Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Hitman (2016) - Episode 31 - You Boint The Re-Soi-To!

Another week, another Elusive Target. This time, we take out a character who is legally distinct from TV's Gordon Ramsay.

In today's video, I made a slight error. I had said that both where the target goes, and what he does at each location, is semi-random. In truth, The Chef's routine, in terms of where he goes, is set. He will visit each location in the same order every time. That said, what he does at each location is semi-random. The idea is that players need to improvise, since they can't know what he's going to do.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Hitman (2016) - Episode 30 - Kill of Fortune

Welcome to the end of the Summer Bonus Episodes.

I'm still very impressed with how much effort had to have been put into making these Summer Bonus Episodes. They're obviously much more limited in scope when compared to regular story missions, but it's also obvious that a lot of love when into them.

We're be doing some more Elusive Targets in the next few weeks to come. I hope to see you then.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Hitman (2016) - Episode 29 - Down the Wrong Pipe

In our return trip to Marrakesh, we meet and murder new and fascinating people in the second of two Summer Bonus Episodes.

I've said Hitman is a lot of trial-and-error in the past, where players are supposed to poke around and learn what they are and are no able to do without getting caught. That means for every success, there are many, many failures. This episode and the next are really good examples of that.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

#108: How Watch_Dogs 2 Made a Monster Out of Me

(Spoiler Alert: Major spoilers for the plot to Watch_Dogs 2)
Marcus Holloway is a good kid. Through circumstances out of his control, he was pegged by ctOS's predictive crime algorithm as the likely suspect in crimes he was in no way responsible for. Though scarred by this incident, and left with a certain rage against the machine, he has never once lost his glib charisma and sense of morality. Armed with naught but a Stun Gun and a billiard ball attached to a rope, Marcus is on a mission not to punish, not to kill, but to expose. Rather than blindly take his anger out on others, like a certain someone before him, he seeks to show people the faults and risks with relying on surveillance technologies to keep the streets safe.
I am Marcus Holloway, and this is the lens from which I view the world.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Hitman (2016) - Episode 28 - Tens of Dudes!

In the middle of the Hitman season, Episode 4 took IO Interactive longer to release than they thought it would. As an apology, they release two bonus missions, reusing the maps of Sapienza and Marrakesh. Today, we'll go through the Bonus Episode in Sapienza.

Worth noting is that these missions would probably have never been created if it weren't for the fact that Hitman (2016) is episodic. The only reason IO felt compelled to make them was because Episode 4 was going to be a month late.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Hitman (2016) - Episode 27 - Grand Final-ish?

Our time in Japan, and with the story in Season 1, comes to an end.

Aside from the gimmick that this is a highly secured facility where 47 cannot bring in any equipment, this mission also has the gimmick that every outfit has an RFID chip. The AI running this facility scans the chip when the player approached a door to determine whether or not they have permission to go through.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Kingdom Hearts Primer - Chain of Memories - Episode 8 - Darkness Too Stronk

Our journey with Chain of Memories ends here!

Talking after Sam finished editing this episode, he mentioned how surprised he was that the story wrapped up so quickly. In the very same game that Riku faces the angst over what he's done and the darkness in his heart, he kills Ansem and resolved to use both light and darkness for the forces of good.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Kingdom Hearts Primer - Chain of Memories - Episode 7 - The Real Protagonist

Now that Sora's out of the way, Riku can finally take center stage.

The strangest part of Riku's role in the grand story of Kingdom Hearts is that he and Sora almost trade places in terms of their narrative arcs.

In the first game, the most significant plot twist is that Sora was never meant to wield the keyblade. The weapon was supposed to go to Riku, but latched onto Sora instead when Riku fell into the darkness. Sora assumed he was the chosen wielder, and became the hero of light with his actions. Eventually, through deeds, not destiny, Sora proved himself to be the better keyblade master.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Hitman (2016) - Episode 26 - Achy Breaky Heart

Here it is, the final story mission. Not the end to our time with Hitman, but it does feel like a finale of sorts.

(BTW, I looked up Situs Inversus, and it is an actual medical condition.)

I thought it was a bold move to restrict the items that 47 can bring in with him to just his suit and whatever smuggling locations the player has unlocked. This means that players can't rely on what items they prefer to bring in with them. They must instead focus on the mechanics and the systems that they (in theory) have spent 5 other story missions learning and mastering.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Kingdom Hearts Primer - Chain of Memories - Episode 6 - A Phantom Promise

This Phantom Promise just keeps hurting...

In this episode, Sam makes a comment that if Sora went off and took a beach vacation somewhere, it's possible that the Organization would end up killing itself without his help. There's more truth to that than we'd be able to get into with Chain of Memories. It's something I'll be waiting to talk about later.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Hitman (2016) - Episode 25 - One Boom, Two Kills

Today, we wrap up "The Ex-Dictator"

In the previous episode, we spent most of the time answering the question of "How are we going to approach the target without being detected?". Now that the question's been answered, two new ones open up:

"How do I kill these two?" and "How will I get out once the deed is done?"

Monday, December 5, 2016

Kingdom Hearts Primer - Chain of Memories - Episode 5 - Chronic Backstabbing Syndrome

Do you constantly find yourself staring at your friends back, wondering exactly what knife would be best suited for plunging into it? If so, call your doctor right away, as you might have Chronic Backstabbing Syndrome.

It's amusing to watch Sam ask all these questions as we go through the series. It's not the exact same as a newcomer going through the series with fresh eyes, since he has played Kingdom Hearts 1 and 2 before. But he played them so long ago, and never touched any of the other games in the franchise, so it's close enough to serve as a good facsimile.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Kingdom Hearts Primer - Chain of Memories - Episode 4 - Title Drop

This room looks familiar...

Kingdom Hearts has this problem of building up a ton of cool premises that could lead into really fascinating philosophical and sociological musings... and then dropping them like lead weights before they've really had time to develop. Worse, they often just refuse to capitalize on them.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Hitman (2016) - Episode 24 - Trepidation

Another Elusive Target: "The Ex-Dictator"

This Elusive Target is noteworthy for two reasons.
  1. This Elusive Target is the very first target to take place in the hotel in Bangkok
  2. It is also the first one to have two targets.
Since players can no longer retry an Elusive Target once any one objective has been complete (in this case, if either of the two targets is eliminated), the most obvious way to minimize risk was to eliminate both targets at the same time. That way, there is no time where I cannot retry while a target is still on the loose.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Kingdom Hearts Primer - Chain of Memories - Episode 3 - This Room Looks Familiar

This game is just filler.

One thing that we point out in this episode is just how strange the script sounds when delivered by these voice actors.

I don't fault the actors themselves, or even the voice direction. The actual performances aren't bad at all. When you hear them in other games, with better scripts, it's even easier to take notice. But this script just doesn't read very well.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Hitman (2016) - Episode 23 - A Simple Hit

Today, we undertake a new Elusive Target: "The Identity Thief"

With all the Elusive Targets, I have noticed that a very large percentage of them take place in the Paris map. To a degree, that makes a lot of sense. Paris is the first map they released, and it comes with the Intro Pack, which otherwise only includes the tutorial. This means that if all a player purchased was the intro pack, then they still have a chance to wet their feet with a Elusive Target or two before they drop money on the rest of the experience.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Kingdom Hearts Primer - Chain of Memories - Episode 2 - Darkness. Darkness. DARKNESS!

Today, we rediscover how much filler is in this goddamn game.

Since we don't have much to say regarding the events of the story, I'm going to instead talk about why I personally don't care that AtRiley didn't include any of the individual world's storylines.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Kingdom Hearts Primer - Chain of Memories - Episode 1 - Visiting Oblivion

Welcome back to the Kingdom Hearts Primer. This time, we've moved on to Chain of Memories.

Thanks again to AtRiley for allowing us to use his cut for our purposes.

There's not much to say about the overall story yet, because even in a story that's largely build-up to Kingdom Hearts 2, most of the first half of Chain of Memories is just build-up to the plot twists in the second half.

