It’s a difficult puzzle to navigate; I’ll see you on the other side.

The Jump-Scare Microcosm

Posted in All the Things, Game Guts with tags , , , , , , , on July 25, 2014 by trivialpunk

Often, I get the urge to go back and edit my old posts. Usually, there’s a typo that’s bothering me, but sometimes it’s just the post itself that needs to be changed. You grow a lot over the course of a couple years, but you always start somewhere. Thankfully, I’m not regurgitating all of Yahtzee’s analogies anymore, but that doesn’t diminish the urge to go back and change the posts where I did.

But, that’s where I was at the time I wrote the post. This is a blog, so its integrity relies on its temporality, which is a ridiculous way of saying that I’d feel weird about editing old posts. So, I’ve just got to do better next time. I wrote a pretty glowing review of Titanfall, but I haven’t really played it since. And I hated Dark Souls, but I’ve got a Letsplay of it now, and I love it.

I’m going to learn from those experiences and do a Letsplay series on Clockwork Empires as it develops. For the people listening to my opinion, I feel compelled to back up my words. Also, it’s fun.

But we’re not here to talk about FUN, are we? We’re here to talk about FEAR. Well, horror, actually, of which fear is a principle component. It doesn’t matter what medium you’re working in, the important experience is the end-user experience. And when you’re talking horror, that means that you have to take things like lighting, stress-levels, pop-culture and interface into account.

But, that also means that you’re working with a complicated apparatus. Inducing the experience of fear is like playing a complicated emotional symphony. You know how those laughs that follow tense moments are always extra poignant? Part of the reason for that is that laughter is an emotional stress valve. The process of building emotional tension is also the process of building physical tension (stress). Striking at a point in the arc creates a related reaction.

This is one of the mechanisms that makes the jump-scare work. Whether it pays off for a viewer usually depends on their individual reaction; whether it will work on anyone usually depends on the designer.

But tension is not enough, even something as brief as a jump-scare requires a lot of thought to put together and relies on a lot of things going right. Even if it all goes off properly, it’s still being fed through self-aware systems of such sublime complexity and variation that no two will remember it in exactly the same way. That being said, they’re also creatures of such immense sophistication that they could still describe it in exactly the same way if they were asked to. That’s us.

I’m talking about the jump-scare because it’s like a horror-movie microcosm. It relies on most of the same elements: physiological reactions, context and timing. So, if we break down its elements, we can see part of the system we’re working with. Because, despite the fact that each person is different, the reactions they have are in relation to their steady-state, so you can still scare most people a little bit.

For instance, sounds can build physical stress. Let’s paint a standard late-night scene in a deserted park. Our character is walking beside a row of hedges as the wind whips up a little, shaking the leaves. Now, if we were watching a movie, you could start building a deep, subtle sound in the background that would arouse the attention of your audience and begin building some physiological stress.

You can start using restrictive camera angles to let your audience’s visual system know that it’s not getting enough data by using the auditory one, because there are sounds in the background that they’re hearing: strange, out-of-sight sounds. Cut the angle out to a wide-angle of our character walking beside the hedge, edging slightly away from it but clearly feeling foolish about it.

At this point, your audience knows from the music that something’s wrong. This is where people begin yelling at the character to get away from the hedge! It’s dangerous! I think that’s a stress-release valve that opens because the danger is apparent but unknown. This is where you need to be subtle, because your audience wants to get stressed out. However, if the character’s acting foolishly, then they might opt out of buying-in entirely.

We’ve all watched scenes that we thought might have been frightening but were completely ruined because the character didn’t act in a logical manner, right? We are, after all, relying on our audience to project into the mind of our character. If our character acts in a manner that they don’t understand, then our audience can’t really connect with them in any meaningful way. At that point, our character is no longer embodying our audience, so neither will they.

So, back to the scene… Our audience knows that there’s something up, because the music has aroused their attention. They’ve understood that the character feels creeped out by walking alone, at night, beside a hedge, but that the character feels silly about it. The background noises have combined with the camera angles to give the audience the impression that they’re missing some information. But, the wide-angle has communicated that there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong. Everything is benign, but it feels dangerous.

Now, what of context? We just painted a random park somewhere. Are we watching a slasher-flick? If so, then we know what’s probably waiting in the hedge. Or, at least, the worst thing that could be waiting in the hedge as far we know. That’s kinda meh, honestly. What if an unknown creature escaped from the Lab somewhere and our character doesn’t know about it?

Well, now we have another element of mystery. Not only do we not know if something’s wrong here, but we don’t even know what it could be. That’s not AS helpful as it could be, but it does do some work for us. What if we knew it smashed a cage? Then, it’s strong. How about if it melted its way through a wall? That’s pretty visceral. What could it do to our character?

Still, that might be a little too descriptive. What if we just know that it escaped, but it shredded the corpses of the guards on the way out? The more details we restrict, the more each detail increases in importance in the mind of the audience. However, we still need to give their imaginations enough to work with.

Let’s go back to slashers for a second. If he’s skinned two people so far, then we can imagine that he’ll probably skin his next victim. That’s a gruesome thought, but it only engages the imagination so far. If, on the other hand, he has only removed certain body-parts from each victim at random, then our audience might imagine what would be next.

However, we can encourage them to imagine that by introducing a pattern into the dismemberment. Buffalo Bill, for instance, was building a body-suit. If the reader was given enough details to be encouraged to imagine which ones he’d be after next, then we have further engaged their imagination, and, thus, deepened their immersion. Human curiosity and imagination are essential tools for creating horror.

So, that’s context. For variety’s sake, let’s just say that a creature escaped from a lab. It burned its way out of its cell, then it shredded the skin from each guard, absorbing their blood through the tears in their flesh. (If we want to get really specific later, then we’ll say that a guard who died from severe acid burns wasn’t drained, suggesting that their heart-beat aids the process) That’s pretty graphic.

Now, we have a colorful potential fate for our character. We’ve told the audience that something’s up, but we didn’t overdo it. Then, let’s say their cell-phone rings. If we did it suddenly, then it might act as a mini-jump-scare, relieving some physiological tension. That can be good if we plan to build it up again or catch our audience off-guard. However, if we wanted to build towards a single big scare, then it would build slowly.

Does it build up alongside a rustling in the bushes? Does our character notice something shuffling in the leaves, ignoring their phone to pay attention to the new thing in the shadows? Does our character answer the phone and end up getting stalked by a camera? Does our character not believe their friend? The next few seconds are crucial, and they’ll define the entire tone of the jump-scare.

For our single instance, let’s say that our character pulls their phone out of their pocket, the volume increasing slightly to show why it was initially muffled. Then, they look at the call-return, still walking as they go, putting the phone up to their ear, the camera cuts to a typical walking-talking-head angle, at which point something pounces from off-camera. Our sound-cue here is essential. The scene cuts to the other end of the phone, where we receive more of the plot and a small bit of information about what’s happening to the character we just left.

