Categories
culture Games PS3

Narrative and context: Thomas Was Alone/Catherine double feature (PS3)

Thomas Was Alone
Thomas Was Alone

THOMAS WAS ALONE (PS3)

Thomas Was Alone is a simple puzzle platformer in which you switch control between different shapes and sizes of moving rectangles to navigate through a side-scrolling maze. It’s one of the most important narrative achievements in games.

The power of abstraction is not to be dismissed. If you pay attention to it, I guarantee that Thomas Was Alone is going to make you care about a square in under five minutes.

It wouldn’t work without the brilliant narration and the leagues above average writing. It wouldn’t work without the music. But most interestingly, Thomas Was Alone wouldn’t work if those rectangles were anything else, or if they represented something else.

It would be exceedingly difficult and expensive to make this exact same story work with a higher fidelity graphical represenation. You could envision that, because the story of these blocks is indeed so universal and human that it’s easy to imagine it in another setting. But actually making that version would be nigh impossible. Because it’s so simple, nothing is contradicting with the way you interpret it.

A big part of why the story is so effective is that it dares to be about simple emotions. Being alone, coveting the girl, wanting to find your own place, looking good in the eyes of others, being useful. These are the things we reflect ourselves in and through. The stories we tell and consume should be about these things. And videogames so very rarely are.

I am not a fan of the puzzle platformer style of gameplay. I think it’s okay, but I couldn’t really tell, because I just don’t care about it. It’s something I go through because I want to hang out with these rectangles, but I wouldn’t do it for any other reason. That said, for this specific game, for these rectangles and the story we’re telling together, it’s perfect.

Thomas Was Alone is a videogame single that makes you think about a time you’ve lost and the people you’ve grown up with.

Catherine
Catherine

CATHERINE (PS3)

Where Thomas Was Alone is about real people, represented by rectangles, Catherine is about a movie rendition of real people, represented by you.

It places a lot of trust in counting on you being able to relate to its protagonist, a software developer in his early 30s, scared to death of having to grow up and take responsibility of his life, and the life of his long-time girlfriend. These are the stories of real people, told through the medium of videogames. You may not have had Vincent’s exact dilemma, but surely if you’re beyond your early 30s, you’ve gone through something like it.

Catherine is brave for making a videogame out of the anxiety to grow up in today’s society. It dresses it in just enough make-up and costumes to not make it too banal, presenting itself as a cheap late-night TV show, something along the lines of Twilight Zone or Elvira, Mistress Of The Dark.

After my first session with the game, I was frustrated by the actual gameplay of surviving Vincent’s nightly nightmares by climbing a crumbling tower made of blocks you move around to scale. It’s surprisingly difficult for me. I grew so frustrated I had to give up, never making it past the second night and thus barely out of the story’s introduction. While thematically there’s some point to what the nightmares are about – Vincent’s anxiety – in purely mechanical terms they have absolutely nothing to do with the narrative’s pull and tension. It feels needless and in the way.

At the same time, the other interaction on offer is replying – or not – to text messages you’re getting while sitting in the bar at night. Writing the text messages line by line from multiple options perfectly captures the feeling of replying to sensitive communiques. This part of the gameplay is utterly captivating.

Categories
PC

Tomb Raider (PC)

Tomb Raider screenshot - title scene
This is my favorite in-game title scene to date.

The main screen makes it look like a B movie, with the blunt, effective, high-contrast, attention-demanding typography and the cheap, brash attitude: lightning strikes on the high tide of a forgotten, foreboding island, with the remains of a shipwreck on the front. I mean that in the best possible sense. It bodes well.

Tomb Raider’s subject matter is entirely “B”: genre fiction that promises adventure and excitement in a straightforward fashion. If it’s dumb, you’re perfectly welcome to say “that’s all right – come on, it’s Tomb Raider!”

Except the game is not “B” in any sense, but pushing the limits of the vaunted triple-A club, with production values through the roof, all without losing a strong emotional connection with the player. As a developer, I’m scared to think of the amount of effort, people, care, risk and money it’s required to create. I can only think of two games that have been as impressive: Uncharted and Arkham Asylum, and neither of them manage this level of intimacy, which just makes me care more. I am there in the jungle with Lara.

Maybe this is just indicative of the place videogames inhabit in the current cultural field and in our lives. It would feel out of place – inappropriate – to expect anything but “B” from the subject matter of a major release, compared to any other sort of mainstream entertainment. But here it becomes a strength, for Tomb Raider owns its subject matter with rare grace and an air of genuinity.

There is a lack of non-interactive sequences. Even unique stuff like this unlucky descent is usually interactive to a degree that it retains the feel that you're in control.
There is a lack of non-interactive sequences. Even unique stuff like this unlucky descent is usually interactive to a degree that it retains the feel that you’re in control.

Things start off weird when you realize that right from the first moments, Tomb Raider makes you care. You care about survival, you care about yourself as Lara, you care about her distress. You came for the popcorn entertainment or perhaps the mystery of Lara Croft, once gaming’s most visible and unattainable female icon, since fallen off-stage, and it’s surprising to realize that the game is working very hard to make sure it gets under your skin between all the death-defying stunts and countless fights.

For a remake of a conceptually thin action adventure series, Tomb Raider packs a lot of emotion and heft to its opening hour. You get why Lara feels bad about herself – it’s not just about survival, it’s also about feeling responsible for the plight of the others. The only place where the writing falls short are the other characters – you just don’t care about them. There’s a problematic scene halfway through the game where you’re supposed to really care for someone else, and even though they do all the right things – make you play the game with him, have him help you out, give him added narrative heft with motives and flaws – it just doesn’t work. Luckily the script knows to focus on Lara, and that works all through.

The game has been accused of exploiting Lara's troubles and physical discomfort. I feel they manage it commendably for the most part... only going overboard with the death sequences.
The game has been accused of exploiting Lara’s troubles and physical discomfort. I feel they manage it commendably for the most part… only going overboard with the death sequences.

Uncharted made its hero look human, dodging fire and leaping around. Tomb Raider takes that and ups it: it makes Lara feel real, someone that’s thrust into a situation she can’t control. With the great sound design and camera work, it’s very immersive. They use the elements to a great effect and the cold and the wet gets to you. Lighting that first campfire to take shelter from the storm feels like a real achievement.

The animation is amazing. Lara is still a videogame hero, defined by her super-human action, but they bring a physicality and plausibility to her that’s just unprecedented. Where many games have attempted an “I’ve never done this kind of thing before” scenario, Tomb Raider pulls it off, even hours and dozens of killed enemies later. It’s like Bruce Willis in the first Die Hard: you buy into the character. You believe in her.

