Honest Review: “The Solus Project”

I think it says something about me that all my Steam games are creepy, atmospheric survival horror while most of my Xbox library is shoot ‘em ups with a story.

There was a lot to like about this game. It was creepy and atmospheric, it was simple yet involved and it was engaging and beautiful to look at. But there were a couple things about this game that gave me pause, including the depiction of the alien overlords at the end of the game and the player movement speed, an important game mechanic in an atmospheric walking simulator.

Teotl Studios and Grip Digital did a really good job of introducing a slow build from a strictly survival-based game to one with elements of mystery and horror intertwined. It could have felt really tedious in the beginning (and did, to a certain degree), but instead I was drawn in wondering how the Solus spaceship crashed and who could live on the capricious watery island setting even before the game introduced the concept of a prior civilization.

As I walked beneath the surface of the islands and deeper into the complex cave system, I could feel the constant pressure to survive easing, replaced instead by the burning desire to solve the mystery of who had lived – and died – here before I arrived, who the Sky Ones were and what they had done to the planet’s inhabitants, and how all of it related to the spaceship crash at the beginning of the game.

I got irritated with the game’s mechanics occasionally, but overall I think “Solus” managed to enforce the game’s mechanics in a way that didn’t take too much away from the overall mystery and atmosphere of the game.

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I was surprised by how little the survival mechanics came to matter towards the end, but I honestly didn’t mind all that much as I mostly play games where eating and drinking are secondary to exploration and fighting. (Source: Gamespot.com)

This game really shines in its graphic and epic world-building aspirations. The game world is huge with several large cells of various weather situations and topographic builds and multiple similarly designed cave cell systems.

[READ: Good story vs. good looks in game design]

However, that carefully created world and all its intricate topography, hidden caves and tunnels, and mountainous hills of geometric columns, felt a little too big sometimes. It often drove me to distraction and I spent countless hours roaming the open wasteland of the islands or the claustrophobic insides of the watery tunnels searching for secrets or relics or hidden caches of alien food.

And while “Solus” was no doubt designed for that sort of aimless open world roaming exploration, it often crossed the line between fun discovery into painfully boring walking.

solus project island topography
Incredibly ambitious and beautifully designed, I was really drawn in by the intricate configuration of the islands’ topography and the alien flora, although I would have liked to see just a little bit of fauna — assuming those angry spike balls were more like sentient sea urchins and less truly living animals. (Source: YouTube.com)

Part of that may have been the movement speed enforcing a glacially slow pace. Although there were relics to increase the overall speed, it never felt fast enough to justify a slow trip across the swaying fields of red island grass. The swimming speed was also incredibly slow and while I would have loved to explore under the fickle waves of the various islands, the swimming speed was never fast enough to allow me to do so.

Essentially, I got bored and frustrated with a lot of the exploration mechanics well before I found all the notes and relics. While some might say I just wasn’t determined enough to find all the extras in the games, I think part of my frustration was justified due to the slow movement pace that didn’t really increase no matter how many relics of speed/movement I found.

In addition to my concerns with the speed of player movement, I also had a serious problem with the ending. Not with what happened, exactly, but how everything was wrapped up and all the questions it left unanswered.

[READ: Twelve questions ‘Rise of the Tomb Raider’ raised and three it definitively answered]

For example.

  • What exactly did the Sky Ones do to the previous inhabitants of the island?
  • What is the genetic relationship between the humanoid previous inhabitants and the humans of the Solus Project?
  • And what in the flying hell is that black ball of rage and why is it constantly trying to kill me?
solus project smoke monster
To be honest, I never really figured out what this thing was or what it wanted with me. And, because of the slow movement speed, I never really found because I spent more time trying to avoid it at all costs than explore the area it occupied for notes and relics. (Source: YouTube.com)

Some of these questions might have been answered in all the tablets and drawings I know I didn’t find among the giant map cells of the game, but I don’t think all of them were.

