pretty much says it all

polygon_comment

This is a comment to Polygon’s review of Dragon’s Crown, an RPG that I must admit I’ve only known about because of the controversy surrounding its rather gratuitous art style.

And this comment is pretty much why I tend to feel curmudgeonly these days, and very much like the solipsistic misanthrope I call myself in the site’s subheader.  It’s why I can feel myself starting to pull away from games in general.  Even though that Polygon thread is, for the most part, remarkably well-spelled for a review thread, and even though there’s lots of thoughtful and well-spoken pushback, it’s still kind of jaw-dropping.

Between the Phil Fish thing, and then these death threats because of a numerical tweak in the statistics of an imaginary gun in Call of Duty, and now this latest example of willful blindness to and spiteful ignorance of rampant sexist attitudes in games development, I can’t help but wonder what the hell I’m doing anymore.  And this is all just in the last few days!

Thankfully, the game’s PR people managed to chime in with some goddamned common sense:

the sound and the fury

Phil Fish finally snapped on Saturday, after an[other] epic argument with an asshole on Twitter.   He announced that he was cancelling Fez II and getting out of the games business entirely before rage-quitting his Twitter account.

“im getting out of games because i choose not to put up with this abuse anymore.”

*     *     *

It can be difficult to separate the art from the artist – sometimes.  As an example, I can’t even enjoy Chicken Run anymore, such is my loathing of any and all things related to Mel Gibson; similarly, I can’t read anything by Orson Scott Card without feeling a bit sick; but I’m still as big a fan of Woody Allen now as I was when I was 13 (even if his films aren’t quite as good now as they were then).  Indeed, Woody raised this very same question about separating the art from the artist in Bullets Over Broadway, and it was seen at the time as some sort of mea culpa:  “An artist creates his own moral universe.”

This is all to say that my intense love of Fez  – a love I’ve had ever since that first GDC trailer way back in, what, 2008? – makes me more sympathetic towards Fish, even if he is the sort of person, as Ben Kuchera writes, who “never met a hornet’s nest he couldn’t improve by giving it a good kick.” 

*     *     *

On Saturday night – a few hours after this all went down – I decided to finally get around to watching Indie Game: The Movie, which had been on my to-do list ever since it came out.  I knew that Fish had a reputation for being combative and controversial, and I was curious to see if that was borne out in the film.  Sure enough, within 5 minutes of his introduction, you see a whole bunch of hateful internet comments directed squarely at him; and you also see him acting like a bit of an asshole.

The movie didn’t necessarily clear things up for me.  On the one hand, Fez is very much a personal artistic statement; it might’ve released earlier and have been a bit more polished with a larger team, but having other input would make the experience feel diluted, somehow.  Everything you experience in that game is what Phil specifically wants you to feel; the charming beauty of the pixelated world, the obscure abstraction of encoded language, the freedom of exploration without consequence.  The game itself is nothing but charm and whimsy and pure intellectual joy.

On the other hand, Phil himself is restless, intensely passionate, and quick to fly into rages; in dealings with his ex-business partner, he says – multiple times – that he wants to “murder” him; and while I doubt that he would have literally murdered this person, I wouldn’t be surprised if, at that moment, if this ex-business partner happened to walk into the room, he wouldn’t have tried to punch that man repeatedly.

I’ve followed Phil on Twitter for a while, now, and when he was active he was constantly getting into crazy arguments with crazy people, and in doing so he made himself look like a crazy person – regardless of whatever moral high ground he felt that he was standing on.

*     *     *

I’ve had a love/hate relationship with Twitter.  Hell, I’ve had a love/hate relationship with social media in general; in fact, just two weekends ago, I publicly declared that I was going on a Facebook hiatus, and that ended up lasting less than 48 hours.

For small independent gaming companies that can’t afford big PR budgets – much like any small artist, be they musician, writer, etc. – Twitter is a necessary device.  It’s free public interaction with your audience, and your reach becomes wider as you yourself grow louder.  How you get louder, though, is where it gets tricky.  Because the bigger you get, the more terrible people you attract, and at some point that shit will get under your skin.  Do you hide?  Do you answer back?  Do you ignore?