We want to catch the audience off-guard, but we don’t want to contrive camera-angles or plot-devices that will let them know when we’re planning on catching them off-guard. That defeats the purpose of contriving them, unless they’re a meta-contrivance, and that’s a whole other ball of wax: horror movies for people who love horror movies. (<3)

At the same time, we want to ensure that the angles and mechanics that create the jump-scare are still present. We still want to restrict their vision and menace them with sounds, but we don’t want them to feel like those things exist solely to accomplish the task of creating a jump-scare. That line of thinking runs through everything I understand about creating horror.

You want to create horrifying situations, but you don’t want your audience to have to think about the fact that you’re doing it. You’re not just creating a situation that’s horrifying for the character: you’re using your character’s situation to horrify your audience. It’s their physiology that you need to worry about. It’s their tension that is ultimately played-upon. It’s thrilling to experience when it all works out, because it was created to be experienced.

Games have a huge leg-up when creating horror because they engage the audience directly. However, the job becomes that much more complicated as you add elements, like volition. Creating truly great horror in a game universe means understanding and manipulating someone’s decisions in the same way that jump-scares use physiological tension: they must contribute to the horror in their own way.

Each decision should be part of a string of events that bring you to a horrifying moment. It doesn’t matter if the decision is to walk forward or to choose between two doors or to apply the lotion from one vaguely-labelled bottle instead of the other. The decisions should be themed around creating the experience of horror. They should engage the imagination.

You should have to think about what moving forward might bring. You should be worried about what’s behind each door. The consequences of the choosing a lotion should be frightening. Of course, you’re not always going to be able to do that with every game, so it’s just something to think about while you tackle the realities of putting together any piece of media.

Horror is a difficult thing to produce, and its personal effects are so variable that it’s difficult or impossible to create any piece of media that will engage everyone in the same way. But, that’s the beauty of horror. Strike out into the dark and try something new. Good luck navigating the shadow; I’ll see you on the other side.

The Clockwork’s Empires Tick On

Posted in All the Things, Game Guts, Game Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , on July 20, 2014 by trivialpunk

Hey you! I’ve been crazy busy lately, but this blog is where I started, so it deserves my love, regardless of the time I have. Today, we’re going to keep it brief and talk about a small subject: Early-Access.

Okay, it’s not a small subject, but the things that I can definitively say about it today are limited. As with any monetization model, it has its risks for both the developer and the consumer. It can easily be corrupted; it can easily fold in on itself. You never know if the game’s going to be finished, and you never know if you’re going to like the finished product after you’ve seen the original. There are many things to consider. But, there is something to be said for watching a game develop. I was in the Minecraft Beta, but I know folks that were in far earlier than I was. They, like me, recall watching the game grow with a fondness that I still feel for it today.

There was passion and dedication behind the dev(s) of that special little game that could and did. It didn’t feel like there were huge expectations for success; Minecraft was basted in the love of the game. And while Minecraft wasn’t the very first early-access game, it’s certainly the most salient success-story among the people I know. So, clearly early-access can work. However, there are some crass individuals who will turn anything beautiful into something sleazy for a quick buck. So, it’s best to know all you can before buying into an early-access game. Incidentally, Jim Sterling does a series of videos about a selection of Early-Access titles. Here‘s a playlist. But, please read on before you run away, because I wanna show you something…

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Today, I’d like to talk about Clockwork Empires. It’s an early access game that is being put out by Gaslamp Games, a small indie studio in Victoria, B.C that you might remember for developing Dungeons of Dredmor. And, I think Clockwork Empires was designed specifically to make me love it. It’s a civilization game with a Cthulhian-Clockwork bent. It’s darkly funny and incredibly ambitious, and that’s why I like it. However, it’s also being thoughtfully put together and frankly discussed, which is why I love it. My friend grabbed the game the day it dropped for Earliest Access (Yes, that’s a thing), and we started playing it immediately.

It’s as Alpha as you can allow, because the devs want to make sure the engine’s humming before they add on the spoilers. Okay, there wasn’t much there, really. No save files. Only one spawn-point. A barely functioning Job system. Bugs out the butt. Game-breaking glitches. But, shit, we loved it. We loved it because we expected those things. The devs have been clear on what’s going on and how they’re progressing with implementation, so none of that was surprising. However, in the midst of those issues, we saw glimmers of potential. Potential that we felt would be built upon by a company that’s dedicated to the game’s quality. A stance they’ve wisely embodied in their dealings with their community. After all, trust is the life-blood of early-access.

When the game did work, its grid-based building system and Sims-esque placement mechanics were a lot of fun to tinker with. The character behaviours were wonky at times, but watching your pilgrims mill about and do their own thing is kind of what brings them to life. Also, watching the influence of the Occult spread through my little hamlets was always engaging. Harold the Baker and Susie the Blacksmith having frank discussions with George the Militia-man about the necessity of The Murder Act is always going to be a little bit intriguing. Watching a hungry settler wallow in depression and hunger before deciding to tear off the leg of a fish-person to quiet their wailing stomach seems like it will always be equally fascinating… even if it is a little macabre…

But, those are the cold realities of the life on the Frontier amongst the Cthulhian horrors that haunt us, so it all fits together. Even the writing is charming, which is a big plus to me. The fact that the Cultists occasionally rename your buildings as their influence grows is just icing on the companion cube. I mean, really, why call it a Kitchen when you can call it The Wailing Death-Pit?

You can take this as a recommendation to check out the game and the developer blog to see if you’re interested. But, mostly, I just wanted to tell you why I’m buying into this early-access game, because I think Gaslamp Games is going about it the right way. Hopefully, this game, and/or other games with similarly thoughtful developers, will do well. I’d like this to be the early-access norm, and I like to think that it is, but I had to give them some love, because they’re exemplifying exactly the kind of pro-consumer, we-love-games-too attitude that I like to see.

These are bold, new frontiers, and we’re the first wave of settlers. Whether this model will be corrupted into a tentacled monstrosity is beyond my ability to predict as it sits concealed by the dark wall of our unknown future. However, in the penumbra of our experience, there are shapes of glimmering knowledge interspersed with the Eldritch architecture. Reading those runes is the only way we’ll avoid the miasma that lurks in the dark… Have fun exploring! I’ll see you on the other side.

Among The Sleepless

Posted in All the Things, Game Guts, Game Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , on July 8, 2014 by trivialpunk

What a ridiculous life I lead, sometimes. How insane can you make a banal life-style? I’m not sure, but I do know a lot of it has to do with perspective. And, luckily, that’s the theme of the game we’re reviewing today: Among The Sleep. However, before we cut to that, let’s mention Dream Journal (Cancelled due to circumstances beyond our control).

It’s my first web-series -written and produced by me. How weird could it be? Follow that link, and you’ll find out. There’s plenty more to come. However, if you’re in more of a Letsplay mood, you can follow this link to my Letsplay of “Among The Sleep”. You know, because it only makes sense to mention it here. Alright? We good? Let’s drift…

 Among The Sleep 1

 Among The Sleep is a first-person psychological-horror game developed, using the Unity engine, by Krillbite Studio, a small, dedicated indie studio based in Norway. So far, they’ve put out this game and “The Plan”. Would You Like To Know More? You know what to do. From this small sample of games, we can start to get a feel for the company, because they’re both dripping with atmosphere.

