Ubisoft has unveiled Valiant Hearts, a gorgeous love story set in World War I with five connected stories joined by a faithful dog.
So I only heard about this game maybe within the last year at most. I’m not a console gamer, and grew up mostly on PC gaming, which is sometimes limiting and sometimes a better thing.
In any case, Mirror’s Edge capitalizes on the popularity of the sport Parkour, or free running. It’s basically running while using an urban environment to unusual but speed enhancing effect. Don’t use stairs, jump from ledge to ledge. it’s immensely physically taxing and requires heavy training to do safely because of the dangerous stunts that it involves.
So the thing about Parkour is that it’s awesome to watch and something everyone would love to be awesome at, but not that many people would actually committ to the physical training necessary to master it. So there’s a computer game for us to live vicariously, and it has an actually interesting dystopian setting to basically give context to an obstacle course, with armed guards chasing and shooting at you to give you that pace and urgency.
Because I’ve watched enough YouTube, I happen to know that the original creator of Parkour liked to do it while fantasizing about hypothetical action or escape scenarios, becaues it basically is a martial art, or as I think he puts it, an escape art. He’s had a couple of movies in France made based around these Parkour setpieces, but I think this game’s story could have been his brainchild for all its relatively thin plot, if interesting setting.
It’s set in a dystopian city where cameras watch everything and there’s no such thing as privacy or free information. To get around the all seeing eyes of the authorities, people hire runners to physically run packages across the rooftops of the city, in a cat and mouse game on speed. The whole game has a vibrant art style of a bright sunny and pristine city, with lots of solid colours, both to give visual clues as to what might help with your next step in running and to set the stage of this dystopia which looks clean and perfect even though the police are surprisingly trigger happy. Coloured parts of buildings tend to be helpful to you, so in a metaphorical sort of way the pristine whiteness represents the dystopian society’s barriers against you, but colour represents your freedom of movement and therefore expression.
I’m a little uncomfortable with first person view games. Other games which involve climbing and acrobatics, like the Arkham games or Assassin’s Creed games, have a third person view. In this case the entire idea is immersion into what it would be like to be a Parkour runner and so the first person view is not just relevant but the whole point.
All in all, from what I’ve played so far, Mirror’s Edge is one of those games that I can classify as art. It’s not particularly well written in terms of plot, but I really enjoy the art style, the free flowing feel, and the way the game challenges you to think on your feet (literally) and react to the running opportunities available to you.
It’s basically a running puzzle game with a timer. I enjoy it the way I enjoy Portal, which is basically also a first person puzzle game. And both take the basic premise of solving puzzles or racing across an obstacle course to the next level, immersing you into an art style and world which gives context to your actions in an enjoyable way.
It’s produced by EA too, and is evidence that some great games do come from developers under EA, and they can be worth it.
So I’d recommend it even to non-gamers. You have to get used to responding to your controls in a fluid and instinctive way to keep up your pace, but it’s something we all have to do, gamer or non-gamer. But if you don’t feel like working your ass off for weeks to be able to get that physical satisfaction of actually doing Parkour, and just want to feel pretty cool in an interesting dystopian setting… this game is all stars.
Steam suggested this to me a while back and I was really skeptical, because of all the historical periods to simulate, following the footsteps of Hernan Cortés is not one of the ones I want to.
Then Steam put it on a 50% sale, and a friend told me about the game mechanics that seemed really intriguing, so I went with it. Damn you Steam sales.
So in a nutshell the game is a bit of a cross between the Heroes of Might and Magic games, the XCOM games, with some RPG elements. And that’s what makes it really fun. You move around on a map, have smaller turn-based combats, with a crew of characters who grow and progress with you.
You create your own Conquistador, going one year ahead of when Cortés would have set sail. You assemble your crew of perhaps a dozen fellow adventurers, and set sail for the New World. And then you make choices from then on.
I have to really applaud the game designers and writers. They captured the adventurous exploring spirit of the Spanish at this time, and your crew all have their own individual characteristics. Some will be pious, some will be greedy, some will be racist, some will be aggressive, and your choices have an impact on their morale and whether or not they will stay with you on your journeys.
So as well, they captured a rather human diversity of characters exploring a new world together. Some who want gold, some who want to learn about the natives, some who only want to kill them. It’s hard not to play this game and mentally place men like Cortés and Pizarro in these difficult choices, knowing their ultimate decisions.
There are some fantastical elements of course, like El Dorado and the Fountain of Youth, for you to discover. The game also makes a lot of effort to actually create characteristics for your companions. A greedy, adventurous follower might talk to you about why you gave up looting that temple where those precious idols were just sitting there. A pious one might question your judgment about whether to kill people undergoing a religious ceremony.
