Monday, September 1, 2014
Season 2 of Telltale Game's benchmark series The Walking Dead has just come to a close. Does it stand along with season 1, one of the best gaming experiments ever concocted? In a lot of ways, yes. In just as many ways, no. Season 2 was an odd mix of exciting moments and slow build-up, along with some of the shortest episodes in the entire series so far. A lot of the same emotions and characterizations from the previous season worm their way in, but just as easily are overshadowed by new and even more terrible revelations. An odd mix, but one hell of a good one.
(WARNING - This review will spoil some moments from both Season 1 and Season 2 of The Walking Dead Telltale Game. You have been warned...)
Season 2 is what I like to call anti-season 1, and it has everything to do with the new lead, Clementine. After Lee gives up everything to rescue Clem, Clem makes her way back to Omid and Christa. Not to long after, Clem's carelessness gets Omid killed. Several months later, just as Christa is about due to give birth, they get separated by a gang of scavengers, leaving Clem all on her own in this zombie filled world.
Now, if season 1 taught us that every life is worth saving, season 2 hammers in the fact that not all lives can, or should, be saved. It teaches us that children can no longer be children, that they must live up to the responsibility of their new world or risk getting themselves or others killed.
And that's you. An 11 year old surviving because that's all that's left to do.
A lot of the characters you meat along the way mirror the people encountered in the last season, with Clem slowly morphing into a Lee-like figure. Each has their own view of the world, how they live and how others should act. Each is meant to drive the player (and Clem) into creating their own versions of how the end of the world should be handled. You group together out of necessity more than anything, as even Lee had doubts of their group just before it crumbled.
Unfortunately, crumbling is just what happens to Clem's group of survivors as well.
Deaths come often and suddenly. Unpredictability is a staple of the series and Telltale plays these cards while never tipping their hand. Is this guy we just came across a loner? Does he have friends hiding in the surrounding trees? Is he part of a group of bandits, or just trying to survive? These questions come up often, and you aren't given much thinking time until you have to make a choice about what to do about them. Just like in real life, actions usually come first while thinking about what you just did can come later.
Choices are Telltales bread and butter, but unfortunately not a whole lot of what you did in season 1 comes back to haunt you in season 2 (with a few cool exceptions). However, season 2 does carry with it some of the most gut-wrenching choices I've had to make in the game so far. Not only that, but they seem to matter more as well.
Season 1 ended practically the same for everyone. The same cannot be said about season 2. There are three vastly different outcomes to how season 2 closes out, and it has me more than a little excited for the eventual season 3. While I won't go into too much detail, I will say the ending has a lot to do with episode 5 of season 1. Not literally, but ideologically. It's a struggle of two worlds; fighting for the greater good with all your power, or survival, sometimes alone and sometimes with someone watching your back.
Nearly everything Lee teaches Clem sticks in her mind while she walks the path of surviving, as well it should. There's a lot of bad in this world, and you've got to hold on to the good while you still can.
Technically speaking, season 2 is light years ahead of season 1. S1 suffered from slowdown, frame stuttering, save corruption and countless bugs. Season 2 is built of Telltales redesigned engine first implemented in The Wolf Among Us, and it performs beautifully. Load times are much improved, pop-in is infrequent and nearly all the previous games bugs and engine issues have been ironed out.
The sound design also steps up big time this go around. The audio is crisper and cleaner when it comes to sound effects, zombies, guns, chops and blood gushes. The new voice actors brought to the series do a fantastic job making us relate to the characters they play. Melissa Hutchison is the perfect Clem, and give a performance to rival that of season 1.
A few other voices from season 1 makes a return, but revealing them would lean towards heavy spoiler territory.
Season 2 teaches us that trust is a hard thing to come by, loyalty has its limits, friendship isn't always magic, and there's no such thing as as a child anymore.
Only a survivor that must get stronger every day
Wednesday, August 6, 2014
I've found that every professor at school seems to speak in their own unique language. I'm not sure if it's that all History teachers sound like History teachers and all Science teachers sound like nerds or something but every single one of my teachers is their own unique butterfly when it comes to communication.