I have a good friend who writes for Gamespot.  She’s a great writer, and has an insightful critical mind, and when she writes a review it is clear that she carefully considers every word.  But the only thing that matters to the commenters on her articles is that she’s transgender, and they say the most vile, awful things that have absolutely nothing to do with the words she’s written, and they come out in full force without any provocation whatsoever.  (They might argue that her mere existence writing for the site is the provocation, to which I say to them:  go fuck yourselves.)  I don’t know how she puts up with it.  These people are foaming at the mouth with rage just because she exists.

I also follow a number of prominent games writers on Twitter, some of whom happen to be female.  And they are constantly bombarded with hateful, misogynistic bile and straight-up rape threats for no other reason than that they have opinions about games and that they also have breasts.   And if they dare to suggest that there is a serious sexism problem in the games industry – not just from gamers but from the games themselves – well, just follow @femfreq for a little while and see how that goes.

What the hell is wrong with us?  Why do we allow this sort of shit to continue?  Why do trolls get the last laugh, even if nobody’s laughing?

I sincerely hope Phil takes advantage of this internet hiatus and continues to work on Fez 2.  Maybe it’s for the best.  Maybe it’s better that he puts his focus squarely on the thing that actually makes the world a better place.  Fez made the world a better place for me; he did succeed in that.

I just hope he understands that this isn’t about “winning.”  Nobody wins on the internet.  That’s the whole point; it doesn’t matter how eloquent you are; you can Oscar Wilde someone to death and some anonymous asshole is always going to come back 30 seconds later and call you a fag, simply because they can.  That doesn’t mean you give up; it just means you change the conversation.  Make the thing you have to make.

as we merrily roll along

The Steam Sale continues to roll along, and I continue to buy things here and there that I didn’t necessarily mean to.

Here are my spoils, updated as of Friday morning with newest additions in italics:

  • Rogue Legacy
  • Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon
  • Thomas Was Alone
  • Sword & Sworcery EP
  • Dirt 3
  • The Last Remnant
  • Home
  • Super Puzzle Platformer Deluxe
  • Bully
  • Toki Tori 2
  • Skyrim DLC
  • Gunpoint
  • Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing

As of right now (again, Friday morning), there’s only one thing on my wishlist that I’d like to pick up if it goes on sale: Magrunner: Dark Pulse, which apparently has a Portal-meets-Lovecraft vibe going on, and I’m a sucker for that kind of shit.  I’d also love it if that Civ V: Brave New World DLC came down in price, although considering that it just came out like a week ago, I highly doubt it’ll get anything beyond a token 10% discount.  (And if I’m being honest, here, the truth is that I’d probably only play it once, on Very Easy, and still fuck everything up and maybe give up halfway through the campaign.  Which is, again, why I wouldn’t mind picking it up if it came down in price.)

In the meantime, I continue to plug away at things I’ve already played before – specifically Tomb Raider, which I’m enjoying just as much the 2nd time around (even if the things that were problematic before remain so now).

Also received Shin Megami Tensei IV in the mail yesterday, which has received a rather positive reception even if nobody’s really articulated exactly what it is.  But it’s just as well; ever since I gave up on Animal Crossing I’ve been kinda just dicking around in Paper Mario Sticker Star, which is good but not nearly as fun as the Mario & Luigi games, and so any excuse I can find to play with the 3DS is one I’ll gladly take.

No gaming plans this weekend; I will be in a recording studio, making music, for pretty much the whole 48 hours.  Fun!  I only hope there’s air conditioning over there.

SFTC 400: a bit of a downer

WordPress says this is my 400th post, although that number includes the old posts at the now-defunct blogspot URL and some drafts-in-progress.  Still, though, 400 posts!  Let’s celebrate this historic milestone by talking about anxiety, depression, and my poor impulse control as it relates to Steam Summer Sales.

