Tuesday, January 1, 2019

The Best Games I Played in 2018


Hey hey folks, Dave here. Well, another year has come and gone, and boy were there a lot of excellent videogames to play. 2018 was the year when my laptop finally let me know that it wouldn’t always be able to run the latest AAA games, but there were plenty of other more playable experiences to be had. As usual, I went back in time to play games I’ve always wanted to, and the majority of my impressions videos on the channel in 2018 were indie titles. I know my PC can run those.

I’ve picked 8 games out of the impressions and critique videos from the last year. 3 of the games were released in 2018, one was ported to PC this year, and the rest are from years passed. Since the majority of these games are from my impressions videos, it’s not the complete game that caused me to put it on this list, but the joy I experienced in the short time I spent with it. Its potential to delight me in the future when I return to complete it. You might see some of these games in one of my future best of year videos. As always, the games are in alphabetical order, so let’s get to it!


Demon’s Souls

This is the only game on the list that I played through for a critique. It’s the only Souls game I have completed, and I am happy that I put in the time and effort to do so. What makes Demon’s Souls special is what I imagine makes all of the souls games special. That they instill a sense of perseverance and learning from one’s mistakes in the player. That no challenge is insurmountable, and given enough time and effort, anything can be accomplished. Playing a magic user, I learned to love the benefits of ranged and melee combat on top of the overpowered nature of spells, endearing me to the game more strongly than it might have if I just played a pure melee class. I look forward to returning to Demon’s Souls in the future, as well as playing the other Souls games for this channel in the coming years.


Dustforce

Dustforce was my first impressions video of 2018. It started off the year in the best possible way. What makes Dustforce special is that aside from the novel concept of a platformer based around cleaning, the game is a purely mechanics driven platforming marvel, and the player improves and adapts to its quirks as more time is spent with it. As I progressed through Dustforce, I definitely became more confident, learning new tricks and techniques that aided me in returning to earlier levels to achieve those coveted SS ranks. Even though the game has time based leaderboards, speed can be your enemy. Most of my failures were caused by panic. Executing every move with deliberation and precision steered me right. Speed resulted as a consequence.


Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance

I only got to play the first level of Metal Gear Rising for impressions, but what a memorable first level that was. There’s a fluidity to Raiden’s movement and animation that makes controlling his actions feel amazing. You know the feeling that even though the character on the screen is doing ridiculous things that should break immersion, they feel like an extension of the controller you’re holding? That’s how it struck me. Throw in the ability to chop enemies or anything else into confetti, combined with the standard ridiculous but compelling Metal Gear plot, and you have an action game that I can’t wait to return to. I hear the themes of the game are quite prescient to the times we find ourselves in as well.


Planescape: Torment

Planescape: Torment is regarded as one of the best videogames ever written. One of the things I love most about videogames is the stories they can tell, so I definitely want to see this one through to the end to find out if I can see where such praise is coming from. I think what I liked the best about my time with Planescape is how inventive it can be because it relies so much on text. The planes are a place where anything seems possible, and while I’m sure the majority of my time with The Nameless One will be disturbing and more than a little heartbreaking, if my time with it has been any indication, I look forward to experiencing this tale of immortality in its entirety.


Return of the Obra Dinn

Speaking of disturbing. Return of the Obra Dinn is a game where you use a magic pocket watch to transport yourself to the instant where the crew of the Obra Dinn met their often grisly demise. Rendered in a green monochrome reminiscent of the original Apple computers, the level of intricate narrative weaving that creator Lucas Pope would have had to gone through to make all these stories and their clues link together is remarkable. I have no plans to continue my playthrough, but I applaud the game’s originality and the excellence of its execution.


The Missing: J J Macfield and the Island of Memories

I love the games of Swery. They’re not always the most polished or technically sound, but they have a lot of charm, and I always find myself attached to the characters that inhabit these strange worlds. The Missing is no different. I spent my impressions video talking around the games’ main mechanic because I didn’t want to spoil the scene that kick starts JJ's journey. I’ve been playing this one through with a friend, and we’ve been mostly enjoying ourselves. It’s not exactly a lighthearted adventure, but it does have its moments. I’m looking forward to being able to share my thoughts on the game with you fine folks in the future.


