Let’s Play Final Exam

The soon to be historic video in which Taylor discovers his calling in life; being a football circus performer. Meanwhile Sam learns how to save a life.

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On Slow Motion Deaths In Films

There’s a very common trope in movies where when an important character dies time slows to a crawl as the camera pulls in close on their face. Soft piano or synth music usually accompanies the moment. I’ve probably seen it over a hundred times now and frankly I think the impact is lessening with each pass.

In an average big budget film when a main character dies they must die in the most dramatic fashion possible. The action has to slow down to let the moment sink in for the audience to understand the gravity of the situation. The thing is it slows down to an absolute snail’s pace, and therein lies the issue. I’ve seen enough Hollywood movies in my life to become completely jaded by this idea. Every single time I’ve seen this done in a big budget film recently my first thought is always, “Yes I get it this person was important now can we please move on?” and usually that thought only gets me halfway through the incredibly tired cliche.

What’s funny though is that the more weary I become of slow motion death trope the more powerful I feel the quick deaths are. War movies like Saving Private Ryan and American Sniper do this to good effect. When someone gets shot they die in an instant. There’s no long pause for the audience to take note of what’s happening. And I feel that the sudden shock of a known character just collapsing to the ground in an instant without any last words works much better. We as the audience are left to catch up and try to frame that moment ourselves. What were they doing moments before? Does it matter anymore? Sometimes the film gives you the chance to wonder that with the following scene as the characters sit around and discuss their loss, and sometimes it doesn’t.

I think the the avid movie-going audience may not be as tired of this problem as I am, but I still think quick character deaths will affect them much harder in the end. Or at least until the becomes a tired trope in itself.

Games You Should Play [2014 Edition]

I’m going to save you the whole dialogue of “2014 wasn’t a great year for games but it wasn’t a bad year for games” and just say that 2014 was alright. A lot of the stuff I liked the most came from smaller developers, new ones, indies, or otherwise anyone who wasn’t okay with shipping a broken game.

This list isn’t my “Best Games Of 2014” list. I didn’t play every game from last year so it’s just one of some of what I went through that I think you should check out too.

Murdered Soul Suspect

If I was doing a set of awards I’d be very tempted to give Murdered Soul Suspect the one for “Most Overlooked”. From what I saw there weren’t many people calling the game outright bad so much as just not knowing it existed. That’s a big shame because while Murdered isn’t perfect it tells a compelling murder mystery story involving your very own death. The slight faults come down to the noticeable forced-in stealth sections that only break the pacing and the massive collect-a-thon if you want to unravel some other neat short stories. Even so it’s a pretty short game with a surprisingly likable main character (with a normal sounding adult male voice) that’s good for a quiet evening.

 

Freedom Wars

Unfortunately I haven’t played as much Freedom Wars as I wanted to for this article but I did get enough hours into feel pretty safe in saying this game’s world is amazing. The universe of Freedom Wars is one where humanity has endured some sort of apocalypse that caused nearly every resource to become extinct. Instead of an overplayed story about individuals fighting over sparse resources and working to restore order, order already exists… for the most part. Rather than “people” fighting over food, it’s entire countries called “Panopticons” that do the fighting. And in this world you are quite literally born a sinner. By the very fact that you exist and need food and a place to sleep you have to work of thousands of days of sentencing to have free reign over your life again. The gameplay sits somewhere around the Monster Hunter camp with missions involving toppling giant mechs from other Panopticons and collecting resources and it’s pretty alright. Really though it’s the setting that makes this at all worth checking out. The idea that you have to buy entitlements like the ability to speak to people of the opposite sex or just to run for a few seconds sounds grating but it does a great job of setting in the tone that whatever you do you’re wasting valuable resources and time. In this sense I think Freedom Wars is more interesting than the worlds of The Walking Dead or Day Z will ever be.