It’s hard to find any reasonable fault with the execution. Even though the game is packed with features, from exploration and scavenging to hunting, they’re all delivered on a level where everything just works, unlike for example Assassin’s Creed III. The design doesn’t miss any beats, only slightly fumbling with a couple of quick time events, but even those are redeemed by master class use of mechanics to make you star in seriously bonkers, seat of your pants sequences where you’re left feeling “holy shit! Did I just do all that? Yes I did!” If only all of the sequences were the same.

There are enough tombs and raiding.
There are enough tombs and raiding.

There is a rare seen confidence in the environmental design. They hold actual puzzles in check without losing the sense of adventure. Moving through the large open hub areas feels like making your own way, not following a prescribed path, even when they pull in the edges to make sure you get to the plot-critical events. It feels like an adventure in a way Uncharted never manages, even for all its flawless writing and pacing. It lets go of the reins just enough for you to feel like being your own master, responsible for your mishaps. In a triumph, all the puzzles are environmental and based on lines of traversal and physics, no antique keys to hunt for.

Even while the game is a triumph in marrying gameplay and narrative, there is a stunning discord in the way violence is displayed. The Indiana Jones style visits to skull-adorned temples and torture chambers, even complete with pools of blood, are perfectly in-genre, and the focus on intimate combat fits the survival theme perfectly with its messy, sloppy, desperate tone. But I can’t see Lara Croft as a character whose final skill unlocks are all vicious executions. The first (and only) time Lara put a shotgun barrel under a stunned enemy’s chin and pulled the trigger, I had no idea what the hell I was playing anymore. In addition to the combat, there are disturbing scenes of Lara dying violently due to the player missing a QTE prompt. It’s baffling, and a shame because due to the excessive violence, I just can’t recommend this to anyone.

Lara goes through quite a transformation in the game, even if it isn't visually as extreme as Batman's or Spec Ops The Line's.
Lara goes through quite a transformation in the game, even if it isn’t visually as extreme as Batman’s or Spec Ops The Line’s.

For all of this generation of gaming consoles, Tomb Raider was an example of a series fallen out of touch with the times. The Uncharted series owes a lot to Tomb Raider, and it utterly outclassed it in every regard. Now the tables have been turned. I’m excited to see both what’s going to be Uncharted’s answer and Lara’s next adventure. Truly a legend reborn.

Categories
PC

Alpha Protocol (PC)

Alpha Protocol screenshot (PC)
Alpha Protocol. You will wait behind corners quite a bit. I’m a fan of the surprise attack from the front – if you’re decisive enough, you don’t have to creep up from behind guys to surprise them.

The “Espionage RPG” starts off very clumsy. I expect a lot of people to stop playing before they’re even properly out of the tutorial, because for the first couple of hours all you see is a cheap, not up to par third person action title with dodgy mechanics and unsatisfying, vague interaction. The environments couldn’t be more generic, and even those are delivered inadequately.

But by the time you get to Rome, after the first major plot twist, Alpha Protocol finds its stride and things suddenly become interesting.

I was a big fan of the TV show Alias and at times you reach that sort of experience here – a not quite so glamorous take on James Bond’s antics. At other times it defaults too much on its at best adequate, most often just frustrating action. You will be much happier if you play it with maxed out stealth, martial arts and pistol skills instead of the more aggressive combat skills, because as long as there is no alarm raised, it works well enough. The problems become more evident in heated combat, with the supposed super spy unwilling to get behind cover and unable to land hits despite aiming carefully. Maybe it’s because of that painful and awkward looking “crouch” walk he’s doing all the time.

Crucially, it’s mixed up enough to keep you on your toes. There is a variety and depth to the simple missions. Sometimes all you get is a cutscene with one or two decisions to make, sometimes a multi-level sneaking mission or a drawn out firefight. Sometimes all you do is get in, identify people, and get out – or decide to take someone out since you have the chance.

Compared to most games of this sort – Splinter Cell being perhaps the closest competition – there’s a clarity of purpose and a personal touch to everything. You know why you’re doing things and for the most part you care about it. In most important decisions you’re given a choice, which is impressively often not quite black and white. I don’t think it would really work if you decided to play it for laughs, portraying an utter bastard in all situations, but it manages that Mass Effect sort of approach where your choices feel realistic and in-character.

Alpha Protocol screenshot (PC)
The gigantic TVs in all the safehouses are a bit much.

I’ve been thinking about systems driving drama and narration in games a lot recently and Alpha Protocol does interesting things here, even if they feel like the beginnings of something that could’ve been much more involved. Almost every decision you make affects your relationship with the other characters. For a long time my best relationship was to my nemesis, which is great. I actually care more about what my enemies think of me than what my allies do!

High and low relationships result in a variety of mechanical effects, but the problem with those is that you don’t know when they’re going to be unlocked. The system would work much better if there was a map of everything you could be awarded so you could work towards them, much like the license board in Final Fantasy XII (what can I say, I love everything about that game). It’s still good, because having those effects in place makes the relationships feel more worthwhile, more real. Cause and effect. We understand that.

The network of characters and the options given to you are complex enough to make things that I usually pay zero attention to, like handling in-game email, interesting. You don’t just passively (not) read the email, but you can act on it: sell compromising information to the source, the black market or the press? Be a nice guy, a professional or (justly) defensive? When it works the best, you’re defining your goals on your own, and they’re all based on how you feel about yourself and the other characters. This makes the “RPG” part shine in an unexpected way.

Where the system doesn’t really work is the focus on your inventory. The most concrete awards you get are about your tactical options: active skills and gear. A lot of time and attention has gone to the equipment, but there is no way to make that anything but impersonal. The gear focus means that money is the main means of rewarding you, and that is never interesting. Binding the good stuff to your relationships would’ve been more in-genre and feels like a missed opportunity. The amount of focus you spend on acquiring stuff and finding bags of money and rare kit out on the field can make the missions feel like high-tech D&D dungeons, which isn’t really what I’m looking for in an espionage RPG.

The game design completely drops the ball with the bossfights. I almost lost heart in the museum fight and just altogether gave up. Once you figure out how easy it is to just bide your time until your special abilities have recharged and skill-pump them to death, well, it’s just about bearable as an experience, but it’s neither fun nor challenging. If you’re not confident you know what you’re doing when designing a bossfight, perhaps you shouldn’t. (Since then I’ve upgraded my pistol skill so that later encounters have barely registered, which is I guess fine. I’m okay with being a super-powered super-spy.)

While the writing is for the most part good, there are both interminable de-/briefs – if you lost the “I’m standing in front of the ridiculous TV, chatting to my allies” scenes, it’d be fine – and weird tonal inconsistencies with out of place, sleazy sexual overtones and a particular highlight in an astonishingly juvenile gay joke. A secret agent is supposed to be sexually aggressive, yes, but not dumb.