You see, every time there’s a Steam sale, I get all excited and tingly – which is ridiculous, because according to the Steam Calculator, I already own everything and I’ve only played less than half of it:
  • Games owned: 338
  • Games not played: 166  (49%)
…and so not only do I get excited and tingly for no good reason, but I also, then, find myself getting a little disappointed that there’s nothing new on sale that I haven’t already bought.
Of course, that doesn’t actually stop me.  As of Monday afternoon, here’s my current haul (10 games, approximately $40):
  • Dirt 3
  • Super Puzzle Platformer Puzzle
  • The Last Remnant
  • Home
  • Rogue Legacy
  • Sword & Sworcery EP
  • Thomas Was Alone
  • Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon
  • Bully: Scholarship Edition
  • Toki Tori 2

There’s more stupid irony to come, as you might expect.  3 of the games on that list are games I’ve already played and simply wanted better-looking versions of (Dirt 3, Sword & Sworcery, Bully).  I’d heard good things about Home and Thomas Was Alone, and since I keep saying I’m tired of shooters I figured I’d get on board with some quality indie non-shooters.  I can’t necessarily explain The Last Remnant, other than that every once in a while I get a JRPG itch, and this was $6 or something.  Toki Tori 2… well, for some reason Steam had given me a 10% discount coupon, which on top of the sale discount made it a no-brainer.  Blood Dragon was stupid cheap, and I still sorta-like Far Cry 3.  But the ultimate point that I’m driving at is that of the 10 games on that list above, Rogue Legacy is the only one that I had a genuine hunger for, and while it was modestly discounted it wasn’t even part of the actual sale.

And yet, here’s the dumbest part of this whole enterprise:

Even though I’ve added 10 new games to my already absurd collection, you know what I ended up playing the most this weekend?  Bioshock Infinite and Tomb Raider, which are games that I’d already beaten quite thoroughly earlier this year.

I don’t know why.  I suppose I was curious to see what this Steam Badge thing is all about; I’m still not 100% sure what they are or why I need them, and I’m not about to start annoying my friends list in hopes of completing a set, but after playing for half an hour or so and coming back up for air, I’d see that I’d unlocked a new badge, and so that’s an easy enough carrot to chase.

But I think there’s more to it (i.e., the replaying of finished games) than mere curiosity over Badges.  I think that I just wanted to travel over familiar ground.

This happens sometimes, especially when I’m feeling anxious and/or depressed.  I suppose I’ve been feeling a bit of both, lately. Truth is, I’m in a bit of a life-rut.  I mean, I love my kid, and I love my wife, and those are the most important things and that’s all well and good.  But I’ve been super-stressed out about money, my day job, my music career, my flailing attempts at creativity, my kid’s future and my ability to provide for him, and etc.  And so there’s been times lately when I sit down in front of my computer and I look at my “Installed Games” folder and I’m overcome with a sort of paralysis – I have too many choices, and none of them are scratching the right itch, and so rather than try something new that might be confusing or “arty” or difficult or non-intuitive, which are normally things that I’m intrigued by, I end up going towards the thing that I already know and am familiar with.

Along those lines, I’ve also been punishing myself by replaying a little bit of XCOM: Enemy Unknown.  Playstation Network was offering free copies for PSN users, and so I felt compelled to download it and see how it felt on my TV, and I played for a few minutes… but the PC version just looks and feels better, and there’s also something about playing it in my tiny, cramped office that adds to the tension, so I went back to the PC version.   I’d lost my old game save when my hard drive crashed, so I’ve been starting anew, and it’s been an interesting experience getting back into it – I’m not playing nearly as stupidly as I did the first time around, for one thing, though it’s still very tense and I can only play it for 30 minutes or so before the tension overwhelms the fun.

Regarding the rest of the Steam Sale:  I’m trying to hold off, though there’s really not much else that I’d be picking up at this point that I don’t already have.  I suppose I’d like to see Gunpoint come back – it was up for a community vote and lost, but considering that Dishonored came back after losing a vote, perhaps this one will come back as a featured item.  I’d tried the demo and liked it, but I also knew that at a certain point I’d probably get flustered and frustrated with it… so I’d rather pay less if I’m going to get it.

What about you guys?

BoRT: I Blog, Therefore I Am (What, Exactly?)

It’s been a while since I’ve had a chance to participate in Critical Distance’s “Blogs of the Round Table” feature, but since this month’s question hits me right where I live, I feel like I’ve gotta jump in:

What is the future of videogame blogging? Has it been usurped by social media and YouTube pundits, or is it still thriving? Is a one-sided conversation one worth having?

On his blog Only a GameChris Bateman summarises a recent ‘blog moot’ between several bloggers. Should blogs be about “exploring my own issues in a semi-public forum” as Corvus Elrod muses, or “something like an 18th century Salon… serious chat with nice folks” as Chris Lepine claims at The Artful Gamer?

