some non-gaming news for once

Yes, I’ve been quiet here, but I’ve been busy elsewhere!

First up:  my piece for Videodame finally went up today, which can be found here.  It was originally intended to go up in May, and then it kinda fell off the rails a little bit, and then that crazy MRA shooting rampage happened, and the editor and I decided to maybe put this on hold for a while.  But here it is!  A whole bunch of words about me starting to figure out why gender representation in video games actually matters.

Secondly:  my tribute to Oddworld went up on Monday over at Gamemoir.  It’s a pretty good piece, but I’m mostly just excited because someone over at Oddworld actually read it, and was very appreciative of it, which has more or less made my year:

Thirdly:  I’ll be at the New York Videogame Critics Circle Hangout at Chelsea Barcade next Wednesday.  Details can be found here.  Come!  Drink!  Be merry!

The First Few Hours: Oddworld New n’ Tasty

The Oddworld franchise holds a very special place in my heart, if only for the fact that it’s what got me back into gaming after a very lengthy hiatus.  I probably wouldn’t be writing these very words on this very website if I hadn’t gotten so obsessed with it, to be honest.  The Oddworld franchise is why I bought an Xbox instead of a PS2, and this New & Tasty HD remake of the original Abe’s Oddysee is one of the primary reasons why I currently own a PS4.

I’m going to be writing a longer appreciation of the Oddworld franchise for next Monday’s Gamemoir column; this post is, instead, about how this thing actually plays.

While I knew that I was buying it from the moment it was first announced, I can’t honestly say I knew what to expect.  And quite frankly, I was more than a bit nervous about playing it again.  This is a game that I haven’t stopped thinking about – or played – since 1998, and I was worried that my overly fond memories would obscure the quality of the game itself.

Let me say, right off the bat, that this HD remake is, as far as I’m concerned, the gold standard in terms of what I want in an HD remake.  This is no mere up-res with cleaner textures; the whole goddamned thing has been rebuilt in a new engine.   The game is no longer a panel-by-panel experience, but rather a free-flowing one.  There’s new voice work, there’s new animation, there’s new everything.  Even the cutscenes – which were rivaled maybe only by Final Fantasy VII in terms of sheer visual splendor – have been remade, and for the better.

And yet:  this is still Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee, through and through.  This is still a maddeningly difficult puzzler, requiring a mastery of both physical and verbal dexterity, and even with the many added improvements (including the much-needed quicksave), it is a game where you will repeatedly and endlessly fail, often in spectacularly gruesome fashion.

It is very pleasing to see that my love of the game is not misplaced.

My only real gripe is that of the aforementioned quicksave.  It’s a necessary feature that is somewhat clumsily designed.  On the PS4, you tap the touchpad to Save, and you hold it to Load.  That being said, even if you quicksave during a particularly tricky platforming sequence, you will automatically respawn at the last checkpoint, not at the last manual quicksave; you will then need to hold the touchpad in order to spawn where you actually intended.  Not only that, but there were numerous times last night where I’d get to a safe place in a particularly tricky gauntlet and so I’d emphatically press the touchpad, thinking I’d quicksaved, only to see that I held the pad down just long enough to actually quickload, meaning I’d have to do the whole thing over again.

The aforementioned difficulty, by the way, is no joke.  It starts hard and only gets harder, and it’s somewhat selective in terms of the information that it doles out.  For example, I’d completely forgotten that I could possess enemies by chanting until I was midway through the second chapter; this very well might be why I somehow missed a bunch of secret rooms and thus sending 42 of Abe’s buddies to their doom when I inadvertently started Chapter 2.

That’s the part of the game that’s still very pleasantly intact, though.   This game encourages empathy like no other game I’ve ever played.  I wanted to save all 299 Mudokons when I played it back in the day, and I want to save them all now; they’re sweet and charming and I felt terrible seeing how many I’d missed, realizing that I’d somehow failed to check every nook and cranny in that opening chapter.  (For the record, back in the day I also tried doing the true negative karma thing and get them all killed, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.  I’m sure there’s a Trophy/Achievement for it now, but it’s something I have no intention of pursuing.)

