My relationship with multiplayer games is complicated. It started with Doom 2 LAN parties and moved on to Warcraft 2 and Starcraft, Civilization, and so on. Multiplayer, back then, was always PvP. You’d play games with and against your friends. Things like co-op weren’t really part of the picture. Sure, there was ‘comp-stomping’ (you and your friends vs. the, usually very poor, AI) and the like, but let’s face it: there was no challenge there, and for me the whole point of multiplayer gaming was to find a challenge that the AI couldn’t give you without cheating rampantly and obviously.
EVE Online was released in 2003, at the height of the ‘Everquest Addiction’ fervor. I didn’t discover it until a friend introduced me to the game in 2005, and I immediately fell in love. EVE Online’s appeal has to do with the ways in which it capitalizes on the multiplayer aspect to deliver a dedicated PvP experience. The cooperative PvE is there, and lately it’s become quite good, but what makes EVE shine is the way it allows players a spectacular degree of freedom to play in the game how they please. The results are often discouraging to those who imagine humanity to be fundamentally, morally good, but by permitting the skullduggery, CCP gives great meaning to the decision to not be an asshole. The result is a world with much higher stakes than worlds like WoW offer. Only the smallest fraction of games offer this kind of experience.
Continue reading EVE Online: My (Nearly) Perfect Drug
I spent a week fighting off what I understand to be the flu, and then another couple of days tangling with a separate, stomach virus of some kind. It’s a miserable way to spend a couple of weeks, and my writing here suffered (as did my dissertation and professional obligations), but my farm in Stardew Valley thrives from all the attention I’ve been giving it. (I’ve also been playing Factorio and Undertale, more on those soon.)
In playing the game a lot more, I’ve begun to see more of the blemishes and cracks that come with a single-dev title. Given my prior, glowing adoration of it, I feel it’s only fair to air out some of the hitches in the experience. Nothing I’m going to say here should detract from the understanding that Stardew Valley is a gloriously delightful title, mind you, but there’s lessons to be learned here as well.
Continue reading Stardew Valley: Good As Chicken Noodle Soup
A month ago if you’d said to me, “Will, what you need is a jRPG/Dating Sim/Farming game,” I would’ve asked you how much you’ve had to drink. Then a friend sent me the game as a gift on Steam. The next half a week is little more than a frenzied blur of planting crops, fishing my head off, and desperately trying to remember the upcoming birthdays of virtual friends – all while keeping track of upgrade schedules and the ever-growing list of morning chores my farm was accruing.
Stardew Valley’s genius isn’t merely the way it delivers a broad array of gameplay that offers to scratch any number of itches one might have. Rather, Eric Barone’s ability to pack so many different threads into a game – and make them all behave well together – truly shines by cramming over two dozen charming, human stories into the same box. Continue reading Stardew Valley: Stories With A Human Touch
Telltale Games has apparently (I just discovered them three months ago.) made a name for themselves publishing something akin to a new generation of what (I’m dating myself here) folks my age grew up knowing as Choose Your Own Adventure books. I gather I’m late to the party, but Wolf Among Us is my discovery of this genre of video gaming: the player-steered, adaptive story. The writing in Wolf Among Us is so tight, the characters such perfect twists on the fairy tales they’re based on, that what blemishes do exist are swiftly forgotten as we’re carried along.
In The Wolf Among Us you play as the Big Bad Wolf, noir detective. Fairy tale characters have come out of whatever stories they lived in and moved to New York City. Everyone hates you, because everyone hates wolves in fairy tales, but you’re Big and Bad and this is how you’re expected to keep the peace as Sheriff. Then, as things do in Noir, it starts getting bad, and true-to-genre, it starts with the death of a woman. Continue reading The Wolf Among Us: Player Choice Enshrined
In my last piece I confronted Fallout 4’s unfortunate bout of sexism. Part of why this is so problematic has to do with how Bethesda billed the piece as, essentially, a ‘gender aware’ game. Part of why this is so problematic is about how incredibly easy it would have been for them to avoid that gaffe. There are so many other ways Bethesda could have handled character creation and prologue that DON’T make the egregious error of stripping a female main character of the soldier’s identity. I’m not a published fiction author or game dev, but I can write three superior openings, in one sitting, in a couple of hours in front of my desktop machine at home. Continue reading Fallout 4: How She Should’ve Been A Soldier
Bethesda made a big deal about how romances wouldn’t differ in Fallout 4 based on your character’s gender. I was intrigued enough by the claim, and fresh enough from my 2nd playthrough of Mass Effect (this time as FemShep, who I agree delivers a better experience), that I decided my first playthrough of Fallout 4 would be with a female Sole Survivor. The character-creation experience was encouraging at first. The banter of a married couple in front of the mirror reminded me of the banter between the Lone Wanderer’s mom and dad during the birth sequence in Fallout 3. After modeling my Sole Survivor after my FemShep, I settled into the prologue ready to relive my Mass Effect glory days, only this time with more power armor and ghouls, and less Krogan and Asari.
