Sunday, June 28, 2015

#93: Devil May Cry: Why Dante Shouldn't Be Taken Seriously

For a long time, I avoided the Devil May Cry franchise. There was no real reason behind it other than a sheer lack of interest. During that time, people would tell me about how great the protagonist, Dante, was as a character. They would rarely get into specifics, because this was back in middle school and kids that age rarely think critically about anything, but it was clear that my peers held some reverence for him. Similarly, when the reboot was announced, and the backlash against his redesign was so great, I took the angry fans at their word that this new Dante had blasphemed upon the old one.
Then, the Devil May Cry reboot went free for the PS3 as part of Sony's PlayStation Plus subscription service. This was the perfect excuse to satisfy my curiosity and discover exactly how awful this new Dante was. Much to my surprise, I found myself liking the redesign. There were a few poorly written and badly delivered lines, but nothing terrible. Despite this, I still took the word of those who believed that the Dante from the previous games was "superior". This changed when, recently, I played the first three Devil May Cry games.

Though I like the old Dante, he was far from what he had been made him out to be. Frankly, he was not as great of a character as people seem to think that he is. In fact, he wasn't even really much of a character at all, though that might not necessarily be his fault. The first two entries in the franchise were extremely light in story content, choosing to focus primarily on gameplay and level design. That's not a problem for either game as a whole, but it gives Dante only scant few opportunities to express himself in any meaningful way.
It was not even until the third game that the developers began to delve into his character. Even then, most of that story focused on the rest of cast, with Dante himself acting more like a plot device that other characters had to plan around. He himself admits that there wasn't a significant motivation for participating in the plot at first. The only reason the demon hunter was there is that killing demons is just a thing that he does, like breathing, or walking around without a shirt. It is rare for these three games to give him time to interact with other people, which hinders his characterization.
When Dante does get those chances, what we see isn't bad, but it also isn't enough to justify his loyal fandom. In the first game, most of his dialogue consist of the cheesy one-liners you might expect to hear in a low-budget B-movie. Almost every boss fight in the game is punctuated by insults or quick barbs from our protagonist. Even when mourning the death of his partner, Dante can't help but deliver his line in the most cornball way possible. Devil May Cry 3, set before the events of the first game, placed even greater emphasis on these traits, giving a younger Dante more of a stereotypical frat boy personality. Channeling this persona, Dante can boldly walk up to Cerberus and jest about "taking the dog out for his 'walkies'", as only one example of what kind of individual he is.

Now, there is nothing wrong with this character archetype. It fits very well with Devil May Cry, since the franchise is clearly aiming for a campy, humorous tone. However, it's not a style that is special in and of itself. The designers didn't take it too seriously, and they didn't want the fans to take it seriously either. Yet when Ninja Theory announced DMC: Devil May Cry, and Dante's redesign, there was a massive backlash from the fans. The original trilogy would scoff at the mere notion of being anything more than silly romps through the story of a straight-to-DVD movie, yet fans had elevated them to the status of sacred cows.

The Dante from the reboot wasn't even that much better or worse than the old one. His one-liners weren't amazing, but neither were those from his progenitor. Compare this joke from the Beowulf boss fight in Devil May Cry 3 to this one from the Succubus fight in the reboot. Obviously the scene from the reboot is a bit "edgier" and more profanity-laden that the former. However, the actual content of both scenes is extremely similar. I remember hearing a lot of complaints the new Dante was trying too hard to look cool back when the reboot first came out. However, the scenes from the old Devil May Cry games make it clear that the old Dante was trying equally hard to look cool. The lines before both of those boss fights are lame: that's why people enjoyed them in the first place.

So what is the underlying point behind all of this? Despite the nostalgia people feel for the old Dante, there is no reason why the two have to be incompatible. Neither one of them are inherently superior to the other. While the old Dante went for an "Awesome McFly Guy" persona, and the rebooted one went for a modern "edgy" identity, both are strong examples of characters who try their best to look cool without actually being cool. That's why we like them so much. Even though they are clearly much stronger and more capable than we are, these cheesy lines and lame personalities help us to see parts of ourselves in them. And since both of them can fight these monsters with a sly grin and a quick wit, we don't have to take those same monsters as seriously either. They both help carry the tone of the games they star in, and Devil May Cry as a brand is all the stronger for it.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Texture Pop: Episode 46: Devil May Cast

0:00:30 Gaming News
Arkham Knight's PC Port is awful
Just to reiterate, the PC port was outsourced to a different studio. Still, this is another example of the PC audience getting shafted when it comes to big publishers.

