Thursday, August 27, 2015

Feeling Alone in Everybody's Gone to the Rapture

At least these doomed brits had company.
I'm going to be honest. I don't think Everybody's Gone to the Rapture is a good game, though I do think it's an interesting one.

It's not that I care whether Rapture is a game at all. Really, that question is sooooo 2012. I actually find myself more frustrated with the story than the slow pacing (I never found the "run" button, so when I say slow, I mean slow). I like the characters of Shropshire, maybe too much, so its this push to accept their disappearance like some blessing instead of a curse I find so disconcerting. Even if you take the most optimistic perspective, these people transcended into "lighthood" completely unprepared for the trauma they would endure.

Yes, that's what life and death is like, but I don't have to be happy about it.

My reaction to Rapture is actually similar to my reaction to Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go. That novel is about a group of students whose lives are meant to follow a specific, tragic, and deeply upsetting trajectory. They know no other existence, and so they accept it. Their agency exists within that framework and the live and love as furiously as the rest of us with our short time here. It's a staggering work, one I really enjoy, but I still want to rail against acquiescing to the inevitable.

There is a humanity to a shared anger at our own mortality, and for that reason I really enjoyed Stephen's story in Everybody's Gone to the Rapture. It's Kate's final narrative I find pedantic. Maybe I needed a comforting voice there in the end. Faith is so much easier to maintain with help from others. For a game about connections, it all felt too lonely.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

EXP Podcast #343: Staying Competitive

Don't mind me; I'm upside-down on purpose.
What keeps us out on the field?  Is it sweet taste of victory?  Is it the salty tears of our vanquished foes?  Is it the idea that if we stop we will instantly become a sad has-been, unable to compete in all but the most casual public matches?  This week we discuss what has been keeping us playing some of our current favorite competitive games.  Rocket League, League of Legends, Splatoon, and Smash are all part of our training montage.

- 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 20 sec
- Music by Brad Sucks

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Call of Duty: Black Ops 3: A Brutal Beta

We expected the robot uprising, but nothing could prepare us for their deadly alliance with wizards. May God have mercy on our souls. Also: Black Ops 3 is pretty weird.


Thursday, August 20, 2015

Quiet Community Building in 'Splatoon' and 'Rocket League'

Ain't no party like a squid party. hear that?  It's the sound of someone silently mocking you over the internet.

To be fair they might also be congratulating you on a great play.  You can't tell unless you take the time to look at people's actions and get to know the culture of "quiet" games like Splatoon and Rocket League.  Both games are heavily team driven and community focused, but both downplay voice chat.

Instead, you gain little clues about how people use the small text prompts available to them or how they communicate using the game's standard actions.  Sometimes this means you witness an impromptu cease fire and have a squid party where everyone flops around without shooting each other.  Sometimes it means that someone is flopping on your corpse or, as the poets call it, "squidbagging."

There's more opportunity for chatting in Rocket League, but there's also more opportunity for trolling.  There's a hefty current of sarcasm in many games.  Players will say "Nice shot!" to shots that are decidedly not nice.  They'll "thank" players who make mistakes or shame teammates who blow saves.  One of the most fascinating (and infuriating) bits of Rocket League culture is whether or not you skip replays.  I'll say it right now: if you try to skip my replay but never skip yours, you can go straight to hell.

That's the funny thing about these communities: no one really talks about the norms in-game.  They're transferred by osmosis and turned into doctrine on the message boards.  It's kind of like the vast list of unwritten rules of baseball.  Don't stand at the plate and watch your home run.  If your guy gets hit, you have to hit one of theirs.  They aren't officially enshrined anywhere, they're just cultural norms that have slowly built up within a game.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

EXP Podcast #342: Gamescom 2015 Debrief

Do any of these people look happy?
Far across the Atlantic ocean, in a land known but some as Germany, in a little village named Cologne, the games industry hold a convention so big it threatens to swallow us all. I have passed through this endless labyrinth of games, trekked through legions of gamers, and returned to the land of freedom alive. This week on the podcast, Scott and I explore the highlights of Gamescom, including survival techniques and hilariously bad cosplay.

Give it a listen, won't you?

- 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: 46 mins 23 sec
- Music by Brad Sucks

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

League of Legends: Oh, the Huge Manatee

It's been awhile since Scott and I flexed our eSports muscles in League of Legends. It's time to show everyone what we're working with... which is a severe inability to reliably farm and a tendency to get ourselves killed.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Joining The Flock

"And you thought you were being sneaky..."
I have become a creature of darkness.

