Tag: gaming

The Division: HOT TAKES

On the one hand, Gareth Martin for KillScreen has a rather remarkable and thought-provoking analysis of The Division, taking it to task specifically for its “perverse and and misanthropic politics”:

It’s always been a quirk of videogames that they succeed in depicting believable environments over believable people. The Division feels like the ultimate realization of this trait. The section of Manhattan island that the game takes as a setting is an artful work of digital craft. It takes a detailed one-to-one replica of the existing city as its starting point and covers it with layer after layer of enviromental detail. Every surface is creased, worn, scratched and marked, then plastered with trash, water, notes, graffiti, and greasy footprints. There is an obsession with garbage that tells the story of the breakdown of the systems of society so effectively. Bags of it lie in great drifts across roads, it fills stairways and alleys, piling up in cavernous sewers. It is an image that speaks so strongly to the supposed knife-edge the game wishes to depict society as resting on. It defines a society of endless consumption brought to its knees. When combined with the Christmas imagery that comes with the games’ “Black Friday” timescale—wrapped trees lined up on the streets, fairy lights twinkling above burnt out cars—it starts to feel like a visual interrogation of late Capitalism. And when the precisely simulated snow drifts in, and you are stalking down an empty city street surrounded by refuse, The Division seems to make sense, it seems to say something. But before long, out of the swirling flakes will come a jerky citizen, who will congratulate you for your efforts, and then ask you for a soda. And all at once, that something is lost.

The Division has a serious representation problem. Despite the complexity of its world, and its bleak sophistication, it fails miserably to represent the culture within it. Its crude depiction of a society divided entirely into “us and them” feels like the ugliest of conceits. “Citizens” are classified as those friendly-looking, passive idiots that wander up and down streets looking for a hand-out. “Enemies” include anyone who might take their own survival into their own hands. Within the first five minutes of the game you’ll gun down some guys rooting around in the bins, presumably for “looting” or carrying a firearm. Later you’ll kill some more who are occupying an electronics store and then proceed to loot the place yourself, an act made legal by the badge on your shoulder. Even the game’s “echoes,” 3D visualizations of previous events, seem designed to criminalize the populace, usually annotating them with their name and the crimes they have committed. This totalitarian atmosphere pervades everything—even down to a mission where you harvest a refugee camp for samples of virus variation, treating victims like petri dishes. Developer Ubisoft Massive runs merrily through any complexity and shades of grey in these acts, in what seems like a vain attempt to mask the fact that you are shooting citizens because they are “looters,” constantly prioritizing property and assets over human life.

* * *

This is the paranoid fantasy of the right-wing brought into disturbing actualization by The Division. Look at the three gangs that form the main antagonists of the game: The “Rikers” are the prisoners of Rikers island prison that lies off the coast of The Bronx. They are the most obvious member of what The Division presents as societies’ dangerous underclass—known criminals. The “Cleaners” are former sanitation workers, who have decided that the solution to the virus is to burn it out of the city. A gang of blue-collar garbage men and janitors equipped with flamethrowers, they represent the lowest rung of the working class. The third gang are the “Rioters,” a majority black, generic street gang, decked in hoodies and caps that spend their time looting electronics stores and dead bodies. Perhaps the laziest and most repugnant of all the game’s representations, the Rioters might have been clipped from the one-sided and inaccuratemedia coverage of disasters like Hurricane Katrina. Their collective name even seeks to mark anybody who resists the dominant regime for execution. Together, these gangs present a trinity of soft political targets, those that can be killed with little social guilt or questioning. The Division mercilessly uses these skewed representations to justify its political violence.

It’s a perverse idea of society, one where the government and its agents are the only thing standing between the average man and a host of violent sociopaths that surround him; from the “hoods” hanging on his street corner to the janitor at his office. They want what he has, the man thinks, because it is what they lack. They want to take what he has earned—to destroy what he has built. It comes from a deep seated place of ignorance and selfishness, one that doesn’t seek to understand the world but to divide it up into property and power. This ideology is nothing short of poisonous and yet The Division uses it as the fuel for its world. It borrows, word-for-word, the rhetoric of the New Orleans police department command who after Hurricane Katrina gave the order to “take the city back” and “shoot looters.” It presents those disenfranchised by society as its greatest enemies. It follows neo-liberal dogma so blindly that in one bizarre mission it actually sends the player to turn the adverts of Times Square back on, as if those airbrushed faces and glimmering products were the true heart of New York City, shining down like angels on the bodies of the dead among the trash.