Wandersong

I had the biggest smile on my face while playing Wandersong. Its cute cardboard cutout art combined with musical mechanics makes for a delightful time. Despite the whimsical tone, what I played is not all sunshine and rainbows, and I think the game is foreshadowing some rougher emotional moments. I look forward to seeing how these tones balance themselves out, and if the joy of the game ends up feeling all the stronger because you can’t have highs without equal lows. Wandersong is what I’m looking forward to playing the most out of everything on this list.


Yakuza 0

Speaking of balancing tone, we come to the final game, Yakuza 0. Every story beat is full of dramatic conflict and tension. I always wanted to see what happened next as the stakes for Kiryu kept rising. I wanted to keep punching my way to the next cutscene. The violence and loyalty of Kiryu shifts once Kamurocho opens up, the player engaging in side stories where Kiryu helps the citizens of this small slice of Japanese nightlife. I want to see this crime drama through to its conclusion. Even though my laptop is not up to the task of running the game smoothly, I can’t wait to start pummelling hooligans, and singing karaoke again.


And that’s another list for another year. Links to all the videos I made on these games in 2018 are below in the description. Now it’s your turn. I’d love to hear what games you enjoyed playing the most in 2018. They don’t have to be from 2018, and you don’t have to have finished them. I just want to know the gaming experiences that were the most memorable for you. I might find some new games to add to my ever growing list of doom. Let me know in the comments. I hope you all had a great 2018, and that you have plans to make 2019 your best year yet. Let’s be all we can be. I look forward to all the wonderful new experiences on the horizon for this year, inside and outside of videogames. Happy new year everybody, and I hope you’ve all been having a wonderful day, and aren’t too hungover to enjoy the rest of it.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

What makes Dawn of War a memorable real time strategy experience?



Hey hey folks, and welcome to my critique of Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War. Just a friendly reminder that if you haven’t completed the game, there will be spoilers in this video. If you wish to avoid them, please press pause, and go play the game before returning. For everyone else, let’s continue.

Earlier in the year I made an impressions video on Dawn of War 3. In it I lamented the shift away from cover and how the focus of combat now revolved around hero units instead of squads. This was based on my memories of Dawn of War, which I hadn’t played for years. I thought that it might be a good idea to return to the 2004 real time strategy game to see whether my memories were tinted by nostalgia, and if not, what about Dawn of War’s design makes it such a memorable and fun to play real time strategy experience? That’s what this video is here to find out.

I’m going to start with some of my early thoughts while playing and how they may have changed by the final mission. In the first couple of missions I questioned whether or not I should build to the player cap. Dawn of War has a limit on how many units and vehicles you can create at one time, resulting in choices that have to be made as stronger units will take up more unit slots. In the final mission, I was cursing my unit cap as I could only afford one terminator squad. I thought about sending my scouts into the enemy base to sacrifice themselves and free up some slots, but without them hidden on the outskirts of the base, how was I going to use the Orbital Relay to launch them in? I’ll bring this up later, but it’s funny how I thought my solution to many levels was to just brute force my way through with unit numbers, while the unit and vehicle cap actually makes Dawn of War different than many of its contemporaries. In those games, as long as you have the resources, you can create as many units as you like.

There’s a lot of waiting in most real time strategy games. In the early levels I thought that perhaps waiting was tied to the core of the genre, and maybe that’s one reason it’s fallen out of favour. While you can’t fully remove the waiting around for things to happen (such as crafting units and buildings), in the last few missions, I made the choice to be more proactive. If I have to wait around, I might as well be doing something, right? I used my scouts to scope out the map, including all the strategic points, which I would send marine squads to capture. Hey, I might as well gain more resources and establish a presence over as much of the map as I possibly can. There’s a quote attributed to one of the designers of Civilization 4. “Fun is meaningful choices divided by time”. I wondered if an RTS is truly meant to be about consistent meaningful choices. Is any game? Without downtime, a consistent barrage of meaningful decisions would become exhausting. It would be like playing a Michael Bay movie. Plus the concept seems to go against how an RTS is played, or perhaps at least how I play one.

