Weekend Recap: The Muse is Dead, Long Live the Muse

I was away all weekend, so there’s not necessarily much to talk about.  Although there kind of is, actually.

Let’s do the three things, though, because one of them is related to the above paragraph’s cryptic nature.

GAMES:  Nothin’.  I am kinda sorta really wanting to play Sunless Sea, even though I’m not really sure what it is or if I’d actually play it more than once.  I’m tempted to wait to pick it up after I finish recording, as a kind of reward; or perhaps pick it up in a Steam Sale, since the last few sales have been pretty barren as far as stuff being on sale that I don’t already own.

On the other hand, I’ve been thinking about Evolve, and a few things became apparent rather quickly: as much as I really liked the Left 4 Dead games, you really need a reliable group of friends to truly enjoy what they have to offer; my PS4 friends list is pretty small, and I’m honestly not sure if my XB1 friends remember who I am.  In any event, I wasn’t going to be online all that much over the next few weeks anyway (because of this music project), so by the time I made myself available, it’s entirely possible that the Evolve scene will have moved on to something else.  So I’m taking that one off the table, and instead it’s the first entry in my “Notable Omissions” column in my “2015 Games Played” spreadsheet.

BOOKS:  Finished Patton Oswalt’s “Silver Screen Fiend“, which I liked very much even if it wasn’t nearly as dark as it kept implying it would be, and which also has an absurdly long appendix listing every movie he watched in a 4-year span, and which I did not actually read all the way through.  Immediately started Amy Poehler’s “Yes Please“, because reading memoirs by my favorite comedians is a very pleasant way to spend my time.

MUSIC:  So I spent Sunday afternoon going over last week’s demos and loops, and sent them out to a very small group of interested listeners.  I like working this way, I think; I’m definitely not falling into my usual “obsess over one demo and then stop working on anything else” routine.  Unfortunately, I’m also not sure if I still like any of the stuff I recorded, either.  But these Sunday audio dumps aren’t meant to fix problems; they’re only meant for collating and sending out.  Tonight I work on new stuff, rather than obsess and ruminate over last week’s stuff.  (I know I just said that I wasn’t sure if I liked anything I sent out; that’s not 100% true.  There is one idea in particular that I want to develop some lyrics for, actually, and if anything from last week ends up making the final cut, it’ll probably be this one.)

In related news:  I just got rather violently snapped out of that melancholy funk I’ve been wandering around in for the last 4 months.  On the one hand, this is great, because that mood was rather weighty and exasperating to deal with.  On the other hand, the prolonged nature of this mood was a motivating factor in putting together this recording project’s subject matter.  I don’t necessarily believe that you have to be miserable in order to capital-C Create… but… it’s also hard to tap into an emotion that you’re no longer feeling.  In the end, though, fuck it:  I’d rather be happy.  And I am happy.  Happiness is a muse, too.

on collectibles

Collecting stuff always comes across as filler at best, psychological manipulation at worst. Most games do a poor job of justifying collecting other than giving you a reason to pick stuff up. I’m OK with the collecting being about further exploring the world, but even most games don’t seem to pull that off. I know that someone people really like that base level of completion, though, and it’s just not my thing.

(from Patrick Klepek’s tumblr, answering a question regarding the selling of Steam cards, which is something that has now netted me $5.68 since yesterday’s post)

[Note: I’m not trying to turn this blog into a Patrick Klepek appreciation/stalking site; it’s just that a lot of the stuff he says/writes resonates with me.]

Let me throw out two questions to you.  I’ll answer them (because that’s what I do), but I’m curious to get your feedback as well.

  1. Do collectibles matter to you?  Have they changed the way you play?  Do you prefer games with hidden collectibles, or do you avoid them?
  2. Are there any games that have successfully made their collectibles relevant and worth pursuing beyond simply getting a trophy or an achievement?

1.  I used to be obsessed with finding the hidden areas in games like Quake 2 and Duke Nukem 3D.  I’d turn on God Mode and just wander around, looking for hidden nooks and crannies.  The loot was usually nice, but that wasn’t even necessarily the pull; it was simply the idea that in these intricately designed worlds, there was always a reason to venture off the beaten path.

When Achievements became a thing, I couldn’t help but notice that games started putting hidden stuff back into their games with greater frequency.  It became a sort of status symbol of how hard-core you were in a given game; yes, I found all 500 Orbs in Crackdown; yes, I killed every pigeon in GTA IV, and here’s the proof.

Maybe that’s a bad example; I never found every pigeon in GTA IV, or even came anywhere close.  Some games were better at hiding their collectibles than others, and Rockstar’s worlds in particular were so huge, and so dense, that hunting down those specific things would’ve taken hundreds of hours that I simply didn’t have (unless I used some sort of map, which would – to me – defeat the purpose of the hunt).

Other games are less about obscure hiding places and more about simply overwhelming you with sheer numbers.  The Assassin’s Creed franchise comes to mind, as do the two most recent Batman Arkham games; both of these games feature so many goddamned things to find that the hunt stops being enjoyable and simply feels like busywork; a lazy way of implementing “added value”.  When you finish the game and see that you’ve only completed 70% of what the game has to offer – and this is after you’ve already sunk 20-40 hours – it can feel downright discouraging.