Eurogamer Interview with Destiny's Creative Director makes him look like a jerk.
This is one of the worst interviews I've ever read. Eurogamer did a great job staying professional and asking all of the right questions, but the responses were just awful. You have to read it just to get the full force of it.

0:14:08 Chris has beaten Murdered: Soul Suspect (Spoiler Alert after 0:15:56)
Though it isn't the first time we've talked about it, I am glad that Chris finally played the game. It may not be the best game out there, but it does a lot of interesting things with its premise.

0:25:00 Chris and Sam played Dragonball: Xenoverse together.
I honestly think the Chris and Sam sold me on the game during this conversation. The only catch is that they play on the PC. Even with my new laptop, I'm unsure if I could run it well. I'll do some research and wait for the next sale before making a decision.

0:39:23 Sam and I talk about our escapades recording Interactive Friction: Watch_Dogs.
Alternate  sub-title: The Watch_Dogs save system is GARBAGE!
When the next Interactive Friction episode comes up, I will go into more detail about why this particular problem perplexes me.

0:43:30 I played the Devil May Cry HD Collection
This convinced me to get the Special Edition of DMC4. That tells you enough about my time with the game.

0:55:45 I played Call of Juarez: Gunslinger
I love the unreliable narrator trope, so of course I would love this game.

1:02:01 I played Rayman: Legends
Really, you can't go wrong with Rayman Legends. It's scientifically impossible to dislike it.

1:05:30 Chris, Sam, my friend Ryu, and I played Lost Planet 2 together.
It's.... a game.

1:11:30 Wrapping Up
My Dark Souls article
Interactive Friction

Saturday, June 20, 2015

#92: Dark Souls: The Use of Estus

From Software is very skilled at what they do. Coming off of my Demon's Souls playthrough not too long ago, I continued on into its spiritual sequel: Dark Souls. While Demon's Souls allowed players to gather and grind for healing items, Dark Souls uses a new system to manage health. The first NPC that players interact with will give them an item called the Estus Flask. This flask has a finite number of charges, and consuming one of these charges heals the player. When resting at a bonfire, a safe haven where players can recover their health and manage their inventory, this flask will be recharged.

What I found was that this one change had a profound effect on the game's design. The most obvious of these changes is that the ability to mend wounds becomes limited. In Demon's Souls, there were several varieties of healing grass, and players could hold up to 99 tufts of each type. Personally, I recall constantly have at least 40 or 50 tufts of whatever grasses I was able to obtain at any given point during my playthrough. Towards the end, I had so much that I couldn’t pick up any more. In fact, grass was so plentiful that I had 99 tufts both on my person, and in the excess-item stash.This is definitely not the case in Dark Souls. Resting at a bonfire will only fill the Estus Flask up to 5 charges. It is possible to upgrade bonfires so that this limit is raised up to a maximum of 20. Doing so requires the use of “Humanity”, an uncommon resource that, like souls, is lost on death. The act of “kindling” a bonfire is rare for this reason. During my playthrough, I only upgraded most bonfires enough to hold 10 charges in the Estus Flask.
The difference in these limits strongly manifested itself in my playstyle. If a fight left me with even a small scratch during my adventures in Demon's Souls, I would immediately consume a tuft of healing grass (or several, depending on how wounded I was) before moving on. With 99 tufts in my back pocket, there was nothing stopping me from making use of one or two.
In Dark Souls, this same decision became a much more tactical choice. When I finished a battle with only minor damage, it would be smarter to keep going without using the Estus Flask to heal, because that healing will be more useful later on. Once I figured out where a stage's boss was and how to get to them, it was imperative to take as little damage as I could so I could save Estus Flask charges for the boss fight, where I would need them the most. Even without the looming threat of an impending boss, running out of healing while exploring a stage was a big enough threat that there is always a natural reluctance to avoid using it when I didn’t have to.
If a single run of a level in Dark Souls was going badly enough, me being badly injured surprisingly early on and heavily imbibing of the Estus Flask, a choice needed to be made. I would often seriously consider whether it was wise to keep going, or to just return to the bonfire and try again. While bonfires do recharge the Estus Flask and mend any lingering wounds, resting at them also respawns every single enemy at full strength. In other words, trekking back to the bonfire and restoring my lost Estus is also resigning myself to starting an area over again almost from scratch. Through the Estus Flask, Dark Souls moved away from the war of attrition that Demon's Souls sometimes wandered into. Instead, every area is a test of not just character build and player skill, but also of the ability to manage resources.