All told, it’s a “modern-day” D&D  take on Mass Effect, and I’m enjoying it a lot. You could spend your time much worse, even if it looks bland and lazy and plays like a My First Action Game. Except those times when it’s a unique experience that makes you wonder what could’ve been.

Categories
Xbox 360

Halo 4 (Xbox 360)

Halo 4 cover
Halo 4 cover. It’s very Halo.

Day 1. Campaign.

This localisation thing is beyond stupid. Forcing Finnish players to use the Finnish text? Really? Fixed by changing your console’s locale to, say, the UK, but come on. It would be a single menu option to change the language used.

Seeing Cortana’s more human features – weird, it feels out of place to see her concerned and sad. Not a fan of all the added detail, especially the face.

From the overblown flares you can tell it’s a new game. Also, looks really good!

Immediately when you start moving you can tell it’s Halo. So comfortable, like well-worn jeans.

Compared to most FPS experiences, Halo feels very human, just thanks to Cortana’s and the Chief’s dialogue. Cortana sounds too emotional, though.

First-person climbing and what amounts to a simple QTE before I get to shoot an alien? What have you done to my Halo? It’s inoffensive, in any case.

Same great Halo combat: no leaning or stopping to aim down the sights. Perfect movement, placement, situational control. Great enemy design. The start is pretty much a retelling of the first game’s opening.

The spaces are obviously created for co-op and bigger amounts of enemies, but that doesn’t bother the single-player exprience. And what arenas they are! Compared to the on-rails shooters of the day, these are nothing short of a revelation. It’s all about finding your lines of movement and adapting to what the enemy is doing – which tends to be not “pop my head out behind cover so you can shoot it”.

Love love love the return to single guns and the proper goddamn Halo bag of guns – magnum, assault rifle, plasma pistol, needler. No weird rifles or scopes to mess around with.

Hard combat! Playing on Heroic, every Elite requires attention.

Halo uses color so much better than other shooters. It conveys a lot of information.

Same great, chunky, cool blues spaceship interior design. But it does look a bit empty these days, you can tell these designs originated in the beginnings of the last generation.

Fighting Covenant on a deteriorating spaceship and then being rewarded with a free-fall into an alien planet without a ship? That’s Halo!

Cortana, weirdly emotional. The plot wouldn't work without it. You get used to it pretty fast. Aren't stories about people changing?
Halo 4 Cortana face

Oh I guess Cortana’s emotional state was part of the plot after all. I’m still struggling with her face. Also boobs. Why does the AI have big boobs? “Don’t make a girl a promise you can’t keep.” I love that. Points for the writer. Also way cool to be fighting for someone for a change, and not “the human race” or whatever.

Christ this crash site looks nice.

Halo AR’s display is the single most comforting piece of UI design in existence. I’m really happy they’ve kept the digital, 8-step compass instead of making it smooth.

Well hello space city fortress thing. Looks like Forerunners, with the levitating skyscrapers. Against nice, Earth blue skies, I like that. Cool way to keep it grounded. And the contrast with the ruins I’m running through currently, nice.

Is that a ruined Warthog? That is a ruined Warthog. Oh man. And INTACT WARTHOGS. OH MAN! Driving the Warthog feels curiously like driving an RC car. Could be the high engine noise.

Goddamn it’s a beautiful Halo, though. I may need to check out that HD remaster after all.

Love it how the aliens have made space roads for me to ride in my cool new Warthog on. Warthogs are still the only driving experience in a shooter that I actually like.

It would be much nicer if someone was operating my Warthog’s gun. Much nicer. Feeling like I’m playing this wrong, solo.

This place we’re fighting in – with the lighting and the colors, it looks like I’m in a piece of concept art.

I thought I was done with shooters, but I could (and will) shoot up the Covenant all day. Part of it is just that it’s great design, both audio-visually and gameplay wise, but the bigger part is I think Halo’s attitude and pacing. It feels considerate, thoughtful, even at its most hectic. I move, you move, that kind of thing. The shooting doesn’t feel violent, in a sense. It’s more like a game you might play as a kid, and a videogame challenge to you, the player. Maybe that’s it – Halo talks to me as a player of its challenges, taking care to present me with new and interesting scenarios all the time.

I never change guns so frequently as in Halo. They’re very good with rationing out the ammunition. Also lots of favorites! I don’t dislike any of them.

It feels more Halo than Halo 2 or 3. Probably because they’ve stuck to the pure design – single guns, no weird armor abilities – well I’ve run into an active camouflage ability since, but I can live with that.

The shield depleted sound is so Halo. Also the slow shield regen rate forces the fighting to take breathers after every intense moment.

Being able to jump high really makes the experience of being Master Chief stand out among other shooters. I can’t help but think that would never make it in, if the original game was conceived now.

What is it with Halo and campaign progress? I never could figure out how to continue Reach except mission by mission – not as a continuous campaign – and this time I walk away from the game in the middle of mission three, almost all the way through, the Xbox powers down at some point, and I lose all progress in the mission. What’s the deal with the “checkpoint saves” if it doesn’t actually let you continue from there? We struggled with this even way back in the original Halo, never able to figure out when it actually saved our progress in the campaign. A stupid thing to get wrong. — Oh, looks like it only saves your progress if you quit to the main menu. How is that logical? Who even “quits” games these days?

“A Star To Steer By”… Finally some classic Halo level names! The original’s names rocked all the way through, really adding to the overall atmosphere and sense of grand space adventure. Those and the ship names, which are Banksian awesome, with obviously “The Pillar Of Autumn” the best.

Day 1. MP.

Taking a break to check out “Infinity” in the main menu, looking for multiplayer. Oh I guess it’s a ship, Infinity. Pretty cool, the Halo ships always ruled. Is this some sort of practice mode? I customize my guy – well, just the colors as everything else is still locked – man it took forever to unlock anything in Reach, I hope this is not quite that slow. Looks like they’ve integrated the MP into the game fiction, so it’s supposedly war games played by the Spartans onboard the UNSC Infinity. A 1.91 GB install that isn’t progressing at exactly lightning speed.

I have played Team Slayer (Deathmatch). It’s fun! I do like it a lot more than something like COD or Battlefield, which are so chaotic. Halo has such clear visuals it’s easy to read. And the action just flows. It’s smooth. Let’s try again.

Okay, that is goddamn distracting. You can be another color (red or blue) in the next match. My brain is totally confused. But the friendlies still read as blue on the HUD! That is so stupid.

You get the hang of that after one match. Still stupid. One victory, one defeat. I did okay in the first game and really sucked in the second one. I do like Halo vehicles in combat.

The framerate can’t always keep up with the fast vehicles in MP.