And on the other hand, I completely agree with these series of tweets from Josiah Renaudin:

Neither of these viewpoints are wrong.  I was taken aback by Gareth Martin’s political analysis if only because, like Josiah, I simply haven’t felt obligated to pay much attention to why I’m doing anything in The Division; I’ve been playing for over 12 hours now and I still don’t 100% know who I am, or why I’m here, or what I’m doing.  That hasn’t stopped me from enjoying myself, even if I do wish I felt a stronger connection to the game; it wouldn’t stop me from wanting to continue, but as it is I have absolutely zero emotional involvement with what it is I’m doing.  And that’s fine as far as my gaming habits are concerned, most of the time.

But yeah, after a dozen hours of this shooty shooty bang bang business, I do start to question the ethics of why my digital avatar is behaving in this way.  It makes no sense to be ordered (by the game’s enemy-location radar) to shoot looters dead in the street, and then walk up to them and literally loot their corpse – or, more often than not, to walk away disappointed that they didn’t drop anything good enough to pick up.  I especially don’t know why I’m shooting the guys with flamethrowers, who presumably are setting virus-ridden things on fire, and so aren’t necessarily the enemy, per se.

The premise of The Division – a deadly virus contaminates New York City and you, as a member of The Division, are tasked with restoring law and order to a lawless wasteland of a city – is certainly rich enough that it ought to be able to carry some narrative momentum in and of itself, but that’s not what the game is really about; your real impetus to carry forward (and a very strong impetus it is, believe me) is the loot chase.  Very few games manage to make the chase compelling enough without being overwhelming and/or annoying; one might even make the argument that a game like Borderlands goes too far on the loot side of things.  The Division’s loot chase is very finely balanced and well-tuned; I don’t often get what I need but when I do, I’m very, very happy.

But in the same way that eating potato chips out of the garbage in order to regain health felt a little weird in Bioshock, or that in order to catch a serial killer in Condemned you end up killing more people than the serial killer you’re chasing, and often in gruesome and horrifying ways, it’s starting to become weird that I, as a member of The Division, am advancing the cause of liberty and freedom by shooting stragglers to death, and mostly in the head in order to get an XP bonus.

EDIT, POSTSCRIPT:  As I was writing all this down, another insightful essay popped up by Robert Rath on ZAM.

The Summer Doldrums 2K14

Every night after we put our son to bed, my wife and I will ask each other if either one wants the living room TV.  I use it to play games; she’s currently hooked on Orange Is The New Black.  Last night, she asked me if I wanted the TV, and I suddenly realized that I’m not going to need the TV for months.

We have officially entered the summer doldrums, and it hit me like a ton of bricks.  The next game on my to-do list, according to Game Informer’s Release Calendar, is Oddworld: New & Tasty which is released for PS4 on July 22.  After that, it’s mostly odds and sods until Destiny comes out in September.  I haven’t made up my mind if I’m going to purchase the remastered The Last Of Us or not (July 29), and while I’d like to play Diablo III (August 19) with my PS4 friends, I’m only doing it if I can carry over my PC characters – and there’s no direct confirmation that I can do that.

I’ve still got quite a lot of backlog to get caught up on – plus a ton of Vita stuff to try – and there are new rumors that Steam’s Summer Sale is starting this Thursday.  Thankfully, my Steam wishlist is very eclectic right now; it’s mostly weird indie stuff that I don’t necessarily need right this very minute.

(the top 5 titles on my wishlist)

  1. Goat Simulator
  2. NaissanceE
  3. A Story About My Uncle
  4. Vertiginous Golf
  5. Escape Goat 2

Lots of goats on my wishlist, as it turns out – the original Escape Goat is further down the list, too.  2014 is the Year of the Goat, I guess.  So it goes.

Looking at that release calendar, it’s hard not to be a little disappointed.  There are certainly a few highlights to look forward to, and I remain hopeful that there’s enough stuff between DestinyAlien: Isolation, Dragon Age: Inquisition, The Evil WithinEvolve, Middle Earth Shadow of MordorAssassin’s Creed Unity and Far Cry 4 to fill out the year’s presumptive top 10, but I’m definitely missing some of the notable titles that were delayed until 2015 (especially that new Batman game).