I saw a uniform on a closet shelf and while the dress you wear by default was okay, I was keen to get the fatigue-action on. Mouse-over, click…
“I’m so proud of him.”
Wait. What? Continue reading Fallout 4: Why Can’t I Be a Soldier?!
I talked before about how game mechanics need to support the themes of the game, the same as story, visuals, and all the other pieces do. When I heard you could build settlements in Fallout 4, I was very excited. Fallout games of yore featured settlements that had cropped up, towns made of junk that became important oases for travelers and merchant caravans in an otherwise desolate waste full of violence and danger. Being able to take a hand in building one? That’s a genuinely new gameplay experience, and an entirely new role never before seen in a Fallout game. The potential to explore the same themes from a fresh perspective is incredible.
When I first started working with Sturges to improve Sanctuary? I was, again, super stoked. I spent about an hour running around on my own initiative, clearing debris. Then all my work was swiftly undone by a crash. That’s right: I was so excited by the possibilities that I’d forgotten to nervously quicksave every few minutes, even though I was playing a Bethesda game in launch-condition. The potential for town building was that amazing, that engaging.
Continue reading Fallout 4: Town Building Should’ve Been Awesome
I talked last time about theme and how the various mechanics in the game need to support the same themes that are being driven by the visuals, story, and other parts of the game. Now I’ll discuss five specific mechanics in Fallout 4 and how I feel they do or do not get this job done.
Continue reading Fallout 4: Theme vs. Mechanics (Part 2)
Mechanics and theme are two parts of a game that need to work together, along with others, to give us a coherent experience. In addition, we approach subsequent titles in a franchise with certain expectations based on prior titles. In this two-parter, I’m going to dig into Fallout 4, which I previously reviewed as a decidedly inferior Fallout title, and discuss the mechanics of the game and how they contribute to the game’s thematic elements (or detract therefrom).
We know, before we start playing Fallout 4, that it’s going to look a lot like Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas. Fallout 3 broke the mold for Fallout games, but it was also the first title in the series from the new IP owner, Bethesda, so making a splash like that isn’t uncalled for. But this is Bethesda’s third go at the Fallout IP, and let’s face it, Bethesda is known for making one type of game. A lot of people like to call Bethesda’s handling of the Fallout universe “Oblivion/Skyrim with guns.” Yes, they’re busting Bethesda’s chops a bit when they say it, but it’s also said with a fair bit of affection. Oblivion and Skyrim are solid, well-loved games.
Continue reading Fallout 4: Theme vs. Mechanics (Part 1)
Deus Ex: Human Revolution is an older title at this point and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided will be shipping next year (we hope, it’s been delayed until August now). I recently replayed Human Revolution in preparation for Mankind Divided’s eventual release, and because the director’s cut version which included the Missing Link DLC went on ludicrous Steam sale.
I bought Deus Ex: Human Revolution, originally, because of how much I adored the original Deus Ex. The sheer number of moments in the original game where I’d take an action I’d assume would be curtailed by the game’s design (as was so often the case in Half-Life or other titles) only to be rewarded by a fork in the story just utterly blew me away. Gaming has had branching storylines for a long time. My first encounter with it was Wing Commander. But Deus Ex had this uncanny ability to predict the moments when I might interfere with what was otherwise scripted events, and be ready for whatever I could throw at it. What it did especially well, was give me non-lethal, and indeed non-combat options to resolve conflicts.
Continue reading Deus Ex Human Revolution: The Continuum of Force Done Half-Right