Cortés’ chance at fame was toppling the Aztec Empire by gathering dissentous factions within it, and then assuming control of its hierarchy for himself and Spain. You have numerous choices about how to take this chain of events.
As someone who personally abhors the glory-seeking attitude that Cortés and men like him tended to have, and who also doesn’t really approve of human sacrifice, I sided with the Totonec to assault Tenochtitlan. Prior to this, another Spanish commander proposes a cunning plan: after Moctezuma is dead and the Aztecs defeated, he could move in on the unsuspecting Totonec rulers, and claim everything for Spain.
I’m not well up on this period of history so I’m not sure if that’s how it happened. But the game makes a point of telling you that this is the only way for the King back in Spain to actually be happy. If you, as I did, go back with the promise of strong trade relations with the Totonec, instead of a glorious victory of a handful of Spaniards to assume control of a vast empire, he kind of just goes “Meh” and takes most of the gold you bring back.
Which is actually probably realistic. The commander who proposes the plan to take over talks about how all the riches of the Aztecs could make Spain so incredibly wealthy that it could rule Europe. I have the benefit of historical hindsight, and I know that gold and silver from the New World actually sent Spain spiralling into inflation, and that the surplus of this money got it involved in very expensive wars that were more costly than they were worth.
So really, my decisions were best for the Totonec AND for Spain. They just didn’t know it.
So sometime last year an MMO released named “The Secret World” that I wasn’t actually terribly interested in. There are so many MMOs out in the world now, that there’s no point in buying early. You’re best off waiting until the business model changes for it to be much more affordable, if not free, to try it out. They almost all eventually go this route.
TSW went to a subscription-free model, though still requiring purchase of a CD key. Steam offered a sale on it, so I figured I’d try it out.
The concept is of a modern world setting, as opposed to sci-fi or fantasy settings that most MMORPGs are these days. The focus is on fictional conspiracy theory organizations, like the Templars and the Illuminati, as if they were fighting a secret war against the end of the world, which looks rather Lovecraftian.
So you get to choose between aligning with the Templars, Illuminati, or the even more fictional “Dragon” which has a distinctly east Asian basis. The Templars focus on secret mercenary armies, “Dragon” focuses on manipulating the focal points of chaos theory, and the Illuminati are about using secrets and manipulating power bases.
I haven’t tried that much of the game so far. Some aspects of it are definitely intriguing, but I have to say that it’s just not very fun so far. The manner of storytelling is mixed, with some very entertaining sequences and some extremely dry or unengaging ones. I found the faction introduction to “Dragon” rather fun: the flashback knowledge revealing the oncoming Lovecraftian end is actually a revelation during orgasm, for some reason. It’s a more than a bit of a sexual exoticism of Asian culture, but considering the weird lengths that all the factions are taken from their conspiracy theory source material, it’s not actually offensive.
Despite that each faction has its own flair, gameplay ends up feeling just like any other MMO. Take quests, fight things, collect things. I may not have reached far enough yet, but the game seems to fail to take advantage of the interesting faction backgrounds. Instead of feeling like you’re manipulating events in a secret war to stop the end of the world, you’re gallivanting around and fighting things as if it didn’t matter that you were part of a secret organization.
MMOs mostly involve combat in some form or another, and honestly I didn’t find it engaging at all. Lots of games these days have very fluid, fun and easy to use combat systems, but TSW feels like it was developed 10 years ago.
This is a coincidence in a way, because it’s developed by Funcom, who made the longstanding classic “Anarchy Online” but sadly old MMO gameplay just doesn’t fly anymore faced with the competition. The fact that it’s produced by EA doesn’t help an impression that this is an interesting concept that feels sadly very generic and unengaging.
Anyway, I own it and I imagine I’ll occasionally poke around in it, but my first impressions aren’t encouraging.
So Company of Heroes 2 is on open beta for a few days on Steam.
And Rift has gone Free To Play.
I tried a little of CoH2 and it was pretty fun. I really geeked out at the winter maps, and that there are periodic blizzards which require your troops to either gather near fires or seek shelter. This opens up interesting tactical opportunities, either grinding offensives to a halt as everyone seeks shelter, or exposing your men to frostbite in order to gain ground.
There isn’t that much that’s different from the original, aside from the changed German side and the Soviet side. There are more customization options for the tech tree and colour designs. New maps with the winter setting. The AI is sufficiently clever, too.