I don’t feel the pull towards these things the way I used to, though it also depends on the game.  I couldn’t be bothered to look through every viewfinder in Bioshock Infinite, but I was kinda pissed off that I missed a few of the voice recordings – especially since I apparently missed some pretty major plot points as a result.  And I’d thought I’d been pretty thorough, too!  

2.  When I started this post, I figured that by the time I got around to answering this second question I’d already have a list of games that offered worthwhile collectibles, but it turns out that I’m coming up somewhat empty.

I seem to recall that while some of the hidden objects in Psychonauts got a bit ridiculous in number, the “mental vaults” were quite important – one in particular (in the disco level) added a level of backstory to the disco teacher lady that was absolutely jaw-dropping; I made it a point to find every single one after seeing that.

The hidden skulls in the Halo games offered a great deal in the way of replay value… although I was never the world’s biggest Halo fan, and I only ever found those (when I was inclined to hunt for them) by looking at YouTube videos.

I’m reminded of Valve’s games, suddenly, even if their games were never particularly prone to hidden collectibles.  But scouring the environments always yielded interesting rewards in terms of story (i.e. the hidden rooms in the first Portal, the hand-written messages in the Left 4 Dead games).

If you can come up with better ones, by all means, let’s hear ’em!

>Weekend Recap: Superbowl edition

>I apologize for the lack of posts lately; the post-holiday doldrums have settled in, apparently, and I haven’t found that much blog-worthy news of late.

I’ve polished off the Anchorage DLC in Fallout 3, and I’ve decided that I’m not going to play any more Fallout until the level cap patch hits; I hit level 20 even before I started the DLC and the way I figure, I might as well get rewarded for killing things. It’s odd – for the entire course of the game, I was always struggling with money, but now I’m suddenly rolling in cash.

Finished The Maw; it’s a cute, fun, better-than-expected XBLA title, but I’m not sure I’m ever going to touch it again. I think I mentioned this the other day – I like my XBLA titles to be the sorts of things that I can continually play over and over again, be it something arcade-y like Geometry Wars or something puzzle-y like Puzzle Quest or Bejeweled 2.

Speaking of which, there’s a Bejeweled mini-app on Facebook that I’d been getting obsessed with during my less-busy hours at work, and so I fired up my XBLA version over the weekend. Is there any other game in the 360’s library with tougher Achievements? My God.

Finally, I had a friend over yesterday before the Superbowl who’d never played Left 4 Dead before, so we sat down and did the airport level from top to bottom. I think I’m still buzzing from the experience; it was absolutely thrilling and we could not stop high-fiving each other for the rest of the day. I keep forgetting how absolutely incredible that game is; I need to be playing it more often, especially in this dry release period. Maybe we’ll put a SFTC L4D night together or something.

>Zombies ZOMG

>Zombies are the new Nazis.

Think about it. Nazis have been the de facto bad guys in popular culture for the last 50 years. They are a perfect enemy; nobody gets offended when you have to kill them. Castle Wolfenstein illustrated this in interactive 3D, and the videogame boom as we know it was born.

I think, however, that we’ve reached a point in our society where the evilness of Nazis has lost a bit of its power. The videogaming generation did not grow up in WW2, and neither did its parents. When you kill Nazis in videogames, you’re not avenging the horrors of the Holocaust anymore, or freeing Europe from the tyrannical grips of a monster; you are killing bad guys in order to make it to the next checkpoint, and Nazis have always been an easy target for game designers because (a) you don’t have to worry about cultural sensitivity issues, and (b) who doesn’t enjoy killing Nazis? It’s just that most WW2 games these days don’t really focus on the why; they focus on the experience of the soldier in the middle of the battle, rather than the reason why the soldier is over there in the first place, and as a result, the enemy Nazi soldier is no longer as capital-E Evil because they all look the same and there’s so damn many of them.

Enter the zombie.

Zombies have been around forever, but I would point to the 2002 film 28 Days Later as the source of the current zombie revival. (My own personal interest in the coming zombie apocalypse was not borne from movies but from Max Brooks, whose Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z made for highly engrossing and informative reading.) Danny Boyle’s film reimagined zombies as less of a slow-moving, brainless dread and more of a HOLY SHIT IT’S COMING RIGHT AT ME AAAAAAAAAA horrorshow, and it seems to have struck quite a nerve; now there’s zombie films and games all over the place. In fact, one need look no further than a bonus mode in Call of Duty: World At War to see the ultimate crossover – zombie Nazis.

I bring this up because I spent a highly entertaining hour yesterday with 2 close friends killing hundreds upon hundreds of zombies in Left 4 Dead, and it occured to me in the crazy dreams that ensued later that night that a zombie horde is, in 2008, a far more frightening prospect than a Nazi ambush. And it’s also a much more fertile idea for game developers. Nazis can only exist in Europe in the 1940s; zombies can exist anywhere, at any time, and they don’t need guns to kill you. They have no political agenda or ideology, they have no apologists, and they never run out of numbers. They can be fast or slow; they can be subhuman and superhuman. ALSO: they can be hilarious (Shaun of the Dead, FIDO).