Regardless, I think the reliance on such a stereotypically alien image — a giant UFO, a strange green power emanating from a staff held by a cloaked leader, the final survivor being taken away for questioning with strange medical devices positioned around them, etc. — was a little trivial and banal. It felt a little hackneyed, not to mention disjointed at times with the supposedly advanced cloaked aliens carving notes into stone tablets while simultaneously using television screens to monitor the island’s inhabitants.

Despite the rushed ending and its clichéd reliance on alien stereotypes, I really enjoyed the game and I definitely think it merits a playthrough if you like survival horror walking simulators. It’s important to note that this game was designed with VR capability in mind as the game asked me every time I launched it whether I wanted to play it in VR, normal game, or a number of other fancy game modes available through Steam.

[READ: Real talk: A VR skeptic talks future of gaming]

However, as I don’t have and probably will never have a VR system, I played it like another video game and still thoroughly enjoyed it.

In any case, game on, from Prolus Command, and let the power of Lara Croft be with you.

creepy as fuck dolls

Honest review: “Firewatch”

This game’s quiet moments are the loudest in a game with a story narrative driven by dialogue and achingly real characterization.

“Firewatch” is the other walking simulator I played recently, one I enjoyed much more than FunCom’s “The Park.” Although this game too involved the death of a child (spoiler alert), the story was less horrific than “The Park” and featured more honest dialogue and engaging suspense than the jump-scares and disturbing interpretations of mental illness in “The Park.”

Full disclosure, the game did manage to lose my interest for a period, but that had less to do with its story and more to do with a stressful school week and the fact that walking across the map and taking in the stunning scenery of “Firewatch” doesn’t provide the kind of visceral stress-reliving pleasure that comes from shooting pixelated people.

That said, “Firewatch” was truly beautiful in every sense of the word: Beautiful dialogue, beautiful setting, beautiful characterization and a beautiful story. At the end, I was both wistful and heartbroken because the game had ended and I wanted to spend more time with Henry and Delilah.

I was also heartbroken because the story had ended and hadn’t answered all of the questions raised throughout the game play, but I’m incredibly hard to please, especially where a good story is concerned.

The game begins with down-on-his-luck novelist Henry who enjoys the happiest moments of his life and endures the worst any person can experience all within the first three minutes of the game. Although we see nothing of his life in those minutes, we read everything in the style of a Choose Your Own Adventure novel.

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In the first few minutes of the game we get an introduction to Henry’s personality and the reason he might be running away from the world in a unique but unsustainable format.
Source: Thenextweb.com.

Although interesting, this style is abruptly abandoned after the first couple of minutes of the game as we’re caught up to speed on everything about Henry’s sad, lonely life.

The rest of “Firewatch” unfolds in a series of dialogue and story-heavy choices that follow Henry as he traipses through the Shoshone National Forest with the disembodied voice of fellow firewatcher and supervisor, Delilah, guiding him via the two-way radio gifted to him courtesy of the game’s time period, good old 1989.

Their conversations over the radio are at times unbearably charming and painfully pedantic, but, in the end, they give you the entire story in a format that’s less about what’s actually happening and more about the characters themselves and how they respond to what they see.

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I don’t think I’ve ever been more delighted in a game than in the moment where I made Henry adopt this turtle. It’s moments like these that really made the game outstanding.
Source: Firewatchgame.com.

The game really shines in the way it presents the character of Henry and Delilah. They are ordinary people with ordinary personalities and ordinary character traits dealing with decisions and situations both extenuating (a death, a mystery and a fire that threatens to consume all of the Shoshone) and ordinary (a desire to reconnect, to find a new identity and to run away from the real and sometimes overwhelming problems of our daily lives).

Although all of this ordinary may seem boring, it’s actually quite extraordinary because it gives us, the audience, a chance to play and interact inside a novel-like narrative.

Because “Firewatch” was a novel. It was a visually stunning one with interactive capabilities never seen before in the plain print medium that’s nearly as old mankind, but, at is heart, it was a novel with a lifelike and engaging story and real, connective characters.