I’m really just grateful to have Abe back in my life.  (And I’m really looking forward to the Vita version, because this game is an absolutely perfect fit for it.)  And I’m also glad to see that my son is taken by Abe as well.

Weekend Recap: Destiny, Sword & Poker

Firstly, some housekeeping:  I wrote an essay for the most recent issue of Unwinnable Weekly.  I’m a big fan of Unwinnable, and I helped to fund their Kickstarter, and to be featured in their pages is kind of a dream come true.  It’s not available for free, so I can’t pass out any links, but it’s a great magazine and worth your $$ if you’re into terrific writing about games and comics and such.

Secondly, today’s Gamemoir column is about something I’ve talked about at great length here – about hoping that games will find a way to evolve past the act of shooting things.  And I say all this as someone who played the hell out of the Destiny beta this weekend, too.

Speaking of which: my understanding is that the Destiny beta is temporarily offline for the next few days while they clean up some stuff and get it ready for the Xbox side of things.  This is fine; I could probably use a break.  (Especially since Oddworld: New & Tasty comes out on Tuesday!)

I got my lady Titan to level 8, and got a dude Warlock up to level 3.  Dabbled a little bit in the Crucible (aka the multiplayer), but I am profoundly terrible at online shooting; all I’m really good for is to help neutralize/capture control points and maybe wheedle off someone’s health a little bit before getting destroyed.

The singleplayer, though, is fantastic.  Narrative quibbles and Peter Dinklage’s lackluster performance aside, I am totally, utterly hooked.  And running through difficult gauntlets with strangers is surprisingly easy and fun, and those massive player events (where an overpowered enemy suddenly appears in an open-access area) can be exhilarating to pull off; it makes me wish there was an option for giving high-fives.  (As of now, you can dance, point and wave.)

I don’t know that they’re going to be adding any more single-player content to the beta; I wish they would, but I understand why they wouldn’t.  I suspect most people will be playing the Crucible stuff long after they finish the game (or, rather, before they even start it), and making sure the Crucible works is more than likely the beta’s primary reason for existing, so… I may take the opportunity to get all three classes fully leveled, because it’s still fun to go through that stuff, and I think that there’ll be some tangible benefit in doing so when the final retail version is available in September.

In other news, Sword & Poker is back in a big way on iOS.  On the one hand, this is terrific news; I was (and still am) a huge fan of the first two games.  And why not?  An RPG where the combat mechanic is to make the best 5-card poker hand?  Absolutely.  Those first two games have been in and out of the iTunes store over the last few years, leading some of us to wonder if they’d ever return with a sequel; now our wishes have been granted.  Retina graphics, all new weapons and enemies and a customizable magic system!  This is all great, right?

Except… it’s a free-to-play model, and the in-game purchases are gross, and grossly overpriced, and the customizable magic system is a sham, and the whole thing is depressing as hell.  I’m still addicted to it, and I even paid to get rid of the energy timer (because OF COURSE there’s an energy timer, because when I get going with S&P I can’t put it down), and so I feel tremendous shame.  It’s hard to recommend unless you are a true and depraved addict like me.

This week:  Oddworld on Tuesday!  Oh boy oh boy oh boy.

The First Few Hours: Destiny beta

Status:  2 hours in, logged off after finishing the Level 4 story mission (which also got me to Level 5).

It turns out that all my bluster and panic about not receiving a Destiny beta activation code, even though I’d pre-ordered the game back in May, was all for naught.  After freaking out for hours, I finally went to the online version of the PSN Store and quickly discovered that the Beta was in my to-download queue, and so I simply hit the button and it downloaded to my sleeping PS4 while I was at work.  When I finally got home, it was ready and waiting.