One of my teachers in particular has a style that makes it virtually impossible to focus on, it's about the same pace as a snail on crutches with the same intonation as a sleepy washing machine and while you're listening all you can think of is, "there's not enough coffee for this conversation." That being said, that style has almost become a challenge for me and I impart this advice on anyone who is having trouble understanding one of their teachers; make a game out of it. Trying to decipher what the teacher is actually talking about has become an exercise for me, it's like being a detective during the interrogation of a murder suspect or watching a movie where the audience knows who the killer is but the rest of the characters don't and you're picking up on the subtle hints that could give him away if only the stupid characters in the show knew what to look for (10 points to whoever can guess the name of that literary device.)
So while the rest of the class passes out and creates small flood planes with their collective drool I'm picking apart mysteries and being the scholarly detective of Baker Street and you should be too.
Don't be one of those guys.
Wednesday, July 30, 2014
Sunday, April 6, 2014
So we're approaching the one year anniversary of anything being posted on this blog. What's happened in this year long span? Well Darris has disappeared, Dillon started online college, Ryan bought some Gundam models, and that Amber chick... well let's not go there due to legal reasons. Me? Well I was using my job as an excuse to do nothing but play video games and sleep a bunch. WELL NOT ANYMORE! I got laid off. Yes, I'm part of that percentage now. Anyway, I like this blog and I like writing and drawing crappy MS Paint comics and crap for it so I'm gonna do that now. Anything else that happens, happens.
Thursday, April 11, 2013
Have you ever bought anything on impulse while you were depressed? I have. In fact it seems as my mood goes down excess crap goes up. I find there is a sudden rush as the transaction completes, an injection of relief from the sinking sadness as I open the package, hope that beams from the prospect of a fresh purchase. But oh, how quickly that euphoria fades. I find myself with shelves of unread art books and classics I’ve always wanted to read and felt that I could somehow assimilate into myself through touch and ownership. I have a sushi making kit I never use and boxes of craft odds and ends, stacks of unplayed games, and reams of forgotten sheet music I swore to myself I would learn; and I always have every intention of keeping that promise. When you’re down and looking for a ladder to pull yourself back up to feeling okay again, you’ll promise anything if you can just find that first rung and start the climb. Somehow I never quite make it to the top. I’ve heard stories of people who have made it, burnt themselves out by knitting a dozen Afghans or baked enough croissants to feed a Boy Scout troop, but I never get there. I always make it past the first step, the “beginner” phase before the drive peters out and I’m back where I began at the bottom of the ladder. Such is my life. I can talk about everything from how to build Tryndamere in League of Legends to the importance of sanding every part of a ukulele body except where the neck will be glued at the top. But I can’t stop the cycle. It’s why this blog seems to get going in spurts before falling dormant again until the next creative explosion.
I was surprised to learn that my behavior could be described as self-medicating and I’m not the only one who does it. Wikipedia describes this as: “a human behavior in which an individual uses unprescribed drugs to treat untreated and often undiagnosed medical ailments.” Impulse buying can become an addiction and I’m never truly proud of myself when it’s all said and done. I think about how much I could have had saved if I could have controlled myself a little better, and if you can’t do something without regretting yet find yourself continuing to do it it’s never a good sign. Self-medication doesn’t have to be limited to drug use; it could be any negative behavior you use to find relief. Wikipedia goes on to say: “The psychology of such behavior within the specific context of using recreational drugs, psychoactive drugs, alcohol, and other self-soothing forms of behavior to alleviate symptoms of mental distress, stress and anxiety. including mental illnesses and/or psychological trauma, is particularly unique and can serve as a serious detriment to physical and mental health if motivated by addictive mechanisms.” And then sums up with: “Self-medication is often seen as gaining personal independence from established medicine.” Lol.
So how does someone like me get better? It’s not as easy as my father would say, “just stop doing it. You know you’re doing it so stop.” If I could do than it wouldn’t be a problem. Some people have suggested hiding your credit card and only working with cash but in this day and age where websites save your payment information and plastic prevents you from losing loads of dosh or having it stolen from your wallet that’s not really an option. You could always try REAL medication but the thought of that is usually more depressing than where you are currently at. What I have found to be a reasonable solution is to make a list of things you want, call it your wish list, Santa Letter, whatever. Put on this list a bunch of things you wish you had, materials for hobbies you wish you could learn or a movie you wish you had seen or a book you’ve always wanted to read, maybe put ‘lessons’ on there instead of material goods so you can actually get some more motivation to complete your goal. In fact, if you’re going to go with lessons or a hobby another good way to stick to it is to tell someone you trust to ride your ass till it’s done. Guilt trips are marvelous. But anyway, when you feel yourself sinking and you need to scratch that itch, go to your wish list. Always put small things on this list, budget items you know you want and you know you can get that release from acquiring; think thrift stores and eBay. That way you can get your fix and still have enough cash left over to pay the light note. No, it’s not a perfect solution but there seldom is in life and all its whimsical little struggles.