Now, this isn’t the first time that games have been compared to the literary medium. Naomi Alderman of The Guardian has compared video games to literature with games like “Journey” and “Kentucky Route Zero.” Robin Burks of Tech Times has also compared the two in titles like “The Walking Dead” and “Mass Effect.”

But “Firewatch” is different in its refreshingly simplistic approach. Although the ending left a little to be desired and the end result (a dead kid) is still something that’s hard for some audiences to grapple with, a lot of “Firewatch’s” redeeming qualities are found in the quiet moments of its story.

And quiet moments are few and far between in the fast-paced, combative gaming world, a fact that may merit further consideration as games get more and more elaborate.

So watch on, dear gamers and firewatchers, and let the power of Lara Croft be with you.

Stuffed in refrigerators, or why gaming’s number one trope has got to go

It’s a problem common enough to have a name, even if it’s one you’ve probably never heard before.

Even if you’ve never heard of the term “fridging” before, you probably know exactly what I’m talking about.

Picture this. The main character of your favorite book/movie/video game/what-have-you is a male with a female girlfriend/mom/sister/whatever. Everything seems normal, nothing is out of the ordinary and life continues on in its perfect comic book/movie/video game universe.

Then suddenly, the female friend-with-benefits/sister/girlfriend/mother/etc. is gruesomely slaughtered and left out for the male character to see. Often times, the character is stretched out in a dramatic pose across the bed she shared with her lover, or slumped over the kitchen table where she used to teach her son to make cookies, or dumped in a slummy location with a trail of clues leading the male character to her body where he’ll fall to his knees with grief and vow eternal vengeance on whoever and whatever caused the death of his sweetheart.

This is called fridging and it is one of the more disgusting examples of casual sexism, something that is sickeningly common in pop culture. With the stroke a pen, writers the genre over turn fleshed-out female characters into nothing but a clichéd plot device meant to further the main character’s man-pain.

The term comes from an old-school Green Lantern comic where the one of the lesser members of DC’s Justice League, Hal Jordan, comes home to find his girlfriend literally stuffed in a fridge by one of his enemies.

The term was coined by DC comic writer Gail Simone who read the comic and noticed that the fate of Green Lantern’s girlfriend was only the latest in a long line of dead women used as plot points to motivate male heroes. As a result, she started her own site, Women in Refrigerators, and compiled a list of all the females in comics who had been raped, killed, mistreated or abused in some way to advance the storyline of their male colleagues.

But this problem isn’t limited to comic book heroines with their big boobs and skin-tight costumes. Fridging happens in just about every setting you can imagine from comic books to video games to literary fiction to movies to TV shows and everything in between.

Setting aside the moral and societal implications of this practice of routinely normalizing violence against women, what’s so scary about fridging in video games and beyond is that it happens regularly enough that we often forget it’s there or don’t notice it at all.

And why would we?

We’ve been conditioned to accept women as both a brainless sex object and a simplistic plot device. Starting from games as banal and mindless as “Donkey Kong” and “Super Mario Bros.” women have been used as the carrot on the end of the stick to motivate the player along.

From there, the role of women has snowballed from kidnapping to murder to rape to purposeful, calculated annihilation to leave the male main character vulnerable or incite his vicious rage.

Part of this is the result of early advertising techniques used by game companies to try to entice male customers. But the fact that it has continued into this digital age and is a more ingrained plot device than ever is distinctly worrying.

The examples are nearly endless.

The pointless death of Talia al Ghul towards the end of “Batman: Arkham City.”

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Dead. Source: Heroes-villians.wikia.com. 

Clara and Nicole described as cliché plot devices and living set-dressing  in a “Watch Dogs” review by Cameron Kunzelman of “Paste” magazine.

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Also dead. Source: YouTube.com.

Angel’s martyred death in Borderlands 2.

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Very dead. Source: QuotesGram.com. 

The before-game death of Kratos’ wife and child in the “God of War” series.

