Star Trek Online, The Tomorrow Children, and Collectivism in Games

I want to tell you all about The Tomorrow Children, a strange online survival/exploration/building game from Q-Games (of PixelJunk fame) but I don’t know where to start with it. So I won’t. Instead, I’ll start with another game that came out of PS4 on the same day, Star Trek Online.

If Star Trek Online sounds familiar and old to you, that’s because it is. STO originally released in 2010. It came out in the same month as Heavy Rain, Deadly Premonition, and Bioshock 2. Like most video game properties, no one really knows how much money the initial launch of STO made, but it probably wasn’t enough. Less than two years later, it was re-released as a free-to-play title. To give an idea of how long ago that was, the STO re-launch happened a few weeks before the initial release of Crusader Kings II. That’s an eternity for games.

I have no idea why Star Trek Online suddenly came to PS4/Xbox One in TYOOL 2016. Maybe it was phenomenally successful as a free-to-play title, and finally decided to follow Neverwinter, DC Universe Online, and Warframe several years late. I have no idea! It’s quite frankly bizarre, and that’s part of the reason I downloaded it. For some reason, an MMO from 2010 was on consoles and I had to see what it was like.

I'm on the bridge of my own ship! This is awesome! And also looks like an early 360 game

I’m on the bridge of my own ship! This is awesome! And also looks like an early 360 game

Well I mostly have my answer. Star Trek Online is exactly what I should have expected. It is an MMO from 2010. Granted, there is a ton of content. This thing has been running for over half a decade. Just looking at the Starfleet “episodes”, there’s probably a hundred hours of single-player missions in this damn game. And there are two other factions you can choose to join (Klingon and Romulan which I guess are the best choices for a three-faction ST game). The only problem is that it is all MMO content. As far as I can tell, every mission is just a couple space battles and a couple away team missions (that always involve combat) stitched together in a different order.

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You Shall Not Pass: Bloodborne, Dark Souls 2, and Cutting Open the Gameplay Loop

From the lamp, I run straight down the stairs on the left, past a crazed huntsman. He notices me but doesn’t have time to attack. He’ll follow me, so I just keep sprinting. I veer left again down another set of stairs. There I find two monstrous creatures with a hammers where their hands should be. I roll around them, only briefly slowing down if my stamina is drained. Past them I find an elevator which takes me to a bridge full of more bloodthirsty huntsmen. If I just start crossing the bridge and retreat, a giant fireball–a trap meant to wreck me–will clear most of them from my path. Once the fireball has passed, I juke around any enemies who survived the blast of flames. At the end of the bridge stands another hammer monster. I wait to see where he’s going to attack and I roll around him in the other direction. There’s a huntsman with a shield behind me after I dodge so I still can’t slow down to take in the scenery. Instead, I head for the branch to the left, up another set of stairs, and find my destination: a door made of fog.

Over a year later, I still remember the path to Father Gascoigne in Bloodborne. Every turn, dodge, and trap is etched into my mind from the dozen or so times I ran the obstacle course the first time I played the game. Gascoigne is the first major challenge of Bloodborne. He’s a highly mobile boss who transforms midway through the battle into a furiously aggressive monster. For a beginner, he serves as a bottleneck, forcing players to learn how to parry with your offhand weapon, a mechanic that becomes increasingly important as the game goes on. Mastering that mechanic makes Gascoigne relatively simple (and there’s a hidden item that can assist as well) but for a lot of people, including me, he’s the first major roadblock in Bloodborne.

The difficulty of Gascoigne makes the run above all the more important. Learning to beat Gascoigne means studying his attack patterns and practicing how to counter them. And, like many Bloodborne bosses, fighting him often feels like beating your head against a wall until it finally breaks. Anything that gets in the way of trying the boss again is a frustration, so it is a relief to run to the fight without being forced to deal with enemies along the way.

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My Apparently Annual Top 10 Games of the Year List – 2015

Last year, I hopped on the internet end-of-the-year zeitgeist by making a top 10 games of 2014 post. I’m not sure how many people care about my opinion–and probably far fewer do now, seeing that I had a sports game at #1 and a visual novel at #2–but hey, why not do it again? #content

I played a lot of video games this year, which is nothing new, but I also released my first game and contributed significant dialog writing to another. I’ll be releasing my second game in a few weeks, and another visual novel in collaboration with Woodsy Studio in the late spring. I don’t know whether any of this makes my opinion more or less valid, but working on games has certainly informed and changed how I approach them. Which is weird, because this list is probably way less eclectic than last year’s.

The Annual Disclaimer: A shitload of video games came out in 2015. More games that I wanted to play than in any year I can remember. There’s a lot I still haven’t gotten around to playing that I could see making it on this list: SOMA, Rise of the Tomb Raider, Just Cause 3, AC: Syndicate (yes), Axiom Verge, Nuclear Throne, and Pillars of Eternity, just to name a few off the top of my head.

I’m also leaving off MLB: The Show 16 to keep things interesting

And as usual, large gifs ahead.

