Thursday, May 28, 2015

A Year in the Life of 'Mario Kart 8'

Apologies for any Kart-related flight delays.
This week on PopMatters, I celebrate Mario Kart 8's one-year mark.

It was one of Jorge's and my favorite games of 2014, and I'm glad to report that it holds up.  It was the first time I had played a Nintendo game that adhered to the "season" of paid DLC content, so I decided to do review and a retrospective.

Overall, the quality of the game continues to impress me.  The new courses released over the past year are excellent as is the new 200cc mode.  I say this in the post, but I just can't get over how fast it feels.  It inspired real changes in the way I approach the game.  The courses feel totally different and I'm having to learn new driving and item tactics.

It's an especially stark contrast to the last Mario Kart Wii, the last Mario Kart that I spend any significant time with.  That game was definitely fun, but I pretty much sleep walked my way through it.  Mario Kart 8's mechanical tweaks and more varied course design is a truly engaging experience, one that lets a casual racing game player like me appreciate what others see in real driving sims.

Overall, Mario Kart 8 continues to be a great example of how Nintendo keeps their long running series strong and how they might continue to adopt modern big-publisher tactics without hampering the game experience.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

EXP Podcast #330: Bloodborne Debrief

Close your eyes good hunter...
At long last, it is time to cleanse these foul streets good hunter. This week on the EXP Podcast, we discuss the much anticipated system-seller: Bloodborne. Did it meet our expectations? Did Scott prove himself a "filthy casual?" Did we even make it out of this game alive!? Listen to find out.

Bloodborne is a game chock full of mysteries and some fascinating individual stories, so of course we want to hear from you in the comments below. Also, if you are interested in reading more about the lore of Bloodborne, I encourage you to check out the short treatise on the game in the show notes.

- 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: 53 mins 11 sec
- "The Paleblood Hunt: A Bloodborne Analysis," by "Redgrave"
- Music via Bloodborne OST

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Octodad: Medical Mayhem

We are back with another Octodad adventure, this time in a hospital. Please don't sue us for malpractice.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Bloodborne and Learning to Improve

She just wants whats best for you, good hunter.
This week's PopMatters article, I sort of talk about how Bloodborne is ruining other games for me.

Right before fighting Gehrman for the final push, I went over everything I had experience in my head. I did one more blood echoes run to level some vitality, checked all my runes to make sure the right ones were equipped, figured out which bosses I had not yet beaten and weighed whether or now I should venture out to take on those challenges or not. I stocked up on blood vials and bullets and rang that beckoning bell for the last time. I felt ready. I was ready.

Of course he proceeded to murder me again and again, but each time I grew wiser, adapted better. The fight was one last check in, like a comforting visit from an instructor, one final exam. I never felt like Bloodborne wanted me to fail, in that fight or any fight. I never once felt like the game was unfair or unkind. Everything was clear and I knew exactly what I had to do to improve.

This is why I just don't understand why someone would call Bloodborne too difficult for gamers without first asking them to try. I am not one to judge a person for not finishing a game, so even if I firmly believe you will never beat Father Gasciogne, I still think playing Bloodborne is an incredibly valuable experience. If you walk away, with neither the time or patience to improve, so be it. But if that happens, and you decide the game is not for you, you do so fully aware of what it offered, what it can offer with some persistence. That sense of clarity and awareness is so very rare in games.

And if you persevere, despite your expectations, if you forge on, improve, and learn, completing Bloodborne can be one of the most satisfying and self-validating experiences games can offer.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

EXP Podcast #329: Myst, Kickstarter Money, and Ghosts

The dark tale of a parasitic bat slowly killing a lizard
Every so often Jorge and I dive into the virtual newspaper and see if video game news is still weird and scary.  Good news: it is!  This week we talk about potential game to TV crossovers, the strange swamp of well-funded nostalgia is Kickstarter, and our dearly departed P.T.  Jump into the comments with your ideal animal adventure duo.  How about a badger and a fish?

- 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: 36 mins 07 secs
- Music by Brad Sucks

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Hohokum: The Magical Mystery Tour

First, drink this tea. Now take the controller, play some Hohokum, and open your third eye!