Pains were taken to craft these titles, and while I’d like to advertise for the devs and talk about The Plan, that’s not our business today. Today, we’re a 2 year-old; what the hell do we know about game-development? We’re talking to a teddy bear!

Sorry, flash-backs. But, that’s the basic idea. Your first-person perspective is roughly two feet off the floor and mounted firmly in the eyes of a child. As a result, you see the world a child would: one full of magic, wonder, imagination and danger. I know, that’s more adjectives than I’d like, too, but it’s from this miasma of descriptors that the game takes shape. Because, it’s a game about perspective.

I’m not talking about the angle, I mean how you perceive the world. The meat of the horror elements come from your childish view of the banal world you inhabit. For a child, everyday things are new and strange. Behaviors and understandings that we take for granted can be alien and disturbing to a naive viewer. It’s like landing in a new country, but the place you came from was an existential nothingness. It’s hard to relate the two.

The game is full of perceptual tricks and thoughtful arrangements that guide you intuitively through the levels. Of course, they’re not particularly huge levels, but you are playing a toddler. The size of the maps and the size of the character are well-matched, so the house becomes an Eldritch landscape, unlike any you’ve experienced for quite some time.  The puzzles are clever and very well themed. Although, the door-handles can be persnickety, at times.

But, it’s more than just a good horror-game set-up; it’s a well-executed horror game: one that understands that jump-scares are tools, not building-blocks. The horror is deep; it suffuses the shadowed textures and the narrative completely. There’s a lot going on here. To truly discuss it, we’re going to have to go a little psycho-literary on it, so we’ll finish the game-play first, then we’ll talk shop.

The physics engine works fairly well, and there aren’t any puzzles that rely on it in any annoying capacity. The game-play is tutorialized in an unobtrusive manner, and there are plenty of things kicking around the background for you to find and pick up on. I can’t tell you exactly what I mean without ruining some of the experience, but the obvious example is the drawings you find. (We’ll come back to those later) They’re scattered all over, and you don’t need them to understand the story.

However, if you start finding them, then you’ll start to see a disturbing situation unfold. But what is the story? (We’ll come back to that, too) Well, your mother has gone missing, and you’ve been dropped off at the toddler’s center somewhere in Silent Hill. So, it’s up to you to find the four items and rescue… the… Prin… cess. Well, maybe not. But, that’s the general idea: where’s Mom?

From there, it’s mostly fetch-quests and a little stealth. The stealth mechanics aren’t great, but they’re serviceable. I didn’t really feel like either the shadows or the bushes provided any sort of protection, but if you can put a wall between you and your hunters, then all the better. That’s the game; and it’s an intense experience. Try it out if you feel so inclined. (Its Score is highlighted at the end) Good? Let’s talk psychology, literature and horror.

Much of this game relies on the dissonance between your experience as a child-character and the reality that it’s masking. But, that’s just the start; they made that meaningful by masking something incredibly disquieting: abuse. What kind of abuse? Ah, that’s where they made things more interesting by using alternative narratives.

Crafting alternative narratives can be difficult, but here’s the basic idea: take all the elements available to you, then remix them. Simple, right? Well, if you change the presentation of some of those elements by translating them through a naive understanding, and a wonderful visual aesthetic, then it can become far more complicated. You can suggest far more stories that way, because you’re asking your player to interpret an interpretation of their interpretation. The possibilities are enormous, and engaging your player in that capacity is half the battle of a horror game.

So, how do you cull the divergent pathways? You pick strong symbols, almost archetypes. Then, you pick well-known cultural situations. In this case: a single mother and an abusive male voice at the door. That’s a text-book Disney-Dickensian broken-family set-up. Blend that with some suggestive drawings on the floor, and you’ve got a completely understandable story… (**SPOILERS PAST THIS POINT**) that you can begin to immediately call into question.

Because, the broader a symbol is, the more believable interpretations it can stand-in for. Why is that figure white, but that one’s black? Why are there two figures here? Why is the white one doing that? What is that shadow?

You see, in the beginning, you’re truly worried for your mother’s safety. Something has taken her away from you, and it seems to have had sinister intent. But, again, that’s only your interpretation of the event through the eyes of a child. These are strange, magical events, because they’re unbelievable. Why is Mom acting that way? Who is this other person?

Now, I know I saw the end-game interpretation pretty early, because I lived this. But, I’m not sure it’s as obvious if you haven’t. The Abusive Father-figure narrative is far more culturally salient where I’m from, so I feel like that’s going to be the general interpretation. But, there’s another narrative that can help you get there, and it exists within the pages of psychological theory.

When I was first playing the game, I was looking at things from a Freudian perspective, because there are clearly mommy-issues at play, here. But, are Mommy-issues a real thing? Is Freud really relevant? Here, he definitely is. You see, as unreliable as Freud’s theories are in a scientific capacity, their scope and internal consistency make them valuable literary fodder. His symbols and ideas are frameworks that we can use to communicate complex, emotional ideas to each other.

Which makes it all the more hilarious that I should have been thinking about Jungian psychology. Seriously, this Wikipedia Page is basically all the game’s narrative symbols in short-hand. They took their time with this. One in particular I’d like to point to is the Shadow. The Shadow is that space between who we think we are and who we really are.

The thing is, every person we meet has a shadow, for them and for us. They are different from the way we perceive them, and they’re different from the way they perceive themselves. It makes figuring out who someone is a far more complex problem than we often give it credit for. For a child who implicitly trusts their Mom? You know there has to be a long, dark shadow there.

And, that’s what kind of tipped it for me. The shadows that encroach on you in the opening are literally figurative. Even the goal of the game, to collect enough memories of your mother to access her current location, smacks of braving that dark wall of terror. Of course, I didn’t realize that until I was falling asleep after my first Letsplay session, because the streams of alternate-narrative are well-maintained.

It’s difficult to guess what’s really going on. And, in the dark, you begin to wonder what you’d prefer, which is almost more disquieting. It’s a lonely, frightening place to be for such a small person. (Protag-wise, you can’t get much more dis-empowered than an abandoned child) But, what makes it more frightening is its immediacy and the terrible truth it hides.

Because, for many people, this isn’t a game. I lived through many of those moments myself; I had to make the tough choice that you see at the end of the game. It brought me right back there. But, it did so with some grace. Powerful stuff.

Issues of family conflict writhe deep in every culture and nest silently in every mind. They’re not always our conflicts, and there aren’t always a lot of them, but it’s something we can all understand. You might say that it’s in our collective unconscious; we all know how important family can be, especially when it’s not around.

By carefully suggesting the elements of all sorts of family conflicts (by staying broad, remember), Krillbite Studio was able to weave many different possible interpretations into one game, making us consider all of their unnerving implications, before bringing it all into focus for the finale.

