Punctuation wrangler and orthographic enforcer, feminist, atheist, glutton, geek, scatterbrain, and Seattlite.
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  • Games of 2012: The Walking Dead

    Thursday, January 31, 2013

    I want to recap the notable games I played in 2012, and The Walking Dead is still freshest on my mind. No doubt it was a huge success and accomplishment for Telltale, with people shouting GOTY in between sobs. It manages to be a touching game in a genre that’s become a literal parody of itself—undead. TWD’s story is still  typical—people go from Point A to Point B while shouting and losing various pieces of their bodies—but what it does right it does very well. It’s definitely Telltale’s most playable game yet.

    There are a couple things that appealed to me most and made the game work for me. First is Clementine, obviously, as she’s the whole point of the game. Specifically what worked for me was how she was the moral compass for Lee and the player. I like looking at how games present (or present the illusion of presenting…) moral and ethical choices. One element of those is who the player answers to for their choices—whether it’s something useless like Fallout’s karma or something integral like Dragon Age’s companions.

    In TWD, the player weighs their decisions against their odds of survival and whatever moral code they’ve got going, but also against the knowledge that Clem is looking up to Lee and learning from him. Answering to Clem for your choices makes them feel less conceptual and adds a sense of practice to your ethics. You could argue all day about the best choice (and dear god that’s all the characters do), but once the decision is made and acted on, that’s not the end of the story. Lee still has to look into Clementine’s eyes and tell her why he did what he did, or why she shouldn’t do what he did, or just lie to her.

    While that was the strongest part of the game for me, it still felt rife with patriarchal tropes. That’s not necessarily bad—you can take a trope or cliche and shine it up and showcase it, and that’s what TWD did—it still is what it is. As young as she is, Clem is still the young woman setting the antihero straight; she still has her manic pixie moments; she’s still there #ForLee. (On a side note, a game that appears to be doing this just the same is The Last of Us, from what little I’ve seen.)

    The other thing that really made the game for me was the timed responses. They weren’t everyone’s favorite, but I thought they made the choices so much more real. I didn’t have time to ponder the implications of every choice, let alone even read them all sometimes (I’m slow). But in trying to bring the player into the intense situations these characters are in, they were very effective. They helped reduce the responses into feelings and keywords. Something happens and you’re thinking RUN or KILL or WHERE’S CLEM and all you see is a rapidly depleting timer and a few lines of possible dialogue—one of them’s going to pop out at you. And it might not even be the right choice. You may immediately realize that it was a bad idea. But that’s what happens: people react.

    This was originally published on my tumblr, but I think I’ll continue these here. 

    FTL Co-op Mode

    Monday, October 1, 2012

    Yes, co-op mode!

    But first: What a great little game! I’ve experienced amazing little stories in FTL: Faster than Light. Mine are probably no different from everybody else’s amazing little stories, but that’s the great thing about FTL, those amazing little stories. The game just does something right to make these microcosmic events and interactions feel so unique, personal, and unexpected. With a game like this, I don’t play to win—I play to see what happens. FTL is a game that doesn’t like to let you win, but it loves to make things happen. If you’re losing and you’re feeling heartbroken and devastated at every loss, big and small, you’re playing it right.

    Anyway, I had a little idea for a new way to play FTL as a sort of roleplaying game:

    • I livestream the game and my friend Tyler tunes in; we talk via IM (or voice chat would work better—actually Google+ probably does this splendidly).
    • Starting a new game, I name one character Lucas (me), another Tyler (since this was the first time we just named them after ourselves). Tyler will dictate his character’s actions, and I’ll have full control over my character’s.
    • The third crewmember is our captain, who we called Janice (inside joke1). We set a rule for her: She will never leave the cockpit except to fight intruders and she’ll always fight intruders. Since she’s the captain and would be making the decisions about missions, she’ll always take risks unless Tyler and I can make a good case otherwise and talk her down. I was thinking of other rules for these “NPCs” and would love to hear more—Will always/never put out a fire. Won’t enter a room with no O2 (if it damages their health). Those kind of things.
    • An unwritten rule, it turned out, was that we would blame all my mistakes as a player on the “NPCs.” This was the funnest part, I have to say.