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In Defense of Very Slow Movement Speed: Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture

Tuesday marked the release of Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, the latest game from Dear Esther developers The Chinese Room. I’ve already finished it. If you’re into this sort of game–narrative heavy, puzzle-free adventure games, derogatorily called “walking simulators”–I can’t recommend it enough. It’s easily the best game I’ve played in the genre. Rapture is to Dear Esther what Journey is to Flower.
The entire game is the exploration of a suddenly-empty British village, finding clues and watching ethereal glimpses into the lives of the departed inhabitants. I won’t say any more, because uncovering the mystery (to the extent you can) is part of the reason to engage with the game. The last thing I’d want to do is spoil that.

If you don’t like this kind of game, at least check out the soundtrack on Spotify. It’s so good that there is a non-zero chance that I just love the soundtrack so much that it carried the entire game for me.

The release of Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture was, unfortunately, burdened by a strange bit of controversy regarding the walking speed of your main character. Across the board, reviewers complained that movement was terribly slow–even those who enjoyed the game. IGN called it ” a rate that seems to actively disrespect our time and patience.” If you check out the review, you’ll see this is now redacted because, unbeknownst to everyone playing the game at first, there is an option to speed up walking. Allegedly, pressing R2 and holding it down will gradually ramp up walking speed. I did this on-and-off throughout the game and the effect isn’t dramatic (when it works, which is not indoors) so it’s not terribly relevant to the point I want to make.

You walk really slowly in Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture and that is okay.

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Hey, This Is A Video Game: The Escapists

The Escapists is a game for people who like the early parts of Hitman levels: the careful planning, the testing of systems to see how far you can push them, and the way everything can go south in an instant if the wrong person sees you in the wrong part of the building at the wrong time. Unlike Hitman, however, there’s no second part of the level; when you fuck up and the guards turn hostile against you, it doesn’t turn into an action game. There’s no shootout because there are no guns (at least not in the first level) and there’s really no good way to fight the guards. You can get a drop on a guard with a weapon and knock him out, steal his keys. But once you’ve gone down that path you’re just a few minutes away from having all your items taken away and being stuck in solitary.

Each level of The Escapists drops you in a different clockwork prison. Your day is divided up between meals, work periods, exercise periods, and free time in which (depending on the prison) you can explore or improve your character. There are dozens of items to collect and combine into makeshift devices that can help you escape. Because escape is the only goal. You just have to get out, and the catch is that the game gives you no idea how you’re supposed to do that. Dig a hole? Cut through the fence? Hide in a box? Copy the right keys? For the most part, The Escapists doesn’t even tell you what’s possible, let alone the easiest path. The tutorial leads you through an escape where all the pieces are laid out for you (and one that is, I believe, impossible to put together yourself) and then throws you back in prison to figure out your own way to freedom.

If you go along with the other moving pieces of the clockwork world, you’ll never get anywhere. The items in your own cell aren’t enough to plot your escape, so you have to deviate from the path the game sets out for you–raid other inmates’ cells during exercise time, steal plastic utensils from the lunch room, use your job in the laundry room to nab a guard’s uniform. All while keeping your head down, because getting caught or beat up by another inmate takes away all your contraband items. And contraband items are the best items.

I escaped the first prison on my sixth day. I don’t want to say what I did, because figuring out how exactly I was going to get out without any preconceived notions was the best part of the game. But if you want to see me stumble around on the first day (which doesn’t spoil anything but a couple item combos) and get an idea of what the game looks like, I’ve done the 21st century thing and uploaded a video.

MLB The Show: The Proselytism of Matt Holliday

If you’re a Cardinals fan, you know that there are a ton of Cardinals fans who want to turn Matt Holliday into a first baseman. Their goals are noble and fully understood. Holliday didn’t come to the Cardinals as the best of left fielders and he hasn’t gotten any better. Despite putting up consistently great offensive numbers for half of a decade, some people seem to remember him best for a defensive miscue back in 2009. Matt Adams has started 2015 with an uninspiring performance, and the Cardinals have a glut of intriguing outfielders. Moving Holliday to first, giving both at-bats and defensive opportunities to Grichuk, Bourjos, Piscotty, etc. sure sounds nice. There’s only one problem.

Matt Holliday has never played first base as a professional. In fact, he has over 200+ games at third base in the minor leagues but not a single professional inning at first. But is that a problem? First base requires the least mobility of any position on the field. It’s poorly-sourced common knowledge that anyone can play first base. It doesn’t require range. It doesn’t require much of an arm. A first baseman needs to be able to catch the ball and react quickly. But those are skills generally required of all positions. So, surely, Matt Holliday can play first base?

If you’ve been following this blog at all, you know that there is only one way to answer any question about players out of position. It needs to be simulated in MLB: The Show.

MLB® 15 The Show™_20150524133703

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MLB The Show: 15 — The Reformation of Tom Brady

Yesterday, the National Football League announced that New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady would be suspended four games as a result of his role in the Great Football Deflation Scandal of 2015. This was a big deal, not just to the Patriots or the entire league, but to Tom Brady himself. You see, Tom Brady is an intensely competitive man. You might even call him a “competitor”, if you were an NFL announcer and had to fill several hours of airtime with the sound of your voice without saying anything meaningful. Tom Brady isn’t the sort of guy who will take to sitting on the sideline. Instead, he’s going to do something drastic. He’s going to join the professional sports league where tampering with the ball is a storied and celebrated act.

