Make Me Play Videogames: What’s Going Wrong Here

There’s no two ways about it: this experiment with Shadow of the Colossus is not going well. I sit down to decide what to do with my evening, and as my glance strays towards the PS2, SotC disc slumbering away in its tray, I remember that I have Space Marines to paint. Episodes of Glee to watch. Dishes to wash. The catbox could use cleaning.

Apparently I don’t want to play this game anymore.

There’s a lot to like about Colossus, and I touched on some of it in the last podcast. It’s beautifully atmospheric. The designs of the colossi are interesting, and the puzzles are interesting to figure out and solve. I’m just looking for a bit more, I suppose.

Continue reading Make Me Play Videogames: What’s Going Wrong Here

SonicFyre Episode 5

A podcast recorded, edited and published in less time than it takes to gestate an elephant. Rejoice!!

>> 00:00 Intro and Game Demo Reviews. We tried out Serious Sam HD: The First Encounter, Supreme Commander 2 and Just Cause 2.
>> 16:00 Fyre completed her first run through of God of War III. Get ready for the love!
>> 26:00 SonicRob gives an update on Shadow of the Colossus, the current selection for Make Me Play Videogames and JRPG weirdfest Persona 4.
>> 36:58 A digression regarding amphibians and Fyre adds to the list of forbidden handles for What’s My Name?
>> 39:15 SonicRob speaks to The Girl Who Played with Fire and the movie of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
>> 45:14 Rob continues hogging the mic to talk about KickAss. We talk about HitGirl and what’s wrong with her.
>> 54:48 Fyre reviews Clash of the Titans and notes an odd similarity between two previews.
>> 1:08:25 We talk about Snow Crash and wind up the show!

SonicFyre Episode 5 MP3 1:12:36 66.4MB

Make Me Play Video Games #2: Among the Ruins

For your amazingly belated second voting opportunity, you’ll be choosing whether I finish Shadow of the Colossus or Bioshock.

Shadow of the Colossus (hereafter Shadow or SotC) was released in America and Japan in October of 2005 for the PlayStation 2. It was created by Team Ico, the developer responsible for the cult game of a similar name, and published as a first-party release by Sony. SotC itself is essentially a series of boss battles broken up by travel across a vacant landscape; the player seeks out the colossi and must then use the environment and his own ability to climb on the giant enemies in order to scale them and attack their vulnerable points. The game is noted for its mournful atmophere, lack of enemies outside of the sixteen eponymous colossi, and musical score.

And yes, I’ve made sure my PS2 still works.

Bioshock was released in August of 2007 by Irrational Games, previously best-known for the creepy space jaunt System Shock 2 and the Freedom Force series of tactical RPGs. Bioshock has been described as somewhere between a spiritual successor and an outright ripoff of System Shock 2. Gameplay is strictly in the first-person and consists of both combat and the exploration of a ruined underwater city. Fighting requires using guns as well as what are essentially magic powers such as telekinesis and elemental attacks. Bioshock’s story in particular has drawn a great deal of attention for its exploration of the philosophy of Ayn Rand as well as its deconstruction of various video gaming tropes.

So! This is the time in the post when we decide:

Sotc_boxart or 256px-Bioshockcoverfinalcropped
Simulation of the love life of Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman Libertarian Wet Dream

Your comment box is below. Go!

Make Me Play Video Games #1: Far Cry 2

First off, holy crap. I’m sorry this took so long to get posted, but playing this game for such a long time left me with a lot to say and it was murderously hard to pick what to put in and what to leave out of the review. Once again, we find that a long review is way easier than a short one. I promise to try and trim things down next time. For the meantime, however, I give you:

Far Cry 2

Source: Steam Store
Paid: $10 for the retail game including “Fortunes” DLC pack
Play time: 41.8 hours

The vast majority of first-person shooters are roller coasters: they whisk you through a set path, popping up targets and obstacles as you go to keep things exciting and surprising. Far Cry 2 wants to be the entire amusement park, letting you run from ride to ride as you choose.