I’m going to try to keep the blog going this time, an article a week is my goal with a little bit of comic mischief in the mix. Don’t expect Penny Arcade quality, I’m working with what I got over here. As for the rest of the crew: Darris is dealing with possible homelessness so he’s a bit tied up at the moment trying to save up or move, Ryan is split between saying he’s going to study for his A+ certification and buying a million video games he’ll never play (irony), saying Dillon will commit to anything is like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, and Auverin is so bogged down with college work it’s a wonder the pressure hasn’t turned her into a tiny diamond Auvey. I’m in a perpetual rift caused by my love of music, art, and writing with the bane of video games always snapping the life away from me with its instant gratification and sweet graphics. But I’m gonna try. I know it seems like I’m not always successful, but I’m still gonna try.
Wednesday, March 6, 2013
Twenty twelve. What an interesting year for gaming.
When you think about it, 2012 is going to be the very last year where it's this generation of consoles only. '13 is bound to have the next PlayStation and Xbox biting at each others heels with new fantastical visuals and exclusives. While 2013 won't be the last year amazing PS3 and 360 game will come out (one would hope), it's no longer the 'current-gen' market going into 2014.
SO! How did 2012 do? In my opinion... pretty damn good!
It's easy to look at any year ahead and expect it to be the "Best Year in Gaming" since 1998. Hell, this year has 'BioShock Infinite' and 'Grand Theft Auto V' just ready to eat GotY nominations up. But when it comes to the gaming year as a whole... I love surprises. Pleasant surprises, mind you. Not 'Aliens: Colonial Marines' surprises...
With all that 'ado' out of the way, I present my Top Ten Games of 2012!
I was addicted to Borderlands and I'm almost one hundred percent positive I wasn't alone. What drove people to play the ever-living-hell out of that game, beating it multiple times and acquiring some of the most fantastic weapons known to mankind? Well it sure as hell wasn't the story. The two massive driving forces in its popularity was the loot and the personalities. Not only was collecting, trading, examining and using every gun fun and ENSLAVINGLY FUN (made up word), but every character was actually fun to talk to. Every voice actor put a lot of work into making each character recognizable and interesting.
Borderlands 2 is the first game times a thousand. The characters are more amazing and funny as ever, the gun collecting is just as habit-forming as ever, and whoever wrote the script must be some sort of genius. Play with three friends, enjoy the ride.
Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward
Take everything you might have known about this series (I seriously wish more people would have played '999', which is an amazing DS game) and amplify it. Make the tension more intense. Make the deaths more gruesome. Make the characters more bizarre. Make the puzzles more challenging. Make the story much longer and more complex. Welcome to a game you will not win. Part visual novel, part intense puzzle game, 'Virtue's Last Reward' thrives on tension, subtle hints and massive reveals. Each character looks fairly cut and dry (or just like freaks) from the start, but as you unravel the mystery while avoiding death each character starts to make more and more sense.
Also, you won't win on the first try... Or will you? With 24 different endings, the ways you can approach this games narrative is MASSIVE. I still suggest playing '999' first to get a general feel of the story, but it's not necessary to enjoy this game to it's fullest.
The 1980's are alive and well... and dripping in mass quantities of blood. This is ultra violence in the most 'ultra' way possible, yet still tells a striking and simply narrative that ties it all together (whether you notice or not). 'Hotline Miami' is a mixture of so many different elements that it's hard to describe efficiently. Top-down beat-um-up, shooter, stealth, "neon-noir" bundle of arcade madness.
It's simple enough to play and understand. Get a mission, grab a mask, kill everyone in a building then leave. But the way the plot builds, the way you take on every enemy, the way the action ramps up, the way where even killing one henchmen can be as dangerous as killing a boss... This game is much more deep then it lets on with it's "in your face 16-bit gore", and is addictive to boot. Give it a go and wear your sunglasses at night.