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Do you see a pattern here? Source: Paste Magazine. 

Paz’s horrific death via implanted bomb in “Metal Gear Solid,” a death that occurs after the player character has already torn one bomb out of her in one of the most graphic scenes in gaming history.

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And, what’s that? Oh yeah, she’s dead too. Source: YouTube.com. 

The list goes on and on.

If you think I’m exaggerating or putting too much emphasis on something that isn’t really a big deal, put a man in the role of each of those women and see what happens.

In this context, fridging becomes less of a trope and more of a grisly, but necessary part of the literary life cycle – which it definitely isn’t. Tragedy often forces the hero’s hand, but does it have to be this tragedy? And does it have to happen all. The. Freaking. Time.

There are plenty of other micro tragedies that can inspire a superhero to take up the mask or force the protagonist on an epic quest to hunt down the villain. More than that, there are plenty of ways to motivate a character beyond watching their lover die or coming home from a long day of work to find their girlfriend stuffed in the fridge right next to the leftover takeout.

Most importantly, there are ways of motivating characters that don’t normalize violence against women. Because at the end of the day, that’s what fridging is doing. It’s establishing a routine or a cycle of violence that starts with the death/abuse/rape/etc. of a female character that, in turn, leads to male man-pain, which leads to a burning desire to fight crime/kill the beast or whatever mode of vengeance works the best, which can lead to even more violence against whatever woman in the hero’s life is the most vulnerable, and so on and so forth.

It’s a horrible, horrible cycle that needs to end not only for female pop culture consumers, but for the moral health of the writers and companies who are willing to perpetrate this cycle of violence and death.

Until that point, speak out and avoid refrigerators, my dear gamers, and let the power of Lara Croft be with you.

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Honest review: Funcom’s ‘The Park’

It’s hard for me to put into words how much I disliked Funcom’s “The Park.” The nature of the story material was incredibly disturbing, but, more importantly, the game’s depiction of mental illness and it’s horrific end were as troubling as they were hard to follow, much like the psychological horror and background narrative of the story.

“The Park” is not a title to take lightly. Although the game is short, the nature of this disturbing, atmospheric psychological horror left me with a lot more questions than answers and a sinking feeling in my gut that only worsened the more I thought about the game’s ending.

Fair warning, I’m not holding back with the spoilers so if you don’t want to know, I suggest you stop reading.

First off, the game’s story material is incredibly disturbing. The focus is on a young mother, Lorraine, and her romp through Atlantic Island Park as she tries to find her lost son Callum who ran back into the park. She calls out for her son in a genuinely sincere and worried voice and at times seems incredibly concerned about her son’s welfare.

This emotion is undercut by a short monologue later on in the game where she reveals her hatred for parents that gush over their children and describes the pleasure it would give her to abandon Callum. According to her, he owes her everything, and to abandon him would serve him right. And from the way she says it, the only thing holding her back is a desire to collect on his debt sooner rather than later.

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She’s clearly going through some stuff, but I still can’t reconcile the concerned mother at the center of this game with the one who hates her child. ~ Source: Laegrinna.wordpress.com. 

From then on it’s hard to reconcile that dark version of Lorraine with the one calling out for her son and asking a misshapen Nathaniel Winters, the founder of the park and literal Bogeyman of this story, where he is and what he’s done to Callum.

And the fact that the game ends with Lorraine supposedly killing her own son, is something I was not prepared for, nor something that fit with the main narrative: a scared mother looking for her lost son.

My second point of discontent with this game is the background story, one that I didn’t even become aware of until after I finished the game and did some online research to try to figure out what the hell I just played.

Apparently, “The Park” has strong ties to another Funcom title, “The Secret World” which is an online multiplayer set in the same creepy modern-fantasy universe Lorraine finds herself trapped in after she re-enters the park.

Like I said, I only figured this out after the game ended and I was left confused and disoriented as I tried to figure out what was independent of “The Secret World” and what was actually supposed to be connected to the earlier title.