 

Sunset Overdrive

I don’t think Sunset Overdrive is the best designed game I played all year, and most certainly not the funniest (blame Jazzpunk), but it has a really nice style to it that I don’t believe I’ve ever seen before. I have to wonder if a lot of the hate for its hot topic clothing choices and reddit jokes coming from the older writers out there is simply because they didn’t grow up with that. Personally I thought it was a pretty cool look and while the beginning didn’t have much going for it the latter half of the game is where the writing and gameplay shine. With the ability to air dash and grind along rails while shooting hundreds of fireworks at energy drink monsters it’s hard not to grin a little while playing this game. It’s pretty lighthearted, dumb, and fun.

 

Lethal League

I rarely get the chance to play games with friends locally so I’m very glad that out of all the local multiplayer games vying for my attention this year Lethal League was one of the few that I chose. LL is some kind of mix of racquetball and dodgeball with a Jet Set Radio aesthetic and it doesn’t take long at all for the action to become nearly impossible to follow. Even so we quickly found ourselves shouting every time we managed to hit the ball and keep the momentum going. With 4 player local multiplayer and an easy to learn but insanely difficult to master gameplay style it makes for a great party game.

 

Call of Duty Advanced Warfare

After the massive flop that was Call of Duty Ghosts I don’t think anyone expected Advanced Warfare to be good. Decent maybe, but not good. And yet here we are with the game out and it’s actually pretty awesome! Maybe it’s just because COD has had some serious stagnation issues over the year but AD was a joy to play from beginning to end. It featured a story that, while predictable, was fun to watch, it had some genuinely good quiet moments that featured no combat, the new movement felt great, and all the aesthetic improvements were for the better. For the first time in years it felt like the team at Sledgehammer really cared about the campaign in a Call of Duty game instead of just treating it like a back-of-the-box item.

For as much as I’d like to say about the multiplayer though I’m still pretty terrible at it and without friends to play it that can get frustrating. Considering how much I loved Titanfall though I’d bet that if I really buckled down and worked toward getting good at it I’d have a lot of fun. If you haven’t played a Call of Duty game in a few years then you’ll be surprised. Call Of Duty might just be the king again.

 

Insurgency

I think what Insurgency does best is find a great mix between the arcade-y manic shooting of Call Of Duty and the extremely slow and plodding gunfights of Arma. Maps are decently big with multiple avenues of attack, there’s almost no HUD to speak of (no ammo count or map), and friendly fire is always on. This means that people are careful to move around corners and hesitant to shoot the first thing they see. Gunfights can be over in moments with only a few bullets used. Luckily though matches don’t take very long to complete and you won’t go too long without finding someone else to engage with. Also props to the developers for the constant free updates to the game including night maps that most other devs say can’t be done well in shooters. For fans of Counter Strike or shooter fans who want something a little different I highly suggest you to check out Insurgency.

 

Dark Souls 2

Expectations can be a harsh thing to handle. When you’re trying to make the sequel to what some people consider one of the greatest games ever made, you’re likely not going to hit your goal. Dark Souls 2 was like that for a lot of people (me included). Even so I liked DS2 quite a bit, but just how This War of Mine was for me DS2 was for others. To those people whose expectations were shattered, I would implore you to try Dark Souls 2 again. It may not be the masterpiece the first game was but it’s still an extremely solid Souls game. The combat is still rich, environments and enemies inventive, and the story obtuse. Just all a little less so.

 

Far Cry 4

I played a lot of games this year that I’d consider “fun”, and of those games I don’t think any of them provided such a primal sense of “fun” more than Far Cry 4. Starting to set up for any outpost and deciding what to bring is fun in itself but that enjoyment doubles when you play the environment to your advantage. Placing mines on the ground that a car normally patrols, riding in on an angry elephant, or my personal favorite of flying around the outpost in the buzzer with a one-handed grenade launcher. What makes FC4 impressive though is that the chaotic moments are great fun, but so is the stealth. It started in 3 with just the bow and camera and now we have throwing knives and a crossbow added to the arsenal. The myriad of takedown possibilities helps this too. Even apart from that though the story is actually pretty decent this time around, even though the villain once again completely steals the show. And while the environment of Kyrat isn’t quite as vibrant and different as The Rook Islands from 3 it’s still a new place to explore when most open worlds settle for dense urban areas. Really the only thing holding this game down is that it’s iterative in a lot of ways. What was fun in FC3 and FC2 is still here and parts that were just okay have been tweaked yet again to make them better. Man is it fun though.