Tom Brady is going to play Major League Baseball.

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MLB the Show 15: The Passion of Lance Lynn

On Monday, the Cardinals announced that Adam Wainwright would be out for the season with an achilles injury, which made Lance Lynn the de facto ace of the team. Some people might debate this and say that Michael Wacha headlines the rotation, since he’s been pretty much untouchable throughout his short career. But he’s not proven. Not just yet. Others–crazy people–might elect to call John Lackey the number one starter. While Lackey is perfectly useful, he’s not the pitcher he used to be. He gave up three runs to the Phillies, after all.  And then there’s Carlos Martinez, who has electric stuff but is better known for his NSFW twitter fav skills than his pitching. The ace is Lance Lynn, to the extent the Cardinals have an ace. And that’s terrifying to anyone who has watched the team for longer than a year. Lynn put everything together last year, but he’s hardly been a model of consistency. I like Lance. I’ve always liked him. But the frontline starter? Yikes.

All of this coincided with the Cardinals experimenting with some very interesting defensive alignments. For at least a couple days this weekend, Pete Kozma was the backup catcher. He didn’t play there but the possibility still loomed, with ol’ Petey just a single errant foul ball away from donning the tools of ignorance and demonstrating his #framing abilities. Meanwhile, Mark Reynolds headed out to left field for literally his first appearance in LF and his sixth career appearance in the outfield EVER.

I had to do something. I had to try something–combine these two events into something special. So I fired up MLB: The Show 15 and put the new Cardinals ace, Lance Lynn, into the ultimate trial: a complete game, with an entire lineup designed in the spirit of Pete Kozma the Catcher and Mark Reynolds the Outfielder. So it begins.

MLB® 15 The Show™_20150427202749

The rules were simple. The lineup above would backup Lance Lynn, Cardinals ace. No one was at their proper position. Lefthanders were positioned in the infield. Chaos. Absolute chaos. To make matters worse, I set the game in Petco Park, the largest ballpark in baseball, so each out of position player would have to cover the most ground possible. The weather would be rainy, surely a boon to drought-blighted southern California, but yet another obstacle for the Cardinals ace. Obviously, this could go real bad real fast, but Lance Lynn would have no way to escape. He was going to pitch the entire game. I turned off injuries so even a strained oblique couldn’t save him.

MLB® 15 The Show™_20150427212307

This is the passion of Lance Lynn.

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The Inscrutable, Brutal Bloodborne

I killed four bosses yesterday. The first was a giant, shambling pile of corpses. It had given me fits late Saturday night, obliterating me in one with a flash of red light that was only telegraphed if the game camera was pointed in the right direction. Its name was The One Reborn. I had to grind out a few levels of vitality to be able to withstand the red flash. Once I could do that, he went down in one try.

The second boss was a towering man with a scythe who lives on top of a castle. With a swing of his blade, he tosses bloody skulls my way like he’s a Mortal Kombat character. He wears a crown but I don’t think he’s a king, because his name is Martyr Logarius. I summoned help to beat him. Ringing a bell just outside of his domain brought another player into my game. We took turns drawing the ire of Logarius while the other tore into his back.

LOGThe third boss was the smallest one yet. Smaller even than my character. It looked like the classic alien gray, with an oversized head and withered body. As it shambled around its domain, it summoned identical-looking minions to attack and protect it. They swiped at me and then they shot lasers at me. This one was called the Celestial Emissary. It was probably the easiest boss I’ve faced so far and I still died a couple of times. My bad. I was doing so much damage to it that I got careless. I thought I could end the battle quickly. I did end the battle quickly, but not the way I wanted to.

The fourth boss was a man with his head in a cage. He yelled at me about how I could open his eyes. His arm turned into a swarm of tentacles when he was cornered and he summoned skeletal marionettes to fight on his behalf. I had to chase him through a series of cloudy hallways and drop down on him from above when he tried to put a gate between us. His name was Micolash, Host of the Nightmare. He caught me off guard a couple times with a new attack that staggered me and nearly left me for dead. But in the end I put my blade through him. Maybe that was what he wanted. I still don’t know.

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Maybe Shadow of Mordor Didn’t Invent The Nemesis System

This week I finished Star Trek: The Game and fully intended on writing up my usual recap, outlining how bad the game is and how it strays from the source material. Then, on Friday, Leonard Nimoy passed away and suddenly it didn’t feel like the best time to pump out 2000 words bashing a Star Trek licensed property. I’ll wait on that, just a bit. But rest assured you will hear about Star Trek: The Game.

Instead, I want to talk about the other game I’ve been playing this week. This one is a new release, and it’s not based on any licensed property unless you count a centuries-old Chinese historical novel. That’s right, I’m talking about Dynasty Warriors 8: Empires.

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