God I love the catapult teleports, slingshotting you into the fray.

Defeat, but I did good. I leveled, unlocked something. Actually looks like I’m level four already, didn’t notice that before.

Alright, top three, headshots galore. I’m surprisingly handy with a medium-range scoped rifle, generally I’m just lost trying to orient myself through a scope in combat. Also six guys in a row!

This Big Team Infinity Slayer I can get behind.

Okay, the next match’s worst player. I’m done for now, let’s see what I unlocked. Also took this long until some fucking brat started talking nonsense. Oh wait is it Chinese? Now wait what is this, we’re back in the game? And it stopped after one or two kills. Weird.

Alright, level six in one sitting. 21 new items. “Spartan Points”, what is this crap? I can’t see how many points I have. Looks like they open equipment options and guns fast and skimp on the armor visuals, which I have unlocked none of. 14 new armor items, 12 new “Spartan ID” items, which is basically just emblems. I’m a rooster now. I can’t figure out which new armor items I have, since they’re all locked still. Oh, there it is, the number of Spartan Points I got. Two left. That would mean you get around one per level?

Then there’s something called “Spartan Ops” in the Infinity menu. Guess I’ll look at that after the campaign. “Waypoint”, what’s that? This is a serious case of not being able to understand most of what’s going on in the freaking main menu of the game. At least there’s the “resume campaign” option now – it is now that I knew to quit the game and not just turn it off as you do with every other game.

As it’s downloading the Waypoint – whatever it is, it weighs in at 402.40 MB – I think I’m done with Halo for this session. Can’t take a shooter all day long anymore. Got a headache coming on.

Day 2. Campaign.

Oh, new armor ability. A “hardlight” shield. Maybe that’s of more definite use than the active camouflage, which I’m not at all sure actually did anything.

Okay how many TIMES CAN I DIE ON THIS FUCKING BRIDGE ON THIS SAME FUCKING SPOT IT’S JUST A GODDAMN ELITE

Alright, might’ve been a total of eight times. Good ol’ plasma pistol overcharge to deplete shields, assault rifle rush finally did it.

This whole bridge assault feels like something designed for co-op. Really hard to approach the fortified bastards, hardlight or no. Seriously, flying assholes on top of the army on the bridge? Out of ammo on everything but needlers? Jesus.

Neat how your tactical problems are completely flipped when you’re out of ammo, or have a needler against shielded Jackals, or have no rockets against vehicles.

Well that was a “heroic” fight alright. Sheesh, I’m out of breath, and just crossed one bridge.

Yep, definitely huge, symmetrical arenas for fighting in a big team.

A rushing Elite with an energy sword really blows. Can’t take him out fast enough.

No, seriously. There’s no way I can drop that asshole fast enough!

Ooo, Hunters! Two at a time is a bit of a rough reunion, though. With Sentinels shooting them up, keeping them distracted, shouldn’t be too much of a challenge, though.

I remember a time when I could’ve circled once around these bastards – in a fight, with other enemies around – and one-shotted them in the back. Now I can barely see their backs! Ooh, a fuel rod cannon… And that’s right, run at them, leap over, turn around, shoot in the back… both down. Like a dance I used to know!

The Halo alien interiors always bring to mind futuristic churches. Cathedrals of light and metal. Hey, first gigantic elevator!

Oh, right, the place is actually called a “Cathedral”. Figures.

Master Chief sure looks hot in these cutscenes. Hey new aliens! In a cutscene. Kinda like Sentinels meet Elites. Or robots and monkeys. But that’s an Achievement and a wrap for the night.

I kinda like how they reset your gear for a new level without any sort of in-game explanation. It’s old-school and a little comforting – as long as you can make it to the end, trust in the cutscene and the Achievement to see you through to a new beginning.

Day 2. MP.

The Infinity’s announcer dude is ridiculous. Can’t take it at face value that’s he’s some proper military guy.

We won again, but I still can’t figure out why it takes like a short break, then resumes, and says that the team to get to five kills is actually the winner, when we already won by points. Weird, confusing.

Shooting guys in Halo MP feels really good. The way their jumps hang in the air a moment, the way it’s easy to line up long-distance shots and rack those headshots, it makes you feel like a hotshot supersoldier. Special. Is this why it’s so popular? It certainly makes you feel great.

Two nights of Halo MP in a row and I haven’t heard any jackasses online. Is the reputation for trash talking 12-year olds unwarranted after all?

Day 3. Campaign.

Looks like I need to take out two things to contact that Infinity ship. Familiar ground, then. Already losing that personal drive to fight, they should do a better job of holding on to it.

Disappointed at taking a teleport to the pylon I’m going to destroy… The original game did a great job of grounding the halo construct like a real place, this feels more haphazard, elusive, lazy. The marines running around with you added a ton to that game.

In a purple canyon, encountering the new aliens for the first time. Otherwise fine – climbing the walls is new for Halo foes – but did they have to have another of those QTE like close encounters? Couldn’t I just find a dead alien instead and analyze that? Anyway, kind of a cool way to ensure they’re kind of familiar, with the bit about their “mimetic” nature and showing a glowing human skull in the guy that gets up to my face.

Dropping the small, dog-like dudes is fun enough – they make a nice splash and being bombarded by their bright red laser beams is neat. But with the single bigger guy around, so far this feels exactly like Elites plus Grunts, except without the funny chatter. I die.

Oh, it’s actually the Elite stand-in with the laser beams, the dogs shoot yellow blasters, reminds me of being in a firefight in Star Wars. The dogs’ behavior isn’t very convincing. I would’ve expected them to converge on me, and instead they… kind of… run around, taking potshots. Dropping them with the magnum is easy and fun.

There’s more big dudes looking in on the fight. The dead big guy – this one, too, is weirdly laid back and not confrontational like you would expect from a Halo alien – drops a “light rifle”. I start making with the big laser gun, then.

So the new Elites are called “Promethean Knights”. Okay. The big laser gun blocks my view uncomfortably, but it’s got a nice zoom. Not a fan of the lame low-power laser shots.

Giving a pass on the other alien guns for now – a “boltshot” and a “suppressor” – even though they’re offered in familiar enough gun cabinets. One new toy is enough to get me in trouble!

Oh come on, they’re packing freaking energy swords, why are they not aggressive? I’m able to just pot-shot them, one at a time.

Alien grenades (they pack a weirdly static light show, it feels entirely non-threatening) and the suppressor, then, as I’m out of ammo with the light rifle. By looks the suppressor is basically a re-skinned human assault rifle.

Oh I do like the yellow, liquidy splash the small guys make when they die.

The big dudes warp all over the place. That’s nice, but I hope they warped to more sensible places, say behind me or on top of something where I can’t reach them in hand to hand.