The dissonance between what we thought was going on and the terribly unfortunate reality is another shadow for us to explore in ourselves. Bring your teddy.

I’m giving Among The Sleep a score of: Candle-Lit Ghost Stories In A Thunderstorm out of The Thrill Of Your Darkened Basement. Enjoy exploring the void of The Shadow; I’ll see you on the other side.

Race The Sun: Inevitable, Yet Unexpected

Posted in All the Things, Game Guts, Game Reviews with tags , , , , , , on May 24, 2014 by trivialpunk

Well, hello there! I’ve been writing fairly esoteric pieces lately, so they haven’t seen the light of day, except for a weird parable post. Today, though, I’m reviewing Race The Sun, so that’ll see some light. Even if it does sink beyond the horizon, dooming us to a dark oblivion.

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Race The Sun isn’t a particularly long game. You play it in 30 second to 20 minute increments, depending on your skill level, and you’ve got only one goal: keep up with the setting sun. So far, so good. Your craft requires you to maintain line-of-sight with the sun, because it’s a light-weight solar-powered craft, and batteries are heavy. If the sun can’t see you, you’ve only got a few moments of precious manoeuvring time before you’re doneskies. Some pick-ups give you a boost for a short period of time. Others provide you with a shield. The green one lets you jump once. And, as you level up, you can customize your ship to let you carry more items.

Sounds pretty simple, right? Well, it is an infinite runner game; you don’t want to have to make too many decisions at once. Because, you’re going to have to be making them really, really quickly for as long as you can. The core engagement of the game is the tension between the setting sun and the barely-glimpsed obstacles on the horizon. You need the creed of speed to lead, but you can’t end up flat as a bat under a very fat rat. And the faster you go, the more likely you are to end up in the latter predicament.

Designing games like this seem like an interesting challenge. You’ve got to ensure a level of variation in the procedurally-generated levels, but you can’t have utter chaos. Part of what lets people play this game is the pattern-recognition. We have a calculable reaction time, but it depends on the stimuli. You react faster to things that you don’t have to think about how to react to. And things become thoughtless reactions when they become entrained physical movements or response patterns. So, they solved this problem by making small, copy-pastable challenge zones. Those challenge zones are mixed throughout the Regions.

A Region is just a stretch of arbitrarily marked terrain, but, as you progress between them, your challenge becomes more difficult to surmount, until you’re trying desperately to flit between two giant blocks that are setting down for tea. There’s a bird or a bug-thing that comes and drops things for you between regions, but I don’t trust it. You shouldn’t either. Unless you’re running on normal mode.

Because, there’s a challenge mode called Apocalypse. And a Workshop full of user-made goodies. On those maps, you can never quite be sure what’s going to happen with the bird-thing, but you can be sure that the ride will be a trip. Obviously, not every map has the carefully adjusted challenge-curves that the main maps do. Some of them are totally unforgiving, and others are just blocks in space. They keep things fresh and clever, and some of them are more elaborate than the base game ever attempts to be. Never too elaborate, though; that’s what makes this game so interesting to me: the psychological aspect.

Were you really expecting another answer? The perceptual experience of dodging blocks is fun, but you might ask yourself, “Why blocks?” In a world of insane graphics technology, why are we dodging cuddle-puddles of unmarked squares? I’m sure part of it is that the game started out as a flash-game indie-project, but there’s another, even more practical, reason: details slow reaction time. Most of your reaction movements are guided by the movement portion of your visual system. The rods in our eyes are good at detecting quick movements, and they’re more sensitive to light than our cones. But, rods don’t see much colour. They’re concerned with contours and lines. Your cones, which are concentrated in the middle of your fovea, handle all the colour. This is why we react quickly, but sometimes without thought, to things in our peripheral vision.

It’s also why your eyes unfocus when you’re “in the zone.” Focusing is for depth, detail and distraction. If you want to react with the best of them, then you’re going to be reacting to vague shapes and contours, a’la TF2 characters and giant, unfriendly blocks. Of course, there’s way more to this story, but this is the gateway, and it illustrates how this game has to communicate. It can’t direct you; it can’t talk to you beyond an opening text-scrawl. All it can do is play on your perceptual experience.

And they take the opportunity to do so. Flashes of light, shaking and sound stand-in for explosions that you passed 3 seconds ago. There are no armies, just the suggestion of lines and ranks, planes and tanks. Invasions by aliens. And all of it fits into the gameplay, even the explosions are blinding obstacles that give you half a moment of vision during which to make all of your driving decisions for the next 5 seconds. For a game that’s so bare-bones, it’s remarkably good at telling a story. In fact, every piece of it is so important to the narrative that I had fun replacing the soundtrack on different gameplay sessions to see what kind of videos I’d create. These are my favourite ones, uploaded in shiny 1080P: Slow BurnPenumbra and Night of Chaos.

So, before we wrap up, what story am I talking about? Well, it’s pretty hard to say, because it’s like an odd Rorschach test, but here’s what shook out of it for me. The ship is one of us, and the pathing we choose is life. In order to ensure that we get to keep living in the light for a while, we need to do things; we need to take chances. We need to get jobs or meet people, have kids or drink sodas, we need to do the things that make up life. Some of those things are tricky, others are dangerous. But, there’s no reward without a little risk. That’s why the power-ups are peppered throughout the challenges.

But any challenge might overcome you; any turn might be your last. And every life ends in death. No matter how good you are, the sun always sets. It always, really does. So, what’s the point?

To chase the sun. To do a little better each time. To see what’s on the other side.

Combat Evolved

Posted in All the Things, Everything Else, Game Guts with tags , , , , , , , , on May 13, 2014 by trivialpunk

Hello! It was just my birthday! Which means I’ve passed the threshold necessary to be +1 years old. I marked it on my character sheet this morning. (Make one for yourself; it’s nerd-cool >.>) So, in honor of my newly gained age, this week, I’ll be up-dating The Gift Box with a new game every 26 hours. (If I can’t get to it in time, I’ll double-post the next one!) Also, I’m going to teach Valve a thing or two by releasing some third instalments: Final Fantasy 14: ARRDark Souls and Titanfall

I was going to do another post on Titanfall, but I figured that you might want me to punctuate the giant robots with a little something else before this site becomes free advertising for Respawn. So, let’s do some free advertising for Microsoft, instead. Playing Titanfall got me thinking about next-gen game design, which, of course, brought me back to the first time I noticed a shift in design principles in my games: Halo: Combat Evolved. Now, I know a lot of people deride Halo as the beginning of the boring, cover-based, two-weapon shooter, but I protest. I don’t think you’re quite remembering it right.

That sort of thing started with people misunderstanding the thrill of the adrenaline-fuelled five-minute tactical fire-fight. A limited number of guns makes sense in that situation, because you’re never going to need more than one, really. You can switch between spawns and try new strategies with very little down-time. Stretching that hot-zone of bullet-riddled chaos into corridors of pop-up targets is what not to do. So, what do I think Halo did right? What problem do I think they were trying to solve? Let’s get to it.