    (Read the full entry)

    1. When Tyler first played Portal he said to me, “There’s this lady on the intercom. I think her name’s Janice. She sounds like a Janice.” I was like oh ho ho, just you wait. []

    [SMNC] The ironic and sexist Tea Time taunts

    Monday, June 25, 2012

    I’ve been playing Super Monday Night Combat, a multiplayer shooter with a mix of action and strategy, for about a month so far and really enjoying it. On top of its fun gameplay, it features memorable characters, hilarious in-game commentary, and a world centered on a runaway corporate culture that’s frighteningly believable. As I’ve been playing, I’ve been taking notes on different issues of inclusivity in the game; like all games, it has both problematic and praiseworthy aspects. However, I wanted to take the time to highlight one issue that I find to be both atrocious in its sexism and ironic in its presentation: the Tea Time taunts.

    Note that SMNC is in beta. Any of it could (and does (weekly!)) change often and dramatically. Because it’s in beta, anything mentioned in this post could become outdated. I’m enjoying the hell out of SMNC and I don’t doubt for a second Uber Entertainment’s dedication and enthusiasm in making the best game they can for as many people as they can. Because it’s beta, I believe now is the best opportunity to make noise about the game’s issues that could exclude people and actively discourage them from playing.

    (Read the full entry)

    New Vegas, My Way

    Thursday, May 24, 2012
    Three Peanuts children in cowboy costumes. Cowgirl 1: "I'll be the good guy!" Cowgirl 2: "All right... and I'll be the bad guy!" Cowgirl 1: "What are you going to be, Charlie Brown?" Charlie Brown: "I'll be sort of in-between."

    3eanuts – June 9, 1952

    Fallout: New Vegas is a drastically different game from when it was released in Fall 2010. There is a robust offering of mods (including Nexus Mod Manager, which saves me from much of the tedium, confusion, and danger of modding) that has made exploring the Mojave Wasteland more beautiful, more intense, and much more meaningful.

    I got a new PC this year, one that allows me to finally play Skyrim. However, as much as I enjoy Skyrim, I kept feeling there was something missing. It had everything it should need to get me hopelessly addicted and lost in its world, but that wasn’t happening. Then I realized that the feeling I was chasing was what I got from playing New Vegas, so I jumped back in. And of course, now I’m hopelessly addicted to New Vegas.

    This post focuses on gameplay changes and some mods that are integral in making the game the way I want it. There are tons of other essential mods, such as performance mods, graphics mods, and tweaks. I don’t have a lot to say about them, so I’ll just refer you to GophersVids NV Mod Clinic (updated for the Ultimate Edition), which should be your first destination when modding New Vegas. He explains how to mod your game and highlights some excellent and essential mods. 

    (Read the full entry)

    GW2 Beta Impressions

    Wednesday, May 2, 2012

    So this weekend was the first public beta for Guild Wars 2, a game I may or may not be totally obsessed with. The content available to beta players, while not even close to what the full game will offer, was vast. There was so much to do; I stuck to PvE mostly, so there’s plenty I missed out on. But what I did play, I loved (with small exceptions of course). So, as I suffer from beta withdrawal this week, here’s my laundry list of lasting impressions from the weekend.

    Combat

    My plan was to play the race and profession I was least interested in: a norn ranger. I figured I should hold off on my favorites until release, and that playing something I wasn’t already sold on would help me test better for the beta. However, I couldn’t resist trying out the professions I’d been dying to play after reading the wiki and playing with build calculators for so long.