The Estus Flask also lessened Dark Souls’s need for grinding, especially in comparison to its predecessor. Despite having large quantities of healing grass in the original Demon's Souls, repeated attempts to clear areas and fight bosses could and would deplete reserves. This meant that it would eventually be necessary to revisit old areas and grind for additional grass to replenish the player's supplies. In the early game, I frequently found myself returning to the Boletarian Palace in between boss attempts, once my grass count had fallen below 20, to gather more. Consequently, this meant that the time between boss attempts would sometimes be a little too long.
The Estus Flask fixes this problem. Since one can no longer grind for restoratives, there exists no incentive nor need to do so. For this reason, the downtime between boss encounters is reduced only to the time it takes for one to get from the nearest bonfire to the boss chamber. Even though my overall playthrough of Dark Souls was longer than that of my Demon's Souls playthrough, this reduced time between boss attempts gave the illusion of an accelerated pace. I could fight a boss as many times as necessary to defeat it without having to stop and grind for healing items, which is a boon in the Souls franchise.

Including the Estus Flask could be seen as a minor, seemingly meaningless addition. In truth, it is one of the biggest, most vital changes that came with the transition from Demon’s Souls to Dark Souls. This one change transformed the dungeoneering from a gradual and methodical war of attrition between the enemy forces and the player’s healing reserves to a test of how well they can management resources. When it comes time to brave the stronger enemies and boss encounters, it also accelerates the pace of repeated attempts. This kind of attention to detail is why people love the Souls games more than anything else. Each new design decision is carefully considered before it is implemented and the final product is all the strong for it.  

The Texture Pop: Episode 45: Everyone's Exhausted Expo.

This week, we take a break from our usual fare to give you a breakdown of our thoughts on the E3 press conferences.

Also, this is the first podcast that I have personally edited. Let me know how I did in the comments.

To make it easier, we went through each conference one at a time in chronological order.

0:00:00 Bethesda

  • Doom
  • Dishonored 2
  • Elder Scrolls Online Expanion
  • Elder Scrolls Card Game
  • Fallout 4
  • Fallout Shelter

0:17:40 Microsoft

  • Backwards Compatibility with 360 games
  • Halo 5
  • Recore
  • Xbox Elite Controller
  • Fallout 4 Mods 
  • EA Access
  • Garden Warfare 2
  • Forza
  • Dark Souls 3
  • The Division
  • Rainbow Six: Siege
  • Gigantic
  • Indie Games
    • Tacoma
    • Cuphead
    • Ashen
    • Beyond Eyes
  • Microsoft Game Preview
  • Ion
  • Rise of the Tomb Raider
  • Rare Replay
  • Sea of Thieves
  • Fable: Legends
  • Minecraft and Hololens
  • Gears of War 1 remake
  • Gears of War 4

1:08:20 EA

  • Mass Effect: Andromeda
  • Need For Speed
  • The Old Republic Expansion
  • Unravel
  • Garden Warfare 2
  • EA Sports
  • Star Wars Card Game
  • Minions' Mobile Game
  • Mirror's Edge: Catalyst
  • Star Wars: Battlefront

1:32:30 Ubisoft

  • South Park: The Fractured But Whole
  • Aisha Tyler's hosting
  • For Honor
  • The Crew Expansion
  • The Division
  • Anno 2205
  • Just Dance 4
  • Rainbow Six: Siege
  • Trackmania
  • Assassin's Creed: Syndicate
  • Ghost Recon: Wildlands