 

Jazzpunk

Humor has always been a hard thing to do in games so it’s that much more impressive that Jazzpunk actually made me laugh out loud during most its run time. It relies on a lot of absurdest humor that’s much in the vein of classics like “The Naked Gun” and doesn’t overstay its welcome at about 3 hours of playtime. Not all the jokes come together and when you really think about it all you’re doing is walking around and clicking on things, but Jazzpunk is just too funny and endearing to pass up.

 

Middle Earth: Shadow Of Mordor

I’ve got some real mixed feelings about Shadow Of Mordor. For as much as I love the combat and like the nemesis system that gives every boss a personality I just could not get over the joke of a story and completely unlikable characters. Even putting that aside though I think my problems run deeper. For all the love it got by being “a really good Assassin’s Creed/Batman game”, I’ve already played those games. Mordor may have the mechanics down better than the games it cribbed them from, but I feel like it lacks the heart. Assassin’s Creed’s climbing may be a bit clunkier and slower but the buildings you’re traversing are these beautifully recreated historical monuments that show the love and care the architects put into them. In Mordor you climb half broken walls of bricks and logs tied together by ropes. In Batman you get to become the hero that’s spanned decades and fight for justice against thugs but never kill them (because Batman adheres to his moral code to a fault). In Mordor you some random guy slaughtering completely unredeemable enemies in the most ruthless ways possible because you’re angry. And that’s it. There’s no secret twist about how Talion’s anger became his downfall like I’d expect from a game in this universe. Talion just kills every and wins. The end.

Shadow of Mordor is certainly fun to play moment to moment, but compared to everything else I played this year I just felt like it missing some passion. The nemesis system was cool at least so maybe next time the devs can put it into a story and context that they care about more.

 

Neverending Nightmares

Neverending Nightmares is the kind of horror game I like to play. It’s not too reliant on jump scares, there’s not too many mechanics to worry about, and all the aesthetic choices compliment the the kind of horror they’re going for. I did end up having some problems with the use of enemies in the game, but it does little to detracted from the feeling of dread that overcomes you as you spiral deeper down into Thomas’ depression and insanity. Without spoiling the surprise I can also say that some particular scenes are almost too effective as being disgusting and terrifying, so either be forwarded or get excited.

 

A Story About My Uncle

A Story About My Uncle is sadly a game that was initially overlooked and will likely be forgotten by time pretty soon. It’s not a shame because it’s a very good game per se. The grappling mechanics are a little too loose and some areas are much harder to navigate than others for no good reason. What makes it great though is the personal story of a kid trying to find his Uncle. He makes new friends, explores big new worlds, and learns a bit about himself and his Uncle Fred. The ending is also nicely bittersweet, and too say much more would spoil this pretty short and imaginative game.

 

Transistor

I don’t think anyone was surprised that SuperGiant Games made another amazing game. For better or worse it rehashes the same graphical style and most of the same voice actors and composer, but the story and mechanics are all new. Said story is pretty hard to follow the first time around, though you can unlock more background details by messing around with the skill combinations that you use in combat. And the combat is what stands out about Transistor. It stands somewhere between a turn-based RPG and a strategy game wherein you queue up actions while the action is paused and then execute them in real time. It’s wholly unique to the game and does a lot to make the encounters between heavy story bits interesting. And man I could listen to Royce talk all day.