I think there are two main RTS playstyles, and it’s not a case of one or the other. Both are needed. It’s just that some players lean more heavily towards one in particular. I call them “Prepare & Execute”, and “Keep Pushing Forward”. Prepare & Execute is building up a base, building up an army, and then sending the army towards the enemy. Maybe you’ll scout ahead and find the best entry point. Maybe you’ll break up your army into separate pieces and attack different areas all at the same time. However you approach it, it’s essentially playing defensively until you’re ready to go on the offensive. Keep Pushing Forward is the opposite. Don’t just scout ahead, send the squads you would be defending with out into the world. Capture every strategic point you come across, keep testing the enemy’s defenses when you find their base, and build as many new bases as you need to, so your new units don’t have far to travel. I am definitely in the Prepare & Execute camp. So much so, that to me, the joy of the game has always been to craft the right combination of units, vehicles, and weapon upgrades before clicking attack-move on the enemy and seeing what happens. A “set it and forget it” mentality. As I became more confident, playing mission after mission, I found myself edging towards Keep Pushing Forward. It’s at least something to do while waiting.

With this talk of squads and weapon loadouts, let’s examine some of what I feel are the core attributes of Dawn of War. Squads, reinforcements, and cover. I’ve mentioned the right combination of weapon loadout. Each space marine squad can enhance itself with up to 4 advanced weapons. A flamer, a heavy bolter, a plasma gun, and a missile launcher. Do you create different squads with different loadouts, placing them where you think they’ll have the greatest effect? Will you make one of everything, or will you find the right balance for all situations. About halfway through the game I found that a heavy bolter, a plasma gun, and two missile launchers worked wonders. The missile launchers are a must for dealing with buildings and vehicles, the heavy bolter is great for suppressive fire and long range attack, and the plasma gun packs a greater punch and can be used on the move. Terminator squads, Scout units and most vehicles have advanced weapon choices as well. These choices along with the selection of units can favour the personality of an individual playstyle, but we’ll discuss that later.

Another element of the squad is that of morale. If a squad is on the front lines getting wailed on, it’s not going to take long for their morale to break. If there’s a sergeant in the squad, or one of the leader units is attached, the squad will gain morale boosts and if they’re near their breaking point, the rally ability can be used to raise morale and keep them fighting. This runs alongside reinforcement. If a squad is in a situation where their morale is being tested, chances are that squad is losing units. By clicking the reinforcement button, new units can be added back to the squad so they can keep fighting until they win, until their morale breaks and they scatter, or until they’re decimated. This plays into the honour of the Space Marines, and how retreat is a dirty word. Although to tell a secret, I would sometimes pull a squad back and let others take punishment while the original squad bolstered its numbers again. Shh.

We now come to the importance of cover. This is an area where my memory deceived me. Cover is important. A defending squad in heavy cover can hold out against great odds, but my memories of advancing troops hopping from crater to crater and ruin to ruin couldn’t be further from the truth. The majority of my fights were out in the open. If cover aided me on my way, great, but once again, army composition and weapon loadout were the deciding factors. Perhaps it’s best to say it’s not that cover didn’t play a great part in my victories and defeats, but that I didn’t notice it as I was playing. I think I understand why in Dawn of War 3, cover is a zone you capture and hold. It’s trying to treat the mechanic as something more important instead of incidental, but even though cover didn’t play as great a role in Dawn of War as I remember it, I prefer the idea of the map itself providing benefit and detriment to the player depending on where they are and where they choose to fight.

Each mission in Dawn of War follows the same formula. I always started on the back foot. Whether it was a lack of resources, the base not being in a great location, or an Eldar farseer harassing my growth, the most exciting and turbulent part of the game was always in these opening moments before the base had been completed. Since I played in a prepare and execute manner, once the base was up, and I was well fortified, I would start building the army that would crush the opposition. Then I would crush the opposition, ending the level in a place of gleeful power. The campaign only had me playing as the Space Marines, while in skirmish and multiplayer there are 3 other races to pick from. There are definitely pros and cons to this. The con is that I would have loved to have played as one of the other races, specifically the Eldar, as their use of warp gates to hop around the level intrigued me. The pro is that you become very familiar with the Space Marines build order, and which upgrades are necessary. Learning what is crucial and what can wait until you’re solvent is very important in those early stages when resources are low.