2:00:20 Sony

  • The Last Guardian
  • Horizon: Zero Dawn
  • Hitman
  • Street Fighter V
  • No Man's Sky
  • Media Molecule's Dreams
  • Firewatch
  • Destiny Expansion
  • Assassin's Creed: Syndicate
  • World of Final Fantasy
  • Final Fantasy VII Remake
  • Shenmue 3 Kickstarter
  • Batman: Arkham Knight
  • Playstation Vue
  • Call of Duty
  • Disney Infinity + Star Wars
  • Uncharted 4

2:28:00 Nintendo

  • Star Fox: Zero
  • Amiibo/Skylander Crossover
  • Zelda: Tri-Force Heroes
  • Hyrule Warriors 3DS
  • Metroid Prime: Federation Force
  • Fire Emblem: Fates
  • Shin Megami Tensei X Fire Emblem
  • Xenoblade Chronicles X
  • Animal Crossing: Amiibo Festival
  • Yoshi's Wooly World
  • Yokai World
  • Mario and Luigi: Paper Jam
  • Mario Tennis Game
  • Super Mario Maker

2:36:50 Square-Enix

  • Just Cause 3
  • NIER 2
  • Rise of the Tomb Raider
  • Lara Croft GO!
  • Final Fantasy VII Remake
  • Kingdom Hearts: Unchained X
  • Kingdom Hearts 3
  • World of Final Fantasy
  • Hitman
  • Star Ocean 5
  • Deus Ex: Mankind Divided
  • Final Fantasy Portal App
  • New RPG Project by Tokyo RPG Factory

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Interactive Friction: Watch_Dogs: Episode 5: It's Not the Pizza Guy!

This episode, we wish for Aiden Pearce to suffer.

Continuing with the last episode's theme of missed opportunities, Aiden Pearce himself is one walking, talking missed opportunity.

In this final version of Watch_Dogs, he's sits in this incredibly awkward position. While it is clear that Ubisoft intends for us to sympathize with, and root for, Aiden Pearce, he exhibit almost no traits worthy of even slight praise. He stubbornly and dogmatically clings to his revenge despite his loved ones pleading for him to stop. He can only prevent crime in a violent and painful manner. And he'll gleefully torture someone for a single new fact he could easily acquire through the MASSIVE CITY WIDE DATABASE OF EVERYONE AND EVERYTHING! In short, he's a massive dick.

But they didn't need to do this, even if we work under the conceit of the standard revenge plot we've been given.

One way they could have done it is by turning Aiden Pearce into a reluctant hero. He may think revenge is necessary, and he may even be able to justify his action. That could work if I could envision even the slightest chance that this jerkwad could feel bad about anything. If there were a few scenes where he expresses genuine remorse, or regretted that he had to take on that persona to achieve his ends, that would be wonders for his character.

Alternatively, Ubisoft could've gone in the opposite direction. Don't even attempt to make Aiden Pearce relatable. I may not like that option, but it is valid. If done right, he could even be an interesting heroic/comedic sociopath. Such characters do have their entertaining qualities, like Jordi for example. Having the two of them play off each other's insanity could even make for some great interactions.

But let's say that both of those two options we're unfeasible for some arbitrary reason, and they had to go for the current personality. Even that would be fine if Ubisoft didn't portray him in such a positive light. As we'll see later in the series, Aiden Pearce is never the one who deals with the consequences of his actions. In every case, the people around around him are the ones who suffer. Even the closest of his circle are sheltered from the most direct effects in the end. Despite all that, Aiden Pearce does not undergo any pain or trauma, nor does he learn a lesson nor redeem himself for his past deeds. He just exists in this completely insulated state of being.

God, I hate this game.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Interactive Friction: Watch_Dogs: Episode 4: Bad Boy... 17?

In this episode, I poke fun at Sam's usernames.

We spend most of this episode complaining about this game's setting, and for good reason. Watch_Dogs straddles this uncomfortable line between a modern world and a distinctly Cyberpunk future. There are a ton of interesting concepts that they bring up in this context, like CTOS, Fixers, and cyber-terrorism. Unfortunately, it doesn't delve into ANY of these concepts.

We talk about how the gov't is using CTOS to monitor and record information on every single person in the city. Every crime, every phone call, every undocumented citizen, every raunchy or politically-charged internet post is being observed by a cold, calculating machine. Well, except for Aiden Pearce. He has super immunity because his name, face, and records are magically obscured from CTOS. That means he can do whatever he wants without fear that he's begin monitored.