Much like the last time I did one of these things, I’m torn between wanting to give what I think is the right answer on behalf of all videogame bloggers everywhere, and how I actually feel – which may or may not speak for anybody else.  In this particular case, I think I’ve got to opt with option 2.

Let me start at the beginning, then, and explain why I felt compelled to start a blog in the first place.

*     *     *

I started running a LiveJournal back in 2000, but didn’t start a videogame blog until 2004, when Gamespot unveiled their blog feature.  I seem to recall wanting to start the blog as some sort of soapbox for ranting and raving about stupid videogame industry shit (in those days, my ire was mostly directed at EA), but in re-reading those old entries, it’s much less of the ranting and a lot more of just day-to-day, “here’s what I’m playing and what I think of it” kind of stuff, which (for whatever reason) I felt compelled to keep separate from my other, day-to-day blogging.

Well, but hold on a second – the “for whatever reason” in the above paragraph is kind of key, as it turns out.  The reason I felt compelled to keep the game blog separate is because, in 2004, I felt like being a 29-year-old gamer was something shameful, and needed to be kept hidden.  To the outsider, videogames were not something to be taken seriously; the stereotypical gamer was either a 13-year-old brat calling you a fag over XboxLive, wholly unaware of irony as he teabagged your corpse in Halo, or a 30-year-old, mother’s-basement-dwelling shut-in playing World of Warcraft for weeks at a time.

And that’s just what I assumed non-gamers thought of me.  Actual gamers were much worse.  I had eventually managed to find a tight-knit group on the Gamespot forums, but that’s because we were all jonesing for some civilized discourse – commenters on most game sites are were just as vile and troll-ish as they were online.  It was impossible to carry a coherent conversation without a bunch of jackasses ruining it for everybody else.

*     *     *

Further to that “for whatever reason” thing above – this is from Tom Bissell’s Grantland piece about The Last of Us:

Despite the yada yada of video games’ growing cultural prominence, the amount of money they make (and lose), and the simple reality that maybe no creative medium has ever moved further faster, most people don’t take video games very seriously. I realize this comes as a shock to precisely no one who doesn’t play video games. Sometimes the fact that games are written off as adolescent nonsense bugs me. Sometimes it doesn’t, because a lot of games — a lot of great games — are adolescent nonsense. And sometimes I think that the worst thing to happen to video games would be for them to get taught widely in schools and reviewed in The New Yorker. As the novelist and critic (and gamer!) John Lanchester once wisely noted, “Respectability is a terrible thing for any art form. People wrote better novels when the cultural status of the novel was contested.”

*     *     *

9 years and 3 urls later, I’m still trying to figure out why I keep doing this.

I’d like to say it’s because I’m trying to “be a part of the conversation”, but the thing about having a blog is that it is, by definition, a monologue.   If I ask questions in my posts, they’re generally rhetorical in nature; I’m not doing this for the feedback.  Sometimes, I’m working out my own critical thinking in this space; other times I’m responding to the analyses of other critics; more often than not, I’m simply trying to keep track of what I’m playing and what I’m thinking about what I’m playing.

This idea of a “blog moot” / “bloot” is interesting to me, though.  Like Chris Bateman says:

… not all blogging is about community. My problem, and presumably Chris Lepine’s as well, is that right now none of the blogging is about community, which is a serious step down from where we were not that many years ago. So the situation going forward needs to be to leave the door open for community, when it is appropriate.

My first real blogging experience was on LiveJournal, which very much was a community.  Sure, it was primarily a place for me (and others) to vent about stupid shit and to navel gaze, but I quickly found a group of people who were venting and navel gazing about the same things, and so even though we were still just monologuing, we were doing it together.  It wasn’t nearly as cacophonous as it sounds.

Is it possible to get a gamer-blog network up and running?  Our own private Tumblr?  Where it would be easier for game bloggers to find each other, to read each other, and to communicate with one another?  Or does turning it into just another social network defeat the larger purpose?

(I think I’m going to continue this in a second post; for now, I want to send this off and see what happens.)

[This post is written for the July 2013 round of Blogs of the Round Table; read other submissions here:]

moving on

“Hey everybody it’s Tuesday…”

Still trying to process yesterday’s tragic news.  The internet’s collective outpouring of love, support and grief went a long way  And of course now I’m wondering if there will be a Bombcast today, and, if so, whether I’ll be able to handle it.