I’m not sure I would pay full price for this. 70 francs is expensive for what’s basically the same gameplay with one or two new tricks, even if that gameplay is really well done.
Rift was released when it seemed like everyone was making an MMO, and there were a bunch of people who played it at the time saying it would blow the previosu MMOs out of the water. It didn’t.
In trying it… it’s okay, but it’s hard to see what’s all that special about it. Sometimes an old MMO still has a fine trick up its sleeve, but it’s hard to immediately grasp what is particularly interesting about this game, at least from these early levels. It feels very generic.
What sort of gets me is that every MMO wants to make a cool CGI battle scene cinematic to start itself off, but they all seem the same, and generally have very mediocre voice acting. They show off some of the classes of the game, and fight something.
Still, in trying the game it’s also easy to see how the genre has moved on and become much more user friendly. Rift is rather click-heavy, there aren’t a lot of hotkeys. I’ve honestly gotten used to hotkeys to make your life easier and speed up your reaction times. This isn’t to say that Rift is unusually click heavy, just that all MMOs were like that before, but thankfully they’re moving on.
This won’t keep my attention for long, but I was curious because of the early hype.
So in the desire to find old games that would run on this laptop, I realized I had never played Baldur’s Gate II: the Shadows of Amn.
This is reputedly one of the greatest RPGs ever made for the PC, and all the modern classics of Mass Effect and Dragon Age made by Bioware more or less stemmed from this earlier creation.
It’s been a long time since I played Baldur’s Gate so the story is basically completely fresh, but I realize early on that the game has great writing and atmosphere.
They don’t really make isometric RPGs anymore. Everyone favours higher budget third person view RPGs (except for Blizzard’s nostalgic design of Diablo III), which I do enjoy. Once upon a time all RPGs were isometric views, and involved far more text description; these days games rely on their graphics to fill in that gap.
But I really like that BG2 has text descriptions pop up as you enter a room, to describe them. It’s a small detail that makes me nostalgic for the old days of RPG writing. Planescape: Torment did something similar, and it makes me really want to get around to finishing that game.
You know how old RPGs and old MMORPGs were all about the roleplaying experience? Not necessarily that you had to go deep into the roleplaying, but that it was about creating a character in an open ended world.
When you open up an older RPG, and even of the early generation of MMOs, you had a lot of these character options. Technological (or budget) limitations didn’t necessarily give you a lot of graphical customization but you could write backstories, add all these little cosmetic bits to make your character yours.
They don’t do that anymore.
I haven’t played an RPG from the past few years or so, online or offline, which even gives you the basic little text window to write your own backstory.
I recently digitally dusted off LOTRO, in my “after watching The Hobbit” mood and realized it had all these lovely, nifty little features to give depth to your character. But no one bothers with that anymore, it seems. It’s not important.
Of course, the overall style has changed too. Older MMOs weren’t about the story, they were about the world. They relied on players to create their own stories and content, and just let the world be their sandbox. Newer MMOs sell themselves on the overall story, and in a way they tell you what your character is because they’re telling you what your role in the story is.
I mean, remember Everquest? What was the story there? They gave you the world and let you get on with it.
To be honest I really love the idea of these open worlds and user created content. It still happens in Eve Online, but sometimes I do get bored without a good central plot to move me forward.
It’s just odd that no one’s tried to do both effectively. SWTOR is a nice game that’s very character focused but it largely tells you what your story is, despite the various choices you can make. Guild Wars 2 is a really fine product but only ever offers the illusion of personal choices because it’s clear how little they matter.
Ah well, I don’t know. Maybe there’s something new that I haven’t tried which marries the two ideas of an open world and a character driven story well.
So I love playing RPGs on the computer these days most especially because of modding content. People create their own stuff, and share it for others to use. They’ll customize armours, weapons, create whole stories, tweak animations to make them look better, retexture things, all kinds of really nifty stuff.
Last night I thought “You know, I never finished Oblivion, i should play it” and while it was installing I checked out what mods were available.
Nexusmods is a great site for community modding for several different games, and I like to go to them first, go through the categories and just go through the list of mods in order of their popularity in terms of cumulative downloads.
And what I saw just made me really, really sad.
There were pages, and pages, and pages of really skimpy armour based off of anime characters.
I don’t mind the idea in principle, people can mod what they want, but not only does skimpy anime clothing completely seem out of place in a swords-and-magic Fantasy setting, they’re also always ridiculously skimpy.
The fact that there are pages and pages of this, among the top downloads too, just… makes me really sad about the inability to immerse themselves and also the blatant misogyny.