The alien (and by alien I mean “Promethean”) guns assemble themselves on command. It looks cool, but feels a little out of place in Halo’s tactile world. Okay, the alien shotgun is loaded… just like a human shotgun. That’s just weird! I would have an easier time accepting it’s a wide-beam, alternating frequency beamgun. Instead of a glowing shotgun.

Hey that was pretty neat! And horrible! Chief tried to limp away, dying, before, well, dying.

The glowy dogs are hard when they gang up on you.

But those small flying vertical drones that basically look like two discs glued together? Those are just stupid. Who likes trying to hit small flying targets? But hmmmm… looks like they’re doing something to the knights… maybe healing them? Also cool: the knight uses the same sort of “light shield” I’ve got.

Oh no checkpoint for destroying the second power core? But yes for the first one? Ah. Third try, I just lingered around for long enough after destroying – and, hey, checkpoint! Seems a bit bugged then.

I have no idea where I’m supposed to go. “Top”? What? Running around on my third attempt, looks like there is an objective, after all, the game is just not crazy about showing it until you see it.

For fuck’s sake, that’s a lot of goddamn aliens to get through. One-shotting the dogs with the rifle feels great.

These flying fuckers are really goddamn aggravating. As long as you have rifle, fine, but when you don’t, fuck those guys! They take way too much damage for what they look like. Also this fight is fucking hard. Again I kind of feel like I shouldn’t play solo.

The alien AR doesn’t do shit against these guys.

I ended up running past quite a few of them to get to the light elevator. Not very satisfying.

The delay in “hold X to activate” is too long, feels sticky and unresponsive.

Well, that’s cool. The hollow interior of the Requiem planet is so big that Covenant ships are jumping into the planet. Rock’n’roll! To be honest, I’m looking forward to fighting them, these Promethean motherfuckers have left me winded and aggravated.

Day 4. Campaign.

Mushrooms and volcanic rock, what’s not to like? It’s a new type of environment for the series. Also lightning in the distance. The Promethean bastards work immediately better when there’s Covenant to back them up, in terms of gameplay.

This arena is (again) confusing… it feels like 343 is not nearly as good in directing the player as Bungie was. I’ve been lost far too many times. Fighting when you have no idea where you’re supposed to go is just frustrating.

Oh okay, now I actually finally saw what those flying things actually do – they re-animate Promethean Knights I’ve taken down. Fuck that. Need to concentrate on them first from now on, aggravating little fucks they are.

Feels like a fucking skeet shoot when you’re supposed to be fighting all the guys around you… I really hate their design, in every aspect. Who the fuck thought this was a good idea?

I’ve killed every moving thing in this volcano bowl and circled it twice. WOULD IT KILL THEM TO SHOW ME WHERE TO GO?

Whoops, wasn’t every moving thing, after all…

I have emptied a “suppressor” twice and three clips of Covenant carbine into three of the flying fuckers and NONE OF THEM HAVE DIED. Jesus Christ I hate these guys. A fucking frisbee shouldn’t be this goddamn hard to kill, techno colors or not.

OH. The “boltshot” has a charged firing mode, too, like the Covenant plasma pistol. Sure took care of that Elite in a flash.

Interesting. Is it actually the flying bastards that are doing the most talking among the Prometheans?

Seriously, for fuck’s sake, would it be heresy to give a checkpoint at some point during this massive fight? I’ve killed two of three troops and the last one is giving me trouble. Then again, I’m getting much more adept at killing these other guys.

Okay, with those sorted out, now there’s the beacon/searchlight/turret thing on the wall with scant cover between me and it. Hmm.

Right, sprinted past it… finally, checkpoint!

Ooh, I get to ride a Covenant Ghost hover-motorbike thing. I never really liked them as much as the other vehicles, but I take what I can get.

For once, they let you ride in a vehicle up a tower instead of legging it. As it should be.

It’s the exact same “detroy the power cores in this arena” game as before, but with the Ghosts it’s a completely different scenario. Good, economic design, there.

Oh wow, having nabbed a Banshee flying Covenant thing, coming in down and low, an Elite jumped my craft and pulled me out! That was neat. But again – it’s the original Halo palette I’m having the most fun with.

VERDICT

FOUR out of FIVE Halos
Plus: I love Halo again
Not: I still love Bungie more

Categories
Freeware PC

Warframe (PC)

Warframe screenshot
Warframe screenshot

The core gamer free to play field is filling fast. Most of my gaming time on the PC is already spent on Ghost Recon Online, with the occasional night of Hawken, Mechwarrior Online or World Of Tanks. Warframe represents something we haven’t really seen before: it’s a third-person dungeoncrawling brawler, with heavy co-op focus. Kind of like Gears Of War with loot grinding, except there’s no shooting from cover.

Other references I could drop: Hellgate London. The setup with reclaiming a lost world from monsters, the general feel of the combat, and the structure of the game, as well as some of the art style, reminds me of that lost opportunity. Then there’s the Dreamcast cult favorite, Phantasy Star Online, which is invoked with the default four-man co-op questing in enclosed arenas.

The fighting is tactical and does require both thought and skill to a degree, but it’s no Devil May Cry. Most closely it resembles Mass Effect’s fighting, if you played that in un-paused realtime, which can get confusing and lacks solidity. It’s not quite competent and a little fleeting as an action game, but for an MMO style fight it’s much more active and skill-focused. It’s a good enough take on an action game to get by.

The narrative is a problem, as you might expect with an action oriented online title. How to narrate, when you can’t require slowing down during the mission, because people are going to be running through maps? Left 4 Dead did this well, but they had the very well understood zombie apocalypse scenario for support. Here they’re trying to convey a world after humanity, with presumably human-manufactured “warframes” being activated to re-take the Solar system from the hostile force. Or something. I don’t quite get what the hostiles are, maybe a sort of alien? They seem to be using human parts. All told, it’s quite powerful stuff, something I’m really a sucker for, but it could use much stronger environmental storytelling, mission assignments, evocative menus and so forth. Since they can’t have us talk to NPCs during a mission, they really should pay more attention to what they can tell.

It’s not like there’s no effort made. The slightly too samey levels do have plenty of intriguing detail and it does leave me wanting to know more. I’ll take mysterious and vague over identikit tastelessness any day.

The level layouts are confusing. While they’re not randomly generated as in Hellgate London, they look like they are, and the layouts feel random. I spend a lot of time lost, tyring to figure out where to go, and I’ve completed entire missions without seeing anyone, including my squadmates, who’ve run off before me, doing everything.