There’s also the notable absence of Civilization: Beyond Earth on that list, which I was pretty sure was still coming out this year, and which I’m very excited for even if I remain incredibly intimidated by the Civ franchise as a whole.

So, then:  what are you going to do?  Tackle the backlog, or go nuts on Steam?  Or both?  Or neither, and spend time with your family and read books and enjoy the summer weather?  Or maybe go back to writing music on a regular basis, which you’ve pretty much stopped completely ever since your son was born?

The First Few Hours: Trials Fusion (PS4)

Current Status:  I’m around 2.5 hours in.  I’ve gotten gold medals in all of the first 2 locations (“Easy”), I’ve completed the third tier with silvers (“Medium”), and I just unlocked the trick system, which also opened up a whole bunch of locations, costumes and bikes (including 4-wheel ATVs).

I have been a heavy-duty Trials fan for what feels like years now, even if I’m nowhere near an expert.  There was an early, PC-only version (whose name escapes me at the moment) which I was terrible at, but when the Trials games appeared on Xbox 360 I immediately devoured them, even as I repeatedly beat my head against the wall of “Hard” difficulty.  Last year, when I was in my hard-core PC gamer phase, I even went and bought the Trials HD edition on Steam (which combined those first two XBLA games, plus added some bonus content) and tried to play that for a little while, although that PC version is kinda terrible.

And as I think I mentioned earlier this week, I’ve become fiendishly addicted to Trials Frontier, a completely new game for iOS, with a free-to-play model that is surprisingly not terrible.  The game plays just fine, but the reason why it’s worth bringing up here is that it’s also made some significant tweaks to the Trials formula – namely, it’s now a kind of RPG, in that there’s a narrative, a “bad guy”, and a host of NPCs that give you tasks that reward you with XP, money and blueprints for new bikes.

What this iOS game ultimately succeeded in doing is to make my appetite for a proper, next-gen edition all that much more difficult to sate.  Thankfully, I didn’t have to wait very long.

There are good and bad things to discuss with regards to Trials Fusion.  Let’s start with the good.

It should come as absolutely no surprise that Trials Fusion is drop-dead gorgeous.  I’m aware that the Xbox One version came with a day-one patch that upped the resolution a bit, but the PS4 version arrives fully formed in glorious 1080p, and a frame rate that feels pretty rock solid despite the craziness of the backgrounds.  And, man – there is a lot of craziness happening in the backgrounds.  Buildings explode, wind farms collapse, dams break – and the draw distance is deep, so everywhere you look there’s something bananas going on, even if it’s something that looks 5 miles away.

The game also feels great, and a lot of this has to do with how much better the PS4 controller is at handling the fine-tuned movements that are vital to landing certain jumps or climbing steep inclines.  I do not find myself missing the 360 controller, which says pretty much all that needs to be said as far as that goes.

And the level of variety in each course is astonishing.  Again – I’m still towards the beginning of the game, but each course is radically different and shows off a hell of a lot more than I ever saw in the last-gen games.  I have no doubt that the creator community is going to go absolutely nuts once they get their hands on the tools.

There’s also, like in the iOS version, a quasi-RPG system, though it doesn’t yet appear to serve any real purpose.  You gain XP and money for completing levels and meta-objectives (more on that in a second).  I think I hit level 20 last night, but that doesn’t really mean anything as far as a noticeable increase in my skills or in my bikes – all it means is that I’ve reached certain plateaus where previously locked bikes and clothes are now available for use.*

* I think it would be neat, eventually, to have an RPG system in a Trials game that actually improved your skills dependent on how well (or how often) you executed them – like in Skyrim, or (digging deep here) Aggressive Inline.  So, for Trials, if you show that you can land flips regularly with ease, you should have greater control over your spin with a heavier bike, for example.

Those meta-objectives are interesting, in that they can be tough to ignore.  The levels are already pretty challenging, but once you see that you can earn bonus XP for landing 10 flips in a zero-fault run, or if you avoid touching certain colored obstacles on the course, those things are tough to un-see, and so it adds an extra layer of stress to your run.

