Long story short: no proper diary this month.
It’s been a busy month for me, and I’ve honestly not played much that I think is interesting toÂ talk about. Sure, I played throughÂ Crysis 3 – but what is there to say about this shockingly pretty, hamfistedly written FPS that’s not been said before? And sure, I’veÂ surprised myself by being seduced by the simple, lo-fi charms of Shattered Planet,Â but I don’t feel that the game has added a great deal to the roguelite conversation. It’s just a well-executed set of nested gameplay loops and is fun to play for half an hour here and there.
Okay, so I’ve been dabbling in a number of mobile games, and I’m sure there are a few things to be said about the lusciousÂ Deep Under the Sky and its compelling twist on theÂ Angry Birds mechanical formula. Or aboutÂ Dungeon BossÂ andÂ Summoners War:Â both games I’m playing for research, both games managing to summon (aha) up some interesting twists in the hard-fought arenas of free to play RPGs. But who wants a shallow scraping of the surface of a F2P game?Â Few people reading this, I’m sure.
So that’s that, really. Busy month, not played too many games; next month I may have more to say, although I suspect Fallout 4 is likely to dominate most of my gaming time. That saidÂ I’m also getting a Steam controller, so perhaps I’ll have my take on that -Â which no doubt everyone will be thrilled by, havingÂ read dozens of bothÂ first-impression and expert-analysis pieces already.
I didn’t even read a huge amount of games writingÂ this month, so I can’t even share many interesting links. Still, you may be interested inÂ word that aÂ study into the placebo effect in video games has revealed that gamers are as easily led as other humans – who knew! – or in Michael Cook’s roundup of people working in AI fields whoÂ you should know.
Oh, wait a minute. I played through the entirety ofÂ StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm. How come I’d almost entirely forgotten about that already? It sounds like a snarky criticism of the game, but to be candid it’sÂ more fair to lay it at the door of my shitty memory.
What didÂ you play in October that you almost forgot about?
7 responses to “AR Diary: October”
It seems the more games there are, the less time there is to play them. I finally bought Wasteland 2, drawn to it by apparently not terrible console release. It’s been like 3 weeks and I haven’t played a minute of it, but I definitely plan on at least starting the game by the end of the year. That seems desperate.
But how about last episode of Life is Strange? Finally a game I can finish in one sitting, and one worthy of that time. Episode 5 sadly doesn’t end on a highest note but the whole series has been such an interesting take on the episodic adventure game sub-genre that I don’t feel there’s much to regret about it. I don’t want to discuss it in detail, because spoilers but would like to hear what you guys think about it at AR.
I started playing Hearts of Stone expansion to The Witcher 3, and it’s just as solid as the base game, which means I’m not rushing it. The entirety of new content again feels like it needs to be consumed without skipping anything. There’s a lot of care and dedication poured into the new quests and stories, and there are new, surprising ideas, straying away from what I’ve seen in the core campaign, that designers are having fun with, which is often a thing characteristic for really good expansions.
I also got Binding of Isaac for 3DS. Played this game for the first time, actually, and it’s really interesting. Not only just as a game you can have fun with, and great for relatively short sessions, but also a game that’s interesting to analyze from design perspective. Still have to reach the ending for the first time but it’s already doing incredible job at providing far reaching replayability.
And a quick recommendation on the mobile front: Downwell. A game that takes literally seconds to appreciate its design, especially its “game feel” and can suck you in for hours to play just one more run.
I wrote a thing on Life Is Strange Ep. 5, so I’m just going to cut and paste it here.
The fifth and last episode of Dontnod Entertainment’s excellent Life Is Strange dropped this month, and I wasted no time in playing it. I have to confess I was a little disappointed by it. While it does bring the narrative to a conclusion that is well in keeping with the earlier parts, I felt it was less interactive than the previous episodes, and had more than a little filler in it.
These issues are probably intertwined. This episode brings a time travel story to a close. It ties together threads from earlier on, and is the emotional climax for the story of Chloe and Max. The developers clearly didn’t want to compromise their vision by allowing pesky things like player choice to derail their epic conclusion. I didn’t feel like my earlier choices had any impact on anything in this episode beyond cosmetic.
Here’s a very slightly spoilery example: you have an opportunity the help a trucker in distress. If you handled a situation in an earlier episode ham-handedly, he is in that situation at least partly due to your actions. Really makes you reflect on the consequences of your actions, no?
If you handled things differently, he just happens to be in that exact spot, anyway. Let’s hear it for chaos theory and agency.
Throughout, the game has asserted that â€œthis action will have consequencesâ€. I didn’t believe it at first, having been down this road before, but I kind of had to after episode two. How the events at its conclusion fall depends on the cumulative choices the player has made through the first two episodes. It’s a powerful and emotional moment, for the player and the character. It is not repeated in episode five.
The episode also has lots of cutscenes and barely interactive dioramas. It kicks of with a series of unskippable cutcenes that total something like fifteen minutes of inaction, interspersed with a couple of short bits of minimal interaction. I have to confess that whenever I can put down the controller for five minutes and lean back, I feel like I’m not getting what I signed up for. If I wanted to watch films, I could always just watch films, after all.