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As with every post of this nature, I’m purely speculating. These are things that make sense to me, but life is rarely so orderly. But, let’s step back in time, nonetheless. You’re playing Doom. You’re low on ammo and high from blood-loss. The sounds of explosions and feral death-dealers aren’t far behind. You’ve got no health. You fucked up. Now, what if I were to auto-save the game for you, right there? Crap. Well, I guess you’ll either have to master the game very quickly or restart. That sucks.

It does, indeed. For gamer and developer alike. Because, gamers have to play around it, but if situations like that are too plentiful, then it could break your game. Worse than that, your franchise, and the work you put into it, might suffer. So, developers have to plan their levels around situations like that. Health-packs, ammo dumps and obvious save-points/quick-save features are a few solutions. However, the necessity of each of those features is going to limit what you can do with your levels, and, therefore, your game.

There are games that just don’t handle the injection of quick-save features very well. Choice or story-based games come to mind, especially if you want to increase re-playability by weaving a complex, swerving narrative into one story. But, challenge-based games can also have their flavour changed quite significantly by the ability to restart from any point within the challenge. Sprinting an entire kilometre is an impressive feat of human perseverance, but not if you stopped to nap every fifty meters. It loses something in the process.

So, if you don’t want a quick-save, and you don’t want to be limited by weapon/health availability, what do you do? You ensure that your player can easily return to their full-health/ammo resting state at any point in the game. And, we facilitate that with the use of energy shields and limited weapon capacity. No, seriously, a limited number of weapons, and the similarities between the human and Covenant weapons, can encourage players to switch tactics mid-combat. You can’t really run out of ammo, because everything you kill drops a weapon. You’re not hoarding ammo, because you’re not carrying an armory on your back. But, your weapon might run dry, encouraging a quick swap. Done correctly, this can add variety to the combat.

If you remember, the first Halo game wasn’t quite ready to dump health bars altogether. Which I was alright with it, because it encouraged me to play intelligently to be pressured by a waning life-total. But, the shield bar did allow the devs to know approximately how much health you were walking into a given situation with. This allowed them to plan accordingly. Now, they could fine-tune the levels to any challenge level they wanted. Do you remember that structure from when you first crash-land on the planet? It was basically a mini-fort guarded by aliens.

I remember it as being challenging, but not impossible. As I ramped up the difficulty, the number of enemies increased, sure, but their placement became more thoughtful, as well. Phalanxes of Jackals protected Elites, as the Grunts swarmed forth unto death. It was neat. Each time I played it, the challenge remained robust, until I got to the point where I’d played it into the ground. And I think a lot of that has to do with a well-tuned challenge curve that benefited from a design that suited its deployment.

Am I saying that shield bars are better than health meters? Not even a little bit. But, there are benefits to shield bars that health bars don’t possess, unless they regenerate (very small practical difference, at that point), and vice versa. All I’m saying is that the mechanics craft the game-play, which is used to craft the experience. And the experience, here, is being Master Chief.

As a character, Master Chief was designed as a mobile weapons platform. His visual design echoes a tank for a reason. But, he’s not just the fire-power, he’s the intel, too. Cortana, his tactical A.I, gives him the tech-presence to also be a mobile command post. His whole deal is being a walking army. An unstoppable force wielding an immovable object as a shield. And what game-play style reflects that? Fast-paced, wit-fuelled, weapon-swapping, on-the-fly tactical combat. And when you were deep in the on-line melee or had it cranked up to Legendary, it could start to feel like that. Yup, that sounds like the right amount of bad-ass to me.

That’s not even mentioning what the increased processing power of the next-gen might have brought in terms of level-design freedom. But, honestly, I don’t know if it played much of a role, so we’ll say no more about it.

Every mechanic is another piece in a developer’s tool-kit, but not every tool is right for every job. Thinking about how those tools can be used to best effect has brought us some pretty excellent games. It’s given freedom to devs and allowed them to craft more thoughtful experiences. Sure, some people use mechanics thoughtlessly because they seem well understood, but when someone brings it all together to make something new, I call that next-gen. Graphics and processing power are fantastic, but next-gen is just an idea. So, ideas are its heart and soul.

Drop-Pod: Titanfall Review Supplement

Posted in All the Things, Game Guts, Game Reviews with tags , , , , , , on April 30, 2014 by trivialpunk

Okay, so I wrote that review of Titanfall like an hour ago. After, as you can probably guess, I started playing Titanfall again. And I realized, as I played, that I’d left a few things out. Some minor things and one important one. I figured I’d throw the minor ones in and let you guess which one made me come back here.

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The minion-grunts (I refuse to pick a definite title) do a little more than Just add to the theme of the game or act as a mechanic. They’re also there to directly influence your behaviour by playing on your experience. As I was dashing around the world, spin-kicking and wall-running like I was in a wire-fu movie, I noticed that I was drawn to the sound of gun-fire. I realized that they were centralizing combat by drawing players towards them. Whether it was by revealing enemies on the mini-map or just drawing you towards them with their gunfire.

You see, the first minute of a Titanfall game is really quiet. It’s just two teams positioning themselves and crossing the map. But once the shooting starts, all hell breaks loose. And the pace never really stops. Part of the reason for that is the mini-map. Obviously, it shows you where other Pilots are, enemy and ally alike, but not all the time. Only when they’re engaged in combat or in the line of sight of an ally. So, minions break the fog of war the same way in both LoL and Titanfall, because the maps are big enough for giant robots. (They rhyme; now I’ll have to remember that forever. Damn.) But, they also serve a similar purpose in how they compel the player.

You know that desperate post-encounter moment in every FPS? When you’ve just finished securing a kill, And you’re running for your life, bullets pinging off your HUD, red EVERYWHERE, you’re  sprinting, looking for cover, hoping they won’t draw a bead on y…And you die? Well, there are a lot of those moments in Titanfall, except you don’t usually die. Because, usually, right after you’ve killed a Pilot, you’re getting shot at by grunts. And they don’t usually do a lot of damage, but they can scare the hell out of you. Or, in FPS terms, they encourage the application of an Expeditious Retreat. Wait, sorry, that’s D&D, I got my reference books mixed up. I mean, they make you enact a “tactical withdrawal.”

Also, last time, I extolled to you the virtues of the Smart Pistol. I told you that it was great for new players. I hinted that it could target grenades. What I didn’t tell you is how those two things are important to each other. You see, satchel bombs and arc mines are part of the standard Titan Pilot load-out. Most people use them once they get them. So, they can be littering the map. They’re pretty easy to avoid when they’re not being used aggressively, by which I mean, hurled directly at your face. Easy, that is, unless you’re not sure what you’re looking for. But, the Smart Pistol knows, because it’s… well, it’s Smart. It’ll target objects with a red line, alerting you to the presence of mines, bombs and skulls. Just another reason it’s great for initiating new players to Stompy-Robot Land

Finally, I compared Titanfall to CoD: Ghosts pretty frequently last time. And that’s because they’re the militaristic shooters that I’m playing right now. But what I left out were how those games made me feel. Well, I sort of told you how playing Ghosts made me feel. Either helpless or all-powerful. Maybe that’s just my experience of the multi-player, because I have either really good games or really bad ones. But, I didn’t tell you how Titanfall made me feel, besides what you might be able to extrapolate from my over-usage of the word “fun.”