So.  Let me say right up front that I didn’t play the alpha.  I figured the alpha was really more of a polished public demo meant to capitalize on the momentum following E3; but even if I had gotten access, I don’t think I would’ve had any time to really sit down and put it through its paces.  I’d watched enough YouTube clips to feel that Peter “Moon Wizard” Dinklage’s performance, while kinda shitty, wasn’t totally his fault, but that’s about the extent of what I knew.

First thing’s first, then:  the game makes a pretty astounding first impression from a technological standpoint.  Graphics are truly impressive in every facet, from the animation to the lighting engine to the art direction to the choice of color palette to the friggin’ fonts in the UI.  More importantly, the shooting feels great – I might even go so far as to say it feels better here than it ever did in Halo, which is saying something.

The best way to sum up my experience is that I sat down to play at around 7:45, and the next thing I knew it was 10:00, and all I wanted to do today was call in sick and keep playing.

As for the RPG elements and the loot… well, as far as the loot is concerned, this is definitely not Borderlands.  After 2 hours and 5 levels, I only found 2 guns – neither of which were a marked improvement over what I’d already equipped – and a similar number of useless armor pieces.  (After the first 2 hours of Borderlands, I’d probably have more guns than I had inventory space for.)  I received better weaponry and armor when I’d return to the Tower after each mission, so that was something, but even after finding a bunch of hidden chests, I never picked up anything particularly useful.  I’m not sure that’s a bad thing, necessarily, but it does make exploring an area after clearing it out of baddies feel a bit useless.

Also:  Peter Dinklage’s character actually uses the word “loot” to describe a chest.  This is akin to someone saying the word “zombie” in a zombie movie; it’s just not done.

Yeah, I suppose I should probably address the Dinklage VO at this point.  I still think the writing is kinda bad – and I’ll say more about that in a second – but even with the new robo-filter on his voice, he still sounds like he’s phoning it in.  (Actually, the filter now makes it sound like he’s literally phoning in a phoned-in performance.)  He sounds like he doesn’t understand what he’s talking about, and nobody bothered to explain to him what it meant, and because the dialogue is so silly and refers to things and people that we simply don’t know, he’s kinda just half-assing it in the vocal booth.  Maybe it’s just that Stephen Merchant’s performance as Wheatley in Portal 2 is the gold standard for floating orb robot helpers; whatever the case, Dinklage clearly doesn’t care.  So I apologize to Ben Kuchera – regardless of the quality of the script, he’s absolutely right.

But let’s get to the narrative, because that’s really my biggest concern.  It’s unclear if the beta’s beginning is the actual beginning of the final game, but let’s leave that aside; the beta’s beginning sure feels like the beginning of the final game.  In this introduction, you hear voiceover explaining the current situation; then you see Dinklage’s floating robot searching for something… then you see some enemies in the distance, closing in… then, suddenly, you’ve been resurrected from the dead?  And the first thing the robot wants you to do, after getting you under cover, is get you a gun?

I get it, that the beta wants to get you shooting bad guys as quickly as possible, but I can’t help but feel like something’s missing… like, namely, WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON.  It’s not actually explained who you are until after the first series of missions, and even then I didn’t quite get it; it’s glossed over in light of the more pressing concern, which is that the ultimate forces of darkness are closing in.  Still, if I were suddenly resurrected from the dead, I’d at least like a glass of water and maybe a newspaper before being asked to kill things.

Maybe I’m nitpicking.

I still had a total blast with it, and I’m going to play as much of it as possible.  I’m currently rolling a female Titan (who looks a lot like my FemShep, actually); the Titan seems like the best class for people who want to solo.  I’d like to eventually try the other two classes, but those seem better fits for team-play; the Titan does everything well enough to not really need outside assistance.  So that’s something.

If you’re online, my PSN ID is JervoNYC; look me up!

On Comments

The first rule of Internet Club is (sing along with me) DON’T READ THE COMMENTS.  (The second rule of Internet Club is don’t ever go to WebMD, regardless of what symptoms you might be feeling, and third rule is to simply be yourself and have a good time.)