 

The Wolf Among Us

I’ve gotten about halfway through The Walking Dead Season 2 from Telltale and thus far I’ve been pretty disappointed. Part of that is because TWD Season 1 was pretty great, and partly because I had just come of The Wolf Among Us. While the middle part of the game dragged a bit the overall murder mystery story is done with the expertise and flair that’s expected of a Telltale game. The world in which the characters inhabit (cribbed from the “Fables” comic book universe) is brings this game into near top tier quality. It’s new and exciting, and while the mechanics are tried and true TT the script and voice acting hold it together quite well. If you’ve never played a TT game or anything of it’s ilk, Wolf Among Us is a good start.

 

Wolfenstein: The New Order

I’ll start with this: A Wolfenstein game has no right to be this good and feature characters with this much depth. It continues to surprise me every time that I think about this game that a Wolfenstein game about shooting future robot Nazi’s features a real character having some pretty bad PTSD and makes me believe it. And it’s not just BJ either; most everyone in this series has a realistic backstory, real emotional responses to big actions and seem like they could be real people.

The thing that kind of set me back on The Order Order though was the gameplay. It’s not bad as an arcade-y guns a blazin’ all out shooter with some oddly fitting stealth elements, it’s just that it doesn’t fit with the story. The exquisite cutscenes show people coping with loss and trying to fight to save other at the cost of their humanity, and then you’re double wielding huge shotguns and sliding all over the place getting headshots left and right. It’s bizarre and I couldn’t ever really get over that.

Wolfenstein: The New Order has pretty fantastic characters, and alright story, and some fun shooting. Just don’t think too hard about how all those fit together.

 

Everything From Itch.io That I Played This Year

Putting all of these together isn’t to discredit the quality of these games. In the case of Glitchikers specifically I think it was one of my favorites this year even though it didn’t quite nail the feeling I wanted it to. Still all of these games are easily worth playing, are cheap, and won’t take up much of your time. I wrote about most of the itch.io games I played this year here.


If you’d like to hear me talk about some games from last year on a podcast then you’re in luck! I have a podcast with an episode specifically dedicated to that.

Anyway thanks for reading and here’s to a good 2015 full of interesting games to play.

The Wonderful World Of Itch.io

It was only recently that I found about the wonderful site itch.io, where some of the strangest games I’ve ever seen reside. It didn’t take long for me to realize that developers on itch seem to carry a different mindset than the big developers on Steam. Rather than making games that try to appeal to everyone with long tutorials and forced RPG level systems, the games I played are about expressing the thoughts and feelings of the creators as purely as possible. This means that some people won’t get much out of these games while they hit all too close to home for others. Here’s the first few I’ve played based off some recommendations and using the “top selling” order.

The Falling Sun

Mechanically there’s not too much to The Falling Sun. All you do is type out pre-determined phrases as fast as you can before the sun goes down. It only takes a few minutes to play and the phrases range from melodramatic to stupid and funny at times. Towards the end it actually got me a little tense as I tried to finish just one more sentence. Reminds me of those games from my middle school typing class.

Kindness Coins

Kindness Coins wasn’t quite what I expected. Like with most of these games I went in with no prior knowledge and in this case it lead to a beautiful little moment. The game is just a ten minute little visual novel about a girl who’s friend dragged her along to a party to hang out with some people, and ends up finding a cute someone to spend the evening with. The description states that it’s supposed to be like a harem VN from the perspective of one of the girls and during the small exchange with [male protagonist who isn’t the protagonist] it certainly shows, but it doesn’t do much else with that. I would love to see a longer game that screws around with that idea a little bit more, but the characters and art that are present are very neat.