That and skimpy female armour makes no sense at all. As a modder, you can make good looking armour for females which is ALSO practical or makes sense in the setting. Those exist, but you have to dig rather deep into the pages to get there.
So i was recently introduced to "Hey Ash What’cha Playin’?" which is a lovely… bunch of videos (don’t know whether to call it a series or a channel…) made by a brother and sister who grew up gaming and collaborate on videos about games. They’re short and hilarious and perfect for gamer humour.
Ashly, the sister, also runs a Tumblr blog named "How games saved my life" which is full of “testimonials about the positive, life-changing power of video games.”
I like this, because generally speaking video games get a bad reputation. In America they’re blamed for violent crime, for disconnection of children, for all kinds of things. In the realm of media and art games are commonly ranked deep below movies and books in terms of their intrinsic value as storytelling mediums, and that’s just unfair.
So I applaud that her blog is full of stories from people about how certain games helped them through deep depression, or chemotherapy, or drug addiction, or abusive .
I have been, I think, at least once in some form of depression. During it I gamed all the time, and read books, as an escape from all the problems knocking on my door. I’ve tried to come up with explanations for this, because in my parents’ simplistic understanding the games are all to blame and I don’t like this overly simplistic mindset.
It would be wrong to say that gaming didn’t distract me, in a way, from dealing with things or handling my problems. I could have been doing things, though at the time I had no idea what to do or where to start.
During that period of my life I never felt “low”, never felt utter despair, never went near considering suicide. I did my best to balance my life out, to make sure I was getting a balanced and affordable diet, that I went out and tried something new at least once a week.
I have always, always, wanted some kind of explanation for my behaviour then, but it would be wrong again to say that it was isolated to that time alone. Every time i leave my parents to go somewhere else, I never want to stay in touch. When I went to Bangkok almost 2 years ago, I let them know I arrived safely, and from then on I cut myself off and felt free to spend 10 days taking advantage of the hostel’s good wireless to catch up on TV series. I had seen Bangkok enough already before, after all.
Not games then, just escapism.ilies
One of the common complaints about movies based on books is in being disloyal to the books.
People say “But they left out this chapter of the book!” or “They added this scene which wasn’t in the book!” People also say “This character isn’t accurately portrayed by this actor and that’s wrong on many levels!”
I feel like this is interesting, because it shows a clear ignorance of the filmmaking process, which is in its own way interesting because, like I’ve discussed before, hiding the process protects a magical perspective for us. Not knowing how something works and being content with being dazzled is, in a way, our pursuit of magic.
Sometimes things need to change to make a book into a movie, because they’re entirely different mediums. A film is highly visual, and can communicate things without having to tell you about them, and transcribing that visual non-verbal message from a verbose medium like a book is not particularly easy, and not necessarily a compelling message in film. In other words, sometimes what works in a book doesn’t work on film.
Some books are created as adaptations or supplementary material to films. It’s a common statement that if the Star Wars prequels didn’t make sense to you, you should read the books “where it’s better explained.” This just sounds to me like a bad excuse for sub-par filmmaking.
Similarly, video games can be art in the way they can emotionally affect us, but they too operate on a different level from film or books. The trend, from what I can tell, is to try and make video games more and more like slightly interactive movies, which can be compelling but lose the capacity of video games to involve the player personally in what is happening.
It depends on the game, of course. But it’s easy to say that you don’t have to make a movie like a video game (which is what the Resident Evil movies do), and you don’t have to make a video game like a movie (like the more recent Call of Duty games).
And it’s okay that they’re different. You can criticize them for unnecessary changes and the like, but the way some stories are told just depend on the medium in which they are told. Creators who respect that tend to create the better content.
So I recently got back into SWTOR. Along with that came dabbling in GW2, and STO. CoH closed down late last year, which was pretty sad. All of it made me think.
It’s hard not to compare these products, in any case.
My mom asked me this last night.
So my exams are over, for now, and I wanted to take the opportunity to spend a bit of time with my parents. We caught up on the shows that we watch together, and now that I know her laptop can handle it, I really wanted to show them Assassin’s Creed 2, just because of how pretty it is, and how accurately they model the various cities of Renaissance Italy.
Within about 5 minutes of my showing them Florence, my mom asks me that.
She suggests that if I’m gaming, I can’t be as interested in studying, or building a future for myself, or getting a girlfriend.
I don’t know, guys. I watched Avatar: the Last Airbender with my parents, a lovely animated show. I’ve watched all the Marvel movies with them, with their superheroes and all that. I play Wii with them, occasionally. I have my huge collection of comic books. My favouite author writes Fantasy set on a flat world on top of four elephants on top of a turtle flying through space. I watch Star Trek, Babylon 5 and Star Wars with my dad. My dad himself watches Stargate: SG1 marathons on the local SyFy, even if they’re in German.