When discussing weapon loadout, I talked about the ability for a player to express their individual personality. How perhaps based on the player, weapon loadouts and army composition can be radically different. I don’t think this will effect build order too much, as certain buildings do need to be built to upgrade and access the next tier, but it could have an effect on what upgrades a player prioritises. For example, aside from the missions that they were necessary in, I never built an Assault Marine Squad, a Whirlwind, or a Land Raider. Perhaps if I had played longer, I might have found uses for these units, but while I grew to love late game units like Terminators and Predators, working them into my army composition, I saw no need to understand how those other units would benefit me. How different might the approach of another player be? Would these units feature prominently in their army? Is this only a campaign question? My thoughts are that the best players have found optimal army composition and weapon loadout strategies for situations they might face, so this aspect of player personality doesn’t matter at all for multiplayer. Instead I think multiplayer might rely on the best plan, with the match going to the player who can most easily adapt and counter their opponents’ plan. This is why I was wondering if I was brute forcing single player, despite the unit and vehicle caps.

I set out to discover what made Dawn of War fun and memorable to play. We covered caps that limit the ability to swarm the field with units, different playstyles revolving around defense and offense, and what I felt are the core attributes of the game: squads, reinforcements, and cover. While cover didn’t play as great a role as I remember, the squad, its weapon loadout and managing morale while reinforcing lost units made me think about using squads to express oneself while playing. While outside of class choice in skirmish or multiplayer I don’t think that’s entirely true (but am happy to be proven wrong). Only the single class approach of the campaign seems to allow for experimentation. Dawn of War distinguishes itself in the RTS genre with the creation of strategic resource nodes, and squad based gameplay, and while Relic would refine a lot of these ideas to greater effect in Company of Heroes, it’s fitting that these concepts should begin in a universe based on perpetual warfare.

Thanks for watching. What are some of your thoughts and experiences with Dawn of War? Do you have any response to anything I said in the video? I’d love to hear from you all in the comments. If you’d like to help the channel and show me some love, please like the video, share with your friends, and subscribe if you haven’t already. Until next time, I hope you’re all having a wonderful day.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Dave Critiques: Doki Doki Literature Club - The horror of thinking you have power



Hey hey folks, and welcome to my critique of Doki Doki Literature Club. Just a friendly reminder that if you haven’t completed the game, there might be spoilers in this video. If you wish to avoid them, please press pause, and go play the game before returning. For everyone else, let’s continue.

The idea of the dating sim is kind of gross. In Doki Doki Literature Club you can tailor the poems you write towards the girl you have an interest in, and are rewarded with scenes of the two of you becoming closer. As the game continues, and the horror of the situation reveals itself, that gross feeling is turned up a few notches as the needs of these characters towards you as the player becomes disturbing. Sayori has lived with crippling depression and hates herself, Natsuki does whatever she can to escape her abusive father, and Yuri cuts herself for pleasure and spends too much time in her own head. Spending time with the player is a healing salve, or at least it’s supposed to be. Their increased attachement to the player has disastrous effect. The point is that if this was a standard dating sim after finding out about the darker aspects of their nature, I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t be able to choose just one, knowing that I’m not able to help the others. I guess you can’t save everyone, but that was definitely on my mind as I played, especially during the ending.

The ending when you finally get rid of Monika. The game resets without her. Sayori seems happy, Natsuki and Yuri start to form a friendship, and the game is wrapping up. It doesn’t seem like any of them actually need the player at all anymore. I felt happy that they were happy and that the game would end amicably. Then Sayori faces you alone. She knows all that’s happened. She knows about Monika and all the horrors that she put everyone through. What’s more, she wants to keep you all to herself just like Monika did. Funnily enough, it’s Monika that stops this nonsense. She’s cured of whatever malevolence possessed her before you forcibly removed her file from the game directory. Sayori is cursed with it now. Before deciding to delete the entire game, Monika says that “the literature club could not bring happiness”. This caused me to think that it was the club itself that was the corruption. That the president of the club was affected by its malice. Which of course lead me to think if the club was a stand-in for the game, and for the idea of dating sims in general. These games can’t bring happiness, and the only way for any of the characters to truly escape this hell is to never have existed in the first place.

