Thursday, July 30, 2015

Perspectives on Death in Game of Thrones: A Nest of Vipers

"I know man... I know...
I may have come to the point where Game of Thrones is a little too dark for my liking.

I'll refrain from spoiling the latest episode of Game of Thrones here, but I did want to say I actually really enjoyed this episode, even if some moments struck me as especially unsettling. This episode felt like a speedy ramp up to this season's conclusion. It's a refreshing pace compared to the rest of the episodes, but I'm sure Scott and I will discuss it in more depth in our next debrief.

I haven't played the latest episode of Life is Strange yet, but I suspect playing it shortly after the latest Game of Thrones will be especially illuminating. Juxtaposed to the live-or-die decisions of the Telltale series, Dontnod's calmer exploration of adolescence seems truer to real life. The decisions you make, while informed with the ability to travel through time, never feel to sudden or definite. They are embracing the ripple-effect narrative, which means your decisions often feel small scale, even if they tie into a larger narrative. When I make a decision in Life is Strange, I usually feel pretty good about it. I feel like I tried my best and want to commit.

Whereas when I decide who lives and who dies in Game of Thrones, I feel constrained. That is, of course, the point of drama set in Westeros. The ultimate decision in A Nest of Vipers feels especially brutal because while I am constrained in my decision, I'm asked to make it not as a character but as a player.

I've never felt quite so aware of my own uncomfortable justifications in an adventure game.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Rocket League: Climbing the 2v2 Ladder

Jorge and Scott begin their climb to the upper echelons of the Rocket League elite. If you look carefully, you can actually see us hit the ball on purpose (kinda).


Thursday, July 23, 2015

'Rocket League' Is a Beautifully Ridiculous Game

O carro bonito
This week on PopMatters, I make up for my paltry Rocket League skills with some pretty words.

Before I say anything else: part of my initial attraction to this game was because it was totally unexpected.  Every week I feel like something that looks like Rocket League pops up in some Steam promotion and is instantly forgotten by the masses.  This time I kept hearing excited murmurs and they grew in number and volume until I had to try it.

Rocket League is one of those games that captures why video games are special.  It doesn't go for the narrative-driven "would you kindly" gravitas.  Instead it tries to model a system that is at once completely ridiculous and completely believable.  The make-believe physics of double-jumping rocket cars is tuned to perfection and is rigorous enough that top level players are already making me question meager skills.

Rocket League captures the exhilaration and the agony of physical sports without becoming obsessed with the minutia that is bogging down mainstream sports games.  It's NBA Jam or NHL 94 but with more sophisticated physics and online play.  There's no reason to wait: play it.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

EXP Podcast #339: Batman: Arkham Knight Debrief

The new batmobile (doors optional).
Gas up your tank folks, it's time to take a little joy ride around Gotham!  This week, we soar over the city streets and dive head first into Batman: Arkham Knight.  As with any debrief, we spend the first part of the show talking about the game's systems and then we dive into spoiler territory to talk about the plot.  What is the true nature of fear?  How does Batman balance vigilantism and justice?  When did Riddler find the time to create a vast underground network of race tracks?  If you have answers, let us hear them in the comments.

- Here's the show's stand-alone feed
- Listen to the podcast in your browser by left-clicking here, right-click and select "save as link" to download the show in MP3 format, or click play below.

Show Notes:

- Runtime: 58 mins 40 sec
- Music by Brad Sucks

EXP Podcast #338: The Shoutcast Cast

The hype is palpable... or not.
EVO has come and gone, but the ringing in my ears from the fanatical shouts of the commentators continues. Who are these people and how did they get this job? What makes a good shoutcaster? More importantly, who will shoutcast the Scott vs. Jorge cage match we have scheduled later this year! Join us this week on the EXP Podcast while we commentate the commentators.

Oh, and a question for you. If you could shoutcast any video game event, what would it be and why?

- Here's the show's stand-alone feed
- Listen to the podcast in your browser by left-clicking here, right-click and select "save as link" to download the show in MP3 format, or click play below.

Show Notes:

- Runtime: 31 mins 19 sec
- Music by Brad Sucks

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Rocket League: Amateur Circuit

Our eSports career is going high octane! Check out the beginning of what will no doubt be a victorious season of Rocket League.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Gotham City Burning

"Alfred. Where did I park my car!?"
This week on PopMatters, I search for a sense of place in Batman: Arkham Knight and spend most of my time in California.

Despite my disappointment with Gotham City as a place, I am actually finding a lot to like in Arkham Knight. The combination-based combat has always been strong in this series and I suspect anyone who puts in a concerted effort can overcome any encounter with incredible finesse. The occasional opportunity to team up with a Bat-ally is always a joy to watch and each of their fighting styles seems fresh and flashy.

Standing above all else though is Mark Hamill's performance as the Joker (or figment of the Joker at least). Hamill is, as always, stellar and Rocksteady is trying to squeeze every last drop of weirdness and frivolity from the character. His constant jabs at Batman offer humor and interesting insight into the psychology of a man who dresses up as a bat. Batman has always been more of an interesting character when he's just teetering on the edge of sanity. Rocksteady pushes him closer to that border every time the Joker shows up to pry into the man (and the player) behind the mask.

