Tag Archives: videogames

Halo 5 Got Bigger, but Lesser

Halo 5Halo is in a weird place right now, but let me just get this out of the way: the shooting feels great, the gameplay is solid, and some of the new moves included in the game are a lot of fun. The spectacle of Halo is still in full force, but I can’t help thinking that when 343 Industries took over the series, they assumed that “higher stakes” for the game’s protagonist meant that the galactic threat got larger. When it comes to the Halo games, though, I’m not entirely convinced that bigger is better.

Spoilers are probably ahead. Read at your own risk.

Halo 5: Guardians (a subtitle, really?) begins with new character (in the games, anyway) Spartan Locke and his crew of Spartan pals taking down the Covenant on a planet in order to rescue Spartan-and-Cortana creator Dr. Catherine Halsey. After the rescue, she informs the heroes that a new threat is about to emerge.

Meanwhile, the Master Chief and his childhood buddies are on a mission to stop some Covenant baddies from stealing some stealth ship technology on a secret space station blah blah blah, and then he gets a message from Cortana. She’s alive!

And this, for me, is immediately where the story starts to fall apart. The marketing of the game (not that you can always trust game marketing) seemed to indicate that Spartan Locke would be hunting the Master Chief because he had made a tough decision that went awry. That is far from the case, however.

In fact, the story is kind of incoherent when a little thought is put into it. Sure, Master Chief goes AWOL, but I feel like they could’ve given him a call rather then send a team after him.

And let’s talk about Cortana’s resurrection. Halo 4 was a lot of things, but it’s greatest moment was when Cortana, your AI buddy through the all the previous games starring Master Chief, manages to put off her insanity long enough to sacrifice herself to not only destroy the bad guy that is threatening earth, but also save the Chief. It’s almost a tragic love story. The two had been through a lot.

So I was interested to see how ole John-117 was going to cope without her on his latest mission. And honestly, with Cortana back and evil, the effect is ruined. Cortana has cured her insanity and has decided that the best way to save the galaxy is by enforcing a rule by fear using massive robots to kill anything that threatens the peace–a “Pax Cortana” if you will. And now we get into 343 thinking that “higher stakes” means “galactic threat.”

CortanaFor Master Chief, the stakes were already very high. For seven years or more, Cortana has been his constant companion, his protector, his confidant, his love. She may be an AI, but he had real feelings for her. She died in a moment where he was powerless to do anything to help the situation. She saved him.

Imagine a game where you’re defeating the bad guys, but the real story is about Master Chief’s survivor’s guilt. He loved that little blue robot lady, and now he has to face a universe where the constant comforting voice inside his head is gone. Sure, he still has his buddies, but they aren’t one flesh with him like Cortana was (she was, after all, attached to his brain). The Chief is basically a widower.

So, the threat didn’t have to be galactic. The story could’ve been about how self-destructive John-117 had become, with his friends trying to bring him back from the brink. Maybe Chief’s recklessness had done something bad to one of the colony worlds, and he decided to go AWOL in shame. Locke then, would actually be “hunting the truth” to find out what happened and to bring the Chief back.

I don’t hate the story that the game has. It’s interesting enough, such as it is. But I think the storytelling in Mass Effect, Bioshock, Fallout, and even Gears of War, have shown me that games that are shooters can have deep, personal stories that make you empathize with a character.

Maybe Locke and The Chief will end up saving the galaxy, but is it worth rescuing a galaxy that has no real personal stakes? The expanded universe of Halo is full of good stories about people trying to make their way through the both the chaos of war and the ultimate order of living in a massive police state. The audio series “Hunt the Truth” is a superb example of just how interesting the universe that Halo has created can be.

Maybe what Halo needs is fewer power weapons and more plot. The characters should be what drives the plot; as it is right now, the protagonists are merely slaves to the story rather than the player feeling like they are a part of it. War stories are only good when the characters are well-developed. Here’s hoping that in Halo 6 is less about spectacle and more about the characters involved.

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Video Games are Losing Their Appeal (To Me)

its-dangerous-to-go-alone-take-thisI’ve been playing video games for a long time. I got my first video game system (the Nintendo Entertainment System) when I was around five years old or so. But, lately, video games are losing their luster for me. I find myself not having fun playing them any more.

It started a few months ago. I was playing Halo 4 (one of my favorite games from last year), and I realized I wasn’t having any fun doing it. So, I popped in Borderlands 2; I also didn’t have any fun.

I began wondering what was making these games less fun for me, and I realized it was because I wasn’t having any social interactions.

I’m a work-at-home dad. I freelance edit and take care of my kids during the day while my wife works a “real” job.  Most of my social interactions come from my kids (Ages 1 and 4) and chatting on the Internet. So, for me, games are less of an unwinding escape and more of a chance for me to by myself some more. And that isn’t fun to me.

I’ve stated many times recently that if I could get some regular tabletop gaming done, I would probably give up video gaming all together. Well, that’s a bit of hyperbole (I don’t think I’ll ever totally stop video gaming), but the sentiment is mostly true. I played a four-hour game of X-Wing Miniatures (with a game of Munchkin before that) and had a lot of fun. And the difference was, of course, social interaction! My friends were there. We could chat, rib each other, and generally share in victory and defeat.

I’ve also been playing and running games over Google Hangouts with the Roll20 App, and it’s been great. Again, social interaction makes all the difference. And since I’m playing mostly with friends, I get to stay away from the negative social interactions in Halo Matchmaking.

There are still video games that interest me. I really like old-school style platformers (I started playing Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and really want to try Rogue Legacy), but for the most part, I really just want to play games with my friends.