Unique. Beautiful. Uplifting. Depressing. Amazing.
This isn't blowing smoke, this is the real deal. 'Journey' is 2 hours of breathtaking visuals, one-of-a-kind multiplayer and stunning concepts. I don't want to give too much away, as I know there are still some people who haven't played it yet, but the interactions you have with other players alone is wonderful in it's simplicity. You just kind of meet someone. You can't talk to them, see their name or chat with them. You communicate only in beeps and flashes. The title is not just a word, it's the game you are getting. You and this random person you run into take a journey together, and it's one you won't forget anytime soon.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown
Turn-based strategy is back with a vengeance! Simpler than it's old-school counterpart, 'Enemy Unknown' take a much more accessible approach to turn-based combat and resource management, yet still leaves enough detail and difficulty for the hardcore fans to take notice. Aliens are landing on Earth. Abductions, killings, UFO sightings and crash landings... the fight has begun.
You are in command of the only hope for the human race, "XCOM". Using your brains you must out-maneuver and out-smart an enemy we know next to nothing about. You must research them, dissect them, learn their technological secrets and use this knowledge to drive them away. Just make sure you remember to take cover.
Spec Ops: The Line
I don't know a single person who saw this game before it came out and didn't dismiss it right away. Hell, from the time it was announced to the time it was released, the most people knew about the game was "HEY, THERE'S A LOT OF SAND. SHOOT STUFF TO MAKE SAND FALL ON BAD GUYS, KTHXBAI".
Who knew that hiding under the guise of yet another brown modern shooter was one of the best games I'd play all year. When you think of a game about war getting deep story wise, you imagine the whole "horrors of war" story. That's not this game. This game is about the horrors of man. Any man. Every man. What a person will do to convince themselves they are right in their actions, that what they do is just. That what they do has a purpose and a meaning, one they are willing to go to the ends of the earth to prove. They are willing to get themselves and the people they know killed just hoping in the end someone will say "what they did was right".
This game starts as you average shooter, turns slowly into 'Apocalypse Now', and then becomes something even greater. Original.
Rhythm Heaven Fever
"Darris", I hear you say through my computer screen, "... you pick only one Wii game for your Top Ten and you DON'T pick 'The Last Story' or 'Xenoblade Chronicles'?!?". And to that I say "HELL YES, LOSERS!", and then I ride away on my motorcycle looking awesome and cool and stuff.
Rhythm Heaven Fever is perfection in my eye, whether or not it's perfection in your eye comes down to one question: do you have rhythm? If so, then your new favorite game is here! SO weird. SO strange. SO wonderful. Colorful. Musical. FLAVORFUL! No motion controls, you just use the A button and B trigger and still this game is pure gold joy-splosions.
Painstakingly ported from the nearly identical Japanese version, Nintendo did fans of the series (yes, there IS a series...) very well. The music is the same, but with English singers and translations that actually make sense! The challenges and character you meet become like old friends at you strive to "Perfect" every single stage. All I can do is leave you with a slight taste of what the game is like. Enjoy the strange wonder.
Persona 4: The Golden
'Persona 4' is everything that was right with Japanese RPG's and was one of the most original and inventive PS2 games of all time. 'Persona 4: The Golden' somehow found a way to perfect perfection. New characters, new Personas, new social links, new cut-scenes and new voice acting all make a game everyone though was complete even better.
For those who don't know much about P4G, or the Persona series as a whole, then here's a little synopsis. In the Persona games you have creatures you can summon to fight called Personas. These evolve and form not by traditional RPG methods, but instead by a unique system called "Social Link". You literally make friends and you gain access to new Personas. The stronger the link in the real world, the stronger the creature fighting by your side. In 'Persona 4', a small Japanese town has been turned upside down by a series of very strange and very cryptic murders.
Aaaaaand that's all your getting out of me. Go play this game. Don't want to get a Vita? FINE THEN, GO PLAY THE PS2 VERSION, GOSH.
But when you do get a Vita eventually... Don't forget to grab your glasses and turn on the telly.
(God, I love this opening... so cheerful!)