Also, Sam and I apologize for even suggesting the Kingdom Hearts drinking game. We love you guys, and we would very much like for you to not die of blood alcohol poisoning.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Hitman (2016) - Episode 22 - Eluded Target

If the title of this episode has you confused, my attempt at "The Fixer" was... less than ideal.

I'll be honest with you, I was really bummed that I bungled that mission at the end.

But in hindsight, it's good that I was able to capture that on camera, to demonstrate the true finality of these Elusive Targets. Because of my failure, I will never be able to succeed at "The Fixer", even though I know exactly what I did wrong and how I can correct my mistake if I could have a second chance.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Hitman (2016) - Episode 21 - My First Mistake

Today, we take another look at Elusive Targets with "The Fixer".

The tricky part of an Elusive Target is that players can restart as many time as they want until they complete an objective.

IO allows players to restart because they want to offer them the opportunity to scout out the area and how the Elusive Target interacts with the otherwise established NPCs and routines. If they make a mistake during the approach, or if they learn some new information that gives them a new possible approach, they can even go back to the planning stages to account for it.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Kingdom Hearts Primer - Chain Of Memories - Trailer

Welcome to the next installment of our Kingdom Hearts Primer. This time, we cover the game that begat many of the concepts that confuse the hell out of people trying to get into Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories.

We hope you look forward to this as much as we look forward to presenting it, with the aid of our video source: AtRiley.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Hitman (2016) - Episode 20 - The Plot Thickens

And now, we end our little escapade in Colorado.

The story of Hitman has always been a precarious position. As a series, Hitman has always been gameplay first. While a story exists, and there is a canon for the series, it has never been an important part of the series.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Hitman (2016) - Episode 19 - Face Off

Starring John Travolta and Nick Cage...

To elaborate on a point I was making in the middle of this episode regarding the online nature of this game.

When players launch Hitman (2016), the game will immediately attempt to connect with I/Os servers. If the game fails to connect, then the player can still continue to play the game, but in "Offline Mode".

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Hitman (2016) - Episode 18 - Intel Gathering

Welcome to Colorado, one of the most interesting missions in the game.

In hindsight, after taking this footage and playing Colorado many times afterward, the most striking thing about it is just how small the level actually is.

I talked a bit in this episode about how the episodic model can, in some unexpected ways, hamper the level design. Because new story missions have to be large enough to justify the month or so wait between episodes, and have enough content to tide players over until another episode is released, they tend to be fairly large.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Hitman (2016) - Episode 17 - Fully Escalated

Today, we finish our discussion on Escalation Contracts and the "stack" of Hitman.

Last time, I talked about how Escalations help Hitman players improve their improvisational skills and ability to adapt to new conditions on old missions.

Each level of an escalation adds a new condition, which could be anything from a new target to a level change, or even something as simple as forcing players to hide the bodies. No matter what this condition is though, it must build on top of the old map and the old objectives.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Hitman (2016) - Episode 16 - Non-Death Failure

And now, we get to talk a bit about Escalations in Hitman.

Continuing from where I left off last time...

In his article about the success of Hitman, Kirk Hamilton posits that Escalations help players master small subsections of a given map, and he's not wrong. However, I would add that they add a more important tool to the repertoire of the Hitman player.

That is: They add the element of improvisation and planning to Hitman.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Hitman (2016) - Episode 15 - Contractual Obligations

Today, we explore the contracts mode in Hitman.

I got the idea for making both this and the Escalation contract episodes (yes, plural) after reading an opinion piece from Kirk Hamilton on Kotaku. In the piece, he talks about the what I have come to call the "stack" of Hitman, which I also eluded to in my episodes on Elusive Targets. Hamilton and I agree on the overall layout of the stack but not necessarily what every piece of it does.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Kingdom Hearts Primer - Kingdom Hearts 1 - Episode 13 - Worlds Apart

At long last, we have arrived at the first finale of our Kingdom Hearts Primer.

It's a shame that Gamer's Little Playground had to change the music in the end for copyright reasons, because that finale had me bawling as a child.

There's not much more that I can add to our commentary on this episode. A lot went on, but not many details need to be elaborated on in these notes.

Next up will be Chain of Memories. Gamer's Little Playground didn't have a video for it at the time, so we used one from another YouTuber named "AtRiley". I hope you enjoyed this first part of the series.

If you have any questions about Kingdom Hearts 1, feel free to leave them in the comments of either the video or this post. Please note that questions for later games should be saved for when we do the primers on them.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Hitman 2016 - Episode 14 - Rubber Ducky, You're the One!

And today, we finish what we started with our Elusive Target.

Finding the target in an Elusive Contract isn't always easy. Because players don't have the benefit of seeing the target with Instinct, they need to rely on the details given in the briefing in order to search for them. Or, if they're like me, just kinda fumble around until they randomly stumble into them.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Kingdom Hearts Primer: Kingdom Hearts 1: Episode 11: Rivals

Welcome back to the main plot.

I know we've spoken about the big twist well before it came into play here, but I still think it's a really great moment. The big reveal that Sora was *never* supposed to be the hero. His status as a keyblade bearer, and his numerous successes, can be attributed to a happy accident.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Hitman 2016 - Episode 13 - The Elusive Woman

Today, we give one of the Elusive Targets a shot.

On occasion, re-watching these videos in order to do the post-commentary is a lot like watching someone play Dark Souls. I can see all the mistakes being made with so much more clarity than I'd even have been able to in the moment. Things that look like they are possible in the moment can be seen, once your one level removed from the action, as the needlessly difficult/impossible tasks that they are.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Kingdom Hearts Primer: Kingdom Hearts 1: Episode 10: Big Ben Uchiha

And now, back to plot!

Sora and Riku serve as very good foils for each other. Both are essentially after the same thing. All they want to do is rescue Kairi and go off on awesome adventurers with cool people.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Kingdom Hearts Primer: Kingdom Hearts 1: Episode 9: Dimension The Dice!

Today, we arrive at the best world in the game:

This is another one of those episodes where he just kinda have some fun with it, because not much plot is going on.

But it does have some cool moments, like the touture chamber and manor boss fights. The former of which is probably my favorite boss in the game.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Hitman (2016) - Episode 12 - They Never Get Passed 27

Happy 27th birthday to Jordan Cross, may it be his last....

So the reason I opted not to use lethal poison in this episode is an interesting one. In order to get Silent Assassin, the following conditions need to be fulfilled:

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Kingdom Heart Primer: Kingdom Hearts 1: Episode 8: Riku Was Right

This time, we go Under the Sea in Atlantica.

I don't have much to say about this level, surprisingly enough.

There some interesting parallels between Ariel's desire to explore other worlds and the same desire that started Sora, Riku, and Kairi's original journey. Even better, the writers saw fit to highlight it and bring it into focus. So while nothing here directly advances the overall plot, it does tie into it on a thematic level.

Shame Kingdom Hearts 2 really pissed all that away...

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Hitman (2016) - Episode 11 - Room Service Revenge

Welcome to Bangkok,

Hotel missions have always had their place in the Hitman games. As far as I can remember, every single Hitman game has had a mission in a hotel. And it's not hard to see why something so innocuous would become a bit of a staple in IO Interactive's repertoire.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Kingdom Hearts Primer: Kingdom Hearts 1: Episode 6: Filthy Anime References

This time, we get down in dirty in the deserts of Agrabah.

Not much for me to add on top of what he say here. Agrabah is an important world because that's where we learn about the princesses of heart, and of the villains' ultimate goal of "opening the door."

It also helps cement Riku's character as the rival who turned evil.

But we'll to those points in another episode.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Hitman (2016) - Episode 10 - A Matter of Principal

And our time in Marrakesh comes to an end...