As for things bumming me out that actually directly affect my life, today is doubly tough because it was my son’s first day of day care.  I had to drop him off before I left for work, and he was already unhappy before I finished getting him out of the stroller.   I peeked through the window right before I left, and he was sitting on one of the older women’s laps, crying, not wanting the offered pacifier.   Broke my heart to leave him, but I was already running late for work.

In any event, it seems a bit harder than usual to talk about videogames, so I’m going to cut-and-paste and re-write a draft from last week that I never got around to finishing, and maybe that will help me get back on track.

*     *     *

Finished Call of Juarez: Gunslinger [July 1st].  That’s a fun little game, I have to say.  I may have made this comparison before; it’s Bastion plus Bulletstorm in the Old West, which is a better-sounding combo than you’d think.  It took me about 5 hours to get through the story, and while it really wasn’t towards the end of the game that I started to feel like I was getting good at it, I still had a pretty good time overall.   Certainly worth picking up in a Summer Sale, if such an offering is available, but even at $20 it’s money well spent.

*     *     *

I also managed to finish The Last of Us over the long weekend.  I finished it on “Easy”, and I understand from reading other TLOU articles that doing so prevented me from really feeling the game, but I don’t buy that; the game was plenty difficult even on Easy, because Clickers will always one-hit kill you, and sometimes the PS3 controller doesn’t do what I ask of it.  I’m guessing the biggest advantage in Easy was that I had more ammo, but I still generally tried to stealth my way around whenever possible.

It’s a remarkable experience (that opening sequence is one of the best of all time), and it’s certainly a landmark technical achievement (certainly in the top 5 best-looking/sounding games of this generation), and yet it’s also a game that I don’t think I want to play again.  It’s too dark, too soul-crushing, too depressing; I’m glad I experienced it the first time, but I don’t see what I would gain through a second playthrough beyond finding all the hidden collectibles – and one does not play The Last of Us to find hidden collectibles.

*     *     *

I mentioned this at the bottom of one of last week’s posts; I’ve gotten back into Need For Speed Most Wanted, which is surprising given how disappointed I was when I tried playing it on the 360 last year.  The PC experience is a completely different beast, however; it is absolutely gorgeous, for one thing, and the game experience feels a lot more polished and smooth than the 360 version.  And so now that it’s working the way it’s supposed to, I’m finally able to appreciate what Criterion was trying to do.

I think I was always going to be disappointed after it first launched, because even without the technical problems I was having on the 360, my primary issue was always that I really wanted NFSMW to be Burnout Paradise 2, and because it wasn’t, I couldn’t really judge it fairly and objectively.  The Need for Speed brand meant nothing to me, and my intense love of all things Criterion couldn’t save me from eventually walking away from the (still-excellent) Hot Pursuit.

But now that I’ve had a few months to forget about my first run and can finally see it with clearer eyes, I’m actually pretty impressed.  If anything, it’s a lot more like Burnout Paradise than I was willing to give it credit for – and I might even argue that it’s got a better (or at least more intuitive) career progression than BoP.

Sometimes I get intimidated by non-linear games – I mean, I appreciate that I have all this freedom, but unless I’m doing something constructive I feel lost and/or overwhelmed.  (This is why Skyrim‘s quests will always be more appealing to me than Minecraft‘s sandbox.)  What I do appreciate, though, is that even if you’re not racing, there’s still lots of side things to do – security gates to crash, hidden cars to unlock, billboards to jump through.  And in the meantime, if you actually want to advance in the game, there’s lots of ways to do that – each car you find has its own series of races to complete (with noticeable performance-improving incentives for finishing 1st), and once you accumulate enough of whatever the XP equivalent is, you can engage in the game’s version of Boss Battles.

I’m spending too long talking about a game that came out last year that nobody else is playing, but still – if it shows up on sale (and I happened to pick it up for $15 during an Amazon Digital Download sale), it’s a damn fun time – especially (as I noted above) if you’re playing on PC, which is miles ahead of the 360 version.