There are these mercenaries called Fixers. In the digital age, these modern soldiers of fortune work for clients to pull off missions that ordinary people would have difficulty completing under the surveillance of CTOS. Except these guys are nothing more than targets for Aiden Pearce to shoot at for consequence-free violence. There's no exploring how they might be able to exploit CTOS, what makes them different from any other mercenary, or how they manage to stay off the grid. They are just amoral and objective evil people we can gun down without mercy or remorse.

This is basically the Bioshock problem. The story takes place in an objectivist's (or ultra-conservative) paradise, but we don't explore the ramifications of that. It is merely a backdrop for a different story. Watch_Dogs is much the same way. The game claims to be about the surveillance state and the dangers of being constantly monitored, but we don't go into that in any significant detail. Instead, we get a standard revenge story.

It's so disappointing to see this happen time and time again. If they had just focused on any one of these aspects, I'd be a lot more charitable. As it stands, it's get really hard to care.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Texture Pop: Episode 44: Squid Inkorporated

0:02:05 Viewer Questions
"What you do guys think about the graphics of the Fallout 4 trailer?"
They're fine. We mostly spent this time talking about what we expect of the new game and how ugly the other Fallout games were.

"Have any of you guys gotten around to playing The Witcher 3 yet?"

0:13:40 Gaming News
XCOM 2 revealed
We talk about the change from a united world gov't to a ragtag group of rebels, PC exclusivity, and snake boobs.

Uwe Boll hates all of us.
There's no reason to include this story other than the fact that I find it funny.

0:29:55 I finished Bravely Default
Finally. And I've even wrote a piece about how it criticized the standard JRPG plot.

0:31:50 I started playing Dark Souls.
I never would've guessed myself to be a fan of this series, but I totally am. There are just so many good game design decisions on display with Dark Souls and Demon's Souls that you could (and people have) wrote essays on it.

0:53:30 My friend Ryu and I played Resident Evil 2: Revelations (with Share Play)
Since the game had no online co-op, we needed to use Share Play for it to work. Share Play is fine, but it's something I should have had to use to play co-op.
As for the game itself, it's a good game in co-op. The two of us worked very well together. If you've a friend to play with, it's worth checking out.

1:06:55 Sam played The Witcher 1
And he likes the game much more than most of the people I talk to do. Most other people I know hate that game. It's interesting to hear a new viewpoint on the game.
"[The combat] isn't bad. It's just not entertaining." - Sam Callahan on The Witcher

1:24:40 Chris played Splatoon.
At this point, you know what that game is. I don't need to say anymore.
We came up with the title during this segment.

1:44:30 Wrapping Up
My Bravely Default article.
Sam's art blog.
Garrett's stream
Interactive Friction (Watch_Dogs)

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Interactive Friction: Watch_Dogs: Episode 3: Scripted Stealth Driving

This week, we spend most of our time talking about the systems in the game.

While I really dislike the Stealth Driving tutorial, when I was trying to come up with a better way to do it, I really couldn't. The mechanic isn't intuitive, so the game does need to walk you through it. Since the designers know that the player has to go through the story if they want to get farther, it makes sense to use on of the early story missions for that tutorial, so that's what they did.

And then, and this is speculation, I imagine that they realized during or after the development of this mission that it wasn't fun. Unfortunately, at that point there likely isn't much they could have done. If they removed the mission, then valuable development time and resources would have to be moved away from other parts of the game in order to focus them on creating another driving mission. Retooling what we have now would have also taken up those resources.

Removing it also wasn't an option. As horrible as this mission is, it does teach the player everything they need to know in order to evade the police. In the sense, it is necessary to have it included in the game.

So while it is awful, I can imagine a designer thinking that just leaving it as is would be the best of a bunch of really bad options. I would love to ask a member of the Watch_Dogs team about there time developing the game, just to better understand what was going on behind the scenes. There are a number of rumors, but it's hard to take them too seriously without confirmation from an inside source.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

#91: Bravely Default: A Critique of the Old

(Spoiler Alert: This article contains significant spoilers for Bravely Default's story.)
Last year, Square-Enix released a game which garnered much attention from JRPG fans. Taking inspiration from the Final Fantasy games from the NES/SNES-era, Bravely Default was seen as both a return to form for fans of those games and a breath of fresh air for others who are tired of more modern RPGs. Along those lines, the game's main quest is very similar to those from its spiritual predecessors, Final Fantasy 3 and 5 in particular. At the same time, significant late game reveals can be seen almost as a critique of those very same plots.