The result is, to put it mildly, an immense game. I spent almost 42 hours playing it, and that was after I quit playing all the side missions to completion at around the 50% mark and started barreling through the story as fast as I could. The world is huge by first-person standards, fantastically detailed with sun-dappled savannahs and glittering jungle waterfalls. There are newly-abandoned shacks and lost weapons caches tucked away in every corner of the map. You stumble across crashed escape planes and the aftermaths of gunfights over diamonds. But then you see a car patrolling 50 yards down a road, turning around, and then patrolling the same 50 yards in the other direction. Forever.

Far Cry’s story is sketched in broad strokes: you are a member of the mercenary and war profiteer community that seems to have descended en masse on the war-torn country of Nowhere-In-Particular, Africa. A client or clients never-to-be-named have tasked you with killing the Jackal, an arms dealer flooding the country with cheap guns that he sells indiscriminately to everyone with a trigger finger. The Jackal himself, a gravel-voiced Nietzsche fan, shows up almost immediately to taunt you for succumbing just as immediately to malaria; he (naturally) gives you your first gun, then pulls a Gandalf, inexplicably disappearing in the middle of the opening gunfight of a war between the two factions who have been arming to fight over the country. While the Jackal’s motivation is more complex than mere profit, his philosophy, articulated in a series of collectible interview recordings and a few more chance meetings, is also more ethically (and logically) murky than just making money off of war.

Your fellow mercs don’t fare much better. You select one of nine characters at the start of the story. All of them play exactly the same; the only effect of the choice is that the unchosen characters can be met in the game, waiting to be rescued by the player and then putzing around in Mike’s Bar waiting for a chance to hand out missions. One buddy asks you to murder a pair of drug dealers setting up shop in the boondocks of the bush. Another has VD and wants you to gun down the clinician who sold him an unsatisfactory ointment. Yet another suggests stealing an impossibly toxic defoliant, while yet another suggests actually spraying the countryside with it so that it will be easier to kill everyone.

If you demand a story with morality that ranges between gray and black, Far Cry 2 ought to be right up your alley. Games don’t come any grittier. The awful part is that you aren’t any better than the other assholes trying to make a buck in the war.

Continue reading Make Me Play Video Games #1: Far Cry 2

Make Me Play Videogames Field Journal: Drained

Far Cry 2 has officially been completed as of about 20 minutes ago; I’d have told you sooner, but I had to wait through a 10-minute unskippable credits scroll before I could quit the game. I’ll be taking a short breather before writing up my thoughts in the usual rambling, incoherent, and likely irrelevant manner.

I’ve already learned a lot about game writing, that’s for sure. Lesson #1: write it down right now. Keep a pad next to the computer. If you have a thought, opinion, or gripe pause the game and write it down instantly. If you are drifting warmly away to sleep and a good point or phrase wafts up out of your gently simmering mind, hop the fuck out of bed and get it on paper. Don’t assume you can remember that stuff. ‘Cause if you’re me you can’t.

The next set of candidates will soon be going up on the site for you to choose between. I won’t be giving the choices away right away because, well, what would be the point of putting them in a separate post, then? However, I will tell you that the theme for MMPVG 2 will be “Among the Ruins”.


Make Me Play Video Games Field HQ: What Rough Beast

While my progress in Far Cry 2 has been slow and steady, it is certainly real, and I’ve spent some time thinking about the contestants for the experiments still to come.

That got me wondering why exactly it was that I ever stopped playing FFXII in the first place. Nostalgia, misty memories and a certain amount of remaining franchise goodwill had me seriously thinking that I’d missed out by dropping my controller and abandoning Vaan, Ashe, and Penelo, never returning to their story in the four years since. What made me quit this game that was apparently so full of fond memories for other gamers after only a few hours of play?

And then I stumbled across a post on Gamasutra from last October that brought it all rushing back to me:

An Eternal Recursion of Idiocy

Final Fantasy XII, a game with a fair share of both wildly successful and completely backwards game design, isn’t the first to do this to its players, but it is certainly one of the worst. Specifically, it is the weapon called the Zodiac Spear (specifically, the secret of obtaining it) that is an example of game design that is so mind-numbingly cynical that even reading about it causes me to feel mentally cross-eyed.

Secrets exist to be discovered. Some don’t, but they aren’t intentional, and they range from the merely embarrassing KotOR II to GTA’s multi-million dollar cup of hot coffee. But it isn’t often that a secret is paradoxically meant to be revealed but also impossible to find on a player’s own.

The Zodiac spear was not intended to be discovered through natural play or even unnatural play.