Lastly, as a person who has suffered from mental illness, I found Funcom’s depiction of Lorraine’s depression to be the worst part of the game by far.

Lauren Orsini of “Forbes” magazine writes, “As a person who diagnosed with anxiety and depression, my life is very much like anyone else’s. I go to work, spend time with loved ones, and have hobbies I enjoy . . . The only difference is that I use cognitive behavioral therapy . . . and it has never given me a single hallucination.”

Playing through the game, I didn’t realize that Lorraine was suffering or had suffered from mental illness until close to the end. To be fair, there were hints: a disturbing flash back of Lorraine being shocked on a table in the bumper car pavilion with the accompanying achievement description reading “Learn about shock therapy” and a pill bottle in the Sideshow Alley that Lorraine says is hers.

There are some other telltale signs, but it’s not really until Lorraine enters the witch’s mouth and moves through the house of horrors that Funcom stops dropping hints and starts being almost glaringly obtuse with notes from the psychological service that diagnosed Lorraine with depression and gave her electroshock therapy and drugs as a paltry form of treatment.

From Lorraine’s clothes and car, we can assume that the time period might actually be one in which electroshock therapy was still in use, so the fact that they used it on her isn’t nearly as surprising as it could be. What is surprising is that Funcom treated her depression like psychosis and had her walk through a loop of her hallway and apartment where each time the scenery and notes within got more and more disturbing. It’s hard to parse out whether this was intended to be Lorraine’s mind on depression or whatever demented psychosis the park imposed on her already fragile psyche.

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This isn’t the image of depression so much as it is a nightmarish hellscape masquerading as Hollywood mental illness ~ Source: Engadget.com. 

And all this comes to a head when, under the influence of the Bogeyman, Lorraine kills her son and comes back to herself, talking to a detective that, as it turns out, is the same man that let her into the park to begin with before the whole cycle starts over again.

There are a myriad of theories out there and while I think Funcom did a good job of crafting a creepy atmospheric title with an ambiguous ending meant to tease and tantalize our minds, I wish it wasn’t Callum’s death we were trying to dissect.

If I had known “The Park” ended with the death of a child, I wouldn’t have played it. And I certainly wouldn’t have suffered through the confusing background story involving Chad the Chipmunk – the textbook definition of an unnecessary background bogeyman – Nathaniel Winters – the main, but no less confusing villain of this story – and his damn park – which apparently existed for the sole purpose of harvesting energy and making Winters immortal (still not sure about that part).

For my part, I interpreted the ending like this: Callum was the boy found dismembered and discarded behind the cotton candy stand. As a result, Lorraine fell back into depression and is having a hard time coming to terms with the fact that her son is dead. Therefore, she continually returns to the park in her nightmares and imagination where she ends up killing him more because she feels intensely guilty and less because she actually killed him.

But that’s just my interpretation. One that favors innuendo and metaphor over any literal interpretation of the story because I have a hard time reconciling my own emotions with the fact that I may or may have played a character that murdered her own child.

But you can come up with your own interpretation. All my grievances aside, the graphics are decent and Funcom does a good job of making the game hellishly creepy with whispered words coming from the parks’ speakers and discordant music underlying Lorraine’s voice as she calls out for her son in an increasingly distressed tone.

I wouldn’t recommend it, but if you still want to play “The Park,” at least now you’ll have a better understanding of what exactly you’re signing yourself up for, something I wish I’d had going in.

Either way, game on, thrill-seekers and horror fans, and let the power of Lara Croft be with you.

fuck-this-game

Good story vs. good looks in game design

Star-crossed lovers have nothing on these two crucial elements of game design that can either make or break a title.

It’s hard to say what’s more important to gamers: good story or good design.

If you asked Telltale Games, they’d probably say good story.

If you asked Activision, one of the developers behind the “Call of Duty” franchise, they’d probably say good design – which is funny considering their aesthetics are a far cry from some of the more visually stunning games with no story that have come out recently (i.e. “No Man’s Sky”).