The Walking Dead (Telltale Games)
Yeah yeah yeah, I know. Everyone suddenly loves this game. Jump on the bandwagon and enjoy the ride, because this game is one of the single best gaming experience you can have. Let's forget for a moment that Telltale Games has been making original and funny games for YEARS now (Sam & Max never gets any love...), This game is exactly what the gaming industry needs more of; CHARACTER DRIVEN EXPERIENCES.
This isn't hard to nail down people. Put likable, funny and interesting characters in danger and we will care for them so much more. Even if you are not a fan of 'The Walking Dead' TV show or comic series, there is a story here that needs to be heard. One with (seemingly) real people, in deadly and dangerous situations. People who haven't lost their sense of humor and can still joke occasionally. People who know that their actions carry more weight than ever with the threat of death always on their doorstep.
While it might seem like the main character is You/Lee, this isn't entirely true. It's mostly Lee's story with some slight variations. The story doesn't change all that much in reality for a "choose-your-own-adventure" game, but it does change enough to feel major decisions effect your own personal conscience. You make brutal choices. Ones that weigh on your mind well after you turn off the game.
Also, while the game was originally going to be a download only game until the first two episodes got massively popular, I find the ending quite ballsy for a game that has now been played even by casual gamers. This game has a story to tell, and there is nothing that is going to stop it.
Season 2 can't come soon enough.
Thursday, January 24, 2013
Oh, the beloved elf.
I must admit that I am very partial to elven races in pretty much any game I play. So it’s only logical that I produce an article about them, right?
Elf characters are definitely not suited for everyone. If you’re looking to hack and slash your way through a game with as much blood and as many execution kills as possible, I would suggest you choose a different race. But you know that already, don’t you?
Let’s talk about the elf race in general for a minute. Now, when I say elf race, I am thinking of wood elves. Dark elves, high elves, moon elves, and the like are another beast entirely. Keeping that in mind, it’s safe to say that no matter what game you’re playing (or what movie/book you are watching/reading), you can expect certain things out of the them. They’re generally described in the same manner across the board: shorter than other races, pointy ears, blonde to copper hair, green/brown/hazel eyes. All that good stuff. They’re people deeply rooted in the land, and they dress and act accordingly. Simple clothes, armor/weapons made from natural material, you get the picture. Because of their land (or tree) dwelling lifestyle and generally smaller stature, they’re very nimble. Elves are known for their agility and stealth skills, making them a good choice for those who prefer a sneak-and-snipe style of gameplay.
|Look at those..that dagger. Yeah, the dagger.|
What else are the elves known for? That’s right...archery! Almost every elven race you encounter, no matter what the game, is guaranteed to excel in the marksman skill set. And their affinity for bows isn’t arbitrary; it’s a natural choice for their race because of their sneaking ability and their connection to the land. (I imagine it’s a damn hard thing to make a useful sword out of wood or animal bone, but you can make a hell of a bow out of a tree branch or deer rib if you’ve got the skill.) Besides, most elven races rely on wild game as a primary source of food. And unless you’re wuld nah kest-ing your way through a hunting area, you’re not going to bring that elk down with a longsword.
All that said, you can probably guess how skills are broken up with elven races. Dexterity is the big one. I’ve never encountered a wood elf class that doesn’t have some bonus to dexterity/agility. Speed is up there too. Elves are quick little shits, because they have to be to make up for their general lack of strength and endurance somehow. I’ve seen some games give elven races a boost to intelligence or magic skills. (This is usually truer for dark or high elves than wood elves, but it does happen.) The only purpose I could see for giving a wood elf those perks would be for healing/restoration magic. (Unless we’re looking at Dragon Age, which I’ll get to.) You’ll also see perks in areas like marksmanship, light armor, alchemy/herbalism, short (or one handed) weapons, sneak, dual-wielding, and the like. Some games (read: TES), include other perks like poison/disease resistance, special abilities with animals, and so on. Put all that together, and you’ve got a good foundation to build a ranger, rogue, or scout character. But watch out...elves are seriously lacking in terms of strength/endurance/constitution. If you get unnerved by a low health bar, buck up, become an orc, and wield a warhammer instead.