It's been strange playing Hitman for an audience, but not in the way that you'd think. After spending so much time playing games for YouTube, both with Sam on Interactive Friction, and solo with my Blood Money LP, I've gotten much more used to talking into a microphone knowing others will one day hear and edited version of it.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Kingdom Hearts Primer: Kingdom Hearts 1: Episode 5: Plain Jane

Today, we monkey around in the Deep Jungle.

If you've been following the stories of each individual worlds in Kingdom Hearts 1, you'll notice that none of them thus far have been straight copies of the movies. While each of them do use the same characters and set-pieces from those movies, they are remixing them in a way that re-contextualizes them to make more sense in the context of Kingdom Hearts.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Hitman (2016) - Episode 9 - Lights, Camera, Moose!?

Welcome to Marrakesh, where we stop a government coup just because someone would lose money if it went through.

Marrakesh is roughly the same size of Sapienza, but it never gives off that the impression that it's as big. There's a good reason for that.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Kingdom Hearts Primer: Kingdom Hearts 1: Episode 4: Sora Shrugged

We go to Olympus Colosseum, and I somehow make an Ayn Rand joke...

To fill out what was left out of this series, after we finish up in this world, we return later to participate in more tournaments and eventually kick the crap out of Hades. Later, Sephiroth appears, but that's not canon. We don't come back here, so I might as well get it out of the way for completion's sake.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Kingdom Hearts Primer: Kingdom Hearts 1: Episode 3: Fools in Wonderland

In this episode, we grow small to visit Wonderland.

Just to make our respect for her clear, we want to point out once more that the voice actress, Kathryn Beaumont, is still voicing the same character that she's been voicing since 1951.

Also, get used to me saying "I actually really like this boss fight," because I end up saying it a lot over the course of this series. Each one of these boss fights has it's own gimmick that separates them from the others. As a result, each one of them feels fresh and interesting, even if you've played the game multiple times (like I have).

To appropriate an overused phrase, "It's like Dark Souls".

Thursday, October 6, 2016

newdarkcloud talks about YouTube's Content ID

I want to talk about content ID. Starting from 2:25 and ending at 3:17 of this episode of Hitman (2016), I hide in a coffin in a morgue, attached to a church. During this time, an angelic song plays in the background.

newdarkcloud plays Hitman (2016) - Episode 8 - A Virus Names Foxdie

Our time in Sapienza comes to an end...

The episodic nature of this game is pretty unique. Until this game came out, the only time the episodic model was seen was in the likes of Telltale's adventure games and others like them. Developers didn't try to use that model in other products. Alan Wake had "episodes", but it was still one full retail game on release.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Kingdom Hearts Primer: Kingdom Hearts 1: Episode 2: Are Gunblades Cool?

Our recounting of the Kingdom Hearts series continues as we destroy the Destiny Islands and beat up Final Fantasy characters.

In this episode, we compare Sora and Riku to Naruto and Sasuke. This is a more apt comparison then we expected it to be in the episode, and we actually end up making that comparison again several times in the primer for Kingdom Hearts 1.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

newdarkcloud plays Hitman (2016) - Episode 7 - Pizza Pasta!

After our fabulous performance in Paris, we head to Italy for some much a needed vacation... and murder.

After this episode, I looked up the use of the Modern Lethal Syringe, just in case I had missed a good, or at least an interesting, use for it.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Kingdom Hearts Primer: Kingdom Hearts 1: Episode 1: The Unchosen One

Welcome ladies and gentleman. Interactive Friction returns once more. Sam and I have a new idea for a series, and today we're excited to share it with you.

So here's the setup: After Sam, Taylor, and I recorded the Hyperdimension Neptunia episode, the topic of Kingdom Hearts came up. Sam told me at this point, that although he played Kingdom Hearts, he didn't understand much of the plot to it.

As someone who is a huge fan of the franchise, I know a lot about the lore of Kingdom Hearts. In the middle of answering some of Sam's questions about the franchise, we realized the could make a whole series about this, so we did.

But then we came at an impasse, for neither one of us wanted to play Kingdom Hearts for the channel. That's when the idea of taking someone else's hard work and using it for our purposes. Fortunately, Miguel, javihavi, and Knowledge from Gamer's Little Playground gave us permission to use their work, so it's technically not stealing. (In all seriousness though, thank you generous souls who let us use your work.)

And so we set off on our journey across the Disney worlds. However, this is intended to be a series explaining the plot and lore behind Kingdom Hearts. So if you guys have any questions about Kingdom Hearts, or want anything clarified, feel free to ask. 
Please note though, that we will eventually be going through every single game in the franchise. That means that if your question is regarding a subject introduced in a future game, I will hold off on answering them until we cover those games.

With that said, enjoy. :)

Friday, September 30, 2016

newdarkcloud plays Hitman (2016) - Episode 6 - Phantom of the Fashion Show

And now, for a funny little diversion.

Though this episode does show off a little bit of what I was talking about last episode, in truth this was just an excuse to have a little bit of fun.

In case anyone thinks that Hitman is a serious game for serious people, show them this episode. Trust me, it'll teach'em.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

newdarkcloud plays Hitman (2016) - Episode 5 - "F" For Fabulous

We... look.... FABULOUS!

The feedback loop for this game is one of its smartest systems, because it encourages exactly the kind of behavior gives the player the best possible "Hitman" experience.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Kingdom Hearts Primer Announcement + Hitman Schedule Shift

Ladies, gentleman, and all other persuasions, we at Interactive Friction are pleased to announce our new project. That's right, Sam and I are back at it!

Welcome.... to Kingdom Hearts.

A long while back, Sam and I were talking about how he didn't really understand the plot to Kingdom Hearts, while I did. So, in anticipation of Kingdom Hearts 3, we decided to do a series on the plot of the series, such as it stands.

Monday, September 26, 2016

newdarkcloud plays Hitman (2016) - Episode 4 - Dressing As The Stars

Welcome to the Paris fashion show: Home to chic design and fabulous murder.

One of the things I am grateful to Absolution for is that it forced IO Interactive to seriously improve on the sneaking/stealth mechanics of Blood Money. Where we once had this terrible binary of "detected/not detected", there now exists a ton of states and transitions between those states.

Friday, September 23, 2016

newdarkcloud plays Hitman (2016) - Episode 3 - Checkmate

Today, we finish the tutorial.

There's some dispute over whether or not this section can be treated as part of the tutorial. I lean on the side that it is part of the tutorial, because it makes sense if you treat like a further escalation on the Freeform Training.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

newdarkcloud plays Hitman (2016) - Episode 2 - Simulated Drowning

Welcome to the smartest Hitman tutorial IO has ever made.

I really can't stress how smart a decision this was for the tutorial. While any tutorial can be used to introduce the basic mechanics, the mechanics themselves are only half of a Hitman game.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

newdarkcloud plays Hitman (2016) - Episode 1 - Murder Comedy

Welcome, my friends, to a World of Assassination.

I never went through the tutorial for Blood Money when doing the LP for it, and there's a very specific reason for that. Said tutorial is so poorly done that it makes my blood boil ever more than the White House mission.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

newdarkcloud plays Hitman: Blood Money - Episode 12 (Finale) - No Witnesses

Anyone who knows about Blood Money knew this episode was coming, but it is the finale and the natural place to end an LP of the game.

I'm a little disappointed, because I was prepared to go into a large tirade about how difficult this gunfight is, because I died so many times to it.

But then I went and killed everyone the first time, without need to give it a second shot, ruining said tirade.

Like the White House, it's a cool idea. However, for it to really work, the player needs the ability to mow down all the mooks with little difficulty. I'd probably have given 47 extra defense or outfitted the enemies with weak weapons that don't do much damage.

Instead, it's just the usual guards and guns. Players will probably die countless times to it before they get it right.

Fortunately, this is all just a prelude to my next project. See you next time, when we play the new Hitman, which will start on Monday, September 19th.