When it comes to plot twists, the context behind them is often crucial in analyzing how powerful they are. Therefore, it is necessary to explain the initial premise of the story before I can discuss it further. Set in the fictional world of Luxendarc, Bravely Default begins when a catastrophic event causes the village of Norende to be swallowed up in a giant hole. At the same time, the four crystals of Wind, Water, Fire, and Earth have their light snuffed out by a mysterious darkness. The sole survivor of the destruction by this Great Chasm, Tiz Arrior meets the priestess of the Wind Crystal, Agnes Oblige. Joined by two others, and guided by the cryst-fairy Airy, they embark on a quest to awaken the crystals and save the world from the encroaching darkness. Along the way, the forces of the Eternian Empire attempt to prevent them from completing their quest.

If you have played a JRPG in the past 20 or so years, this storyline is probably going to be very familiar to you. Bravely Default deliberately invokes these tropes knowing that any seasoned JRPG player is likely to just accept them wholesale, without a second thought. Of course the light from the four crystals will be enough to stop the darkness and close the Great Chasm. Of course there is an evil empire out to stop our heroes. Players wouldn’t expect any depth, nor would they go out of their way to seek it. Knowing this, Bravely Default cleverly subverts this basic plot with an interesting twist.

Once the final crystal has been awakened, Airy informs the party that a Holy Pillar has emerged, and that using its power should cleanse the world of all evil, including the Great Chasm. When the ritual is completed, however, the actual effect is far from what was anticipated. The party finds themselves in an alternate, parallel Luxendarc. While largely similar to the one they hail from, there are numerous small differences between the two worlds. Some individuals live in different areas, while others have depth to their character that was previous absent. Still more who previously had no relation with each other have suddenly become fast friends or bitter foes. Unfortunately, the Great Chasm is not one of those differences, as it still exists where the village of Norende once stood. The crystals in this new world have also been lost to darkness. Suggesting that something might have gone wrong at the Holy Pillar, Airy recommends trying again by awakening the crystals once more. The party agrees since they cannot think of another option.
Gradually, the characters begin to realize something isn't quite right. While they continuously awaken the crystals and active the Holy Pillar, the result is always the same. Once more they arrive at another parallel world and once more they embark on a brand new quest to save it. Through the many exchanges and battles between our heroes and the forces of the so-called evil Eterian Empire, it becomes clear that their journey is self-defeating.
This is where important facts are revealed that change the context behind the player's actions. The party was never saving the world. Airy was, in fact, tricking them into doing the exact opposite. "Awakening" the crystals overloaded them with so much energy that they were spiraling out of control. Appearing as a Holy Pillar, this excess power was constantly being harnessed by Airy to rip holes in the fabric of space-time. Each time, these holes took the form of Great Chasms where the village of Norende once stood. With enough Luxendarcs linked together, Airy could use them to summon her dark god, who wished to devour worlds for power.
While it seemed at first like the Eternian Empire was trying to stop the protagonists because they are the designated bad guys, the truth is that they were just to stop them from making a terrible mistake. Almost 2000 years before the events of the game, an Agnes from a different parallel world had warned them of what happened to her. Just like our heroes, her friends were tricked by Airy into awakening the crystals, and she had attacked them all once they outlived their usefulness. Her wounds fatal, that world’s Agnes had just enough time to enter the Holy Pillar and appear to warn a future world of their eventual fate. This story, passed down from one ruler to the next even since, had motivated the Empire’s current lord to marshal his forces against the current party. There was no evil plan here. Like our heroes, they only wanted to do what they could to save the world, only they actually had the correct information, researched and retold for centuries.