|Unless he shoots that bear square in the mouth, this isn't going to be a pretty fight.|
So there is the wood elf stereotype, if you will. And really, the stereotype doesn’t just apply to their character builds. You can also see it in the lore behind the characters. Games across the board put certain key elements into wood elf lore and culture. First off, they are almost always discriminated against. The Dragon Age series is probably the best example of this. The elves are enslaved or kept in alienages inside the city walls, where they live in poverty. They’re essentially second-class citizens. Same goes for the Elder Scrolls series. Although it’s not as blatantly obvious, elves can run into some serious discrimination in cities. This is particularly true in Skyrim, but one must also consider that the Nords hate just about everyone. Still, there has not yet been an Elder Scrolls game that takes place in the wood elven homeland, so you’re pretty much stuck being a foreigner no matter what. (TES III: Morrowind does take place in the native land of the Dark Elves, but they're not the ones we're concerned with.) Those big pointy ears don’t help you blend in, either.
|The Elven Alienage in all its..erm...splendor.|
Wood elves also lend themselves to a pretty rich history if you do some digging. A lot of games (I’m specifically looking at TES and Dragon Age, because they have strong elf lore, but you can find it in other games as well. Forgotten Realms has an interesting and detailed elven history.) Usually, the elven history has a lot to do with the elves being somewhat reclusive, and contact with other races usually doesn’t go well. Take the Dragon Age Dalish, for example. Their tribes have little contact with humans, and what contact does occur usually does not end well. (See: every city elf in Thedas.) In Tamriel, the Valenwood Bosmer get involved in lots of conflicts with many different factions, including armies from Cyrodiil and Elsewyr.
|Tribal Dalish. Good stuff.|
In addition to that, the wood elves are usually pretty spiritual. I’m gonna refer you to Elder Scrolls on this one, because frankly I find it fascinating and I don’t care if it’s a little irrelevant. Most wood elf races have a deep connection to the land and the gods that guard it. If I may refer you to the Green Pact in Elder Scrolls lore…the Bosmer made a pact with the forest god Y’ffre that they would not harm any of the vegetation in their homeland. So they rely on rock and imported timber for building supplies. Weapons and armor are made from animal bone and hide. But that’s not the best part. Because of the pact, the Bosmer are almost strictly carnivorous. But they don’t just eat wild game. They eat the enemies they kill in combat. A Bosmer warrior is expected to eat his fallen enemy within three days. If he so chooses, his family can help. Wood elves = cannibals. Who knew they were so intense?
|Valenwood concept art for The Elder Scrolls Online.|
But I’m not just here to blabber on about the elves as seen in games. I love the race. I really do. So I wondered where they came from and how they came to be portrayed as they are today. Elves sprung up in Germanic mythology/folklore. They first popped up in Old English and Old Norse texts, and they’re highly popular in both British and Scandinavian folklore. They were originally fairly ambivalent creatures. They could help or hinder humans with their magical abilities as they so chose. But as time went on, they became more and more sinister.
|Old school elves were not very attractive.|
The origin of the word elf is Old English (aelf). It’s believed this comes from an even older word (albiz) that means “white.” Elves appeared in many mythological stories all over Europe and the British Isles. They were generally sneaky and mischievous creatures, although sometimes portrayed in a positive light. Usually, they were kept away from. They went from mythology into fantasy fiction around the 20th century, after the Brothers Grimm and a few others collected folklore/fairytales and retold them to a general audience. The prominence of elves in fantasy fiction was cemented in the early 1900s with the release of two novels: The King of Elfland’s Daughter (Lord Dunsany) and The Hobbit (J.R.R. Tolkien). That’s right friends, we have Mr. Tolkien to thank for the elves we know and love today. Elves were central to his Middle-Earth mythology (especially in The Silmarillion). Because his books earned such a large fanbase, the elf reemerged into modern popular culture. Elves and elven language began to emerge in all sorts of books, movies, and role playing games. The Tolkien fantasy elf was particularly popularized by Dungeons & Dragons, in which they were portrayed as being not only more beautiful than mortals, but also wiser, more perceptive, and with sharper senses. They were said to be skilled archers who were also proficient in magic and loved nature, art, and music. And thus the modern elf was born.
|I would punch a baby for that perfect elven skin.|
If you’ve never played an elven character before, I highly suggest that you try it at least once. If nothing else, it’s research, right? And besides, who can complain about being short, beautiful, and deadly?
|You can't say they're not beautiful. Come on.|
Pick your bows up, Bosmers. Mischief awaits.