Thursday, May 14, 2015

Fighting FOMO in 'Bloodborne'

Someone is really into the whole straight razor shaving thing.
Attention!  You’re missing out on so much stuff in Bloodborne.  That’s probably OK though.

Bloodborne’s not really what most people think of when the term “open world game” is used.  There’s no quest log or mini-map icons.  There’s no mini-map at all.  The environments are more labyrinthian than sprawling and there aren’t any mini-games. 

Instead, Bloodborne has a approach to “open.”  It’s liberal in the classical sense: the game is almost absurdly hands off when it comes to guiding you.  Entire stages stages full of unique enemies are entirely optional.  If you’re not paying attention (as I wasn’t) you can walk by sections that hold the keys to major game mechanics.  It’s hard to improve more and also obtain proficiency with more than a handful of weapons.  You will almost certainly miss out on significant chunks of what the game has to offer.

Accepting that fact is freeing.  Your average mortal won’t see everything, which means that you have to turn to the community.  Maybe it’s the in-game notes left by phantom players in other games or perhaps it’s verbally swapping stories with friends.  However you get it, the full picture of Bloodborne basically requires that you share notes with others.

I almost played through the game without Caryll runes and only learned about the gesture that lets you shout like a maniac from Jorge.  Then again, I learned that the doll will sometimes mimic your actions and that there’s more to the spider NPC than is first apparent.  Everyone’s Bloodborne experience will have gaps.  This gives it a sense of mystery and discovery most other games don’t have.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

EXP Podcast #328: Earthbound Debrief Part 4

Why so angry Poo?
It's time once again to join Ness and friends on their journey through the wild and wacky world of Earthbound. This week on the podcast, Scott and I find all eight of the melodies, find similarities between Earthbound and Bloodborne, and venture through Fire Spring. We invite you all to play alone and of course you can listen to Part One, Part Two, and Part Three to catch up.

- 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: 66 mins  52 secs
- Music by Brad Sucks

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Super Smash Bros: Really Feeling It

When every Smash character know and love just isn't doing it for you, where do you turn? How do you go about really... feeling it?

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Storytelling and Never Alone

My latest PopMatters piece is live, in which I try to praise Never Alone while still calling it a failure.

Never Alone is a game you would make if someone told you to turn an oral legend into a platformer. When that person realizes the limits of the platformer and ask you to make it more educational and insightful, it's only natural to slot in interviews with those whose culture informs the game. Really, it's not that bad of an experience as a whole.

Even so, I wonder what Never Alone would be like if it never tried to be a platformer at all. We can of course imagine a game without the disruptive interview elements, but what if we imagine a game solely made up of interviews? What if hearing about the legends, myths, and beliefs of these people was the game itself? I don't think this would be true to the experience of being embedded within these cultural narratives, but maybe there is something to experiencing a culture as an outsider.

When I think of documentaries that feel experiential, I think of divisive but fascinating Werner Herzog. His film Encounters at the End of the World is a series of interviews with people who choose to live and work in Antarctica, and as one would expect, many of them are strange and quirky people.

What's most interesting in relation to Never Alone is that Herzog never actually seems that interested in letting the people tell their own story, at least not completely. He often jumps between subjects or asks loaded and invasive questions out of the blue, to which his subjects give some strange answers. Herzog wants to strand us at the end of the world with everyone else, to ponder what might bring us out there with these diverse strangers. Maybe exploring cultural storytelling in game demands the creation of an experience that embeds players into being there, not just viewing it though a window.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

EXP Podcast #327: It's a Mod, Mod, Mod, Mod World

Who wouldn't pay for the Macho Dragon mod?
In the span of about a week, Valve rolled out a program for monetizing video game mods on Steam.  Then, the Internet kind of blew up and they rolled it back.  Now that the dust is finally starting to settle, we recap what went down and where we should go from here.  How do you balance creative freedom with compensating creators?  What are the consequences of Valve's domination of the PC space?  Who will make us a  mod that replaces the puts Earthbound sprites into Hotline Miami?

- 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: 36 mins  09 secs
- Music by Brad Sucks