Monday, September 12, 2016

newdarkcloud plays Hitman: Blood Money - Episode 11: Part 2 - None Of You Are Safe

We finish the worst, and final, mission in Hitman: Blood Money today:

Last time, I wrote about how awful it was that this level runs you through a linear sequence of rooms like the tutorial.

Friday, September 9, 2016

newdarkcloud plays Hitman: Blood Money - Part 11 - The Final Contract

Today, we break into the White House to stop the president from killing the Vice President:

With the exception of the tutorial, which is only linear so that it can teach players about the game's mechanics, this is the worst, most linear level in the entire game.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

newdarkcloud plays Hitman: Blood Money - Episode 10: Part 2 - An Angel Clips Its Wings

Today, we finish up our Vegas activities.

Another thing this mission highlights is the thrill of system/simulation-driven design. Every NPC in this mission has a set routine, and the player succeeds by recognizing those routines and exploiting them, either with disguise. Though he spoke about it in the context of Deus Ex, Mark Brown and Game Maker's Toolkit did a great video on it here.

Kingdom Hearts Primer: Kingdom Hearts 1: Episode 12: Sacrifices

Today, we talk about one of the most legendary scenes in Kingdom Hearts 1:

I've talked about my feelings regarding how Kingdom Hearts' combat feels more plausible than that of its sequels way back when I thought I was good at writing game reviews without scores. (Also, holy shit, that was two years ago.) Generally, the more like DBZ fight scenes become, the more I detached I get from the anime/game I'm watching/playing. There's nothing wrong with those kinds of fights, and they look really cool, but they don't have the same weight to me.

The other thing we really need to talk about is Kairi's place in the game.

Monday, September 5, 2016

newdarkcloud plays Hitman: Blood Money - Episode 10: Part 1 - The Devil is in the Details

Today, we return to Vegas in order to have a party.

This mission is a great example of how Hitman uses it's disguise system to create interesting scenarios. Each section of the level is governed by it's own set of disguises. In a sense, you can treat each costume as a "key" to getting to a different part of the level.

Shame I screw up so bad that I kinda ruin it.

Friday, September 2, 2016

newdarkcloud plays Hitman: Blood Money - Episode 9 - The Ultimate Gamble

You know what they say: What happens in Vegas stays in body dumps!

Back when Hitman: Absolution came out, people (rightfully) got angry over some of the strange marketing decisions made. Most notable, was the reveal of The Saints, assassins in bondage suits who disguised themselves as nuns.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

newdarkcloud plays Hitman: Blood Money - Episode 8 - Shotgun Wedding

Another episode in Mississippi, this time we go to murder a groom and his would-be father-in-law at a his wedding.

Like the birthday party in Episode 4, this is another small, but dense level filled with murderous possibilities.

On top of that the implications that the bribe is also the client adds a neat level of intrigue to the whole mission. Not much to say about it, but it's at least worth noting.

Monday, August 29, 2016

newdarkcloud plays Hitman: Blood Money - Episode 7 - Blood on the Bayou

Today, we get down and dirty in the swamps of Mississippi:

Back in the Mardi Gras mission (Episode 5: Part 1) I discussed the problem Blood Money has where guards exist in a binary. They either shoot you on sight or are completely unaware of any danger.

Friday, August 26, 2016

newdarkcloud plays Hitman: Blood Money - Episode 6: Part 2 - Have a Holly, Jolly Hitman

Let's try this again....

To clarify my point, when I say that the game manipulates you into thinking like a psychopath like Agent 47, I don't mean that as a negative criticism of the game.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

newdarkcloud plays Hitman: Blood Money - Episode 6: Part 1 - Hot Tub Murder Machine

This next one is short, but I promise to make up for it.

It only occurs to me now, but they could easily solve that subtitle problem by just shifting the subtitles down into the black space under the cutscenes. They're half-in and half-out of the shot.

Monday, August 22, 2016

newdarkcloud plays Hitman: Blood Money - Episode 5: Part 2 - Late to the Murder Party

Welcome to the party. I hope you remembered your chicken suit.

One thing I noticed about this mission after watching the tape is that the chicken suits serve an second purpose, other than just being a joke.

Friday, August 19, 2016

newdarkcloud plays Hitman: Blood Money - Episode 5: Part 1: Mardi Fail

And thus we begin one of the most well known and loved missions in Hitman: Blood Money.

This video talks a lot about one of the problems in Blood Money, and that's how quickly guards are willing to open fire on you.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

newdarkcloud plays Hitman: Blood Money - Episode 4 - Poking, Prodding, and Used Panties

You've been invited to a very special day. It's the day where Suzie's dad dies during her own birthday party...

This is without a doubt my personal favorite mission in the game. Though the actual house is small, there's so much going on within that house that you'd be surprised. There are donut-loving FBI Agents, seductive housewives, used panties, pool boys, waiters, and even a party clown. And any or all of them could come into play during the mission.

Monday, August 15, 2016

newdarkcloud plays Hitman: Blood Money - Episode 3: Part 2 - Clinical Aggression

In this episode, we redeem our failures from the previous run:

You can kinda see the genesis of the Contracts Mode that I/O Interactive introduced in Hitman: Absolution (and Hitman 2016 later) here. Even though we have a clear, primary target to take out, we also have two other targets that provide bonuses.

Friday, August 12, 2016

newdarkcloud plays Hitman: Blood Money - Episode 3: Part 1 - Bad and Wrong Hitman

In this episode of Hitman: Blood Money, we save one dude in order to murder three.

...or we would if I didn't screw it up.

I'm really glad that I messed up the way I did though, because this is a lot of what Hitman ends up being. You try one method, make some mistakes, and learn from them. Then, armed with what you learned the last time, you try something new. This process keeps going until you can make stunning assassinations flawlessly. Going back to that video I mentioned in the last episode, this is a good demonstration of that.

Next time, I manage to do this right...

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

newdarkcloud plays Hitman: Blood Money - Episode 2 - Assassin of the Opera

In this episode, we enter the opera house to enjoy the show... and murder some people!

In order to elaborate a point I made in the episode, this game operates on a "realistic surrealism". What I meant by that is that the things that Agent 47 can do are completely absurd in the context of real life. There's no way that his disguises should work, and many of the props in the game (like the over-sized laundry bins and trash cans) are deliberately created out of proportion to facilitate gameplay.

Monday, August 8, 2016

newdarkcloud plays HItman: Blood Money - Episode 1 - Mistakes Were Made

Another new series for you guys, and this time it's just me, going solo. I'll be running through and talking a bit about Hitman: Blood Money.

To start off, I should acknowledge the absolutely terrible quality of my audio during this recording. Unfortunately, by the time I started editing these videos, I made already completed three assassinations.

I also admit that I found it extremely hard to keep the dialog going. I'm used to playing off other people after all the many projects I've been involved with. Without that buffer, I suffered a bout of stage-fright and just kinda went blank. It's something I hope to practice and iron out the more I do these solo LPs.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

#107: Dark Souls 3: The Absence of Hostility and Loneliness

I have written about my experiences playing From Software's “Soulsborne” games a couple of times on this blog. For that reason, I can distinctly recall my time in these games, which colored my expectations going into Dark Souls 3. To my surprise, and somewhat to my disappointment, the game didn't feel the way I expected it to. Though it certainly is a shining example of what could be described as a Souls game, Dark Souls 3 felt different than its predecessors. 
As I explored the desolate lands of Boletaria and Lordran, there was a palpable sense of loneliness to the proceedings. It was as if I was cold and alone against a world out to kill me, with its bands of diverse and terrifying opponents setting their differences aside in a concerted effort to block my path and take my life. Despite in many ways going against those same odds, I never had that feeling of isolation and hostility in Dark Souls 3. Rather than a world against me, it felt as if every area was merely a stage for I and my fellow players.