And yet, somehow, gaming is the geeky hobby that can’t. I can’t even show them a game which is, in my personal opinion, an expression of art through gaming.
My parents both enjoy watching The Big Bang Theory. Ideally it should show them how geek culture is celebrated these days, but BBT does do its fair share of laughing *at* geek culture. There’s this underlying assumption that while geek is cool, it still has a hard time getting laid and still gets bullied. I don’t know if my mother is interpreting it that way, or if it’s just a sitcom to her and she just always thought this way.
"Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura" was one of the greatest RPGs of the 90s, and yet little known. The story itself was so so, but the setting was amazing.
It was set in a magical world that was undergoing an industrial revolution. A human adapted a dwarf design for a steam engine and changed the world. Elves, dependent on magic, retreated to their forests, orcs became subsistence miners and factory workers, an oppressed lower class.
Your character has the option to pursue a focus in either technology or magic, but cannot do both. A larger technological presence has a way of cancelling magic out, and technology malfunctions in areas of strong magic. Such is the case that in trains there is first class, second class, and the “mage’s coach.” Magical people have to ride in the crappy coach at the back, the furthest away from the engine to prevent it malfunctioning.
Perhaps one of the most interesting side quests involves your research into the faded ruins of an old civilization, where you discover that the balance between magic and technology is actually cyclical: there are times of technological power, which turns to magical power, and so on. Like the rise and fall of empires.
Along the way you meet orcs protesting against unfair working conditions, gnome entrepreneurs, feudal cities losing their competitiveness against industrial cities, and so on. It’s a fascinating setting.
The main story itself sadly doesn’t entirely run along with this theme of circular rise and fall of magic and technology. It is a pretty standard fantasy story of good, evil and old secrets.
But I still highly recommend it for fans of old school RPGs.
Guild Wars 2: Thief Profession
I’m going to start first off by saying that this is by no means a min/max guide, or a suggestion that everyone should copy my style of gameplay for success. One of the beauties of Guild Wars 2 professions is that each one can fulfill different roles, so it’s really up to you, and I’m of the opinion that there is no real “best” setup.
What I can say is that I personally had a steeper learning curve playing the Thief than the other classes I’ve tried. So maybe some initial tips for others could come in handy. I also have fun with mine, so maybe you will too.
The Thief has a lot of different possible weapon combinations, so you’re going to want to try them out and find out what you like best, because each combination has different cool things that the others don’t. Given that you can switch between any two, I usually had Dual Daggers, and Shortbow as secondary. I would solo with the daggers, but in any event or situation where I’m with other people I would switch to the Shortbow for more support skills.
Dual daggers’ high rate of attack is useful when using the second heal skill, which heals you as you attack. Later in your higher traits you can add the ability to additionally heal when using weapon skills, so that keeps you upright. Dual daggers also has probably the best dodge skill, whose name I totally can’t remember right now, but ends with Blossom. This is an automatic dodge, high rate of fire attack (which heals too) AND puts you behind your target, which then gives you higher damage.
Given that this skill uses a lot of Initiative, you’ll want to save it for charge attacks from your targets. This is particularly the case with Ettins, which have a PBAoE knockdown which is really annoying, but a well timed Blossom attack will not only keep you upright, but get you behind them for higher damage while they recover from the big attack.
In a nutshell, this is one of those classes where watching your enemy closely is a huge advantage. It’s good to do this with most classes, but I think it’s essential for a Thief. Because you’re kind of squishy and usually close to danger, you need to know when to dodge, when to shadow step away, and when to daze in order to interrupt.
One thing I did not know for the first 15 levels of my attempt to play a Thief was effective use of the Steal skill and stealthing. The Steal skill shadowsteps you towards your target, and steals a random skill. This can be one of the target’s skills, or a random generic one. About half of the skills you’ll end up stealing will be stealth skills, the other half different kinds of attacks. If you go into stealth, your 1 skill turns into a backstab (or equivalent for different weapons) and so it’s very much to your advantage to move around to the rear of your target for the higher critical.
In addition, Steal refills your Initiative bar by several points, so it’s good to use it in the middle of a fight when your Initiative bar is low.
.. And that’s all I can think of. I won’t recommend trait choices, because those are entirely geared towards your own playstyle. Some people like poisons, some people like shadow skills, but it’s really optional. Every time you upgrade to a different tier of traits, you reset your points anyway, so feel free to experiment.