Besides a disappointing exploration of Gotham City, the vehicle gameplay is the most offensive portion of Arkham Knight. I think for some fans of the DC hero, the Batmobile is so iconic that it creates instant joy. I am more of a lurk-in-the-shadows kind of admirer of the Bat, so when they ask me to get inside a tank and zoom around the city my eyes glaze over with boredom. The whole experience would be better if Rocksteady wasn't trying so damn hard to put me behind the steering wheel.

Here in California, we spend enough time on the roads. I prefer my cities from above.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

EXP Podcast #337: Remembering Satoru Iwata

Would that we all could create so much happiness.
We had some sad news this past week: long-time game developer and Nintendo CEO, Satoru Iwata, died. This week, we pay tribute to him by talking about his incredible career and accomplishments. He leaves us with a huge legacy of outstanding games, so please jump into the comments with your memories.

- Here's the show's stand-alone feed
- Listen to the podcast in your browser by left-clicking here, right-click and select "save as link" to download the show in MP3 format, or click play below.

Show Notes:

- Runtime: 30 mins 25 sec
- Music by Brad Sucks

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Spelunky: Terrors of the Deep

What dark leviathans sleep beneath the waves? What gruesome monsters lurk deep in the earth's caverns? The real question is whether they have any spare bombs we can steal.


Thursday, July 9, 2015

The Identity Crisis of 'Batman Arkham Knight'

It's the Bat suit that makes the Batman.
This week on PopMatters, I’m bummed out by Batman.

What is Batman: Arkham Knight supposed to be?  There’s a very pronounced story that goes in some very dark places.  At the same time, there are straight-up VR missions scattered across the open world that are meant to foster competitive leaderboards.  There’s certainly plenty of fighting and most pivotal junctures revolve around brawls, but then you are thrown into extended racing and car-combat sequences.  Batman is held up as a moral paragon for not killing anyone, but he’s also a huge meathead that basically grunts at all his friends while maiming any street thug he can get his gloves on.  It’s feels muddled, and not in a good way.

Core parts that made Arkham Asylum such a phenomenon are still present, they’re just buried under a extraneous open world cruft and a strangely-prominent driving mechanic.  I know the Batmobile is a dividing line, but I have to engage in the flame war for a minute: In a game where you can pretty much fly, I can't really see why you would want to spend any more time than necessary on the ground.  Additionally, it seems like the fact that you can turn it into a tank with 360 degree mobility an acknowledgement of how limited and squirrelly the normal driving is.

There are definitely some highlights (mostly thanks to Mark Hamill's outstanding Joker performance), but overall I came away disappointed.  Ironically, I probably would have given it more of a pass if it were some generic open world game.  If that were the case, the mish-mash gameplay and classic video game protagonist douchery wouldn't have seemed so out of place.  Instead, I got something that looked like Batman, but felt like an impostor.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

EXP Podcast #336: Reaching Your Limits

What does it all mean!?
That's it. We've had enough! Not of podcasting, but of some video games that just overstay their welcome. We can pinpoint why we play certain games, but why do we stop? When do we know when to quit? And what game elements make is reach that tipping point sooner than others? This week on the EXP Podcast, Scott and I explore the outer limits of our patience, bite into UI frustrations, and make some predictions. Join us!

- Here's the show's stand-alone feed
- Listen to the podcast in your browser by left-clicking here, right-click and select "save as link" to download the show in MP3 format, or click play below.

Show Notes:

- Runtime: 34 mins 35 sec
- Music by Brad Sucks

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Splatoon: Yea if you Fear Content ID Claims

The Splatfest has come and gone, but there's still plenty of fun to have in Splatoon! Warning, may contain content Nintendo is so very sensitive about. Therefor this video may contain an ad (not by our choice) and does not feature our normal header (Which I totally forgot to add last week. My bad.)

Important legal note: Splatoon is a Nintendo product available for purchase wherever video games are sold.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

League of Legends: Holiday ARAM with Urgot

This week I take a quick break from PopMatters to play some ARAM with everyone's favorite... uh... spinning-jabba-the-death-spike-guy.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

EXP Podcast #335: Earthbound Debrief, Part 5

The world's saviors.
We've finally reached the end of Earthbound.  There's nothing to do now but recap the final challenges and do what we always do when we finish a game: discuss the nature of human fear and love, meditate on the line between spirituality and organized religion, etc.  You know: normal stuff.  We really enjoyed doing these in-depth talks on a classic game and hopefully you liked them too!  We're looking forward to hearing your thoughts in the comments.  If you have any ideas or suggestions for a future debrief on a classic, let us know!

- Here's the show's stand-alone feed
- Listen to the podcast in your browser by left-clicking here, right-click and select "save as link" to download the show in MP3 format, or click play below.

Show Notes:

- Runtime: 1 hr 8 mins 45 sec
- Music by Brad Sucks