Last week at Gamescom in Cologne, in one of the biggest convention halls in the world, surrounded by thousands of people bustling about with huge Final Fantasy tote bags, I finally found the Indie Games section. They had a large selection of games, most of which were developed there in Germany, many of which were gorgeous and compelling. Therefor it was during a moment of calm respite that I sat down to play The Flock.

Naturally it scared the shit out of me at first, especially when I first wandered about with a flickering light source, trying to simultaneously look at and flee some spooky-looking monsters. When the game finally clicks though, when you realize how powerful you can actually be as the light bearer, the beauty of asymmetrical gameplay shines through.

I love asymmetry in games. I've written about it in Android: Netrunner here, and around EXP a variety of times. Each experience of asymmetry seems interesting and compelling in its own way. In Netrunner, asymmetry is all about power relations and weaves its way so effortlessly into the themes of the card game. In Left 4 Dead it's about tactical team play, while in F3AR, it's about relying on your teammate juuuust enough to get one up on them.

The many vs one mechanic in The Flock creates a sense of overwhelming doom at first, but it's really not the case. While holding the light, you determine in many ways the flow of the action, funneling your opponents in the direction you want to go. I suspect very skilled players will eventually handle the light so well that members of the flock will have to work together to take them out. I appreciate the unique take on the genre and really hope more designer get daring with asymmetry.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

EXP Podcast #341: Her Story Debrief

Our case notes.
A stiff drink is in your hip flask.  Your gun sits in your pocket, cold but comforting.  Your mindset is one that doesn't just accept trouble; you seek it.  You have everything you need to solve a murder.  Actually what you really need is a mid-90s era PC and the endurance to face not only the harsh fluorescent lights but also the long hours sitting in front of a screen.  Don't worry though, Her Story makes even the mundane feel mysterious.  Join us as we try to unravel Her Story's plot as well as its novel approach to storytelling.

- 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: 47 mins 58 sec
- Music by Brad Sucks

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Spelunky: Wary of Windows 10

We no longer fear the caverns, although we probably should. What really scares us is OS updates.


Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Nature of Art, Computers, and Limitation in 'Her Story'

I couldn't find the SkiFree program.
Quit out of Minesweeper and fire up your modem: this week's PopMatters Piece is about Her Story.

First off: I really like Her Story and think it's a great example of how games can be used to tell stories in unique ways.  Jorge and I are going to talk about it in an upcoming podcast.  It's well worth your time!

The PopMatters column is an expansion on my major qualm with Her Story: it's setting is almost too good for its own good.  The 1990s era sights and sounds are extremely evocative and do a great job of building out the game's world.  Even though you're only staring at a computer screen, it feels like sitting at a real data terminal, complete with overly-clacky keyboard and soul-crushing fluorescent lights.

The problem is the computer database doesn't really behave like one.  You have to randomly search for words and you can't see all the results.  There's no way to list out all the entries or sort them.  Actual research presents the opposite problem: there is often too much data and you have to whittle it down into an ordered stack (with the help of computers).  Instead of just getting five results, you get 5000.

Searching for "cat" in the NY Times database.
It's clear why Her Story nerfs its computer: the mystery would be a lot less mysterious if you could just get an ordered list of videos.  Still, this raises an interesting philosophical question: to what extent should the visual representation of a thing seek to represent the nature of how it functions?  Is there some sort of weird artistic disingenuousness of making use of a thing's look while discarding its nature?  I might argue there is.

Ontological issues aside, Her Story is still a captivating game.  You just have to resign yourself to the fact that you'll be interacting with something that looks, but does not function like, a real computer.  What does this say about the nature of the object?  Perhaps that's an even trickier mystery than the murder case in Her Story.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

EXP Podcast #340: Game of Thrones Episode 5 Debrief

If I lived in Westeros, I'd drink a lot too.
Scott and I have spent weeks on a boat crossing the narrow sea to bring you our latest Debrief. This week on the podcast, we once again join House Forrester and drag ourselves through the painful, violent, wretched existence that is Game of Thrones. Who comes out alive!? How did they get there? Did they take a dragon? Listen to find out!

As always, if you've played the latest episode, let us know what decisions you made in the comments below.

- 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: 55 mins 37 sec
- Music by Brad Sucks

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Risk of Rain: Alien Murder Simulator

It's time again to visit the peaceful species of foreign planets... and then murder our way through their land, forcing them to defend themselves and offspring or die.