Oftentimes gamers have different opinions of what constitutes a good story versus what doesn’t. We also have different opinions on game design, i.e. what works and what definitely doesn’t.

Please note that when I say design, I’m talking more about aesthetics and appearance than mechanics and developer patterns. The term “design” can mean both, as some game mechanics and developer patterns can be incorporated as elements of aesthetic design like UI interfaces and tutorial dialogue boxes. But in this case I’m talking more about how the game looks than how it plays.

In an article from Game Developer magazine, Soren Johnson questioned whether or not games should even have stories. Reprinted on Gamasutra.com, Johnson examined the essential interactivity of games and whether or not set stories conflict with that basic element of game structure and composition.

While he did acknowledge the fact that many games often benefit from a story, he stressed the fact that oftentimes games are a chance for the audience to create their own story rather than submit to “a designer’s unpublished novel.”

As interesting and truthful as his perspective may be, I disagree with his notion that story in a video game is more of a crutch than an essential aspect of game design.

In order to engage an audience, to really invest the player in whatever game they’re playing, I would argue that games have to have a story. A game can go pretty far on good looks alone, but the content can be more important than the aesthetics depending on what kind of game you like to play.

Now, I’ve been playing games with a story my entire life. I started with “Assassin’s Creed” and “Skyrim” which both have a defined narrative. Obviously, the narrative is a little more flexible in “Skyrim” mostly depending on the dialogue options chosen by the player character and the different quests accepted or rejected, but both these games have relatively set stories.

Some games don’t have such a set story and don’t need one. If the game’s focus is more on the interactivity and/or non story-based content then a story may or may not be necessary to engage the audience and provide a fun gamer experience.

But a focus on creative storytelling is often one of the best investments a designer can make.

In case you haven’t noticed, I may or may not be a little biased towards video game storytelling. But good design is also a must for games today.

In this day and age with the increasingly fantastic and overblown production value of games released today, good design is almost a given, something that has to be included in order for games to sell.

Now, good game design is subjective and can include any number of styles and types, but a clear design, often implemented with specific stylistic intentions, must be built into a game for it to sell.

Video game purists may argue that some of the earliest and most popular game franchises like early RPG’s, Mario games, and “Tetris” were designed without a specific style or story and they did just fine.

But in order to be competitive in today’s market, video games must have good design with decent graphics and a style appropriate for the game content.

They must also have a good story – at least in this gamer’s opinion – so where does that leave us?

The whole point of this post was to try to determine which is more important, good design or good story. But I don’t think it’s possible to separate them. Objectively, they are both important and there are certainly arguments that can be made on either side, but the best games combine elements of both with a good balance of the two.

This recipe for success does not apply to all types of games and may not fit with what you like and don’t like in a video game, but this is my opinion and something I continually look for in all the games I play.

If there’s not enough story, I tend to get bored. And if the design looks bad, the game, for me, is often unplayable.

But like I said, this is often subjective and entirely dependent on the player, so if you value one element over another, let me know and I’ll try to keep an open mind when I buy and play future games.

So game on, and let the power of Lara Croft be with you.

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5 things we need more (or less) of in video games

Finding flaws in a video game is ten times easier than picking out the things you actually like. And while I’m not advocating for cherry-picking – because if a game is awful it’s just awful and no amount of sugar-coating can fix that – I do think it’s a good idea to focus on what we, as gamers, do like about games rather than constantly moaning about what we don’t.

I recently did some pretty intense soul searching to define once and for all what I want in a video game.

Not only did this help me pick and choose the games I wanted to add to my Christmas List – don’t judge me, I know you have one too – it helped me, as an aspiring game designer, identify those features and characteristics I look for in any video game I play.

While I’m definitely not representative of the entire population of gamers, I like to think I have some pretty good insights into what a good portion of us what from our games.

