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.