I’m not saying that Nazis aren’t evil; of course they’re evil. I’m Jewish, fercrissakes, I’m not suggesting any such thing. I’m simply positing that there will eventually be more zombies than Nazis, and we should all prepare accordingly.

>Good Times All Around

>Last night was epic.

Last night was the sort of night that makes me seriously reconsider my pick for GOTY. As said previously, I’m refraining from doing the big GOTY post until after Prince of Persia arrives – I’m a huge fan of the series, and with all the positive reviews it’s been getting, it could very well have an impact.* But as I’ve also said previously, I entered the 2008 stretch run still feeling confident in my GOTY choice.

I’m having some serious questions now.

Last night was a night spent with Rock Band 2 and Left 4 Dead.

Let me start with Rock Band 2. My wife and I have a band together: “Lilo and Two Poots”, named after our two dogs and their farts. In this band, I play drums (on hard) and she plays guitar (on easy). We’d been hitting a wall in our tour progression, though – Medium is too hard for her on guitar, and there were a bunch of competitions that had Medium difficulty as the lowest available option. And so, as she was out of the house, I took it upon myself to pick up the guitar and plow through the stuff she couldn’t do.

And, as a result, I ended up beating the game (I think). There was a 5-song set that we needed in order to open up some new venues, and then there was an 8-song set in Shanghai that would get us on the cover of Rolling Stone. After the RS show, I opened up every other venue in the world, and so obviously there’s still a tremendous amount left to do, but the credits rolled anyway. Having only really played RB2 on the drums, it took me a little while to get used to playing guitar again, but I quickly got the hang of it, and I had a friggin’ blast. There’s so many great songs in that game, and all of the guitar parts are sensible. My biggest problem with Guitar Hero 3 was that the difficulty level often had nothing to do with the actual music that was being played; playing a song on Medium was often times harder than actually playing the actual song on an actual guitar. RB2 does not make that mistake at all – I did my guitar parts on both Hard and Expert last night and the difficulty was absolutely fair; if I screwed up, I knew it was my fault, and if I was able to get 4 or 5 stars at the end, I felt like I’d earned it.

And in the middle of this RB2 insanity, I played some Left 4 Dead with some good friends. We managed to get through an entire story (I can’t remember what it’s called off the top of my head, but it’s the one that ends with the last stand at the boathouse). L4D might not be the most complete game package out there right now; it really just does one specific thing, though, and it does it exceedingly well. We were constantly keeping tabs on each other, racing in to fend off a Hunter on a downed teammate, calling out Boomers, making sure we all had our flashlights turned off if we heard a Witch, setting up gas can traps for oncoming horde assaults… and all the while, the excellent AI-controlled 4th member of our party was watching our 6, healing us when necessary, and never, ever getting in the way. The game is remarkable in its pacing, but also in terms of communication; the three of us were constantly talking to each other, but then (also) our in-game characters would chime in with situationally-appropriate comments which often cracked us up. Not to mention, we all scored a number of Achievements as we progressed, most of which were pretty cool and not really things we were consciously aiming for.

This is a long way of saying that RB2 and L4D are now firmly entrenched in my top 5 of 2008, which is getting more and more crowded with every passing day.

*According to Amazon, I won’t be getting my grubby little mitts on PoP until Friday, the 5th.

>Remembrance of Things that Almost Were

>I feel like I have about a million things I want to talk about today; I’m not sure how many are actually post-worthy, and I’m definitely not sure how much time I have to write, so we’ll see how it goes.

But first things first – I’m now only 15 measly Points away from my goal of amassing 10,000 Points in a year. It’s probably too difficult to try to get to 40,000 before the end of the year unless I go on a Points-whoring binge, and to be honest I’d much rather actually enjoy the games I’m playing right now; then again, I’m only 1227 Points away…

And here are some quick recaps before we get to the meat:

  • I think I’m almost done with Tomb Raider: Underworld, in every sense of the word. I’m pretty sure I’m in the last level, and unless I feel the need to chase after some (minor) Points, I’m probably not going to play it again. I think they dropped the ball with this title, big time; Legend and Anniversary had generated a lot of goodwill towards a franchise that had been plummeting into oblivion, and Underworld was a fantastic opportunity to really blow us all away, and instead the game feels a bit under-developed. Even something little like cutting out the Croft Manor minigame is a bummer.
  • I played another 30 minutes of Left 4 Dead with some friends last night – for some reason I got booted off of Xbox Live after we all wiped in the middle of a stage and I couldn’t log back in. That game is friggin’ awesome. The computer AI is absolutely fantastic – you almost can’t tell the difference if one of your friends is handing the reins over to the computer – and the overall pacing is absolutely incredible.

This is where I was going to talk about the recent discussion of the reviews of Mirror’s Edge that have been circulating around the ‘tubes, as well as answering a question from the MTV blog about waiting for DLC, and I was also hoping to put up the synopsis of a conversation I’m having with a friend of mine who is somewhat anti-gaming. But as the fates would have it, I’ve gotten super-busy at work and so those things will have to wait. Have a great holiday, everyone.