Continue reading Make Me Play Video Games Field HQ: What Rough Beast

Make Me Play Video Games Field Journal: The Rhythm

I’ve been playing Far Cry 2 for almost three weeks, and I’m solidly at 50% complete according to the taunting little completion reading that appears next to every game save. Here’s hoping my speed of play never comes up in a job interview =P

Part of the problem is that it’s really hard to sit and play this game for more than about two hours. I don’t think this is a problem with my attention span or gluteal fortitude; I’ve played WoW, Madden, and Mass Effect for far, far longer stretches. There’s something about Far Cry 2 that just doesn’t compel me to play for long stretches at a time.

That’s not to say I’m not enjoying it; far from it. It’s like Chinese food: I have a course, get all full, and then get hungry for another serving in a couple of hours. I think part of it is the incredibly free-form structure of the game. In WoW you are at least working towards levelling. In Madden, you are building a win/loss record as you complete the season. Nothing that you do in Far Cry ever really changes anything. Maybe it’s part of allowing the player to do anything at any time, but there’s very little sense of progress over time in Far Cry 2. You complete a mission, and now you can’t do that mission anymore, but everything else is still the same.

It’s really discouraging when that’s all you have to show for an hour or two of time.


Make Me Play Videogames Field Journal: This is Killing Me

This experiment has been underway for all of 5 days, and I am already deep in the pit of game variety withdrawal. I desperately want to play something, anything, that is not Far Cry 2. Mass Effect 2. Super Mario Brothers. Daikatana. Beer pong.

It doesn’t help when the Baker plops down on the couch next to me, two steaming plates of homemade dinner in hand, and says “Hey, we should play Wii Sports tonight.”

And yet, I’m starting to not want to play other games. I am developing an appreciation for Far Cry 2 as I marinate helplessly within it. I think I may not have paid so much attention to a game in quite some time, and the sensation is fun. Or maybe I’m just succumbing to some video game version of Stockholm Syndrome.

I’ve actually completed all of the side quests for the moment, which is good; somewhere in Optional Mission Valley is where I usually lose focus and wind up straying to another game. My style is already changing, and I’m seeing results: steady progress rather than an early burst followed by drifting torpor.

Oh God, I want to play Samurai Warriors soooooooo bad.


Make Me Play Videogames #1: The Devil’s Sandbox

To kick things off you’ll be choosing between a pair of sandbox games with different perspectives but similar mission structures.

Far Cry 2 was released in late October of 2008 as a sort-of-not-really sequel to the original Far Cry, a tech demo created by CryTek for their Cryengine, which (disguised as a “game” called Crysis) was later used to incinerate video cards owned by arrogant would-be power gamers. Far Cry 2 was made by the good folks at Ubisoft Montreal who previously developed the Prince of Persia games, Assassin’s Creed, and most components of the Tom Clancy money-printing franchise. They do good work, in short. The game itself is a first-person shooter with a free-roaming mission structure. The player is a double-crossed mercenary set loose upon a fictional African country that’s been staffed by a small coterie of mission-granting NPC “buddies”, a large population of murderous militamen, and several innocent zebras.

Grand Theft Auto IV is an April 2008 release from Rockstar Games, who were previously best known for making me murder prostitutes in cold blood and vote Democratic. The game is the latest in a long-running series that you know about perfectly well, and little ought to need saying about it given that improvements from game to game seem more incremental than revolutionary. Like Far Cry 2, GTAIV casts the player as a new arrival in an expansive foreign land, although the jungle in this case is concrete rather than literal. Also like Far Cry 2, GTA allows the player to roam from mission-giver to mission-giver at any preferred pace; it’s just as possible to spend your time wandering the city and seeing the sights as it is to progress the story, and completing a story mission simply leaves in the spot you finished it, free to pick up a new mission elsewhere or simply poke around your new surroundings.

Finally, both games require you to choose between stealing cars, taking inconvenient public transit, or spending a fucking week running from one place to another. Yeah, you take the bus in Far Cry. In the jungle.

Ok, fns nation (by whom I mean my sister and possibly my girlfriend), the choice is yours:

Far_Cry_2_cover_art vs. GTAIV_Logo
Jungle mercenary jogging simulator   Fake New York misogyny seminar

Cast your vote in the comments section.