Coming Out Simulator 2014

I knew going in that this one was going to be rough for me. I came out to my parents only about a year and a half ago when I told them I was into guys, and the event is still burned deep into my mind. Reading the description told me it was a “half true game about half truths” with the personal story of someone’s coming out. Said “half truths” manifest when the story can ever so slightly change depending on what choices you make. Simply speaking the only thing you have to do is come out to your parents, but when the character sat down with his mother I almost immediately got tense. I carefully read every line and soon began to realize that my experience was not all dissimilar to his. The parent asking if your friend was gay, then asking why you spend so much time with him, and then the question. When it came up I completely froze at my desk. The options were available to click but I couldn’t do anything except listen to the clock in the background. I felt a pain in my chest that I haven’t felt in that year and a half and every moment from then on was a struggle. Even when I checked Twitter on my phone just to not look at my computer screen I still felt extremely anxious. Much like Gone Home I really have to wonder what a comfortably straight person would think of this game. Do they just feel empathy? Can they relate the event to something they had to divulge to their loved ones? I don’t know. I appreciate the game for what it does, but I was certainly not happy to relive that event.

I Get This Call Every Day

I have never worked in a call center and I hope that I never have to. David Gallant did though and this was the hell he had to endure day after day. Even with the MS Paint art and basic voice acting I could still feel anger rising in me as plodded through the caller’s questions. Maybe it’s just because I don’t do well with unhappy people through some kind of social anxiety but it was downright excruciating at times. Mechanically I felt it could have done a little more like typing to fill in the fields of the form to add that extra layer of mounting anger but I (enjoyed?) it nonetheless.

Glitchhikers

On the surface Glitchhikers is a game about driving home late at night while occasionally picking up some passengers who chat with you for a bit. For some people that’s all it will ever be. For me though it was seeing an experience of how another late night driver feels. Being that I work during the evenings and get off when it’s pretty dark out I’ve done quite a bit of driving home with the headlights on and in time have grown some fondness for it. Technically I’ve always liked driving but it was only when I started working the same job for months and months that I started getting very introspective during it. I think a lot about where my life is right now and what I really want to ultimately do with it. I think about what I realistically can do with my life to make some money and move on. I think about being close enough to someone to share the thoughts I have on the road. I try to think about anything but going home to the hard realities of the world. Glitchikers tries its best to encapsulate some of these feelings with it’s dark road, odd radio personality, and passengers that ask you very philosophical questions about love and life. On a basic level it succeeds in this, but the more I think about the more I realize that it just can’t replicate the real thing. It can’t let me feel the tension in my fingers as I grip the steering wheel, or replicate the familiar sights on my ritualistic drive to the gas station after work. It can have music on in the background that sounds near silent next to my deafening thoughts. It can hopefully let some people sit back and think about themselves for a little bit. And it can, in the end, let you skip your exit to take the long way home. I like the long way home.

I would also suggest that you read Javy Gwaltney’s essay on the game. He reconciles about how it reminded him a different time in his life and how he sometimes misses the long nights on the open road.

Itch.io games aren’t for everyone and I honestly think that’s great. Most of the titles here resonated with me a lot, and some others didn’t, but I like knowing that they’re all for someone out there. If you ever become tired of the extravagant triple A releases of the month or just need something so completely different from anything you’ve ever seen check out itch.io. You won’t be disappointed.

Why I Buy Games At Launch

Over the past few weeks I’ve seen a set of articles go up alongside a slew of Twitter comments that all basically said, “Don’t buy games at launch. There’s no good reason to or here’s a few reasons why you shouldn’t”. While I think that’s perfectly understandable and there are more than a lot of reasons to not purchase video games on launch day (especially triple A releases), I still hold that there are a few good reasons to get them on day one too.

This past week a few new games have come out that I was really interested in: Dragon Age Inquisition, Far Cry 4, and Hatsune Miku Project Diva f 2nd. All of these games have been pretty great thus far but none of them are perfect, so why buy them at full price?

Part of the reason to do so is because I want so badly to be in on the new release internet hype. Lately I’ve been working six days a week and almost exclusively during the evenings so I don’t have much of a chance to hang out with the few friends in my area in person. With that being the case I’m on Twitter quite a lot and have met a bunch of new people there, and when a new cool game comes out that’s what they talk about. Now I wouldn’t say I’m getting these games out of some sense of peer pressure. If I wasn’t going to buy it anyway this wouldn’t be enough to change my mind, but it’s really neat to be playing a game and talking about it when everyone else is too. It gives me an easy to talk about games with said people and we can all share tips, tricks, experiences, and jokes.

