A Breath of Fresh Air

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time fell into my hands after I played it at a friend’s house when I was a child. In a few minutes, I found the Kokiri Sword, something they had been unable to do despite owning and playing the game several times. They handed it to me, since I was “smart enough for it.”

My grandma owned a Nintendo 64, so I played Ocarina of Time at her house. Her and I grew close through it. I remember many late nights, both of us in the CRT’s glow as we worked our way through the temples. I wouldn’t have solved many of the puzzles without her help.

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Surviving Tselinoyarsk: Degradation in Metal Gear Solid 3

For Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, Hideo Kojima, series creator and director, decided to step out of the series’ trademark urban infiltration environments in exchange for a Russian jungle that doesn’t exist. Tselinoyarsk, with its swamps, high mountains and dense jungles is quite the departure from Shadow Moses Island and the Big Shell of the two previous games.

Camouflage became the new focus of stealth. Line of sight was still important, but guards had increased detection ranges. They saw farther and heard better. Their hurried hustle became lazy walks. Stealth became a game of lying in the grass and sneaking by as slow as possible instead of trying to dart behind cones of vision displayed on the Soliton Radar of the previous games.

Kojima Productions decided to take full advantage of the game’s jungle setting and added in some extra features to really sell the locale home. Operation: Snake Eater takes place over several days and that means that Naked Snake needs to feed himself. Enter a wildlife and hunting system.

MGS3 isn’t just a stealth game. It’s a survival game, one man versus an army and the unforgiving world around him. Everything in MGS3 has an effect on Naked Snake’s resources. It’s a fight not only to survive the Russian guards but also the player’s ever dwindling resources.

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On Cut Content and a Phantom Pain

MAJOR SPOILERS FOR METAL GEAR SOLID V: THE PHANTOM PAIN AND METAL GEAR SOLID 2: SONS OF LIBERTY BELOW.

Let’s talk about review scores, formal analysis and cut content in video games.

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is composed of two chapters. The first, “Revenge,” focuses on Skull Face and enacting vengeance for what happened to the original Mother Base in MGSV: Ground Zeroes. The second chapter, “Race,” focus more on the language parasites with an outbreak on Mother Base that leads to Mission 43, “Shining Lights, Even in Death.”

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Top 10 Games of 2016

It’s that time of year again. The following list compiles some of my favorite games that I played this year. They are not all 2016 releases. Like last year, here are the rules that I adhered to when organizing the games.

  1. In the case of a non-multiplayer-only game, I must have played its single player experience to completion. This does not require a 100% of all that the game has to offer. Instead, a completion of its main quest, story or campaign will suffice.
  2. In the case of a multiplayer game, I must describe how I played it. Whether cooperative or competitive multiplayer, I will detail whether I played with friends, matchmaking, or online or local multiplayer.
  3. I must have accomplished the above rules in 2016. The games on this list are not all 2016 releases. It is a list of what I played this year.

The 2016 list is missing older classics that made up a significant portion of last year’s list. That’s not because I didn’t play many older games. Far from it. Most of the games that make up this list are contemporary releases or those from recent memory. They were strong enough to distract me from the classics I meant to play and out-charm some of those that I did. 

I also included a couple of the categories from The Steam Awards for fun and I didn’t notice any spoilers below.

Let’s get to it.

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Possibility and Mass Effect

MASSIVE SPOILERS FOR THE ENTIRE GAME BELOW PLEASE DO NOT SPOIL THIS MAGNIFICENT GAME FOR YOURSELF

Required listening.

Released in late 2007, Mass Effect was another science fiction AAA-blockbuster dropped into an industry saturated by contemporary big-budget shooters like Gears of War, Halo 3 and Half-Life 2: Episode 2. While Mass Effect came from an established studio with what was surely a blockbuster budget, it eschewed industry powerhouse trends in favor of a character-focused story and one of the most pure distillations of role-playing in popular games.

Exploration is at the heart of every good RPG. Humanity is so new to the galaxy, and the player to the Mass Effect universe. In a way, the player learns as Shepard does, about alien races and their cultures, conflicts and forgotten civilizations. There’s a galaxy to explore in the first game with desolate planets to land on with the Mako and a delicious plot to uncover.

Mass Effect’s biggest strength is its faith in its universe and the characters within. Its self-confidence releases the player with little guidance into a game with hours of content to see. Even the planets that compose the game’s main plot are tackled at the player’s discretion or delayed in favor of side quests.

A couple hours into the game, Shepard is given the magic ticket to go anywhere and do anything in the galaxy: Spectre status. As a Spectre, the resources of the galactic government are at his or her disposal. A state-of-the-art ship and a penchant for convincing aliens to join the crew, means there’s always a surprise around the corner.

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Lonesome Learning in The Witness

MINOR SPOILERS FOR THE WITNESS FOLLOW. UP TO AT LEAST THE THIRD SET OF PUZZLES ARE SPOILED. ROUGHLY THE FIRST 10-30 MINUTES OF THE GAME. ONE HIGHER LEVEL, BUT STILL EARLY, PUZZLE IS SPOILED AS WELL.

The Witness is a game about learning.

Well, every game is. Mastering a game and surmounting its challenges requires consistent skill growth over time.

More accurately, The Witness is a game about the process of learning.

Every game is unique. Pokémon games play differently than The Legend of Zelda. Antichamber couldn’t be further from Rocket League. Even games in the same franchise or genre change their own rules, like how Super Mario Galaxy handles gravity in comparison to Super Mario 64’s focus on traditional acrobatics. In order for players to have a pleasant experience, a game has to teach the player its rules.

Today’s games are massive, with sprawling, interconnected systems. It makes sense why contemporary games have lengthy tutorial sequences or pop-up textbox guides. It’s not the most intuitive or method but it’s easy. Teaching players is hard. Even the Pokémon series has a scene in every game where an NPC demonstrates how to catch a Pokémon.

Portal is famous for its spectacular tutorial. Extra Credits covers it here, but to summarize, Portal teaches its players slowly, only introducing one layer of complexity at a time. The player can only move forward after demonstrating mastery over a particular mechanic after time for experimentation. The Witness contains a less complex game space but it accomplishes the same goals by creating an environment for the player to learn by themselves.

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Stories From Los Santos

Franklin Clinton – The Gangbanger

I wake up and leave my house in Vinewood Hills. I hop on the motorcycle I kept after a repo job with Lamar and ride down into the city. Los Santos is peaceful mid-morning. I drive down to the city to meet up with a friend at the airport. He’s an adrenaline junkie.

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