That being said, when the comments are starting to go apeshit over something that you’ve written, sometimes you can’t help but wonder what it is they’re getting so upset about.

Which brings me to the startling realization that, apparently, nobody actually reads the article they’re commenting on, or even (in this specific case) the actual headline.  They see what they want to see, and comment and yell and scream about how the article disagrees with their perception of what was written.

To wit:  I wrote a piece about No Man’s Sky for Gamemoir yesterday that seems to be doing quite well, as far as generating traffic is concerned.  It’s a bit of a relief, to be honest, because a lot of the posts I’ve written over there lately have more or less died right on the vine.

It’s not the best thing I’ve written, nor is it a deliberate, transparent attempt at click-bait.  The premise of the article is that for all the new games on the new console systems, the only game that actually seems to be “genuinely new” and “different” and “something impossible to achieve on previous generations of hardware” is No Man’s Sky, and therefore it’s the first “real” Next-Gen game.  That’s all I was trying to say.  Nothing particularly controversial, nothing particularly noteworthy.

But apparently I did generate some controversy, because on one of the portal sites the article was linked to, there’s a lively bunch of comments from people who have obviously not read the article or even read the headline fully.  The article’s headline is “Why No Man’s Sky Is The First ‘Real’ Next-Gen Game”.  The angry people are saying no, Infamous Second Son and Killzone SF were the first next-gen console games; those are the ones who seem to have glazed over the emphasis on the word Real.  Other angry people are saying that because NMS is an “indie” game, it doesn’t really count as a “real” game.  I guess their premise is that because the game isn’t being developed by 1000 people in multiple time zones with a gigantic budget, it can’t possibly be any good.

Here’s the thing – there is every reason to wonder if NMS is actually going to be fun to play.  For all its majesty and wonder and jaw-dropping vastness, the actual moment-to-moment gameplay is still very mysterious.  But even if the moment-to-moment experience is fun and engaging, there’s also the very real possibility that the game could be horrendously boring and tedious after a time, if the universe is as big as they claim it to be.

But that’s neither here nor there.  I’m excited for NMS because it’s different.  While I’m sometimes intimidated by truly open-ended games like Minecraft, I have a very easy time losing myself completely in open worlds like Skyrim and GTA, and as such I can see myself being totally immersed in exploring the vastness of NMS’s galaxy.  Moreover, it appears to be not only something I’ve never played before, but also something I’ve been wanting to play for as long as I can remember.  I’ve been wanting to explore the universe since I was a little kid wearing Star Wars underpants.   The Mass Effect games have come the closest to giving me that feeling, but the exploration was severely limited and very tightly scripted.  NMS is a completely different ballgame.


I did end up finishing A Story About My Uncle last week.  I sat in front of that aforementioned gauntlet, set up a timer on my iPhone, and said to myself – if I can’t get past this gauntlet in 15 minutes, I’m quitting, deleting the game from my hard drive, and moving on with the rest of my life.  I ended up getting past it in 10, and as it turned out it was the 2nd-to-last challenge in the entire game; the credits rolled about 10 minutes after I finally reached that elusive checkpoint.  Can I recommend it?  Sure, if it goes on Steam Sale again.  It’s got charm, and it’s certainly doing something different, and it’s nice to not kill anything for a few hours.  The difficulty does tend to spike unevenly at times, though, and it can be incredibly frustrating.  I am glad that I finished it, though I almost certainly won’t return to it.

I also gave Sniper Elite III a quick look-see over the weekend, and saw enough of it to know that it’s not my bag.

I’m mostly playing Stealth Inc. on my Vita, which I’m enjoying the hell out of – I’m at the beginning of Stage 8, which means I’m near the end, and it’s getting very difficult.  But it’s also a lot of fun, and it’s a perfect puzzler to play in short increments.