The biggest change to the Trials formula is probably the trick system, but since I only just unlocked that before calling it a night last night, I’m not quite ready to discuss it.  It’s a neat idea, though, and I suspect that it’ll give multiplayer matches a lot more depth.  (Oh, yeah, there’s multiplayer.  Haven’t tried that yet, either.)

Alas, not all is perfect in Trials Fusion.  In a game famous for giving you the ability to immediately restart a race at the touch of a button, the biggest grievance I have is the interminable waiting that happens after you finish a run; there’s a period of what may be only 30 seconds but feels like 20 minutes as the game does… something… after you finish.  Perhaps it’s sending your run to the uPlay cloud?  I’m not sure what the cause is, but it takes WAY too long and completely ruins the flow.

The weirder aspect is that there’s also an attempt here of some sort of narrative.  There are two disembodied voices that you hear – one is a male announcer, making either kinda lame jokes about how it’s only been 14 minutes since the last workplace accident, and to “keep up the good work”, or else some weird attempts at giving the weather.  The other is a female AI named Cindy, who walks you through each tutorial phase and who also tends to chirp in from time to time to comment on the male announcer’s ramblings.  Between the futuristic laboratory environments and the AI companions, it’s almost as if they wanted to set a Trials game in Portal‘s Aperture Science, but forgot to hire funny writers.

And, also, the writers they did hire did not factor into account how many times you might restart a race – which, if you’re like me and you’re determined to get as close to gold as you can, is an awful lot – and so you’ll hear the same quips over and over and over and over and over again, until they stop making any sense (if they ever did make sense), and you kinda just wish they’d shut up.  Cindy keeps making these odd comments about how nice it is to see you – or, at least, this version of you, anyway – and this is strange in a game that takes such gleeful joy in ragdolling your rider in increasingly bizarre and convoluted ways after each finish line.  Is the joke that we’re just a bunch of clones?  Is that the big twist?  That’s not really that big a stretch.

Anyway – long loading times and weird storytelling aside, it’s a next-gen Trials game, and if that’s the sort of thing that tickles your fancy, well, you’ve probably already downloaded it.

 

The Right Touch: On Controllers, Touchscreens, and VR

Critical Distance’s latest bi-monthly topic for the Blogs of the Round Table is as follows:

Joysticks. Keyboards and mice. Mashing a controller with your fist. Touching. Poking. Waggling. Wiggling. Moving your head around a virtual reality world. Directing an arc of your own urine. The ways in which we can interact with games have changed from simple electrical switches into much more complex and nuanced forms. We can even adapt and alter controls for people who have difficulty using traditional methods.

Some of these methods work, and some don’t. Most of us we be familiar with complaints about the Wii’s “waggle” controls, the thumb-numbing frustration of virtual buttons on a touchscreen device, or the gyroscopic motions that ruin the 3D bit of the Nintendo 3DS.

How do we move forward with controls in games? Are the old ways the best, or a barrier to entry? Are you looking forward to playing Farmville on the Facebook-ulus Rift?

A few months back I talked about the difficulty in having a “Citizen Kane of videogames“, in a post that was responding to what GB ‘Doc’ Burford thought that game might look like (1, 2).  He made a number of great points – and, indeed, his ultimate premise that the Citizen Kane of games will be a first person shooter now looks awfully prescient considering what’s happened with the Oculus Rift in recent weeks – but I felt that the ultimate problem with a game achieving that sort of status came down to the control scheme.

Citizen Kane is a movie that can be experienced by anyone with access to the movie (and the senses with which to properly perceive it).  I’m not sure what the “Citizen Kane” of music might be, but let’s maybe, for the sake of argument, call it The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper” – if you have the proper equipment with which to play the album, and a set of working ears, you can experience it as it was meant to be experienced.  Same thing goes for books (and my personal CK of books, “Infinite Jest”) – all you need is a copy of the book and the ability to read.