With this plot twist, Bravely Default makes two big critiques. The first of them is of the very JRPGs of which it takes inspiration. In those games, the heroes rarely ever questioned the morality of the quests they embarked on. Scarcely did they so much as take a minute to analyze a situation to see if acting would even be the right thing to do. Their heroism is born more of moral luck than any virtue they may have. When pressed into an uncomfortable or unfortunate situation, the first person they speak to just so happens to have the same noble goals, and sets them on the path to do right.
It is just as likely that the protagonists talk to an individual with less noble goals. Such a person could quite easily use the party's ignorance to further their own ends. In Bravely Default, our main cast has the best of intentions in attempting the close the Great Chasm and save the world. However, like those before them, they had failed to understand exactly what they were getting themselves into, granting Airy the opening she needs to use them as pawns. When the forces of the Eternian Empire attempt to convince the team that they are putting the world in danger, nothing short of direct violence can get through, and even that does nothing to assuage their stubborn determination. These same traits are innate to many JRPG leads, and Bravely Default shows just how easily they are manipulated.

The other critique is aimed directly at the player. Over the course of the story, said player can awaken the crystals and summon the Holy Pillar a total of five times, yet only the first of these five are required by the plot. At that point, if the player is observant enough, they can attempt to sabotage a crystal awakening ceremony and stop Airy's plans, triggering an alternate ending where the dark god was never summoned. The player is not given explicit knowledge of this until the third cycle, where the protagonists themselves start to doubt their appointed task. Pressing on despite this knowledge will allow Airy to succeed, forcing the party to fight her god themselves.
Because the main plot allows the player to stop Airy in the second cycle, but only informs them of this in the third, it is likely that most (including myself), will voluntarily aid Airy even when they don't have to. Like the lead characters, the player will not even question whether or not what they are doing is right, blindingly going wherever they are told. Games like Bioshock have made similar points in the past, but it is one worth reiterating.

While Bravely Default uses the same language as and draws from older JRPGs, it uses them in a way that is more self-aware. It is able to criticize its spiritual predecessors in a way that, while not unique, forces the audience to think more about what they are doing and why. That alone sets it apart from other games in its genre. I hope Bravely Second is just as introspective as this when it finally comes to the west.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Interactive Friction: Watch_Dogs: Episode 2: Disproportionate Retribution

In this episode, we continue to explore the lengths of Aiden Pearce's depravity.

For those who are curious, this is the link to the Austin Walker article I brought up at the start of this episode.

It ties in well to the overall point that we make in this episode about the game's sense of morality. I once wrote my own piece about how the game's systems make Aiden Pearce out to be an amoral individual. He can only fight crime through violent means, and his only way of interacting with civilians is to steal their money.

Another example comes from this very episode. When Nikki gets that threatening call, Aiden Pearce goes after the caller despite his sister's warning that he really shouldn't. In order to follow this guy, we steal a car and commit several thousands of dollars in property damage to the city, and a couple of vehicles. Even if we assume nobody got hurt aside from our target, there is no denying that Aiden Pearce is at least putting random, yet innocent people in danger.

Yet the best part of it all is that in the end, when we leap on the guy and snap his neck, the game declares it to be "Justifiable Force", and awards us with positive reputation. According to Watch_Dogs, it is "justifiable" to steal a car, cause wanton destruction, and murder a person if said person is guilty of nothing more than making a threatening phone call.

The person we killed is, of course, not in the right. However, this is a case of disproportionate retribution. As scared as Nikki was, and as awful as it is to willingly terrify a random stranger for a small payout, it is not enough to be killed over, or even beaten up over. Despite this, the game has dubbed such retribution as morally acceptable.

Ladies and gents, THIS is our protagonist.

And I hate him so much!

Thursday, June 4, 2015

The Texture Pop: Episode 43: Episode With Soul

0:02:00 Gaming News
Metro 2033 and Last Light offer 1/3 of each game as demo
To answer Sam's question from the podcast, those demos are also available on console.
And here is the article about game controllers Sam was talking about.

Infinite Crisis is closing down
That did not take very long.

The Vita is now a legacy platform.
Which sucks, because it had a lot of potential. Sony can really suck sometimes.

0:32:40 Sam went to Momocon
Which I had never heard of until he mentioned it on Twitter. Considering how big it is, that's something I probably should know. It seems like a convention I would enjoy going to.
And here is the Giant Bomb Gal-Gun clip Sam and Chris were talking about.

0:45:00 Sam played The Witcher 1
Apparently it's okay, and somewhat sexist.