Much of that simply stems from the fact that there are many more players in Dark Souls 3 than there were in previous Souls games I had played. My first runs of Demon's Souls and Dark Souls were both in the summer of 2015. By then, the games were 6 and 4 years old respectively. There were certainly stragglers like myself who were still engaged with them, but by and large most had already moved on to greener pastures. And even if people were playing these games, my efforts to work with them were minimal. In Demon's Souls, I spent almost the entire game in Soul form, preventing me from summoning phantoms to aid me. Likewise, I can count the number of bosses I defeated with other players on a single hand. My experiences in both games are mostly mine and mine alone. When push came to shove, I could only rely on myself to get out of a hairy situation.
I can't say the same thing when I look back on the total sum of my Dark Souls 3 experiences. Strangely, I was excited to, for once, be a part of the community as the game comes out, exploring it together with everyone. In a way, this ended up being counter to what I most enjoyed in its older siblings. Talking with my Twitter friends, being guided to secrets by random strangers, aiding other people and being aided in turn, these were all wonderful experiences in their own right. However, it meant that my journey was less a result of my own effort and accomplishments, and more the gestalt of all of those who joined me on my path. Random strangers who I will never know, and who will never know me, were all working together to achieve a common goal. Even when I was invaded/invading, it felt like a respectable contest between peers and less an attempt of one person to sabotage another. I could use many adjectives to describe my adventure, but “lonely” is not one of them.

The NPCs also seemed a lot more welcoming in Dark Souls 3 than they have been in the past. My runs of Demon's Souls and Dark Souls are marked by a sense that there weren’t many people in the world that would even think to assist me. Outside of the Nexus, I remember that non-hostile NPCs were scarce. It was at least 10 hours before I brought my first new NPC back to the Nexus with me. Until then, the ones I had encountered had either perished unceremoniously (sorry Ostrava), or actively screwed me over (which is why, to this day, I murder Patches every chance I get). Just finding a truly friendly face was a rare treat. The same can be said of Dark Souls. While there are certainly a few kind folks who inhabit the Firelink Shrine, most of them are battered and broken when you find them. And by the time I finished my journey, the most friendly of the lot, like Siegmeyer and Solarie, had met with terrible fates.
By contrast, in my first 10 hours of Dark Souls 3, I encountered a Robin Hood-esque thief, a young woman who knows miracles and her protector, an old pyromancer, a Darkmoon blade from the Sunless Realms, and Siegmeyer's more capable descendant. All of these people had offered their aid to me in some form, either as a vendor or a companion. Where friendly faces were rare before, they were quite common place now. I did not have to look far to find someone with a vested interest in my success. Far from the isolation I once felt, Dark Souls 3 provided an almost constant comfort by offering me my choice of assistants and allies.

Even though the abundance of other players and NPCs are large contributors to why I have lost that adventurous, yet isolating spirit of the previous games, there is another reason. At this point, I have played so many Souls games, and particularly so many Dark Souls games, that the mechanics and world are largely ingrained into my mind. When I was a new player braving the perils of Boletaria, and later Lordran, I often fell for the tricks and traps laid about. I would die to ambushes than I should have seen coming in hindsight. I spent many deaths learning each enemies attack patterns and figuring out the weaknesses therein. I crashed through broken boards and into traps that would be noted and avoided in the future. The designs of From Software were alien to me. Learning them was half of the battle, and half the fun.
Unfortunately, there's only so far the Soulsian “fair” ambushes can go before they reach the territory of just spawning in mooks in lieu of hiding them in creative ways. That's not necessarily From Software's fault, because it is infinitely easier for players to figure out their tendencies than it is for them to think of new ways to surprise those same players. But it does mean that I have gotten much better at predicting when an ambush is likely to happen than I used to be.
I don't remember ever being truly caught off guard while exploring the shattered remains of Lothric and the lands surrounding it. At the same time, I have a distinct memory of an archway in Irithyll of the Boreal Valley. I had not seen nor heard any enemies in the room on the other side, but I suspected that something was “off”. Looking down and to my left, I saw a ledge that I could easily reach by dropping down. Going into the hallway through the opening on this ledge, I climbed a ladder that lead me to the other side of the room beyond the archway, bypassing a group of enemies waiting to ambush me. By just following a slight “off” feeling, I had anticipated and subverted a snare that I would have easily fallen for before. At the time, I felt smart for having trusted my instincts. In hindsight, all I really did was just fall back on knowledge I had gained from 4 previous games' worth of experience. Not only wasn't I surprised by the enemies’ tricks, I couldn't be, because I had already fallen for them before.

Instead of making me believe I was a single man out against a world which wants nothing more than me to fail, Dark Souls 3 felt like reuniting with an old friend I hadn't seen in awhile. There's nothing inherently wrong with that quiet nostalgia. But the dreadful anxiety I experienced the first time, as I explored the worlds of Demon's Souls and Dark Souls, is a large part of why I fell in love with the franchise. As disappointing as it is, I'm not sure that one could ever adequately capture that atmosphere that drew me in when I first started Soulsborne. Though I want so badly to feel that isolation, that growing sense of isolation and excitement. I just don't believe it's possible given how large an influence Soulsborne has become. It's hard to feel alone and afraid when in the comfort of your home, surrounded by the old and familiar. These games have become as much a home to me as the house I live in, and that's exactly what I don't want them to be.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

#106: Breaking Bread: The Use of Food in Games

It is said that food is a universal language, and why wouldn't it be? After all, every living creature needs to eat to stave off death, if nothing else. But more than that, sharing a meal with other people is often a great way to socialize and form connections. Within the scope of my real life relationships, most of were forged, in part, while eating together. From the high school cafeteria to a night out at a restaurant, most people can readily recall eating out with friends and family. So then why is it that an activity as normal as dining with other people so rarely depicted in video games?
While I was in the middle of my playthrough of Bravely Second, I noticed that there were a plethora of scenes where the party got together and not only ate as a group, but talked about the various delicacies of the towns they visited. At first, I thought it was weird that such a small detail stood out to me. The more I pondered it, the more I realized that such scenes stood out because aside from the previous game and the Persona franchise there aren’t many other games where protagonists just eat together. That’s a shame, because there is so much potential in those little interactions for both character and world-building.

It is true that a lot of games utilize food in some way. Food is often used as a restorative item, like in Bioshock: Infinite, Fallout 3, and most survival games. However, food is frequently just something that the protagonist consumes for the enjoyment. In games like these, food is purely utilitarian. Players eat only to increase numbers. While there is certainly simulationist value in that, the more social aspects of dining aren't depicted in games as much.

And those social elements of dining can be valuable tools in the designer’s tool belt. Just like in real life, having characters eat together can serve as a catalyst for conversation. In Bravely Second, many dungeons will offer a point where players can set up camp and rest. Though the game incentivizes them by fully healing party HP/MP, they also show completely optional scenes where party members chat with each other -- often over a meal.
These scenes involve the cast opening up to each other about things going on in their lives and what kind of things they've seen on their journey. One scene in a dungeon crawling with ghosts and zombies has lead character Yew (Yes, “you”) Geneolgia lamenting his fear of ghosts. This fear is so great that his shoulders and back have become sore after all the tensing and crunching caused by wandering the halls of the under. With the ice on the topic broken, the others open up to share some of their fears and how (or if) they've learned ways to deal with them.
Persona 4 also has examples of this type uses dining as a venue for character interaction. Over the course of the game, the Investigation Team is often shown eating together, making idle small talk. Sometimes they talk about the latest developments in the homicide case, but often the subject will be things like upcoming exams, school trips, and other such mundane events. Seeing how each person in the group reacts to something like an upcoming exam can be a great window into their life. Watching Yosuke cringe at the prospect while Yukiko takes it in full stride tells me more than someone else calling them an idiot and a genius respectively. It isn’t necessary to have this conversation over a group meal, but having the party eat together makes it much easier to naturally have these moments.