The filler feel probably comes partly from me not finding some of the content developers included quite as engaging or interesting as they did. Still, there were several instances where I rather hoped the game would get on with it and not cut the rather dramatic final mile with repetitive distractions.
META-SPOILERS ON THE ENDING:
You get to choose between two endings, unaffected by any other choices on the way, one of which negates all the choices you made throughout the game and another which renders them irrelevant. The relative effort the developers spent on each of the end sequences reveals that one of them is clearly the intended, correct ending. It is a logical resolution to the story so far. I do have some aesthetic and philosophical problems with the story the developers chose to tell, but since that’s both subjective and spoilery I’ll skip it here. Clearly this is a story where the journey is more important than the destination.
So, in light of that: is the game worth playing? Yes. It is not entirely successful either as a game or a time travel story, or even as a slice of life teen drama, but in the context of story driven games with player choice I think it’s at the very top of the field, and it has two very good female leads to boot. You should probably play it sooner rather than later, if you haven’t yet.
Episode 5 definitely felt like the least engaging in terms of gameplay, apart from the bottle collecting stuff, which was not that great either. Not only it was rehashed from episode 2, I think, but also did not stand as a compelling gameplay piece on its own.
On the other hand, I liked how they managed to handle the beginning of the episode, which I expected to either be very brief, or just be an overlong cutscene. It was fine, after all, and it showed one more time that messing with time travel never ends well, and there’s always something that’s gonna be left broken. Which the whole episode, and the series, is all about. No matter what you do, there’s no happy ending for everybody.
Some of the dialogue sections mid-episode dragged on and the big final decision was too easy to make for me. It was just a matter of what are you more attached to as a player, but it was very interesting to see post-game statistics showing about 50/50 split of players’ decisions at the time I played it.
Anyway, it was great playing the whole series, especially that lately I’ve been thinking about games where your don’t (have to) win, both narratively and gameplay-wise to reach the conclusion. Life is Strange achieves this in its own way. I wonder what Dontnod will do next, and in the meantime maybe I will give Remember Me a second chance, after abandoning that game pretty early on in my playthrough attempt.
I finished Remember Me over the summer after a break of several months. It’s pretty forgettable, but since it’s utterly linear and has very little gameplay depth, it is quite easy to pick up again.
Currently Dontnod are working on Vampyre. The ‘y’ stand for moral choices, apparently.
Rest is vague thematic SPOLERS for Life Is Strange:
I can’t help but feel that the choice of introducing time travel for the narrative purpose of teaching that one should not mess with time is messed up. It’s a valid enough choice for a theme, but I really dislike the ‘things humanity isn’t meant to meddle with’ trope. Also the trope that we must learn to accept death as inevitable. Practical advice for most of human history, sure, but we are now in a time where we can see anti-aging technology from where we stand.
I also question the wisdom of shining the spotlight on the limits of your agency in a game sold on choices and consequences. Again, a valid artistic choice, and maybe a needed one in a field populated by power fantasies, but not necessarily the cleverest move given key game mechanics.
On that topic, both Remember Me and Life Is Strange deal with the moral implication of the main character robbing other people of their agency (and not by shooting them dead), though Life Is Strange only makes a half-hearted nod at addressing it at the last minute. That could have been made more of.
I’ve been tempted by Downwell as it sounds and looks great, and it’s been talked up on most of the podcasts I listen to. However, I’m also fairly confident it’s a game I’d play for half an hour, admire the design of, and then never touch again. I know my bad habits well…
I think the Witcher 3 is one I’ll try and tackle over Christmas, factors depending. I do want to experience its writing, which sounds… like it might be more than just “good for a game”?
I know a few other folks have been playing Life is Strange around these parts – maybe AJ or Potter will pitch in? – but unfortunately that’s another one I’ve yet to try. Definitely one I want to play through with my girlfriend, though – we both enjoy that style of adventure game as something we can experience collaboratively.
Yeah, as for the Witcher it’s definitely superb writing, period. Even talking to random shopkeepers seems as if every one of them gives you unique small talk. Although, I have to note that I’m playing in Polish, which is the language of the source material and of course the writing team behind the game. There are loads of archaic terms and everybody talks as if it was written centuries ago, which is awesome. Not all is consistently great, but overall it does deliver interesting plot with outstanding dialogues, with smart cultural references and successful attempts at humour. You could probably read the script and know which character says which line, they’re that distinct.
I’ve heard some of the English voice acting, and the performances sound very solid, but I have an issue with Geralt’s actor, who sounds like he whispers all the time. Not sure what’s up with that and how is it handled in more lively scenes, but that seems strange. As if he wanted to sound mysterious and menacing, while the character tends to be rather more of a cynical, grumpy prick, the way I see it.
I didn’t forget any of the games I played last month. It helps I didn’t play very many.
I finally got around to playing Cities: Skylines, developed by Colossal Order (go Finland). Collective internet opinion seems to be it is the city builder Simcity should have been. I kind of have to agree. It’s fun. It’s pretty much the city sim I’ve been craving since SimCity 2000.
By which I mean it is, essentially, a technological update of SimCity 2000, with a more robust traffic model. There’s barely any features there that weren’t present in Maxis 1994 classic. Turns out, that’s what I really always wanted, and it seems I wasn’t the only one. If there’s only room for one city builder sim in your life, it should probably be this one.