If you play this as a single-player action game – you can – it doesn’t really work. The grindy elements become too apparent, and the fighting isn’t good enough to work solo. But co-op is where it shines. Playing with a group is faster and you tend to run into trouble instead of scouting it out and figuring out your approach calmly, which leads to much more exciting play, but also confused brawls and becoming lost in a quickly evolving situation, spread all over the map. They make the grouping exceptionally easy. It would be very hard to grief in this game, and while the teamplay is nowhere as tight as Left 4 Dead’s, it’s still solid. The defense missions, with waves of baddies converging on a target you’re all protecting, work best as teamplay. In the other missions it’s too easy for the objective to become lost.

Until very recently this would’ve been a pay to play game and as such it feels like a vision of how a lot of games are going to be in the near future. Combined with a game like Warface, a Call Of Duty like multiplayer FPS, playable in a browser – it does actually install and runs a separate executable, I think, but you never leave Chrome – the identity of a videogame is fast changing. It’s all just media that people are consuming wherever they happen to be. The idea of a dedicated game machine may feel antiquated much sooner than we as hardcore gamers like to think. It’s not hard at all to imagine next year’s mobile hardware sizing up to today’s Xbox 360 and PS3 – now six years old technology.

Categories
WiiU

WiiU and Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate (Wii)

Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate - WiiU - cover art
The cover art paints a far more epic picture than you’re likely to encounter in practice.

I don’t have a long history with Monster Hunter. I’ve played one of the PSP titles maybe a dozen hours, but could never get very far into it because of the difficult controls. It’s still an intriguing concept and something I want to like.

THE WIIU

There’s been a WiiU in our living room for weeks, and I’ve just not had any reason to turn it on before now.

The hardware is nice. There is no getting around the cumbersome, confusing tablet with a full set of modern controls, but ergonomically and in terms of build quality it’s all good. The console itself looks and feels good. I would rate it above both the PS3 and the Xbox 360 as a thing that takes up space on my desk. It’s good design.

The tablet is not up to par as a touch device – it’s better than a Nintendo DS, but not by much, and the sensitivity just can’t compete with an iDevice or anything modern in that vein. It’s just about enough for what it’s meant for, but a disappointment nonetheless.

In-game the tablet isn’t quite redundant, but it does feel like a gimmick. The only thing I liked using it for was the town map. It’s nice and natural to not need to exit to a menu to see where you should go. Elsewhere its usability is in question, even with all the options they give you for customizing what it displays and how it’s laid out. This would probably be a much better integration if the tablet controller was mandatory, but Nintendo wants to give you the option of using their more traditionally designed “Pro” controller, which doesn’t come with a screen. It’s a wasted opportunity, the screen feeling like an alien thing in your lap that you’re not sure if you should be looking at, getting noticeably warm in use.

However, out of game the tablet makes things modern. It’s simply more natural to browse menus on a touch screen than with a controller. It becomes a game changer when combined with the MiiVerse, Nintendo’s new channel of social spaces for games. You can hang out with other players of the same games you like, sharing tips and doodles. It feels like the way it should be – and I fully expect Sony and Microsoft to more or less follow suit with their new user experiences on the next-generation console platforms. This wouldn’t really work without a touch device, however, as typing and drawing are natural on the WiiU controller. It’s missing the ability to post screenshots and video and I would be surprised if that wasn’t added at some point.

THE GAME

Japanese series generally don’t change that much between versions, but I would’ve expected some evolution over the years. For most purposes this feels like just an (inadequately) upscaled version of the PSP game I played six years ago. So if that’s something you enjoy, chances are you’ll love this, too, but with no prior experience with the series, you may be in for a disappointment.

It feels like a game of inventory management for the most part. Your pockets are never deep or wide enough for the all the stuff you’re supposed to be carrying, and deciding whether to ditch root A or worm B to make room for rock C is just not compelling gameplay. This is made a lot more difficult than it needs to be thanks to the tiny fonts used.

When you’re not stuck in the menus, you’re face-down on the dirt, digging for stuff, an item at a time, with no way of telling how many items there are still to be discovered in that same spot. You just wait for the prompt to not come up anymore. Waiting for the animation to cycle becomes an exercise in patience. My wife remarked that it sounds like I’m playing a slot machine, and that’s pretty much how it feels.

That doesn’t mean that the grinding and especially crafting are not compulsive, because they are, but you’re hit with an empty feeling all through.

When you’re not in menus or digging for stuff, you’re hunting monsters. This is a much smaller part of the gameplay than you might expect, given the title, and it’s not very exciting stuff, either. It does take skill, but for all the wrong reasons. Where something like Dark Souls asks you to master its combat system, here it feels like you’re trying to fit something that’s organic and fluid into a rigid, constrained space. Your angles of attack are linear, combos are slow and lock you into slashing at air at an enemy that was there several seconds ago. The monster behavior is too mechanical to excite.

The controls are a constant problem, not least because of the unresponsiveness. There’s a disconnect between pressing a button and having something happen, making everything feel like you’re talking to someone, pleading them to do a thing.

In other places the design is just confusing and convoluted. Quests take you to a separate game state, something like an MMO instance, with a time limit and slightly changed rules (no fast travel, some quest mode specific items). There is a number of additional activities in the home village, with a fishing fleet, trading ship and a cat-manned (?) farm to manage, but it never feels coherent or fulfilling. I expected to eat this stuff up, but it’s just not compelling. It feels like a house that’s been expanded too many times, with the architecture becoming confusing and the original functionality obfuscated by ill-fitting additions.

The Monster Hunter world is a beautiful, evocative place – when you can appreciate it through the technical issues. Despite the very simple geometry, the framerate struggles. Textures are a muddy, compressed mess. Lighting has no dynamism to it. The game world is split into tiny areas with (brief) loading screens in-between. Monsters appear unconvincingly into the arenas out of thin air, with even giant dinosaurs fading away after being killed even though there are only a handful of characters present. Resources like plants and ore veins fading in and out of existence within plain view is hard to stomach in a game released in 2013. The excellent character design and colorful, imaginative locales help a lot, but there is nothing even current-gen about the world on display. This would’ve been unacceptable for an Xbox 360 or a PS3 game, years ago, let alone now. It’s not an ideal WiiU poster boy.

It’s a world I really like the idea of visiting and living in, but which in practice makes you work for it entirely too much, sidestepping issues you know you shouldn’t. We should expect more at this day.

Categories
PC

Strike Suit Zero (PC)

Strike Suit Zero screenshot
The Strike Suit Zero space is really very pretty almost all the time. No dogfight has ever looked this nice.

I almost didn’t get to write this post, as initially Strike Suit Zero was way too hardcore for me. I just couldn’t get through the first mission with the actual giant robot – essentially part of the tutorial. They’ve since added an easy mode and mid-mission checkpoints, and hey – now I can enjoy this game!