Even if the party doesn't directly talk about themselves, often the kinds of foods they prefer can reveal a lot about them. In fiction, each culinary palate has a number of stereotypes classically associated with it. Writers can and will use these as shortcuts to tell their audiences more about the cast without having to waste time with exposition. Even if you don't think about them, you're probably at least aware of their presence. If I mentioned that Edea, one of the party members in Bravely Second, puts ketchup on many of the foods she eats, and prefers to eat extremely sweet or extraordinarily spicy foods, then you probably have an image of someone with an intense personality. Like the foods she eats, she tends toward the extreme in the her actions and reactions. Even if the game didn't show much of Edea outside of the scenes where the party dines together, this information could be gleaned just from her tastes.
Similarly, Persona 4 makes use of this narrative technique, but not quite in the same way. Generally, the better you are at cooking in Persona 4, the more self-reliant you are. People like the protagonist and Nanako, whose parents are rarely around, are able to cook so well that the others are left in awe at their culinary skill. Yet characters like Yukiko and Chie, who aren’t so self-reliant, are the worst cooks in the group, and their fellows will often go to great lengths to avoid consuming their “Mystery Food X”. Party members like Rise and Naoto, who tend to be fairly lonely even if interact with others regularly, tow a middle line in cooking skill. Rise can generally cook, but tends to overly spice and Naoto only knows enough to be able to follow instructions on the back of pre-packaged foods. Regardless, their skill at preparing great tasting food and their friends’ reactions to it reveal much about their home lives.

It feels strange pointing out the way writers can use the act of eating to tell us more about the teams they create, but examples are so few and far in between that I am compelled to do so. It’s easy to for a writer to just have a character tell their audience about themselves and the world around them. At the same time, it is one of the least engaging ways to present such information. I present this use of group dining as only one possible alternative to keep exposition to a minimum while still allowing for character and world-building. There are countless other ways to achieve the same end. I advocate exploring and making use of them as well.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

#105: Yu-Gi-Oh: King of Power Creep

(Note: This article assumes that you either know, or can look up, the basic rules to Yu-Gi-Oh!.)
Most of you out there know me for my opinions on video games. However, like most people, I have more than a single interest. Lately, I have been absolutely obsessed with the study of Collectible Card Game design. I've been playing a lot of them, and reading a ton about them. From the common pitfalls to the tricks used to improve the playing experience, and even how attract sales.
As a child, my experience with different collectible card games wasn't what one might expect. Even though it was (and is) one the top cards games of all time, I had never given Magic: The Gathering a fair shot. Yet as an fan of Saturday morning cartoons, I was a huge Yu-Gi-Oh! fan growing up. Naturally, that meant that I was also an avid player of the card game based on the anime. Even today, I see a certain charm to the game. That said, as I learn more about other card games like Magic: The Gathering and Hearthstone, the more I start to identify problems in my old fling. I tell you all of this so that you realize that what I'm about to say comes from a place of love: Yu-Gi-Oh! is a bad card game.

One of the biggest problems in Yu-Gi-Oh! is the unrelenting Power Creep that goes as more and more cards are introduced. Power Creep, for the unaware, is the process in which old cards are no longer played. Not because they are banned in tournaments, but because new cards are so much better than players who use the old cards are in an obvious disadvantage. To an extent, this is common among Collectible Card Games. What separates Yu-Gi-Oh! from the rest is just its prevalence. Among the people who have played for the long time, a common complaint is that the game, as it stands today, is significantly faster than it used to be. Back when it was first released, summoning even one monster with 2500 ATK or more was almost seen as a reward for successfully controlling the field long enough.
In comparison, with the newer cards, it is quite common to see multiple 2500+ ATK monsters on grace the field with the first couple of turns. Summoning a bunch in one turn is such a regular occurrence that Raigeki, a card that was on the original ban list since it started in 2004 and remained there for over a decade, is now legal once more. Way back when the ban list was first introduced, and effect that destroyed all of an opponent’s monsters put them at such a disadvantage that it was deemed too powerful for tournament play. At the time, there was even a running joke that Raigeki would likely never be unbanned. Now, tough monsters are so easy to summon that such an effect barely matters all that much. Yu-Gi-Oh! has become a textbook example of Power Creep for exactly this reason.

For a while, these changes couldn't really be classified as Power Creep, even if they were stronger than old mechanics. Synchro monsters were a good example of this. Because it's a lot easier to place Tuners and non-Tuners on the field than it is to get an exact combination of monsters and Polymerization in play, Synchro monsters were objectively easier and faster to summon than Fusion monsters. However, it is worth noting that Fusion monsters were incredibly rare to see in play. Aside from a few deck types, like Cyber Dragons, that relied on it, Fusion would rarely come up in either casual or competitive simple due to the abundance of other options. Synchro wasn't so much an example of Power Creep as much as it was a stronger version to an otherwise ineffective and unused mechanic.
The problems really started with the advent of XYZ monsters. Even with Synchros, it was hard to take advantage of their increased utility without formulating a deck around them. This drawback was completely lost on the XYZ monsters. To summon an XYZ monster, one would overlay multiple other monsters whose LV is equal to that monsters rank. The monsters used in the summoning would be attached to the XYZ monster as material, which can be normally detached in order to use their effects.
In competitive play, players do themselves a disservice if their Extra Deck contains any less than the 15 card maximum. Even if their deck would otherwise not take need to use XYZ in order to do well, the only gain a further advantage by having that option there. Unlike Synchros, the only requirement for an XYZ summoning is to have multiple of the same level in a deck. It is actually harder to think of decks that don't meet that condition that it is to think of ones that do. Since the vast majoring of XYZ monsters are also of Rank 4, and most monsters in the game are LV 4, this is doubly true. Because making use of this mechanic was such a no-brainer and required very little changes to most decks, players would need a very strong reason not to use them. This is a significant part of what people talk about when they use the phrase “Power Creep”.

And part of why this Power Creep unchecked is because Yu-Gi-Oh! lacks the concept of a standard format. In most competitive CCGs, as new sets are added to the game, old sets are both phased out and removed from tournament play. This means that at any given time, in the competitive scene, there are only a very specific number of sets in play.
While this is mostly done so that new players are free the baggage of thousands upon thousands of older cards, there is a dual purpose at work here. By working under the assumption that old sets will eventually be phased out, designers can work with a certain degree of freedom. They are able to take risks and implement new mechanics under the assumption that if they become unpopular, or worse, too powerful, they can just stop making cards the support that mechanic and slowly let it die as new sets are released. Magic: The Gathering has done this with a number of mechanics over the years, by simply not making or reprinting cards that use certain systems.
Yu-Gi-Oh! does not have this freedom, because sets are never rotated out. With the exception of individual cards that have been banned or limited, every card that has ever been released is still officially legal in competitive play. And despite having no mechanism to phase out poor mechanics, Konami continually experiments with new ones. It is inevitable that some of them will end up being objectively faster, or more effective, than their predecessors. With these better sets out in the wild, it's impossible to keep new cards balanced with respect to that which came before.
Collectible cards game are still businesses at their core. If no one wants to use the cards from the newest sets, then sales are going to drop. The simplest solution, that requires the least amount of effort, would then be to just make the newer sets even better than the old sets. In the case of Yu-Gi-Oh!, the absence of a standard format makes this even more obvious of a solution since cards don’t ever get phased out. When the next set gets released, if it’s cards aren’t even better than the last ones, we’ll suffer the same problem again. Through it’s very systems, Yu-Gi-Oh! has almost forced itself into a situation of sustained Power Creep. It’s worked for them over the past few years, but there’s only so much room to go. Konami is playing a dangerous game, and it had an immense negative impact on the Yu-Gi-Oh! meta-game, as it stands today.