0:48:00 Sam finished Gravity Rush
It's a good showcase of what the Vita can do. As a game, it is distinctly lacking.

0:54:00 Sam finished the first Yakuza game.
And his thoughts on it can be found here.

0:55:55 Garrett has been playing Smite
League traitor...

1:01:50 Garrett watched Season 1 of "Rick and Morty"
I swear that I've heard that shows name before, but I can't remember where.

1:15:55 We talk about Steam's new refund policy.
And of course it has problems. To me, this is once again an issue where Steam has great intentions, but didn't fully think through the consequences of their action. For the record, we are in favor of Steam revamping the refund policy. We just feel that this isn't a good solution.

1:22:05 We talk about Demon's Souls (finally)
Even if you're not fan, the Souls games serve as really intriguing case studies in game design. The level and boss design, at least in Demon's Souls, were really top-notch. Though there is a lot of challenge, it's not hard if you take the time to learn the systems.
The Demon's Souls commentary that Sam talked about is here.

1:36:55 I played more Bravely Default.
Long story short: If you liked old-school Final Fantasy games, you will love Bravely Default.
I will also be writing an article to better explain the point I was trying to make about Bravely Default criticizing the standard JRPG plot.

1:44:30  I watched the Kill Bill movies.
I liked both movies, but I say that about most of the movies I watch. My opinion probably doesn't mean much of anything when it comes to movies.

1:50:41 Chris got Splatoon.
For the record, the "squid now, kid now" stuff is referencing this commercial.
We also spent this segment complaining about how terrible Nintendo has handled Amiibos. Nobody can find ANY of these goddamn Amiibos. It's so dumb how Nintendo can't seem to manufacture enough of them.

2:05:25 Sam, Chris, my friend Ryu, and myself have finished FUSE
And we are all just happy to have finished the game. Chris wants to beat it on hard, but I was happy to move it to my shelf.
As promised, here are the trailers for the original Overstrike concept, and the revamped FUSE concept.
Since we mentioned it, here is Hyper Bit Hero's video on the changes between both concepts.

2:21:55 Wrapping Up.
Remember, you can e-mail us at
We also have finally started Interactive Friction with Episode 0. Episode 1 is also available.
And, of course, don't forget Garrett's Twitch channel.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Interactive Friction: Watch_Dogs: Episode 1: A Better Noir

After all that teasing, we finally start the main event. Here is the first actual episode of the Watch_Dogs series.

I think it is pretty clear from the outset that neither Sam nor I enjoy this game. However, we believe that there is enough in the way of interesting critical conversation to warrant a season on the game.

And honestly, Aiden Pearce as the protagonist is a major reason why we hate this game. Throughout the game, he is the most selfish, self-centered, bitter, angry, ruthless, violent, and arrogant prick I have EVER played as. He makes Jason Dilweed look like goddamn Mother Theresa. This will be a recurring theme throughout the series, but this might not even be an issue if the game was better at acknowledging the flaws in his character, or make him suffer for it.

This has all the makings of a classic noir-story, or a Greek tragedy. Unfortunately, much like the case of Far Cry 3, Ubisoft failed to capitalize on the many interesting angles they could have gone.

If we start doing more Ubisoft, I wonder if that will become a recurring theme.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Interactive Friction: Watch_Dogs: Episode 0: The E3 Demo & Expectations

As I stated in my last post, today marks the start of the new season of Interactive Friction, covering Watch_Dogs. But before we get to the game proper, Sam had the idea to do an episode talking about the initial E3 reveal.

The point here was to outline what we expected from the final product after watching this trailer. Hopefully, this should give more context to many of the points we will be making throughout the season.

What I find most interesting is just how different Aiden Pearce is here compared to the actual game. Even though it sounds like the same actor, he sounds so much better without the gravely voice. He's also noticeably more personality is these few minutes than he does for most of the story in the main game. It makes me wonder exactly why Ubisoft changed him around so much. Do they legitimately think that the asshole in the main game is more palatable than the man from the trailer? Is that really what focus testers said?

There are many other differences, some subtle and others more overt, that are really obvious in hindsight. I'm curious as to what everyone else though when they saw this, as I suspect Sam and I are far from the only ones who felt as we did.

The actual game will start on the next update. Stay tuned, internet-goers!