There hasn’t been much talk about Far Cry 4 from who I follow but Dragon Age seems to be the talk of the town still and I’ve been really happy to be a part of that. Even before it released the excitement brought up some new opinions of Dragon Age 2 and its better parts. Being a fan of DA2 back when it came out I was very interested to discuss it myself. After the midnight release of Inquisition everyone was immediately going on about the new and extensive character creation options. Soon after the comments changed to thoughts on the huge environments, faster combat system (for those who didn’t play DA2) and some of the side quests. Even with the new Project Diva game that only appeals to a small intersection of Vocaloid and rhythm game enthusiasts got some small conversation out of someone who had been following me for a while now but never spoken to me before. I want to keep up with what’s current and if it’s a game I was going to buy already I don’t mind spending the extra money to be able to have some nice conversations with people I like and even people I don’t know.

The other reason I tend to purchase games at launch is to always be on the bleeding edge of technology. I keep my desktop computer as up-to-date as possible so I can always try to play at the highest settings and consequently I want to see the newest gaming tech performing at its best. I don’t mean just photorealistic graphics either even though seeing games get closer and closer to climbing out of the uncanny valley is interesting in and of itself. It’s also about smoother animations, new art styles that no one’s tried, seeing new stories brought to life by all the background processes running at once, and new systems. I can always go back to some older games that I haven’t played before and see things that are new to me but there’s always the desire to check out what literally could not be done before. Games still have a long way to go in every respect and I want to be there at the forefront for as long as I reasonably can be.

I know that these aren’t reasons why everyone should go out and get new games at the first possible moment all the time, but for my specific life situation where I’ve got a good bit of money and enough time, I’m happy to always be at the front of the line.

Some Thoughts On Neverending Nightmares

Neverending Nightmares is a pretty good experience and a pretty poor game. It has a fantastic black and white sketch book art style with painted blood red accents. A haunting, yet simple, soundtrack accompanied by the loud footsteps and short breaths of the main character Thomas. And enemies. The biggest problem is that the game has enemies.

Nightmares lives and dies by its own atmosphere. If anything in the game does something to shatter your immersion then it becomes really hard to recover from that point on. So the enemies, by their very nature of being an obstacle to the player, can easily cause this problem. If they kill you, you die, and stop making progress.

Now to be fair to the game it does try to have an in universe way of explaining away the issue. When Thomas “dies” he wakes up in the last bed he passed by, and can continue on from there. In the game’s universe he is in fact living a never ending nightmare. This really is much better than a simple retry/quit menu screen popping up but it’s not perfect. Since the enemies can kill you in a single hit and don’t ever go away it’s very possible for the wall of immersion to come crumbling down as your frustration mounts. The more times you die and wake up in the same exact place and have to figure out the same monster puzzle the more of a “game” it becomes.

There’s a distinct turning point where you come to realize that you’re not playing as Thomas trying to escape his living hell; you’re the player trying to get past an enemy so you can advance the plot. At some point the enemies become less scary and more of a barrier that at best distracts you from soaking in the environment and at worst stops you from seeing anything new and engaging.

There are ways the game could have used challenge instead however. A simple non-combat puzzle to break up the monotony of walking around, maybe some creatures locked behind walls or simply unaware or uncaring of Thomas’ presence. It could still have it’s moments like when Thomas tears a vein out of his arm with a bloody shriek, and in fact it would benefit from moments like that being the only source of violence in the game. With the ability to die repeatedly in a bloody mess comes the desensitization to all the blood and gore.

Neverending Nightmares is at its best when you’re slowly walking through a series of small rooms and long hallways. There’s nothing to hear except the sound of your own feet and maybe a distant scream. It’s terror as its best. Everything is wrong and yet there’s actually nothing there capable of harming you. It’s just you and your imagination running wild through every haunted house, hospital, and forest.