Again, as someone who has played the game since I was in middle school, I will always have a certain fondness for Yu-Gi-Oh!. But despite, or maybe even because, of that fondness, I have massive problems with the current state of the game. Even worse, I don't know if there is even a good solution. If anything, Yu-Gi-Oh! serves as a cautionary tale for why CCGs need to be careful in game design and the introduction of new cards/mechanics. In hindsight, the Power Creep seen in its current state was not only obvious, but inevitable.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

#104: Far Cry Primal: Back to Basics

I have long bemoaned the “standard Ubisoft open-world game” that we've seen in most of the Assassin's Creed games, Watch_Dogs, and even The Crew. Far Cry is no exception to this pervasiveness, with Far Cry 3 and Far Cry 4 acting as prime examples. Too often, the vast number of petty tasks and collectibles fight for attention against whatever story these games are desperately trying to tell. On top of that, the sheer length and frequency of these beasts, left me with genre exhaustion. That's when I heard about Far Cry: Primal.
To me, the idea of Far Cry (which has traditionally been about first-person, mildly-stealthy shooters) quite literally going back to the Stone Age was very intriguing. I thought that it would make for a great Blood Dragon-esque $15 stand-alone. Then I learned that it was going to be a $60 game, and suddenly got very nervous. The idea of another full-fledged Ubisoft open-world game so soon was just not appealing to me. Since I remain part of the problem, I went ahead and -- despite my misgivings -- bought it anyway. As I played, my fears of another tired, drab, paint-by-numbers Far Cry experience were allayed. While there's no doubt that Far Cry: Primal is a tried and true Far Cry game, it demonstrates that there is merit to Ubisoft's signature open-world that has been overlooked until now.

The story of Far Cry: Primal almost hearkens back to the days where the plot to a video game was merely an excuse to go through the levels. The player character is a warrior from a tribe from 10,000 BCE. His clan is at war with the other two tribes in the region, a Northern cannibal clan that utilizes poison, and a group in the South that specializes in the use of fire. As the leader, the player character needs to strengthen his tribe and himself so that he can take out the leaders of the other two clans and claim the land of Oros, and its resources, for his people. In terms of the main story, that's it. Once the beginning tutorial sections are complete, the world opens up. At that point, by completing only a few mandatory missions, the player could, if they choose, almost immediately take out the other leaders and complete the main story. That said, doing so is extremely difficult, and most players won't be able to beat them with the equipment and skills they start out with. They must first grow stronger, and get to the point where they can comfortably defeat these chieftains. By participating in the open-world, players can acquire the experience, resources, and friends necessary to completing their ultimate objective.

Naturally, as a Far Cry game, the moment the world opens up, the map and UI reveal a ton of optional quests and objectives. By completing them, players earn experience and skill points. By spending skill points, they acquire new perks and skills and grow that much more capable. Though aside from the first few skill trees, most are locked from the start.
Among the many quests and events in the world are fellow tribesman who have been separated from the main group. Each of these tribesman specialize in a specific area, like hunting and craftsmanship. Once the player finds them and solves whatever problem they have, these specialists will relocate to the player's village. At that point, they will train the player in their talents, unlocking their skill tree in the upgrade menu.
More than skills, they also teach the player how to craft tools and weapons. Of course, knowing how to build them is one thing, but having the materials to do so is another. Building these items requires the player to scavenge and hunt for items like wood, stone, clay, and animal hides.

Those who have play previous Far Cry games are probably not surprised by this. Ubisoft has been using variants on these same mechanics for several years now. What separates Far Cry: Primal from the rest of their catalog is not the mechanics themselves. Rather, it is how they interact with each other and come together.
In other Ubisoft games, every element of the game is fighting for an ounce of attention. The story, the side quests, and the collectibles are all wholly distinct entities. None of them come together and they all demand that the player takes time away from the other elements to devote to them. As much as I praised it, Assassin's Creed: Unity had that problem in spades. There were so many objectives on the map that it was often hard to spot the architecture underneath the symbols.
This isn't the case in Far Cry: Primal. Rather than compete with the other elements, the story frames them. By presenting these two bosses as the ultimate end-game opponents, Primal immediately encourages players to acquire the skills to defeat them. Since these skills and are locked behind the specialists and reconstruction of the village, the first instinct will be to gather resources and recruit these experts. It is by allowing the story to exist largely in the background for most of the game, as this looming challenge to undertake, that the open world and the tasks within it are actually given their chance to shine.
More importantly, every element comes back together with the others at some point. By recruiting each expert, players unlock skills to purchase and items to craft. Unlocking new skill trees gives an incentive to travel the world and earn experience, and crafting gives a similar incentive to gather materials. The items and skills acquired then enable the player to tackle tougher challenger, until they are finally able to take down both rival tribes and end the game. Instead of fighting for the player's attention, each element of the game reinforces the desire and need for the player to engage with the other elements. This sense of design cohesion makes Far Cry: Primal a much stronger game than the previous two entries in the franchise.

The importance of all these elements coming together only occurred to me about 10 hours into my playthrough. At this point, I had finally worked up the courage to journey North and defeat the cannibal leader. That’s when I realized that this boss fight was the first genuine piece of main story content I had encountered since the beginning of the game.
If this was some other Ubisoft game, like Watch_Dogs, I would have been livid. Even though the side content exists for players to experience it, spending that much time without making forward progress would feel like a waste to me. That’s why in most of these open world games, I usually skip most of the side content, choosing to mainline the campaign. If I do optional objectives, it’s almost always in service of making my trek through the very next story beat easier, usually by revealing part of the map.
But I wasn’t angry. In fact, I looked back on those 8 or so hours of wandering Oros fondly. Everything I did felt like it had some purpose in preparing me for this, one of my 2 ultimate foes. And not only did I enjoy my time doing all of these tasks, but I was more engaged with them then I ever was in previous Ubisoft games. Before, I was actively avoiding the Shangri La hallucinations and stoner missions in Far Cry 4, or those accursed Eagle Feathers in Assassin’s Creed 2. Here, I was looking, actually looking, for animals to hunt, people to recruit, and things to do. This might not sounds like a big deal, but it’s more than I’ve gotten out most of the needless, pointless crap that litters so much square mileage of Far Cry: Primal’s ancestors.

I don't expect, or even necessarily desire, for Ubisoft to do what they did in Far Cry: Primal very often. Having an overarching story that frames the gameplay more than it stands out on its own works well in the context of primitive man fighting over resources in the Stone Age, but not so much other eras with more complicated themes and people. Having said that, Far Cry: Primal feels much more like a coherent whole than many other Ubisoft games. My final playtime was roughly 19.5 hours according to my save file, but that time was more fruitful and interesting than many of the 40-50 hours experiences I have had in the likes of Assassin's Creed, Watch_Dogs, and other Far Crys. Ironically, this caveman game is the most developed Ubisoft open world I've seen in a long time.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

#103: Firewatch: Looking For Interactive Storytelling

Firewatch has been igniting its fair share of conversation among players and game critics alike. I've seen people discuss the “emotional impact” this game has had on them. Combined with how closely guarded the developers at Campo Santo were about its story and themes prior to release, I was intrigued. Now that I've finished my playthrough, I honestly can't say that I completely agree with my peers who have nothing but adoration for it. While I did enjoy my time with the game, I have a big problem with it. This leaves me with a level of unease that has little to do with Firewatch itself and more the reception of games like it.
When people talk about these kinds of story-driven games, I rarely hear any form of praise besides something along the lines of “It made me feel”, “I was moved”, or something else that suggests that it invoked sadness or melancholy on the part of the individual. Rarely are any other forms of praise given on top of that. I fear that this suggests that when we see “walking simulators” (for lack of a better term), that we, as their audience, have this as our default reaction. I say this not to disparage the genre, but rather to show that perhaps we ought to expect more from them. They can be more than just a genre of games where players wander around an environment and get told a story. To do this, I'd like to compare Firewatch with a game, in the same genre, that more strongly leveraged the power of the medium to tell it's tale: Gone Home.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

#102: Character Analysis #4: Neku Sakuraba (The World Ends With You)

(Spoilers for The World Ends With You)
In the New Year, people are wondering what kinds of fresh, interesting games will be released. Therefore, the absolute best way for me to start 2016 is to completely disregard the desire to do new things. Instead, I went back to 2007 to play a game that I missed out on: The World Ends With You (TWEWY). Back when this game first came out, I made the decision to get a PSP instead of a Nintendo DS. That meant that up until I purchased a 3DS, I wasn't able to give it a chance.
Aside from the fact that it was a highly acclaimed RPG on the DS, I honestly didn't know too much about TWEWY going in. I'm glad that I didn't, because it gave me a chance to get to know the cast of characters on my own terms. Of particular note is the protagonist of TWEWY: Neku Sakuraba. Though not a particularly unique character on his own right, Neku serves as a great example of someone with a fully fleshed out character arc.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Interactive Friction: Mirror's Edge: Episode 10: Shattered Glass

I'd say it's a shame that the audio desynchronized, but this level sucks, so who cares?