The problem with games, however, is that it’s not just the game that you need in order to properly experience it – you also need to be familiar with how to play it.  You need to be trained – by experience or instruction – on how to interface with the work in a way that is distinct from the passive consumption of other media.   Gamers, as a general rule, have had their entire lives to get familiar with gamepads and/or mice and keyboards, and so even if a new game is introducing a wildly different control scheme than anything that’s come before it, gamers will have a natural advantage in terms of becoming acclimated to that scheme.  They’re not hunting and pecking for the buttons; their fingers are already where they need to be, and moving and interacting with the digital world soon becomes second nature.  Many non-gamers, meanwhile, will take one look at a modern game controller, perceive it as an obstacle and pre-emptively surrender.

The Wii made great strides in attracting non-gamers to the medium; having a 1:1 relationship with what was happening on screen made a lot of intuitive sense.  I have vivid memories of my in-laws, in town to take help look after my wife after her foot surgery, standing around in my living room playing golf and bowling – and my wife, immobilized in a chair, kicking all of our asses, actually.

The Kinect was supposed to make this even easier and more intuitive by completely removing the need for a physical device.  Of course, the original Kinect camera wasn’t necessarily as precise as it needed to be, and I hear anecdotal evidence that the Xbox One’s Kinect, while certainly superior to the previous incarnation, still has problems here and there accurately tracking physical movement.  The larger issue, though, is that nobody really likes running around and jumping and waving their arms all that much in service of a videogame, and it would appear that most games these days have taken the hint and aren’t really utilizing motion controls all that much, if at all.

Touch-screen devices – smartphones and tablets – have made huge inroads in terms of getting non-gamers involved in gaming.  For the most part, controls for touch-screen devices are incredibly intuitive, and more and more “non-gamers” are playing games on these devices.  Virtual buttons and d-pads are tricky to get the hang of, of course, but most of the people I see on the subway are playing Candy Crush Saga, and so they don’t necessarily deal with the same frustrations that others do.

Indeed, even my one-year-old son has some understanding of how tablets work; my wife and I have downloaded some drawing apps for him, and he intuitively gets that he can touch the screen and things will happen in direct response to his touch.  (Likewise, my mother, who claims to be totally in the dark about technology, has no problem playing Solitaire on her iPad.)

Still, the next big thing appears to be VR technology.  Facebook’s already-infamous $2B acquisition of the Oculus Rift, plus the sudden reveal (and positive reviews) of Sony’s Project Morpheus, seem to indicate that VR is not a fad (at least, not in the way that 3D now appears to be).  People who try it are instant converts (or, alternately, instantly nauseous).  But the converts seem convinced that VR is the real deal, and considering the pedigree of the recent hires at Oculus, one is tempted to believe them.

And yet, will strapping a silly-looking helmet onto one’s head really appeal to the non-gamer?  Is that how we will experience the Citizen Kane of games?  Fellow BoRT writer Matt Leslie at Lesmocon writes:

The main problem I can see with VR is that it’s overwhelmingly antisocial. I can’t picture a world where two or more people would sit around in a living room all with these things strapped on, nor would you let other people “watch” you play it. You can argue that its strengths would be in single player games anyway, but a single player game that you’re basically forced to play alone is not going to be the new hotness. Videogames have become highly social and are not something near-exclusively played by little kids and closeted nerds any more, so any advance in the technology needs to acknowledge that.

His point is a good one, though it should be noted that if there is any company that can figure out how to make VR less anti-social, it’d probably be Facebook, right?

Ultimately, the reason why I keep viewing this topic with the Citizen Kane qualifier is that, for all intents and purposes, whether and how a creative work can be accessed matters in terms of keeping the medium moving forward.  Gamers have adapted to new controllers before, and will continue to adapt – even though it seems that the Xbox360 controller more or less set the standard as far as handheld controllers go (and as evidenced by the iterative similarities of the XBO and PS4 controllers).

The Wii and the Kinect were novel approaches to attracting a wider audience into gaming, but, sadly, they became novelties themselves because there was no truly great game that took full advantage of what those control systems had to offer.  It would appear that VR has much wider potential in terms of immersion, and one can create a wider variety of games for it – but it’s also going to be expensive, and silly-looking, and the whole nausea thing can’t be ignored.

In my opinion, touch screen controls might very well be the key towards making games easier to play for the non-gamer, since so many non-gamers are already using touch screens and have an intuitive grasp of how they work.  This is also why the Steam controller is so interesting to me, personally speaking – of all the new controller ideas, the Steam controller’s touch pads seem like they might be the most capable – and the most intuitive.