Speaking of the Vita, I still haven’t decided which Final Fantasy to commit to.  I’ve already played the first 6 hours of VII (though I think I’d have to start from scratch), I’ve played the first hour or so of X (and found it kinda meh), and also gave the first 20 minutes of IX a whirl (but couldn’t find a save point quickly enough).  As it happens, I’m probably not going to play any of them any time soon, being that I rented Persona 4 Golden.  I haven’t started that one yet, but I figure I might as well give it a shot first.

The Destiny beta comes out on the 17th.  I pre-ordered the game digitally a while ago on the PS4 but haven’t yet received my beta code; supposedly they’re arriving via email any minute now.  If you get in, look me up on PSN – I’m JervoNYC.

Community Event! 8/6, Barcade Manhattan

I’ll be at this, too!  (EDIT:  The address is actually 148 West 24th Street.)

Each summer, the New York Videogame Critics Circle holds a rollicking community event.

We’re happy to announce that this year, it’s at the newly opened Barcade New York on August 6 at 6:30 p.m. at 128 West 24th Street.

We don’t often invite the community to our regular meetings (probably because of the great amount of off the record stuff we spew).

But this is your rare chance to hang with your favorite New York City game writers from Kotaku’s Evan Narcisse to Polygon’s Russ Frushtick (semi-fresh from hanging with Jay-Z) to Mashable’s Chelsea Stark  – and more.

Here’s a list of our current members, many of whom will likely be there.

Indie game developers are welcome to show off there newest stuff as well!

So come game with us, drink with us and generally shoot the bull with us.

We just might have some cool giveaways, too, like…

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The Summer Doldrums Continue

At the end of my last post (has it really been 8 days since the last one?) I’d said that I was going away for the long weekend, and that I didn’t know how much gaming I’d be doing.  As it turns out, I’ve played almost nothing.

(I’ve been reading a lot, though!  I think I’m finally at that stage of parenting where I’m not totally exhausted all of the time, and so I’ve been plowing through books lately.  Finished the first 2 books of Carsten Stroud’s Niceville trilogy (pretty good), and am currently about halfway through Joe Hill’s Heart-Shaped Box which is freaking me the fuck out.  He is very much an apple that has not fallen far from the tree, and that is one fucked-up tree.)  

I had hoped to finish A Story About My Uncle before leaving, but I got stuck in a particularly tricky section towards the end.  I tried picking it back up when we got back, though, and I made literally no progress, and instead just got more and more frustrated, and now I think I’m done with it.  Looking at certain Steam comment threads, I’m clearly not the only one who got stuck in this particular area, and so while there is obviously a light at the end of this tunnel, I’m not at all inclined to find my way out.  I’m stuck because this particular puzzle represents a rather sharp difficulty spike requiring mastery of a skill I’ve just been introduced to (i.e., swinging from falling stalagmites), and the incredibly dark lighting makes it very difficult to pick up targets – plus there’s a feeling of inconsistency in terms of how far away a target is.  The short version is that this particular platforming gauntlet is frustrating for all the wrong reasons, and that’s annoying, and now I don’t care if I finish the game or not.

Meanwhile, I’m looking at my backlog and feeling wholly unmotivated to go through it.  And there’s a bunch of stuff that I really ought to get back into, considering the current release drought we’re in – Transistor and Valiant Hearts immediately come to mind as PS4 titles I’ve picked up and put down.  Given that Oddworld: New & Tasty comes out in 2 weeks, I really ought to finish at least one of those before getting wrapped back up in Abe’s Oddysee.  As for my Steam Sale purchases, I may give the Ada chapter of Resident Evil 6 a look.

In other news, I’ve been going back and forth about getting an Xbox One.  I keep turning on my 360 every morning hoping to see this message about receiving a $75 credit if I upgrade, because I almost certainly would upgrade with that kind of incentive.  And yet it must be noted that I – a loyal, happy original Xbox and Xbox 360 customer – shouldn’t need to be so blatantly bribed in order to upgrade; and even if I went out and bought one today, I’m still not sure what I’d play on it (besides maybe Forza Horizon 2, Sunset Overdrive and the Halo Collection, none of which are available right this very minute).