Non-existence doesn’t seem to matter. If Monika is deleting the girls, how did they show up after you delete Monika, and how did Monika return herself? In that last scene before having to delete her file to move forward, she talks about how she’s always been aware of her sentience, even on the game’s download page. This suggests that Monika is more than just a character in the game, unless of course the others are aware and just choose to ignore it. Sayori surely knows what’s up at the end, and perhaps this lends credence to the game itself being a malevolent force. Another point is if Monika is sentient, if she has known exactly what she is from the beginning, if she’s been behind all the glitches, if she truly amped up the negative personalities of the other girls in order to be alone with the player, and if she’s so special, why is she a file in a folder marked ‘characters’, easily deletable like all the others?

After rescuing you from Sayori, Monika speaks to you. She sings you a song as the credits roll, deleting all the pictures that appear, and deleting the framework that makes the game possible. To replay the game, you have to re-download it. It feels like in the fiction of the game, everything played out exactly as it was supposed to. Monika’s sentience was just another game construct. It’s just the game making her think she had control. She was as vulnerable as the others. In Doki Doki Literature Club, like most dating sims, every girl is in love with the player and we get to choose which one’s affections to validate. These characters can’t choose to not be in love with the player. This is all they can be. Monika for all her supposed free will is also in love with the player, and her actions are all justified in order to get you alone together. The game is cruel however. The player cannot write a poem for Monika. The main idea of the game is that in a dating sim, you’re choosing the girl, but what if there was a girl who chose you? Taking this idea further, what if the game was set up in a way that this girl wasn’t a possible choice for the player, and what if the game let her know that, before giving her power? While Doki Doki Literature Club could easily be a condemnation of playing this type of game, the player is not at fault for not choosing Monika. The game is, and that it let her think she had free will, I find that all the more horrifying.

Thanks for watching. How did you feel about Doki Doki Literature Club? What are your theories as to what’s going on? Do you blame Monika? Do you think there’s something else at play here? Let me know in the comments. As always if you enjoyed the video please show your love with a like, a share, and subscribing if you haven't already, and I hope you’re all having a wonderful day.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Dave Critiques: Tales of Berseria - What it means to play a game that plays itself



Hey hey folks, and welcome to my critique of Tales of Berseria. Just a friendly reminder that if you haven’t completed the game, there might be spoilers in this video. If you wish to avoid them, please press pause, and go play the game before returning. For everyone else, let’s continue.

Near the end of Tales of Berseria, Velvet, the main character utters the line “My heart is ugly and full of contradictions”. This is the culmination of her character arc. What started the game as vengeance against Artorious for what happened to her and her brother devolves into more doubt and despair as her actions keep hurting people. As callous as she appears, this is taking a toll on her, and in showing that her quest was all for nothing because her brother willingly sacrificed himself, Innominat, one of the Gods of the world, hopes to drive her despair high enough to be able to feed on it and resurrect, robbing humanity of emotion and thus eradicating all suffering. Velvet’s path of vengeance is not one a hero would take, and it wasn’t until late in the game that it dawned on me that she wouldn’t have a happy ending because it would feel wrong to reward such a character for their actions even if they end up saving the world in the process.

Innominat’s plan, robbing humanity of free will, and Velvet being called The Lord of Calamity, plays into an observation I’ve had about Japanese role playing games for some time. They always seem to boil down to a battle between order and chaos. A band of heroes fighting a God who wants to control humanity for their own good. It’s a fight for free will. When Velvet utters that line about her heart being ugly and full of contradictions, she’s come to realise that the ability to follow her path, no matter the consequences is what makes her human, and that’s not cause for despair. It’s not that she’s ok with all the people she’s hurt in her quest for vengeance, but she acknowledges the full breadth of her emotions. This allows Velvet to grow and us as players to want to follow her story to its conclusion.