There’s a pen and paper RPG and tabletop war game that’s always fired up my imagination much more than the media it’s based on. That game is Dream Pod 9’s (now discontinued) Jovian Chronicles and the stuff it’s aping is space anime – mostly Gundam. The war game flavor is called Lightning Strike. They have mecha design to die for, combined with a mind for drama and a smooth system. It’s very good.

I haven’t ever got to play those kinds of colorful, crowded space battles in a videogame. Closest experience is Wing Commander, with its space cats and frantic pace, and it’s been quite a few years since that. Strike Suit Zero is basically made for me – it gives me precisely that fantasy, even serving its mecha with a combined western-eastern flavor, as JC does.

It is very pretty, obscenely so at times. Beautiful trails chase every space craft, missiles streak across the stars in clouds, lasers and kinetic weapons explode everywhere around you. The constant, tight dogfighting sees you diving through an exploding enemy ace’s craft every thirty seconds or so.

The ship designs are good to great, although I really don’t care for the cockpit design, and the Strike Suit itself is masterclass space mecha design. I love it very much and would like to see more of it, considering that when I’m using it myself I’m way too busy to really appreciate it.

I would very much like to fly my giant space robot all the time, but the way Strike Suit Zero rations it out is very effective. You need to zoom around in a furious little fighter most of the time, dogfighting dozens of enemies, collecting something called “flux” from debris to power your transformation sequence. Then you have a timespan of seconds to unleash glorious space hell on your foes, filling the sky with missile trails and laser death, before zipping away as a fighter once more. Time it incorrectly and your woefully inadequate armor leaves you dead in the sky.

The long missions grate, typically at around half an hour, with lots of interminable talking heads narration inbetween, all of which is thankfully skippable. A much bigger problem is the nature of the missions, far too often based on escorting utterly useless, defenseless ships assailed by waves of torpedo ships.

Shooting down torpedoes is not exactly thrilling.

Otherwise the campaign works, with medals to chase based on your performance and space ship options to unlock.

The controls work, but they never come naturally. There’s too much conscious thought going into every weapon change and transformation, as accomplished and interesting as the combat systems are on paper. Using all of the different weapon systems is empowering and tactical, but it’s a bit of a chore in the heat of battle. It does make you feel like a proper, trained ace when you do nail a complex sequence.

But the dogfighting works and hitting that ideal moment and spot to transform into space god, wiping your enemies into so much stardust, is pure space nerd gold, every time. And for this first proper space war game in a far too long time, that is enough.

Categories
culture Games PC

Goodbye, Lucasarts: The things you gave me

I want to say that Lucasarts made me love videogames, but that’s not true. I do think I learned to love them more deeply thanks to Lucasarts. Here’s my most cherished memories with their games.

Maniac Mansion cover art
Maniac Mansion’s awesome cover art

MANIAC MANSION

The Finnish review in MikroBitti was great, recalling slasher flicks and painting it quite a bit more macabre than it really was. Maniac Mansion still feels progressive with its choose your own cast mechanics and dynamic NPCs. Rarely has so much been attained with such a limited playspace.

ZAK MCKRACKEN (AND THE ALIEN MINDBENDERS)

Zak always felt like Lucasarts’ most ambitious game to me. I’m not sure how complicated it actually was, but it felt like a very big game with lots of paths you could go down. Its mix of the mundane with the surreal and the fantastic remains fresh. What a lovely oddball world and cast. From airline pranks to the Sphinx and two-headed squirrels to alien invaders, the cover perfectly covered the atmosphere.

LOOM

I can’t actually recall all that much about LOOM save for realizing that I either have no ear for tone or the friend I was playing with was so much better that it didn’t matter.

INDIANA JONES (AND THE LAST CRUSADE)

For a long time I thought that this is the only way you should do a movie license, honoring the characters and the plot of the original. The accomplishment here is following the original story very closely, yet creating enough new stuff to make the game feel fresh. I still don’t think you could do a straight movie adaptation better than this – generally I’d rather you take the route The Walking Dead did, retelling the same kind of story, but not the same one.

X-WING

TIE Fighter gets all the love, but I was an X-Wing guy. At the time I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to play as the bad guys. With its movie sensibilities and simulation approach, it plunged you deeper into a movie world than any game before or since. (Well, I guess except for TIE Fighter.)

(THE SECRET OF) MONKEY ISLAND (2: LECHUCK’S REVENGE)

I bought so wholesale into the brilliantly realized Monkey Island fantasy, going to the Pirates of the Caribbean ride in Disneyland last year felt like coming home for the very same flavor of Caribbean fantasy world they offer. The games feature some brilliant characters and unforgettable scenes – breaking into the mansion, the coffin ride, the voodoo priestess, the drowning… Monkey Island 2 was a big game for me just for looking so unbelievably good, I had a hard time believing it was real. At least until you got to the disc-swapping.

GRIM FANDANGO

I love Grim Fandango mostly for its esthetic values. Very few early 3D games can stand up to light today, but with its sense of style and adaptation of real-world art, Grim Fandango is a masterclass in art direction. It doesn’t overshadow its qualities in writing and characters at all – this is a dance you should learn, even if the very strange world it depicts may be a little much to get your head around at first brush.

GLADIUS

I don’t actually have that strong memories of this title, but it was one of the best games on the original Xbox and something that’s often overlooked, so I want to bring it up. A turn-based tactical gladiator title, it was never going to be a big seller, no matter how good it was. Without doing the research I can’t be sure, but I believe it was Lucasarts’ last truly good game.

Categories
PC

Defense Grid (PC)

Defense Grid screenshot
Defense Grid

Comfort gaming

It’s a common question. “What game do you go back to, over and over again?” I always thought I didn’t have an answer to that as I’m always looking for new things to play, but some time ago I realized I do, actually. My comfort game is Defense Grid (PC).

Defense Grid was the first game I installed on my new home desktop PC and my new work laptop. Doing this, I had to acknowledge that the game holds a special place in my library. I’ve been playing it since December 2008 and it’s now held its status in my gaming life for over four years. I am in no way less enthralled by it now than I ever was.

I have over 200 hours clocked with Defense Grid on Steam. I know I’ve played close to a hundred more, lost in a Steam offline sync. It’s the game I have by far the most hours in, surpassing titles like Skyrim or Oblivion, perhaps only approached by my first addiction with Tetris back on the Commodore 64 or the only game I ever played in a clan, the first Ghost Recon on the PC.

Defense Grid is a tower defence game. I’m not very familiar with the genre – the iOS title Radiant TD is great and I did play all the way through Plants vs Zombies a couple of times – but it’s not something that innately pulls me. But there’s something about Defense Grid that I not only can’t resist, but find comforting. It’s like a friend that lives in Steam on all of my computers.