*     *     *

Finally, I can’t not talk about the GTA V gameplay trailer that came out this morning.  Obviously, if you’re reading this post you’ve already watched it, but just in case you want to watch it again:

I don’t really know what else to say about it, other than I love how Rockstar’s been doing these “informercial”-ish trailers for the last few years.  (I seem to recall Red Dead Redemption getting this sort of treatment, and certainly Max Payne 3 had some as well.)

And I suppose I could point out that it appears as if they’re adapting certain elements of RDR’s combat system, which is very good news indeed.  (One of the reasons why RDR remains one of my favorite games of all time is because the gunplay was immensely fun and satisfying in all the ways that GTA IV‘s was not.)

And while I don’t necessarily see this game getting as far-out crazy as San Andreas did (i.e., I’d be very surprised to see a jetpack), it certainly does look as though they’re incorporating a lot more of the side stuff that made San Andreas as compulsively playable as it was (i.e., tennis, parasailing, long-distance cycling, etc.).  As long as there’s no David Cross-narrated model plane combat side mission, we’re good to go.

R.I.P., Ryan Davis

I had a bunch of things I wanted to write about today, but then I happened to look at Twitter about 15 minutes ago and I now find myself in somewhat of a state of shock.

I’m profoundly saddened by the sudden passing of Ryan Davis, someone I never knew, or even got within 2000 miles of knowing, and yet someone who I felt could’ve been a friend.  I’d been a fan of his since the early Gamespot years, and I’d been a loyal Giant Bombcast listener since the Arrow Pointing Down days.  He was the consummate host; witty and quick, warm yet acerbic, relentlessly jovial.

Of the many reasons for Giant Bomb’s success, their decision to be a personality-driven site is the one that, ironically, makes his loss hurt that much more for their fans.  We feel like we know these guys; the podcast especially is a conversation among friends that we could easily be participating in.   And nobody was better at conveying a spirit of camaraderie than Ryan.

I’m sending all my thoughts to Ryan’s friends, family, and the entire Giant Bomb crew (and beyond).  Our community has suffered a profound loss today.

GTAV news

Rockstar just put out a fan-submitted Q&A regarding GTAV, which can be found here.

There’s some questions about customizable weaponry, maps, multiplayer, etc.  But the two key points of information that I was most curious about are:

(1)…In order to provide the best possible experience for such a massive and detailed world, the game will have installation requirements on both Xbox 360 and PlayStation®3 systems. For Xbox 360, Grand Theft Auto V will ship on two discs; Disc 1 will be used for a one-time mandatory install and Disc 2 will be used to play the game. After the install, players will be able to enjoy both Grand Theft Auto V and Grand Theft Auto Online without any need to switch discs.

This initial install will require an Xbox 360 Hard Drive or an external 16GB USB flash drive with at least 8 GB of free space. If using a USB flash drive it must be at least USB 2.0 with a minimum 15mb/s read speed and formatted for Xbox 360 use. A new USB flash drive is recommended to ensure optimum performance.  For PlayStation®3, the game ships on one disc and will install content as soon as you insert the game. The install is roughly 8GB, and players will be able to play as soon as the install is complete.
*   *   *
(2) The only versions of the game that we have announced are for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation®3 which are set for a September 17th worldwide release. We don’t have anything to share about the possibility of a next-gen or a PC platform release at this time and we are completely focused on delivering the best possible experience for the consoles people have right now.
In response to a question as to the differences between the PS3 and 360 versions of the game, Rockstar replies:
“Players can expect the same great gameplay experience on both the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 platforms as they have both been developed in tandem.  Like all of our games, trust that we’re committed to making sure Grand Theft Auto V looks and runs as great as possible regardless of whether you pick it up for PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360, and we are excited for fans on both platforms to experience Grand Theft Auto V this September. We expect any visual differences to be completely negligible.”
I had always planned on playing GTAV on my 360 (since I imagine that’s where most of my gamer buddies would play it, and I wouldn’t mind checking out the multiplayer), but for some reason I’m a little hesitant now.  I’m sure the 2-disc thing isn’t a big deal, and I pretty much always install my games to the 360 hard drive anyway, since the disc drive and the internal fan tend to make a lot of noise when a disc is spinning.   If you’re reading this and you’ve only played the PS3 versions of Rockstar’s games this generation, how are they?  If you’ve had a chance to compare/contrast between PS3 and 360, which did you prefer?
Their answer regarding PC and net-gen platforms sounds to me like a big fat “yes”, but probably not until mid-2014 at the earliest.  Which is fine.  It wouldn’t be the first time that I’ve bought the same game on multiple platforms.
Still, I must ask, since this is the one game I can’t miss this year:

the first few hours: The Last of Us

Before I start talking about The Last of Us in earnest, I want to mention two interesting things that won’t necessarily fit in the context of the discussion, but are still related to my personal experience with the game:

1.  Slight spoilers – a few hours into the game, you’ll meet two characters named Henry and Sam.  As it happens, Henry is the name of my son, and Sam was the name of my grandfather.   My grandfather died when I was in high school, so Henry never got to meet him.  But there they were, dodging zombies and armed maniacs along with our heroes, Joel and Ellie.

2.  One of the game’s many strengths is how well it conveys atmosphere, especially when you’re in dark basements.  In addition to the sheer visuals, there’s lots of ambient noises and sonic textures that make you feel really claustrophobic and creeped out.  This is doubly effective when there’s an actual mouse in your actual apartment, scratching and squeaking behind the walls, and you’re alone in your living room with a sleeping baby behind a thin wooden door just a few feet away and the lights turned down low.

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While I’ve more or less conceded that my desire to be a full-time game journalist is hopelessly impractical at this point in my life, I still occasionally think about getting into the freelance game-review business.  Especially now, given my earlier post about being short on cash.  I mean, I know that reviews don’t necessarily bring in a ton of money, and I wouldn’t always be playing stuff that’s good, but surely there are less pleasant ways to supplement one’s income.

And yet I can’t help but feel that I’d be terrible at it.

For example:  sometimes I feel like it can be a cop-out or a crutch (or, more likely, a habit of laziness) to compare someone’s new work to their old work.   Like:  if you can’t assess a thing for what it actually is without comparing to something that it never tried to be, then you’re probably a shitty critic.

Which is to say, I know that comparing The Last of Us to the Uncharted franchise isn’t fair, because they’re completely different experiences and want to evoke radically different reactions from the player, even if they appear to share a lot of common factors:  the same jaw-droppingly amazing graphics engine, some of the best digital acting in the business (to go along with a very well-written script), a meticulous attention to detail (both in art design and character work), and a relatively even gameplay balance of exploration and combat.

As to that last point, I feel obliged to point out that The Last of Us and Uncharted also share another, more disconcerting feature, and one which is relevant to my attempt at criticism:  when it comes to Naughty Dog’s games, I hate the combat.  I am willing to concede that I might hate it because I suck at it; but it should also be noted that – at least in my opinion – there is always too much of it, and it gets in the way of all of the non-combat stuff which is infinitely more enjoyable.  Maybe it’s just that I’ve never liked the PS3’s controller, especially when it comes to action games, but I always feel ham-fisted and clumsy in combat situations, and even on Easy I die a lot.

I ended up finishing Uncharted 3 on Easy because I wanted to see the end of the game, and shooting bulletproof soldiers had stopped being fun after the 300th kill.  While The Last of Us has a much different combat feel – indeed, the game implies that you can (and should) sneak your way around combat rather than rushing headlong into it – I also am playing it on Easy (after an earlier combat scenario took me 30 deaths and around an hour of frustration to complete), because while I try to sneak around, I always get found, and because I don’t find the combat all that fun (possibly because, as I said, I’m terrible at it), I just want to get it over with as quickly as possible so as to keep the story moving forward.

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Tangent #1:  My complaints about the combat in Naughty Dog’s games (and The Last of Us specifically) remind me of my complaints of another of 2013’s major releases – Bioshock Infinite – in that both games feature incredible worlds that you can’t help but want to explore, except for all the crazy people who want to murder you.  I am far more interested in exploring and scavenging and crafting than I am in the combat.  But if there were ever two companies that could actually make the game that I truly want to play in this coming generation – games with fantastic visuals, well-crafted stories and interesting characters  and worlds that beg for exploration and interesting puzzles instead of  combat as the “filler” to get you from point A to point B – I just know that Naughty Dog and/or Irrational could pull it off.