It’s hard to explain, and maybe I’m reading too much into this, but it made me feel humble. Not, like, in awe of its greatness. God, I’m not that into it. I mean, it made me respect the skill of my fellow players and the power of wielding a Titan. Because, when you’re running around on the ground, you really are just an insect. You can jump on a Titan, yes, but if it’s an enemy Titan, and it’s doing any one of the following: dashing, punching, exploding, falling, shooting at you, etc, and you’re in the air in front of it, you’ll die. The only way to safely mount an enemy Titan is by dropping on it or jumping on it when it’s just walking. At all other times, it’s a wall of death. Of course, you can deal with that, because you’re a ninja, remember?

But, when I’m on foot and blowing up a Titan with an Archer missile, I feel that I’m dealing with a dangerous opponent. That it’s on me to respect it or I’ll die. I might still die, even if I do everything correctly, but that’s the truth of combat… That’s some Zen shit, right there. But, it’s true. The Titans themselves are a formidable force, but their power is magnified by the skill of the Pilot. As you become part of the ecosystem of robots, moving between Pilot-gnat and Titan-dog, you start to feel the flow of combat and your place within it at any given time.

Maybe that happens with every militaristic-multi-player FPS when you’re far enough in. I don’t know, because I haven’t used the word “l33t” to unironically describe myself for years. But, in Titanfall, between feeling the flow of combat and knowing the power of the Titans, I felt small as a Pilot. Powerful. Competent. But small. In a way, really human. And maybe this is just Attack on Titan resonance, but I started to respect and relish the power of the Titan. But, equally, to understand my relative size. And what did I do with that power once I had it?

Well, obviously, I used it to blow stuff up. I’d love to tell you that I used it to defend my friends and set up some moral lesson about empathy and compassion, but I can’t, because this isn’t the 80’s and I’m not writing a cartoon. Also, because blowing stuff up is what you do in Titanfall. That’s the game. But the impression stuck with me. And when I walked outside to check the mail, I looked into the sky and glimpsed a Titan in my mind. And I felt small. Singular. I imagined stepping inside, and I towered over my house. There is so much power in a Titan. But you remember, when you’re in that cockpit, what it’s like on the ground. It’s like a Spider-Man thing.

Feeling that power dynamic is nothing I’ve experienced in any other FPS. I can’t even explain to you why, because I’ve driven tanks in Halo. Vehicle combat is nothing new. But, Titanfall made me feel both powerful and tiny at the same time. I was both predator and prey. So, I felt humble.

I don’t know if that will be the common experience, because I got really into it. (It’s super immersive.) But, it’s there to be had, and I think that’s pretty cool. Cheers!

Addendum: Creative usage of Grunts. I saw a guy named IMC_Grumt that ran around with a group of Grunts so people would dismiss him at first and he could get the drop on them. Also, there’s a Spectre camo-costume.

Stand By For Titanfall…

Posted in All the Things, Game Guts, Game Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , on April 29, 2014 by trivialpunk

Those of you who are on my Twitter know that, for the last day or two, I’ve been doing nothing but playing Titanfall. But, you don’t know the half of it. I’ll play for five hours, until my mind can’t keep up the pace any longer, then I’ll nap for a few hours. An event which is usually followed by more Titanfall. The reason I’m here, now, and not playing more Titanfall, is because I felt compelled to write a review for the game. Not because I think you need to hear how great it is for the thousandth time, but, rather, because I think a lot of people will dismiss it. I mean, it looks like just another militaristic shooter. But, it’s not. It’s so much more than that.

Some of the first multi-player games I started out playing were Quake and Counter-Strike. They were fast, adrenaline-fuelled Charnel houses. Five-minute rounds of reflex-testing fun. And since then, the model hasn’t deviated that much. They’ve added head-bob and guard-dog, slowed it down and sped it up, but the central pointy-clicky-deathy mechanic has maintained its central importance. It’s always felt great to win those games. The thrill of bringing a team to victory through your own wit and speed, accuracy and dexterity, is highly rewarding. And when there’s team-work, it’s always rewarding. But, that’s the way those games are designed, so it’s not really surprising. What does Titanfall do different? Well, let me stop posing panto-questions and just answer.

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The simplest way I could describe the difference between Titanfall and something like CoD: Ghosts is that Ghosts is fun to win; Titanfall is fun to play. The perks, Kill-streaks and spawning systems in Ghosts pretty much ensures that the winning team is going to start winning harder. Yes, it can be fun to turn it all around with an epic Kill-streak cooldown, but considering that most contests are already weighted by the vast skill-gaps that exist in that community, it being populated by large concentrations of some of the most hardcore and some of the most casual gamers in the market, the winners are probably using that momentum like a club. But, that’s a skill-thing. That will change from game to game.

What doesn’t change, though, is your place on the battlefield. The CoD: Ghosts protagonist is a highly-trained specialist in the field of role-playing as one of the 99% of germs that Mr. Clean “deals with”. When I play, I get killed by passing explosions, guard-dogs, assassinations, snipers, nearby gunners, grenades, nukes… A lot of the time, I never bother to find out how I died, because it’s not tactically helpful for long. Sure, it’s a realistic depiction of how personnel might feel on a futuristic battlefield, like important, squishy assets within the framework of a dangerous death-machine, but it’s annoying. And while it can be fun to dominate, I don’t really feel like I’m in charge of my own destiny.

Let’s cut to Titanfall, because it’s a game-changer. Right off, I’m going to admit my bias. Half the time I’m playing the game, I’m mentally role-playing as one of the kids from Attack on Titan. Just getting that out there: I’m not impartial. I’m having way too much fun. And that’s the thing. Titanfall is a delight to just play. I was laughing during the training exercises, and that hasn’t happened in years. A lot of that has to do with the movement system.

When you’re on foot, you’ve got a few options. You can sprint, crouch and walk, like a normal FPS. Or, you can wall-jump off buildings like you’re playing Assassin’s Creed. Or, you can take it to the next level and become a fucking ninja. You see, while most people are only going to see the two levels of combat: mech and human, there are layers to this game that emerge as you get better at it for deceptively simple reasons. 1: You get a major speed-boost from running on walls. 2. You can double-jump and change direction in mid-air, once per jump. 3. You can cling to walls to double-jump up them. That’s it. Three simple rules that change everything.

Because, now, as a Pilot, you can get to every vantage point, ever, if you know how to use the movement system properly (I can’t wait to see how broken this becomes). More than that, though, there is a qualitative difference between how you’re moving and how pilots on the ground are moving. With the right combination of manoeuvres, you can cover the entire map with a speed matched only by a dashing mech with its infinite dash-core activated (No, really, this is a thing that happens).