Dorkly.com detailed eight things gamers supposedly want in an article by Andrew Bridgman. Two of his eight reasons are no more zombie games and while I quietly agree with him, I cannot completely support his reasoning because games like Telltale’s “The Walking Dead” exist.

He also said that gamers really want the ability to control boobs in video games which kind of discredits his other points in my opinion.

Gamasutra did a study of different populations of gamers and found their needs and wants vary from integrated social gaming to harder challenges with more strategy and in-depth puzzles.

While both these articles raise some good points, I can’t agree with either of them because they don’t address some of the larger issues I’ve found in some games.

So here are the top five features that I want in future games (Note the emphasis).

Less emphasis on social media.

In direct opposition to what Gamasutra’s study group said, I think a lot of games have too much emphasis on social media and sharing (I’m looking at you, Ubisoft). While I can’t begrudge game companies wanting users to share their experience and give the company some free publicity, I can begrudge them their dogged insistence on it.

After every memory in “Assassin’s Creed” there seems to be an option to share and rate the memory, something that I think gets in the way in the immersive experience I want out of games.

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I don’t play games to socialize with the people I know on Facebook. Source: Technostore.pe. 

More storage.

This is less of a critique of video games than the consoles and systems they run on. I’ve had my Xbox One for less than a year and I’ve already had to buy an external hard drive to store extra game memory because next-gen games take up so. Much. Space.

With the increased emphasis on better graphics, better mechanics and better gameplay, I understand that games have to be bigger to be competitive. But if games are going to take up more and more space, the systems that run them should at least be able to hold more memory.

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These aren’t the games I’d fill my hard drive with, but my point stands. Source: Youtube.com.

Harder puzzles and more challenges.

This shouldn’t be a big surprise, but I’m not terribly good at video games. I love them more than anything and they will always hold a special place in my heart, but I die. A lot.

That being said, some harder challenges would be welcome in games where a lot of times just the pull of a lever can solve a puzzle. After all, if I really get stuck, there will always be someone who solved it before me and posted a video on YouTube.

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Sometimes it’s just too easy.  Source: Gamepressure.com.

More same-sex relationships.

You would be hard-pressed to pass off Chloe and Max’s relationship in “Life is Strange” as friendly gal pals – the trope often used to disguise female homosexual relationships beneath a thin veil of heterosexuality – but in a lot of other games same-sex relationships are often hinted at without being fully realized.

There are obvious exceptions in games like “Fallout 4” and “Mass Effect” as both give players the option of having same-sex relationships. But those games are made to allow gamers the option to choose between the male and female sex rather than being crafted specifically for same-sex relationships.

This is a direct contrast to the 2013 “Tomb Raider” which featured an incredibly friendly gal pal relationship, one that ended with Lara, carrying her pseudo-bride, Sam, to safety with a misty rainbow in the background. And yet Sam was conspicuously absent from the sequel.

Increased visibility is always a good thing and while all my examples are female relationships, male same-sex relationships would also be nice to see, especially since those type of relationships would help dismantle the stereotypical macho manly man that is often overrepresented in video game titles.

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Friendly “gal pals” these girls are not. Source: Vice.com and Pfangirl.blogspot.com.

If you’ve kept up with my blog then this last want shouldn’t be much of a surprise. More female protagonists.

The game industry seems to be taking a step in the right direction with more and more titles featuring female leads, but the more the merrier.

“Recore” and “Horizon Zero Dawn” and “Tomb Raider” and “Dishonored 2” and “Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate” are all recent and upcoming titles featuring female leads, with other games like “Overwatch” and “Gigantic” offering multiple female playable characters.

Although “Syndicate” has its own set of issues, I still think it’s a good example of how female characters aren’t any less badass than their male counterparts and why we need and deserve more of them.

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These are some badass babes, but we could always use more. Source: Themarysue.com.

If I’m totally off base with my conclusions, shoot me an email or leave a comment below and I’ll update this blog accordingly. This is more of a conversation than a definitive set of rules, so if I’ve left something off that you thing is super important to a good video game, please don’t hesitate to tell me.