So what remains to be said about Mirror's Edge? Despite all the complaining we did during the second half of the game, I'd still recommend it to stranglers who still haven't played it after all this time.

It's an experiment. And like all great gaming experiments, it succeeded in many areas and failed in others. Hopefully, DICE learned from the lessons this game taught when developing Catalyst. More free-running, less precision platforming and combat.

What better way to say goodbye to this game than to listen to that amazing theme?

Interactive Friction: Mirror's Edge: Episode 9: Falling Apart

For some reason, this episode's footage came out in slow-motion. Not even Sam is sure why that is.

It's probably for the best that the footage messed up, because we wouldn't have much more to say at this point.

I'm also really glad that soundtrack is here for the tower climbing segment. Without that music, it would be really hard to think of good things to say about it. In a game about fast-paced parkour, we spend a level slowly climb up a tower in order to reach a Sniper perch.


At least Sam was able to partially clean up the audio in post.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Interactive Friction: Mirror's Edge: Episode 8: Fight Club

This is Sam's least favorite level in the game. That's partly because he had to record it far too many times, but also because it's just poorly designed.

One thing you'll notice in this level, more than any other, is that Sam was stopping and looking around frequently. Sometimes it was to look for which platform he had to get to. Sometimes it was to get his bearings or to redo a failed jump. However, every time is a damning statement on why this level sucks.

On top of that, you'll also notice several times where after failing a jump, he had a redo a decent amount of climbing in order to get to a point where he could try again.

And then we get to a sniper battle and subsequent duels. I can't fathom why they were in the game. They actively discourage movement by forcing you to stand behind cover to break line-of-sight. Because Celeste has trained her sights on you, this is actively worse than the subway section from earlier.

I just don't understand. This game was so good at the start, and I wish I knew exactly what went wrong.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Interactive Friction: Mirror's Edge: Episode 7: Turning Point

Welcome to the start of the worst half of Mirror's Edge:

Almost on queue, the footage desync while Sam is recording, meaning he had to record this awful segment several times. Even still, he ultimately could not get any footage where the audio and video were synced.

So if Sam sounds particular bitter about this second-half of Mirror's Edge, now you know why.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Interactive Friction: Mirror's Edge: Episode 6: Drunken Dance Partner

Another day, another discussion on the decline of Mirror's Edge.

As I said at the start, Sam and I really love this game. However, there's no denying that it gets visibly, appreciably worse with each level.

I would like to have a conversation with the people who worked on this game just to know what happened as the development went on. It could be that pressure from on high forced them to include more stereotypically "shooty" segments. It could be that the game was rushed. It could be that they were trying to see what works and what doesn't work given this core concept of free-running. It could be any combination of those three and/or something else entirely.

But we'll probably never know that. And that bums me out.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Interactive Friction: Mirror's Edge: Episode 5: Tunnel Vision

In this episode, we take a moment to talk about Mirror's Edge's approach to platforming.

The subway section best emphasizes why Mirror's Edge's first-person platforming works, by taking away a lot of what makes it work.

When this game is at its best, precision isn't a huge issue. It's much more about looking around and quickly making a decision about which path to take. It's not about timing, it's about identifying and executing on an opportunity.

This subway section directly contrasts that. There's no high-speed decision making going on. You're not being directly chased by cops hot on your tail. It's about waiting for something to go past so that you can get across to the next segment of the level.

I can't really fault DICE for doing this, though. On the whole, Mirror's Edge is and was an extremely experimental game. It's doubtful that anyone would have even been able to figure this stuff out without first having Mirror's Edge as a point of reference. For that reason, I can't honestly be too mad about it.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Interactive Friction: Mirror's Edge: Episode 4: Mattress Crates

In this episode, we beat up a former wrestler and jump off a crane.

This is still a decent level, but it's not hard to notice that it's not quite as good as the first few levels in the game. As Mirror's Edge goes on, the overall quality of each level, in terms of their design, starts to noticeably drop.

Despite that, we're still on the top good side of the curve in this portion of the game. It doesn't get really bad until another 2-3 missions from this point. Once they begin to introduce more and more precision platforming and combat, the game deteriorates.

Yet still, even when this game starts to suck, it is so unique that I can't help but to recommend it.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Interactive Friction: Mirror's Edge: Episode 3: Job Description

In this episode, we get down and dirty in the cleanest, most pristine sewers on Earth.

It feels weird to criticize this game for anything involving its story content. I say that mostly because it clearly wasn't a major focus of the game. It's not accident that the cutscenes are all less than 5 minutes. Like I said in the episode, it's a well-documented fact that Rhianna Pratchett was hired after all the levels in the game were made.

There's also the fact that this game was made in the late 2000s, back when storytelling in games was just starting to be a thing that people began taking seriously. It was probably assumed that Mirror's Edge didn't need much of a story, so long as the game played well enough.

In that way, I can't blame it for being a product of its time. While indeed unique among its contemporaries, even today, it still has signs of being developed in the era where "Call of Duty" was a phrase that wasn't nearly as divisive.

That said, I would have loved it if the game did a bit more to tell players about the world and the people in it.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Interactive Friction: Mirror's Edge: Episode 2: Wrong Door

You may be surprised at how gushy we are about Mirror's Edge, given that our previous was... basically the exact opposite of that. We do delve into some heavy criticism, especially in the later half of the game. However, it's so easy to praise Mirror's Edge because it does so many things right.

We spoke a lot in this episode about how important it is that Mirror's Edge does everything it can to avoid causing motion sickness. This article talks a little about how the developers tried to combat motion sickness. I find the science behind many of these tricks fascinating, and I can't imagine how many nauseous testers/interns they must have went through to reduce the percentage of ill players to a minimum.

It's really important that they do, because so much of this game is built on the idea of building and maintaining momentum while traversing the hazards of the environment. Mirror's Edge is at its best when it lets players move quickly and keep that pace up. These early levels are a testament to that.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Interactive Friction: Mirror's Edge: Episode 1: Running Start

After a very long break, we're finally back. Welcome, ladies and gentleman, to the fourth season of Interactive Friction.

We picked Mirror's Edge for two big reasons:
  1. We were exhausted by the end of Watch_Dogs, and needed a breather. Mirror's Edge is a very short game, and we knew we weren't going to get tired of it while recording.
  2. Both Sam and I adore this game to no end. Even now, the color palate and extremely unique gameplay make it a breath of much-needed fresh air. This meant that any complaints we'd have would sound much more good-natured than they did for Watch_Dogs. Watch_Dogs, especially towards the middle, was far too vitriolic.
Also, since this game divides itself so nicely into chapters, we'll be doing one chapter per episode. Many of them, especially early on, will be much shorter than the IF you've come to expect. Others will be about as long, or longer, depending on what happened. It'll be interesting to trace than progression over the course of the game.

See you next time. :)

Monday, January 25, 2016

Interactive Friction: Season 4 Sneak Peak

You probably though we were done. You probably thought Watch_Dogs destroyed us so completely that we'd never Let's Play again.

You're probably an arbitrary strawman I've picked out for the sake of drama.

In any case, we'll be back, starting tomorrow. Sam even made a new trailer to celebrate our revival.

I hope you look forward to watching this next season as much as we look forward to presenting it.