But, let’s not be too hasty. It’s not all about the movement system. You know how some games suck because the level devs weren’t talking to the game-play designers when they were hammered out? Well, that’s not happening here, and thank god. If it had, this would be another game of wasted potential. As it stands, the levels are honey-combed with different routes and escape vectors. There are free-running paths that don’t break the flow of combat, get in the way of the mech-fights or cover the whole damn level. Which is good, because you want to have to think about how you’re moving. If you can move every place equally as well, then you’ll never pay for stranding yourself in the middle of a field that mechs are using to play rugby with plasma, rockets or you, instead of a ball.

If you become tired of getting stepped on, you can have a Titan dropped out of the sky to smash people with. And, let me tell you, there are few things more satisfying than crushing someone’s Titan with your incoming Titan, a killing-method that I improve with a perk, because options. And, again, the game could have really fallen apart here. But, Titanfall earns its spot as a next-gen game. Your Titan feels huge, but the levels never feel out of place. You can crush pilots by stepping on them, but they Can combat you. Not on even ground, mind you, but with skill and finesse. Pilots can climb on you, either as support or to attack you (This animation needs some work, because it’s hard to aim from Titan-back while the rectical is clipping into the Titan’s uber-sprite) or take you out from afar. Pilots aren’t your biggest threat, though… The Titans come.

Once you call in a Titan, you’re the center of attention. Other Titans swarm you. Pilots are all over that. Even the game’s foot-soldiers, which we’ll get to in a minute, seem vaguely aware that you exist, which means a big step for and on them. So, make sure you know why you’re calling in your Titan. Don’t just warp it in to get torn to pieces. It’s a mighty power. You can change the entire shape of the battlefield with it. When it drops, it obviously makes a wall with its body, but it also lays down a sheltering bubble-shield and crushes everything it lands on. Great advantage; huge liability, because…

The most popular matches I’ve played (based on match-maker-assembly time) have been Attrition, which is basically a death-match where every target is worth a different amount of points. Titans are worth a LOT here, Pilots are worth a little less, and the foot-soldiers are worth about a fourth of a pilot. But, foot-soldiers run in groups of four or more, so it can be worth taking them out. That’s kind of the point of them. You see, while games like CoD: Ghosts insist that you get really good at twitch-killing players, Titanfall gives you the opportunity to use strategy. I’m not saying there isn’t strategy in Ghosts. There clearly is, because I’m not winning that game as much as I should be, even just statistically. However, Titanfall suggests that there might be other ways to win, besides exterminating your fellow man. Just take out the computer-controlled versions. Or spend your time exterminating Titans. Or play a different game-mode. Hard-point capture, Capture the Flag, and a game-mode I’m refusing to call anything but The Titan Rumble-Pit, because they just put each of you in a single Titan and demand that you discover the victor. Sounds pretty Godzilla: King of Monsters to me. You know, mechanized and all.

Some people complain that the minion-grunt A.I. sucks, (which is weird because no one complains about the minion A.I. in LoL,) but they serve their purpose. I think the game is better for their presence, if only as background dressing. Additionally, they could still have their A.I. improved or be used as a piece in a game-play mode, like Attrition, so we’ll see what they do with them down the line.

Let’s wrap game-play, so we can get to combat and the story, shall we? Titanfall is not a game you want to miss. It’s Brink meets Mech-Warrior fused with CoD: Ghosts and its current-gen ilk. To reiterate, it’s good because it’s enjoyable to play and the levels are designed to let you Play. But, it’s also good because of how balanced the combat is. There are differences-in-kind -qualitative differences- between the Pilot combat and the mech combat; their interaction is a lot of fun, but I’m not going to cover Anti-Titan Pilot combat. I’m going to let you discover how to take those bastards down on your own, because I enjoyed that the most. Pro-tip: Don’t use Anti-Titan weapons while “Rodeo-ing”; you’ll just blow up. Empty your SMG into its circuits.

The Pilot combat is well thought-out. The weapons are your stream-lined mix of combat types (Snipers, Assault, Assassin…). They’re all basically effective and come with their own attachments that you unlock via levelling. You know, like CoD: Ghosts, Battlefield 4 and every other game that makes me feel like I can just use the phrase “Rank-Based Perk-Levelling Load-Out System.” (RP-LOS) Create your kit, play with the abilities, and let the laughter commence! Sorry, I meant slaughter. Slaughter was the word we were looking for. But, there’s a secret stumbling block here that Titanfall crushes ‘neath its mighty tread.

You see, getting people into a multi-player FPS is a difficult thing, for many reasons. There’s the vitriol that supposedly exists in the chat-boxes. And, there’s some of that, but I just ignore it. Why humanize the intelligences behind moving -digital- targets? And, there wasn’t as much as I expected, given how often it’s referenced. Most people are just there to have a good time. Then, there are connection issues and game-availability. But, that’s not As big a deal with digital downl…IT’S 50 GIGS?!? Oh, umm… then there’s the skill problem. New players are going to get the ground wiped with them by the veterans with LMGs unlocked, right? So, how do we even the playing field? Balance for skill, of course! Make something big and destructive to earn the new players some kills, like the AWP or the noobtoob. Something like… a pistol. Oh, for fu… oh, a computer-guided burst-pistol that can lock onto multiple enemies, or a single target real-good-like. A single three-round burst from the Smart Pistol will end a Pilot’s thrilling career forever.

And, luckily, it’s the gun they introduce you to at the beginning of the game, because they’re very aware of this. It’s not cumbersome; it’s powerful and elegant. And it really makes the fast-paced combat more approachable. It’s hard enough drawing a bead when your target isn’t making Ezio Auditore look under-geared. At the same time, the Smart Pistol isn’t your Best option. It has trouble at mid-long range, and it’s just not going to be enough to handle anything but 1-v-1 Pilot-on-Pilot combat. So, as you improve, you’ll replace it, which is what you’re supposed to do with anti-FOO weapons. However, it’ll still take down a wave of minions in a couple of trigger-pulls, make a grenade explode in someone’s face and easily execute a Pilot, so it’s Not Useless once you get past a certain rank. Now, that’s balance. It all hangs together rather well. The melee is an instant kill, but it can be difficult to jump-kick people when they’re flying around, so that’s usually a tight-hallway thing. Again, though, you can fly through the air, so, if you’re good, difficult becomes epic.

I think that’s the ultimate accomplishment of Titanfall. It rewards your improvement, but it doesn’t punish other players for your success. That’s your job. Because, no FOO strategy can make up for the ninja skills you’ll develop. Of course, very few ninja skills teach you how to deal with Titans.

You Guys Know These Things Are Free Wallpaper, Right?

You Guys Know These Things Are Free Wallpaper, Right?