And that’s basically that, folks.  I’ll have a new Gamemoir column up on Monday, and I need to get cracking on my piece for Videodame that got put on the shelf back in May.  I’ll also have an essay in an upcoming issue of Unwinnable Weekly that I’m pretty happy about; more details on that as they emerge.

The Year (So Far) In Games

A bunch of sites have been putting up “Best Games of the Half-Year” posts this week, and I was tempted to follow suit, but after looking at my Games Played spreadsheet I found myself wondering how I could spin Wolfenstein: The New Order and South Park: The Stick of Truth into 800 words; it’s just not happening.  Those are two surprisingly terrific games, and they’ll most likely end up in my year-end list, and you should play them if you haven’t already.  Beyond that, it’s a bit of a reach.

I don’t know if it’s fair to call the first half of 2014 a disappointment; I expected this transition period between last-gen and current-gen to be a little weird and underwhelming.  That being said, a lot of the year’s biggest-hyped games fell relatively flat for me.  I was certainly impressed with the tech in Infamous: Second Son, but I hardly gave it a second thought after easily getting to 100% completion.  Similarly, there are certainly quite a few things to like about Watch Dogs, but if I think about that game for more than 5 seconds I get irrationally angry.  And Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes is what it is, I guess, though I haven’t felt compelled to pick it back up since I finished it the first time.

I could continue on in this vein – there’s plenty of bummers on my Games Played spreadsheet (*cough* Thief *cough* Mario Golf World Tour *cough*) – but I’d prefer to keep the rest of this somewhat positive.

Jazzpunk!  That’s a spicy meatball if there ever was one.

I enjoyed playing Tomb Raider again on the PS4 and my HDTV, although I suppose its retail success is partially to blame for the HD double-dips that are in our immediate future as we wait for the real next-gen stuff to appear, i.e.The Last of UsGTA VDiablo III, to name a few off the top of my head.  And I’m planning on at least renting all of those games, too, so I suppose I’m partially to blame as well.

Speaking of Diablo III, I suppose I should heap a little bit of praise on its Reaper of Souls DLC and the additional patching that game’s received in the year since I last turned it on; the DLC managed to suck another dozen hours of my life after I’d sworn I was finished with it forever, and the daily missions and objectives are an intriguing carrot that I still consider chasing after.

I really enjoyed Bravely Default right up until I realized that I was going to have to play the entire game a second time; and then I read some walkthroughs that revealed that I’d actually have to play the whole thing 3-4 times before getting to the final ending.  This will not do.

What else, what else… I’ve not yet had that much time to actually play anything in depth on my PS Vita, and yet I keep downloading free games on it.  I’m very happy to finally own it, though.  The port of Fez is great – I just love having it in portable form – and Luftrausers is excellent and I need to get back to it, and Olli Olli hurts my brain but is also really good.

I was also going to include my favorite bits of gaming journalism and criticism, but it’s a gigantic list so far, and it’s also full of rather depressing stories of how toxic this industry is.  Still, if you’d like to check it out, I’ve made it publicly available as a Google Doc.

This weekend I’ll be away with the family, so I’m not sure what gaming there’ll be.  I’m currently playing A Story About My Uncle, which is both exhilarating and frustrating, sometimes simultaneously; I’d like to try and finish it tonight, since I’m not taking my PC with me.  I picked up Civ Rev 2 for my iPhone this morning; it’s not quite as graphically interesting as the 360 version from a few years back, but it’s leaps and bounds better-looking than the previous iOS version, and the touch controls are a lot more intuitive.  I’m still way over my head most of the time, but such is life.  And I guess I’ll bring the Vita along, too, and maybe keep plugging away at Tearaway and also perhaps one of the 6 Final Fantasy games I’ve got on there.  (The voting was inconclusive.  I might go with 8 or 9, since I’ve never touched those before.)

Have a happy and safe 4th, everyone.

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