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Tangent #2:  I would love it if this new generation of consoles made it possible to invent a new kind of gameplay “filler”.  I suggested “puzzles” in the paragraph above because it was the first thing that came to mind (and because Portal 2 proved that you can make an amazing, full retail product without having to fire a single bullet) but surely there must be something else that can be done.  As I am not a gameplay designer, I have no idea what that might be.  But I would be VERY EXCITED to find out.

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Wow.  This was supposed to be a post about my overall impressions of The Last of Us, and I’ve already spent 900 words horsing around, so let’s get to it.

I am around 10.5 hours into TLOU, Naughty Dog’s swansong on the PS3, and judging from the chapter listings in various walkthroughs (not that I’m using walkthroughs – I honestly just wanted to see how much was left), I’m just over the halfway mark.   (I keep feeling like I should defend my using a walkthrough with the express purpose of determining length, even though nobody cares; it’s just that unlike books, music and film, it’s impossible to judge a game’s length while you’re playing it – and this doesn’t even take into account personal play style.  If I weren’t so interested in exploring every single nook and cranny in TLOU, I suspect I’d have arrived at this halfway point after only 5-6 hours, as opposed to 10.)

Leaving aside my personal displeasure at Naughty Dog’s combat system, and my weariness with zombies and the end of the world as a storytelling trope, it is immediately apparent that TLOU is a staggering technical achievement, and deserves all the respect you can give it.  But it is also – at least for me – a difficult game to enjoy.  TLOU is relentlessly dark and grim, with horrific, gruesome violence at almost every turn, and where terrible things happen to good people pretty much non-stop.  (My wife watched me play a little bit yesterday, and she said it felt like a combination of The Walking Dead and I Am Legend – which is pretty much spot-on.)  It is a game that probably shouldn’t be played in long marathon sessions, which is what I usually do with games like this; instead, I’ve been getting little hour-sized chunks here and there for the past week or so and that’s pretty much all I can take before I need to switch over to something a little less gloomy.

I’m not quite sure where the story is going, but I have a pretty good feeling about certain upcoming plot points.  I’m normally not all that quick in terms of picking up that sort of stuff, but I knew what was going to happen to a number of characters long before their fates were inevitably decided.  Of course, this is what happens when you set your story in a gloomy post-apocalypse and you establish early on that anybody, no matter how “innocent”, can die at any moment; you stop being surprised when the plot twists, and instead you find yourself simply wondering how the plot will twist, which (to me) isn’t nearly as interesting a question.

That being said, now that I think about it, I’m starting to think that this is deliberate; the game is trying to evoke a sense of dread, and since the inevitability of death hangs over every scene and character and action, you can’t help but feel a little terrible.  You know that bad things are going to happen; the best you can do is to make sure you have as much ammo and supplies as you can find and hope that you can press on long enough to get to the next cutscene.  This is very much like real life.

Like I said above, I’m playing the game on Easy after struggling for a bit on Normal because the story and the characters are far more interesting to me than the combat, and as such I’m having about as good a time as I can stomach.  I’m still dying, a lot, but I’m still able to press ahead.  I’m finding the core relationship between Joel and Ellie to be authentic, even if it’s maddeningly obvious why Joel acts the way he does and it’s incredibly frustrating that he won’t admit it to himself.   (This Guardian article, which has been linked to a lot on Twitter and which I haven’t yet read all the way through, has a different take on their relationship.)  Still, the digital performances are quite powerful and moving and real, and even if the Guardian is right and the game’s central relationship of an older man taking care of a helpless girl in the face of the apocalypse is yet one more entry on the ever-growing pile of stories featuring male dominance over subservient, weak females – or even if the core problem is simply that the game is being told from the man’s point of view, LIKE IT ALWAYS IS, I still find that, at the very least, TLOU has its heart in the place.

I find myself compelled to press on, even if I don’t really want to.

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Amazon is having a gigantic Digital Games Summer Sale, and at the prodding of a friend I ended up buying Need For Speed Most Wanted for $15.  I’d previously been rather sour on the game (1, 2), but the PC version seems to be a completely different beast.  It looks far better than the 360 version, and it also seems to be playing a bit more fairly, too – the AI still rubberbands from time to time but it’s not freakish and unfair, and what constitutes a crash seems to be a lot more consistent.  If you have it and need some Autolog friends, my username (as it is everywhere else) is JervoNYC.