And so if the ultimate goal of controller design is to get more people involved, then it seems to me that they’ll respond easier to concepts they already understand.

NOTE: Because of WordPress weirdness, I can’t include the little widget that allows you to see other submissions for this BoRT topic.  But I encourage everyone to check out the BoRT page to see further submissions as they roll in.

Game Journalism in Two Nutshells

1.  From the excellent and cathartic Dear Trolls tumblr:

Before you hit the ‘post comment’ button, you should wait ten seconds and just…think.
Think about the nature of the sentiment you’re about to put out into a public forum.
Think about what that comment says about you.
Think about whether or not that comment adds anything of worth to the discussion at hand.
I’d like to think that, if you did wait that ten seconds, you’d maybe decide against posting your little comment.
Maybe you’d realize that pointless, hateful snark is not, in fact, the absolute height of human communication.

DavidWurzel on “Game Developers Choice Awards honor Anita Sarkeesian”

 

Weekend Recap: Operation Backlog begins

1.  Operation Backlog has begun in earnest – even though I did sorta end up buying Need For Speed Rivals as a PC Download from Amazon because it was on sale and I had an extra $5 discount AND I already had a gift card balance, and, so, yeah.  I’m a little disappointed in it, though, which I’ll get to in a bit, and so with that said I do feel very much like I can fully engage with the backlog.  And there was this nice little bit of encouragement from Polygon, today:

Buying games on sale can feel like sending a message in a bottle to possible future versions of yourself, but finding and opening those bottles, and having them enrich your life, is like nothing else. It’s an investment in our own future, and it helps support the industry today.

There’s nothing wrong with your backlog, as long as you’re not going into debt to buy games you may not play in the near future. You shouldn’t be ashamed of the stack of games that seem interesting but remain unplayed. They won’t spoil. They will be there when you need them. And the people who made the games? They’re more than happy to have your money and interest.

Your backlog isn’t a source of shame, but a matter of pride; it’s a well-stocked library from which you can take comfort, a pile of blankets waiting for a cold night.

Indeed.

There’s a neat feature in Steam that lets you organize the stuff in your library by categories of your own designation.  I didn’t even know it was there, to be honest, and I only discovered it by a combination of wishful thinking and the sheer, dumb luck of an accidental right-click.  It’s a very small feature, and not one that’s necessarily all that noteworthy, except that it is exactly what I need in order to keep myself from getting distracted by other things.  Moreover, the fact that I can’t really do this with my XBLA library or my PSN games makes it a feature that I appreciate all the more, which is why I’m bringing it up in the first place.

2014 BacklogThe point is, this is what I now see at the top left part of the screen when I open up my Library page in Steam.  It’s a to-do list, easily managed and maintained, and cleansed of the other distractions in my library.

This Operation Backlog project is a little intimidating, is the thing.

Because even after organizing all this stuff (and then procrastinating by creating 2 more categories, one of which is for stuff like AC4 and BAO, where I’ve beaten the main game but still have tons of collectibles and side stuff to finish), I kinda just sat at my desk, staring at this list, not knowing where to start.  I suppose that the reasons why these games are in the backlog at all is because there was something a bit…. off… about them at the time of purchase; maybe I was already fully engaged by other games, or perhaps I tried them for a few minutes and for whatever reason couldn’t get sucked in quickly enough.

I did end up starting Outlast last night, for some stupid reason.  When it comes to horror – be it movies, games, even books – I get startled and frightened very easily, and being that I’m already in a heightened state of anxiety because my wife and I are binge-watching Breaking Bad, I had a feeling this wouldn’t be a particularly long play-session.  Sure enough, it wasn’t; the first real jump-scare happens around 10 minutes in (the Library, for those of you who’ve played it), and I audibly shrieked in my chair, and as soon as I got out of that room I turned the game off and went back into the living room to watch football.

It’s hard to pick one game out of that list to get started with, I think.  Rayman Legends is excellent but I find that I really only want to play it in quick, short bursts – same thing goes for BitTrip Runner 2, as a matter of fact.  I’m probably free of my anti-Diablo bias at this point, so I suppose I could get back into Torchlight 2, but I don’t necessarily want to start this project with a 20-40 hour clickfest slog.  I’m still scared of XCOM, and after that spectacular Polygon piece about the Spelunky eggplant run I’m seriously wondering what the hell I was thinking even picking that game up in the first place.

