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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Undertale: Or, I Dated a Skeleton And It Ruled

Undertale is a game that a lot of people don’t like because a lot of people do. Its rabid fanbase poured free from the boundaries of Tumblr and /r/undertale and into mainstream social media. Undertale is everywhere, with memes made out of its most famous lines and moments adapted to other games and aspects of pop culture. If you weren’t yet a fan of Undertale in the months following its release in September 2015, you probably had a bad time.

I played Undertale sometime around the turn of March, after the initial hype died down. Before that, I heard it all. How Undertale, despite its apparent Earthbound-esque simplicity, is deceptively complex and clever. How it subverts traditional role-playing game tropes, manipulating player expectations of what an RPG should be. How it uses its gameplay systems, primarily combat, to further its theme and story. Characters supposedly develop just as much as they do through overworld text as they do through their attacks and actions in battle.

Let me be clear. Subversion is nothing new in video games. In a world with releases like The Stanley Parable, Spec Ops: The Line and the more recent Dr. Langeskov, The Tiger, and the Terrible Cursed Emerald: A Whirlwind Heist, subversion is almost expected from darling indie releases. What makes Undertale special is that it operates on an interactive level. It is effective in the same ways as The Stanley Parable: you have the freedom of choice. It doesn’t seem heavy handed when the game isn’t making you do anything you don’t want to do.

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On Nostalgia and Nostalrius

Blizzard is suing Nostalrius, a private server that hosts World of Warcraft (WoW) in its original state without any expansion packs. As one of the most popular private servers of all time, people are outraged, both Nostalrius players and retail (Blizzard’s servers) WoW players.

To understand why people are outraged, one has to understand Vanilla WoW. Writers and players far more skilled than me have struggled over the last decade to explain what made Vanilla so special. There are a variety of objective changes to the game that people can point out to be what changed World of Warcraft for them. For me, and I think a lot of other people, it is a combination.

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Papers, Please: Approved

Papers, Please is a game created by one-man machine Lucas Pope. It places you as the lucky winner of the labor lottery in the fictional communist country Arstotzka. Your new position as a border inspector is expected to keep you and your four family members fed and warm.

Your rulebook is your best friend. It details all the requirements for the necessary paperwork. Each day, you receive a notice that contains the newspaper headlines and a brief message from the Ministry of Admission. Often, these messages contain updates about new required paperwork such as labor passes. With each notice, your rulebook updates with another respective page.

Each new immigrant must provide the required documents: passport, admissions pass and whatever else the Ministry requires on that day. After checking all the required fields, the player is able to make a decision: approve or deny.

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Top 10 Games of 2015

With the end of 2015 fast approaching (and my MGSV: Ground Zeroes article taking longer than I’d like), I thought it would be apt to compile a list of my favorite games that I played this year. 2015 has been a pretty strong year for games in general and I’m pleased to see so many great games continue to come out, especially for the Wii U.

There are certain rules that each game and I have to follow in order to make it to the list. I’ll try to stick to these as best as possible.

  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 of that the game has to offer. Instead, it is completion of the main quest or main story.
  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 Rule 1 in 2015. The games on this list are not all 2015 releases. It is a list of what I played in 2015, not what came out this year.

The above rules, particularly number 3, disqualify certain games from the list. These, along with others that I feel are particularly noteworthy but didn’t make the cut, will be mentioned at the end. This has really been a year packed with cool experiences. Coupled with my exploration of older games, the selection process was pretty tough.

Be warned, as always: there are spoilers below. While I tried to stay away from spoilers, the games on the list may contain some minor story details. There are, for sure, spoilers for older games such as The Stanley Parable, Metal Gear Solid 4 and more. If you see a game’s name that you haven’t played yet, I suggest turning back. I guarantee nothing in the way of spoiler-free text.

Let’s do this.

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Praise Be to Amaterasu: Theming in Ōkami

SPOILER ALERT: Ōkami IS SPOILED BELOW

By the time Ōkami came out in 2006, I was already prepared for the next console generation. Instead of playing Clover Studio’s latest release, I spent my evenings on my Xbox 360 in Coagulation and Gridlock. The Burning Crusade was in full swing and I was leveling a young blood elf hunter.

It’s safe to say that Ōkami flew under my radar, as it did most for most people. In 2007, the original release had only sold around 270,000 copies. Despite overwhelming critical acclaim, people just would not buy the game. In the end, critical success doesn’t mean commercial success. Games such as Psychonauts and Beyond Good & Evil, while appreciated, spelled death for their companies.

Despite that, a re-release on the Wii did garner more sales and Ōkami has secured its place as a beloved title in the hearts of gamers everywhere. It’s one of the few games to approach an adventure in the same vein as the Legend of Zelda series. Miyamoto and the gang’s influence is felt throughout all the fields of Nippon.

While its influences are clear, Ōkami still manages to be unique and unwaveringly true to itself as a complete and coherent work. Little, if any of its parts, are vestigial or extraneous; they work together to create a greater whole.

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