I played Halo: Anniversary with my wife the other night. I had a lot of fun. Maybe what I need to do then, is focus on video games that have “couch multiplayer.”  Whatever it is, I think I crave interaction with adults, and that’s making multiplayer online gaming boring to me.

Who wants to come over for a game night?

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Awesome Upcoming Indy Games

Shovel KnightKotaku posted an article by an anonymous game developer yesterday that explained how video game publishers are killing the game industry. Whether he is right or wrong, I can say that some publishers have made some really bad decisions lately. Luckily, there are some really awesome independent game studios that are putting out some games this year. Here are the games that I’m really excited about.

Shovel Knight:

Shovel Knight was just funded on Kickstarter (in fact, it raised more than quadruple the money of its original goal), and looks like an awesome 8-bit-style homage to the NES. It is an awesome mix of the gameplay from Ducktales, Mega Man, and Castlevania. The team is experienced, and the gameplay demo they put out looks solid (it doesn’t hurt that they sent it around to many videogame sites to let their reviewers play it).   I can’t imagine a better love letter to the NES.

I helped support this game, and if you want to support it as well, they are still accepting Paypal donations.

Here are the Game Grumps playing the demo of Shovel Knight. (NSFW Language)

 

Starbound:

Considered a spiritual successor to the excellent Terraria, Starbound is a big, ambitious game about space exploration. The story is that your planet is destroyed, and your shuttle is hurtled into space. From there, you land on a planet and your trek across space begins.

From what I’ve seen of the game, there’s going to be a lot to do. There are a lot of planets to explore, quests to complete, terraforming to do, and lots of things to build. It really reminds me of Terraria, but if you could build a spaceship and explore other planets, too.

If you liked Terraria or Minecraft, I have a good feeling that you’ll like Starbound, too. This is another project in which you can donate to help development.

Monaco: What’s Yours is Mine:

Monaco has been getting a lot of hype since it was first shown a few years ago. It’s a single-player or co-op game (though I think it looks the most fun played with others) in which you and your team have to case a building and then rob it. There are multiple classes to play and it looks like the game captured the fun of heist movies.

I can’t wait for me and some friends to become master thieves. Monaco will be available April 24 on Steam and XBLA.

 

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Dishonesty, Gamer Culture, and Preorders.

No! Bad gamer! Stop!

No! Bad gamer! Stop!

Videogame publishers and developers have made me pretty angry lately. We’re reaching a point where videogame makers can lie, but gamers will still throw money at them. So, yes, gamers are making me angry, too (Of course, as a guy that used to work at a major videogame retailer, that doesn’t really surprise me.)

The recent Aliens: Colonial Marines “scandal” really got me thinking about dishonesty within the industry. If you don’t know, Gearbox Software released a game in the Alien universe.

It was not great.

It was unpolished, buggy, and the enemies contained the AI that the enemies from the original Doom would find laughable. However, it was often advertised with this killer-looking “gameplay” demo WHICH LOOKED AMAZING. Turns out, that was a fantasy. A fiction. A lie.

And why would they lie? Preorders. Videogame companies LOVE preorders. When I worked at [major game retailer], I was constantly told to be getting preorders. We had preorder goals. Preorder contests. On EVERY transaction, we were told to inquire about preorders. Preorders are the bread, butter, and jam of the games industry. Game retailers love them because they can gauge interest in a videogame. Publishers love them because they basically already have a sale.

So, Gearbox, for all intents and purposes, whether it meant to or not, lied to the gamers. It showed off a product that was shiny and beautiful, but when the game was bought, was ugly and tarnished. I’d go so far as to say broken.

Fights broke out among Internet message boards and social networks because people were complaining about the bad game. Some gamers took it as a personal affront that people would think that a broken game was broken. We’ve come to this weird place in space/time where we seem to have forgotten that screwing consumers over isn’t okay. People were willing to give Gearbox a pass because of Borderlands.

That’s ridiculous! Gearbox lied. And whether they made a great game is irrelevant to the fact that they basically swindled money from people.

They want your money. They will fool you for it.

They want your money. They will fool you for it.

I’m conflicted right now. I love videogames, but I don’t really feel a need to support the game retailers or publishers. You know, there’s a meme that flies around that states “SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY!” Maybe instead, we should do our best to ignore hype and be smart consumers. Wait until reviews come out; make publishers and developers prove to you that they deserve your money.

It is with this said that I’m done preordering games. I feel a little guilty about it, too. I have buddies that manage game stores, and I know that they depend on preorders. This isn’t their fault. However, it’s time to start ignoring hype, especially if we’re getting lied to.

Take Bungie’s Destiny that was officially announced this week. I love Bungie; I’m a Halo fan through and through. Bungie has done nothing but right by me.

But, guess what? I’m not preordering the game.

They showed no gameplay, and after so many were burned by Aliens: Colonial Marines, how could I straight up trust videogame companies so completely? I can’t. And I won’t. I’ll wait for Destiny reviews. I’ll wait for word-of-mouth to get around before I decide to buy. If I have preorders (I honestly can’t remember. How dumb a consumer am I?), I’m probably going to go cancel them.

So my advice? As Fox Mulder learned: Trust no one. This especially applies to people who are trying to sell you something. Don’t worry about preordering things like Call of Duty or Halo or Destiny.  If you’re going to preorder a thing, make sure it’s something obscure that the game store isn’t going to get a bunch of. Hey! That way you can support smaller guys. (Just make sure you get a bunch of info before you pick up the preorder.)

Let’s be smart consumers. Let’s stop getting burned.

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