I’m starting to think I should give Kentucky Route Zero another go.  I think that’s my speed right now.  And maybe on the side I’ll get back into Shadowrun Returns, which I recall enjoying.

2.  So, yeah:  Need for Speed Rivals.  I’m an idiot for buying it on the PC, where absolutely nobody is playing it, and also because if I were to suddenly splurge on a PS4 right now, that’s the one game I would’ve picked up (unless I wanted to play AC4 again at full price).  My initial impression with it is that it’s basically a souped-up version of Need for Speed Hot Pursuit, except it’s always online – which means booting the game up and finding a server can take a long, long time.  Also:  you can’t actually pause the game, which is completely insane – if you’re in a single-player race and you miss a turn (because some arrows are easier to miss than others), you can’t restart (or, at least, I don’t think you can; I tried to find the option, and while I searched for it my car drove into a tree).  What I really should do is get back into Need For Speed Most Wanted, which I actually was enjoying.  At least I didn’t actually spend real money on it…

3.  Finally:  I normally don’t do any behind-the-scenes stuff here, but what happened on Friday was pretty incredible.  I’d written that piece about in-game collectibles, and in the promo tweet for it I included Patrick Klepek’s twitter handle, just simply in the hopes that he might see it.  Thought nothing of it.  An hour or two later, I hopped onto this blog’s dashboard to check something, and saw that my hit total was abnormally high.  I quickly discovered that Patrick had retweeted my link with some positive feedback, and by the end of the day this site had seen more visitors – over 1200 in all – than in all of 2011 combined.  (See (1) below.) What’s more, the spillover into the following day was also the 2nd biggest day this site’s ever had (see (2) below).  I’ve removed the actual numbers, but the spike is pretty obvious:

site stats1It should be noted, here, that I don’t do this blog for the sake of getting “numbers”, or anything like that; if I was doing this for the sole purpose of generating traffic, you’d be seeing a lot more stuff like a list of 23 things Microsoft needs to do to improve the Xbox One’s chances accompanied by animated cat gifs.  That’s easy, and dumb, and it’s the sort of tactic that I think is going to flame out pretty spectacularly in a year or two, when people have even less active attention spans than they already do.  (Personally, I believe there is an audience for thoughtful discussion and analysis, and that’s the sort of audience I’d like to attract.)

I do this blog because I want to get better as a writer, and because I would like to do this professionally some day, and the only way to do that is to write and write and write, and apply, and pitch, and apply, and pitch, and write and write and write, and hope that somebody notices.  I’m glad that people come here, of course, because I do want people to read what I write; it’s just that I don’t want to be a dick about getting people here.

All that being said, that spike above was pretty goddamned awesome.  (And I did end up reaching out and thanking him, and he was very cool about it.)

 

GTA V: of yoga and torture

I wasn’t necessarily planning on blogging every GTA V play session, but, well, it’s a slow afternoon.

I did the much-ballyhooed “torture” mission last night in which Trevor and Michael are, for some reason, brought in to (a) help the FIB interrogate a prisoner and (b) assassinate someone based on the prisoner’s intel (given under duress).  It wasn’t necessarily as awful as I’d been led to believe, but that’s not to say it wasn’t utterly distasteful; I suppose the most offensive part was that I’d failed to get the gold medal after I completed the mission because I’d failed to use every torture device available.  Let me rephrase that:  the game said I didn’t do a thorough enough job of torturing an innocent man, even though I’d removed two of his teeth with pliers, hooked his nipples up to a car battery, and broke the shit out of his kneecap – all while using his frantically-offered information to assassinate someone who may or may not have been “bad.”  The whole thing reminded me a bit of the infamous “No Russian” level in CoD:MW2, in that it was senseless and mean-spirited and there simply to make you feel bad, not necessarily to provoke or inspire thought or discussion.

20 minutes after this, I completed Michael’s first yoga exercise, which came replete with the expected sexual innuendo and jokes (including a few ripped straight out of the terrible, terrible film Couples Retreat, which, I mean, come on).

That the controller mechanics for the yoga were not all that dissimilar from the controller mechanics of the tooth-pulling is maybe the game’s slyest joke thus far.