    So, mesmer it was. I really wanted to see how they played with swords and pistols so I went for a duelist sort. And it was pretty tough—would have been really tough if it weren’t for the Downed State letting me continue playing, because I went down a lot. But when I managed to stay up, it was thrilling. The mesmer is certainly high-risk, at least if you’re fighting close-range. Sword/pistol became my favorite weapon set: it had good damage with the Mind Slash chain and Illusionary Duelist, but it really shined when it came to the actual dueling. Blurred Frenzy and Trick Shot were great ways of avoiding damage and my fights tended toward either not getting hit much at all, or eating dirt. High risk, lots of fun.

    The other profession I couldn’t wait to try was elementalist, specifically dual-dagger air magic (I also tried necromancer and stuck to close-range—I’m really excited that GW2 has casters with blades okay?!). This was more straightforward than the mesmer and I stayed alive pretty easily while snapping my Lightning Whips back and forth, which has such a neat visual effect. The offhand dagger skills offered some means of control and escape, at which point I would switch to water daggers when things got rough.

    This was a big difference in the playstyles of the mesmer and elementalist, since the elementalist can’t switch weapons during a fight, only attunements. Swapping weapons as a mesmer meant I would leave the frontlines and use a staff from the back, controlling and debilitating foes. Switching from air daggers to water daggers allowed more range from the water skills, but I didn’t need to change my strategy all that much. The downside of this was feeling more constrained and less able to shift roles and adapt to a fight; ArenaNet’s goal is to make adaptability and versatility the core of combat, I believe, and the elementalist fell short here.

    However, allowing the elementalist to swap weapons would give them access to 20 more weapon skills (5 per attunement per weapon), giving them a disproportionally large pool (compared to the 10 weapon skills available to other professions in a single fight). So while they have more weapon skills as it stands (20 compared to others’ 10), at times they felt less versatile.

    Story

    Going into PvE, my plan was to experience as much Personal Story as I could and to explore the major cities. I ended up spending most of my time exploring the areas around the cities, doing Hearts and Dynamic Events.

    I did get some Personal Story done though: human/commoner/unknown parents and charr/blood legion/honorless gladium. They had their moments, the most memorable of which was in the human commoner storyline: the orphanage/hospital situation that ArenaNet has frequently used as an example for how their Personal Story works. It was very well written and did not hold back on making you feel the consequences of your decision. It was pretty heavy.

    For me, the Personal Story is a bonus if it works well, but is no great loss if it fails to move me. The real story is in the environment and events—the gameplay. That is the greatest thing about Guild Wars 2, the detail and character built into your surroundings that you experience by playing, not by watching cutscenes. As you explore an area, such as Queensdale, the map is filled with icons and indicators of landmarks and goals, almost to the point of being overwhelming. But as you explore, the Renown Hearts reach out to you first, giving you a quick rundown of who and what is in your immediate area and what you can do there. Working at the Hearts’ tasks leads to Events, which give even more character to your surroundings. Simply being a part of something that happened at any place tied me to the landscape, made me a part of it, and made me want to know it more.

    I did manage to explore the four major cities, and Lion’s Arch was easily the highlight of the weekend. I took a couple videos of Lion’s Arch’s most popular landmark, the diving board, even finding a nice place to watch divers from a distance.

    Gender and Race

    Finally, this was my first chance to see how gender and race fares in the game. After all, the debates I addressed in my article “You’re All Sexist Mother Fuckers and I’m Taking Away Your Sexy Pixels Forever” were usually based on images used to promote the game. While I wasn’t expecting GW2 to be perfect, I wasn’t prepared for how poorly women and people of color are represented in the design of the game’s humans and norn. The preset faces are all variations on the same Caucasian facial structure, the women are absurdly disproportionate, and the starter light armor for female characters is ridiculously skimpy.

    I’m not going to go into it in depth here, not yet. At this stage of development, this discussion feels more appropriate for the beta forums, which is ArenaNet’s chosen way of hearing feedback from their players.

    That said, the weekend was a blast and I’m more excited than ever for this game!