Until the time comes that all our gaming wants and needs are fulfilled, we should keep playing games and identifying for ourselves what we want and don’t want in a video game.

Because eventually designers and developers will catch on.

So game on, and let the power of Lara Croft be with you.

The rise of episodic video games

In a world full of endless DLC content, additional game packages, and bonus in-game keepsakes maps, it seems video game companies are having a hard time packaging full games for consumer consumption.

Or, more likely they’re just not giving us full games and are instead keeping us permanently strung out and always looking for that next hit of content.

Nuka World” is a perfect example.

The Bethesda twitter account, which I follow religiously, has been giving us sneak peeks of the new DLC for weeks before finally releasing it on August 30 to a flurry of user downloads.

While I haven’t actually gotten the time to sit down and play the new DLC myself, I can’t help but wonder why extra downloadable content has become such a popular marketing model for AAA consoles and beyond.

Along the same lines, why are there so many episodic games of late?

Episodic games are basically teaser DLC content on steroids and they have become increasingly popular in recent years.

“Life is Strange,” Telltale’s “Batman” and, well, Telltale’s everything, basically.

Telltale Games first rose to prominence in the gaming world with the 2011 release of their “Walking Dead” series. For those who haven’t played, the game’s first season follows the down-on-his-luck convict Lee and how he deals with the fallout of the zombie apocalypse.

brighter holy shit lee

Source: Destructioncraft.com

Everything goes about as well as you might expect, but somewhere in between the gruesome face-gnawing and head-exploding that comes with the zombiefied territory, Telltale managed to hook audiences with their story-rich gameplay.

While the game lacked the point-and-shoot action of comparable AAA games, it had everything else gamers could want: great graphics, developed characters, high-key suspense and dialogue that kept us coming back.

“The Walking Dead” was wildly successful for an episodic game, belaying a rise in popularity for similar games.

The trend was easy to ignore when it was just Telltale.

But now it seems episodic games are popping up everywhere you look. “Life is Strange” from Square Enix, “Heavy Rain” from Sony and others.

heavy rain choice.jpg

Source: Theastronauts.com

Not that I don’t enjoy these games. In fact, the greater the story, the move involvement I can have in the players actions, the more I love a game.

The thing I’m having a hard time coming to terms with is the format of the game themselves.

While the concept is pretty unique (or at least, it was a couple years ago) and the idea of a slow, timed release an admittedly brilliant feat of marketing genius, it is still hard for me to commit myself to this new form of packaged game content.

I’m reluctant to love up on these games too much because I’ve only played the ones that have already been completely released. “Tales from the Borderlands” was absolutely amazing, especially in the way it handled Handsome Jack’s death and his subsequent resurrection. I also really liked being able to play both Rhys, handsome company man, and Fiona, the quick-witted Pandoran con-artist.

in the middle of a choice borderlands.jpg

Source: Gamespot.com

But that game was already completely released by the time I played it. And while they had an opening segment narrated by the game’s gun master Marcus Kincaid that constantly evolved with my in-game choices, I still feel that had I actually waited the designated time between releases I would have either gone crazy or lost interest entirely.

Case in point, episode one “Zero Sum” was released a full four months before the second, “Atlas Mugged,” which was released another three months before the third.

I like to think I’m pretty good at time management and about rewarding myself with video games after a long week, but even I couldn’t bear waiting that long between episodes.

It’s like watching a TV show on Netflix. While I like the periodic breaks between episodes, it’s always better to gasp at the show’s cliffhanger, speculate wildly about what will happen, and then hit next episode.

I don’t know if episodic gaming is here to stay, or if it will still be popular in five years when I stumble upon this blog and cringe at my poor life choices, but I can say it will be interesting to watch.

In the mean time, my wallet will cry with each new installment and I will await the day a video game is finally packaged whole, with no DLC or additional downloads to suffer through.

Until then, game on and let the power of Lara Croft be with you.

good enough life is strange