One part is just the design, which borders on genius. I have replayed completed levels dozens of times in hunt of higher awards. There are levels of understanding you go through, as in any genuinely good game – first you learn how to survive through the levels, then you make sure you don’t lose any of the shiny power cores the alien hordes are after. This only gets you a silver medal. To get gold, you start working on your highscores, trying to get by with just what’s absolutely required.

For a long time that’s enough, but then you start falling short. The game is over, you’re confident you did supremely well… and you’re presented with a silver medal. In disbelief you check the gold requirements and see that you’re short by a thousand, or often just hundreds, from a total of 60 000 – 100 000. And you start thinking how you could be a tiny bit more economical still. Maybe you could postpone building that missile tower? Or gather a little bit more resources by allowing the spawner alien to get further in, releasing more troops? The way the game loves to tell me how I’m still only good enough for a silver, even after hundreds of hours of experimentation, just eggs me on. It’s like I’m completely in synch with the designers. (When you finally manage it, you take it up a notch with the “challenge” mode, which is the same scenario, except with tougher aliens, requiring you to further fine-tune your solution, with much smaller margins for error.)

It feels like a dialogue, especially after all the expansions. The game has been supported by ongoing expansions over the years to keep it fresh. In addition to new levels, the expansions have also added new challenges to old levels, giving you an excuse to return to old haunting grounds, more than doubling the playtime you’re getting out of the existing content. Interestingly, there are no new aliens or weapons, just new ways of looking at the same play set. They have seen that for a long time you could solve most of your problems with maxed out cannon type towers… So they made a whole series of challenges with no kinetic power weapons. Or the mode where the power cores don’t float back to their housing after the alien carrying them has been killed. Or the one where there’s only one core, but it kills all aliens on touch when it’s free floating, and you don’t get any resources for the aliens killed that way.

But maybe it’s actually the story that it comes back to, in the end. It’s endearing. There’s the faceless, voiceless “commander” (that’s you), and the chatty, charming AI that’s helping you. It’s not the actual story anybody cares about, it’s the AI character. The AI makes the game feel warm. Human. I like hanging out with him. Every time I eat raspberries in real life, I think about this guy (he has a thing with raspberries.)

Defense Grid is comfort gaming. I don’t have to think, yet I’m completely engrossed. I feel good about myself, yet challenged to my limits. I’m glad I don’t know of other games quite like it, because I would not play any new games.

Categories
culture Games PC

Thirty Flights Of Loving (PC)

Thirty Flights Of Loving screenshot
Thirty Flights Of Loving

Small form gaming

In journalism the long-form is making a return. That’s a great development, if somewhat paradoxical with the proliferation of time spent on smartphones and ever smaller chunks at a time on one specific thing. The rise of tablets is certainly a part of it, being more suited to reading than phones or computer screens are. But I attribute a big part of it to people simply wanting content they care about, instead of machinegun news. We used to say that you can’t charge for news or online journalism, but it turns out you can – it’s now just a matter of figuring out how much and for how many consumers. I believe the shift happened once so much of our lives and content was online, the line between a tangible newspaper and an incorporeal news site blurred to something that just doesn’t matter to many people. The tangible isn’t seen as value anymore. On the contrary, young people are proud of how little stuff they have or need.

There is another interesting parallel in TVs and movies. Movies are getting dumber by the year, Hollywood largely settling on the “sure bets” of remakes and reboots and re-imaginings and movies as events (”you gotta see it!” “Why?”), while Youtube and other online video has largely already replaced the TV for younger people. When my ISP asked me if I had used the TV functionality, I had to actually think (I had, once). At the same time the TV show is in full-blown renaissance. We’re getting better TV than ever, and that’s because writers have embraced the form as something that’s very valuable and substantial on its own, not as an offshoot of cinema or something cheap and dumb you do when you don’t have the energy for anything else – be it as a creator or a consumer. The TV show has turned into the long-form moving image. The TV shows of today demand and reward attention and thinking.

Meanwhile, in games

I believe it’s time for games to embrace a shift like this. They need to, to be in line with the changing lives and perspectives of their audience.

The problem is that most modern games are way too long. If you’re a hardcore gamer and especially if you’re in your teens, you’re going to make a face and dismiss this outright. But if you’re not hardcore or in your teens, you’re likely nodding along there.

This is getting better now as production costs are so sky-high that we can’t afford to make more than 6-8 hours of linear content. But that’s not a shift to better get on with the times, that’s something you do because you’re forced to. The audience doesn’t appreciate it, because they feel they’re getting less than they used to for their 50-70 USD/EUR.

What you need to do is accept that your audience wants new experiences. They want games that matter to them and give them things to talk about. They want something they can consume instead of watching some more Youtube – the threshold to jump into a game shouldn’t exist.

Now it does, for a lot of reasons. For one, games are just too big. I haven’t played Skyrim in months and the thought of going back to it is intimidating. It’s like the game is towering before me, and starting again on that path is just too much. This is great is all you do is play one game day-in day-out, but for a lot of gamers it isn’t ideal.

Another problem is that games are so goddamn complex. I’ve started Vanquish and want to go back to it, but the controls are so complex that I have to accept spending at least half an hour of being bad before hopefully, maybe re-acquiring what skills I had. And that’s a very in-your-face action game, supposed to be immediately accessible, jump-in fun.

Third problem is that games demand constant attention. They’re generally very bad in acknowledging that you might have other things to do and can only give them, say, half an hour this week. This is getting better with examples from mobile games and things like the PlayStation 4’s instant suspend and resume, but there’s still ways to go before we’re at the level of TV shows. Not that this is a unique problem to games – books in general require effort to follow all the way through, if you don’t do it in a small enough span of time.

I’m not saying all of these problems even need to be solved or that solving them would be good for all games, but Thirty Flights Of Loving is an example of solving all these problems at once.

A First-Person Shooter

Thirty Flights Of Loving says it’s an FPS without being one. It tells a story that stays with you with very few words, no dialogue and super low “production values”. Instead, it embraces the videogame form and does things with it that you couldn’t do with any other medium. It does this in around 30 minutes, if that. It’s more focused and confident than anything I can think of.

I had no idea what to expect, going in, and what I left with when I turned off the game was memories of an episode of my life I didn’t know I had. You can’t really say anything about the story without spoiling it and whereas for the most part videogame spoilers are something I could not care less about, in this case they really are. Just play it.

You could spend time arguing if it’s even a game as you can’t lose as far as I know and you’re effectively going through a linear story. I don’t particularly care – it looks and feels like a game.

Thirty Flights Of Loving is a videogame short story, a short movie, a single issue comic book, a single. I would like there to be many more games like it.