After playing as a meth-squirrel, you might think that stepping into a Titan would feel a bit arduous. But, no. It feels like putting on the Iron Man Prosthetic. You can reap petty revenge against the metal monsters than squashed you AND do some squishing of your own. It’s a bit slower, I grant you, but it also feels like you’re moving through the environment at an enhanced pace, because it’s the same environment, but you’re huge now. You’re basically a tuna that’s taken over a shark. The weapons are varied enough that you can pick your own play-style, and the abilities and body-types are different enough that the lack of choice is compensated for by emergent variety.

For instance, I have a dash-type body for manoeuvrability, but it’s very lightly armored. So, I compensate for that by using explosive weapons. That way, I don’t have to hold a bead. I can fire, dash, forget. Or, the chain-lightning gun, because I think you’re obligated, contractually, to try it out. But, I also have a secondary weapon that unleashes a salvo of rockets and a pretty nasty case of electric smoke-gas. So, if I’m cornered, I dump the damaging smoke-screen and split. Or, I can decide to go all out, empty everything into the nearest target and…

Well, once your Titan is about to die, it goes into a Doomed state. Which means, it gets a striped health-bar and is seconds away from blowing up. At which point, it’s time to eject. Usually, when I go all out, it’s because my little mech has been cornered and is being helplessly dominated by some other giant mechs. That’s fine, because I get to choose HOW it blows up. You want to hurt my baby? Okay, well, I took the perk that causes a small nuclear explosion when I eject. Which automatically happens when my Titan is about to die, because I chose another perk that made it so. Enjoy blowing up. Running away? Okay, but I’m piloting the Dash Mech: the fastest mech in the game, and my mech may be doomed, but I’ve got enough time to get in your face.

There are some downsides to this strategy. If there’s a ceiling, I’m ejecting my face into that, directly. If they escape the explosion, then it didn’t do much good, but it makes a difference often enough that it’s in my standard loadout.

Because, customizing your mech actually feels like you’re customizing it. Not visually, obviously, but I don’t really care that much, because the devs put a lot of work into the visual design. Why should I paint it rainbow and pretend I’m piloting the Nyan-Bot? The custom mech options are different enough that they create interesting emergent combinations. (is this a pattern?) Check their specs out here, if you’re curious.

Let’s get to the muck, though. It’s pretty pricey for a single game. $60 for the basic package or $80 if you want the season pass. I picked up the season pass, against my better judgement, because Respawn (the people behind this game) have shown that they understand how fundamental level-design is to their game. Poorly designed levels will break Titanfall, moreso than any other game, because it relies on the movement system of the Pilots to balance the sheer strength of the Titans. But, they’ve got my trust, for now. If the new levels suck, believe me, I’ll Tweet it.

There’s no single-player campaign, and the story is very vaguely presented. I’ll recap the story here, as best as I can gather it so far, so you understand the gist of it while you’re playing. *deep breath*

“FTL technology has opened up space, but it’s a standard Stargate, jump-system scenario. The military fights using newly-designed droids and Titans, which they can produce and assemble very quickly. The Militia, the Rebels of the story, want to free the Outer Rim from the Interstellar Manufacturing Corporation (IMC, the local PMC, our Greedy-Capitalism-Endless-Consumerism-Imperialism-Is-Bad stand-in). In order to do that, they’re going to enact the grand strategy of a military commander that defected from the IMC. The leader of the IMC forces used to be buds with this guy and recognizes the strategy as the one they came up with in High School or something. Basically, they’re going to cripple the IMCs fleet through a few ground-ops, then they’re going to destroy the jump-gate, effectively closing the door on IMC reinforcements until they manage to make it there the slow way.

However, by the final mission, most of the people on the IMC side are dead, and the lion-share of their ground-forces are just robots. Robots that the IMC Command Computer will create endlessly with one goal in mind: defeat The Militia. That’s why, during the last mission, The Militia leader says, “Dude, let’s just ally and destroy the plant. There’s literally no reason for you to fight for the IMC, because they’re back on Earth. There’s no gate to get there. It’s just robots, now.” Robots that were programmed with a specific blind allegiance to a ideological system. Here’s the scary bit!

With central command light-years away, and very few people left, the IMC robots will keep endlessly reproducing with the same goal in mind, even if the IMC ceases to exist in the 200-year journey from Earth. The robots don’t have cognitive thought. They don’t have loyalty. They’re an endlessly self-perpetuating cancer that will devour the galaxy, constantly consuming everything to build more of themselves. That’s where the Capitalism-Consumerist satire comes from. And, I’m only really aware of this angle because I wrote a similar short-story where a Self-Replicating Roomba gets lost in Space-Time and ends up creating a race of mechanized Slicing Dysons that try to devour the galaxy. But, that’s a pretty common problem.”

We’re almost done, but before we wrap, let’s address the issue that a lot of people seem to have with Titanfall. The multiplayer-only issue. Yes, it’s pretty expensive to pay $80 for a multi-player game. But, let’s be serious, it’s a lot of money either way. And, it shouldn’t matter if the single-player isn’t there if the multi-player is solid. BUT, that’s only if the multi-player is what you’re buying it for. I wouldn’t ask you to stick Death-match into SH2, so I’m not going to demand a shitty campaign that would have just sucked money out of the development of the multi-player.

People complain about this like it’s a new thing, but it’s not. It’s just the first time I’ve paid for it; I’m fine with that. I used to play 5-minute Counter-Strike matches for hours at a stretch. I play CoD: Ghosts the same way. I literally don’t know what the CoD: Ghosts campaign is like. I only know the story because, well, that’s my job. For the most part, I play Extinction or Death-match. As long as that’s what you’re buying Titanfall for, you’re going to get way more than your money’s worth. The pieces all fit together. This is not just next-gen graphics; this is next-gen game-design. Because, it’s a sprawled design process with a focused goal in mind: to create an excellent Death-match experience. If we mark it down for knowing what it is and what it wants to be, then we’re just perpetuating the next-gen problem of trying to create things to appeal to everyone. Please, tell the reviewers that do this, but complain about game-play stagnation, to get their heads out of their butts and realize that the industry listens to that twaddle.

At the end of the day, the best recommendation I can give for Titanfall is this: I had to edit the word “fun” out of this review 9 times, because it was becoming really redundant. And that, more than anything, should tell you how I’m enjoying the game. If you’re looking for a unique, fast-paced, next-gen-FPS multi-player experience, this is the game for you. If you want a strong story with stirring characters, then perhaps not so much. But, it scratches the itch it does with something made of titanium and cherub down. Whether that’s worth $60-$85 or not is up to you.

Honestly, I could go on, but I want to play some more Titanfall. So, I’m giving the game The Intense Spark Of Strange Love Under Flashing Black-Lights out of The Playful Caress Of The Afternoon Sun Waking You From A Nap. Join the cause, and I’ll see you on the other side.

Addendum: The match-making system is simple and intuitive. So simple that I forgot to mention it.  >.> But, it’s also pretty terrible at matching skill-levels, so don’t be afraid to bail on unbalanced matches before they start. You’ll be back in another lobby in under a minute.