The phrase “ugly and full of contradictions”, and the theme of control versus free will are wonderful metaphors for what I wish to talk about in this critique, and that is Tales of Berseria’s battle system. A quick overview is required before I discuss it in more abstract terms. It’s a button masher. The four face buttons of the controller are linked to four separate four-move combos that the player can construct themselves or allow the CPU to craft. The A button’s combo by default is titled ‘you decide’ and pressing it will execute any attack that the CPU thinks is relevant based on your distance from an enemy, and whether or not there are multiple enemies around it. Each move has a cost to perform, and this is what the star gauge in the bottom left corner of the screen is for. At this point we have 4-hit combos that can be cycled through continually as long as we have the resources to execute them. Often killing an enemy will refill your star gauge and add another star onto it. If you want to kick things into a higher gear, that’s where Velvet’s consuming claw comes in.

By entering claw mode, Velvet’s combos no longer cap out at 4. You can button mash indefinitely. Kind of. To stop you staying in this overpowered mode, a couple of things happen. First, your health starts dropping. Slowly to begin, but the longer you stay in this mode, the faster it will drop. You can unleash the claw to regain health, but each use of it will remove one star gauge. If your health reaches 0 or you use up all your star gauges without recovery, Velvet will perform a specialised final attack before reverting to normal mode with only 1 health. At this point you can either sub out Velvet for another party member, use a healing item, or run away from the enemies and wait for a healing spell to be cast. As you might imagine, one of the tricks to performing well in combat is knowing when to enter and exit Velvet’s claw mode, and making decisions based on where your health and star gauge are at all times. Even with this understanding, there’s still a lot of button mashing, and I feel like I have little control over what Velvet is actually doing.

Which is the perfect segueway for talking about auto mode. You can set the AI for your party, how they act in certain situations, and then turn over to auto and watch the computer play through the battles for you. By default the game is set to semi-auto. This means that when you press the attack button, your character will get in range before executing the attack. In manual mode, you have to make sure you’re in range. Early on there was a joy in letting the CPU control Velvet every now and then. Many of the moves look flashy, and watching the computer chain them together, entering and exiting claw mode with ease was exhilarating. I think I started to understand how claw mode worked thanks to watching the CPU. After a while though I did begin to wonder what it means to play a video game that plays itself.

In my impressions video I talked about loving the characters and the motivation of Velvet. That held true until the credits. For me, the gameplay was the least enjoyable aspect of the game, and the combat the least enjoyable aspect of the gameplay. I would go through phases, often during a single play session, where I’d be playing the battles and thinking to myself, “there’s no reason for me to control this” and then after a while of letting the computer take over I’d say, “I want to play now. I want to feel like I’m actually doing something”. I think the combat was getting in the way of the story and the characters. Now an easy criticism to make of my feelings is why not just watch a Let’s Play if I’m only there for the story? I’ve talked before about how I feel that there’s a magic in playing a video game that watching it cannot capture. How even cutscenes are more impactful with controller in hand. I still feel this way. Also, I thought that if I had to watch someone else play through thousands of battles, I may as well be in control myself, even if I’m not.

Let’s unpack this thought of “there’s no reason for me to control this” while playing. Auto mode is deceptive. I talked before about combos. Even if you tap different face buttons, your combo will continue, jumping to that button’s combo until you stop attacking and the combo resets. In auto mode, the CPU would often pull off multiple first or second tier combo moves in a row. It would access moves that are flashy and perfect for the situation. Moves that I would never see hitting the ‘You Decide’ button while playing through the fights. I wondered if there was a difference between button mashing combos that the CPU chooses, and letting the CPU control combat in its entirety. It just doesn’t feel like I have any semblance of control, even in semi-auto mode. Maybe it’s because I’ve played Demon’s Souls where each attack is purposeful and measured, and I’ve played Bayonetta where the difference between button mashing and using the right move at the right time is in player understanding. Those games give you full control over what you do and when you do it. A player can set up their own combos and execute them at the right time in manual mode, but nothing about the way the game teaches the player the combat system facilitates this style of play. It tells the player “Yeah, there is a level of intricate setup and execution that can happen, but why would you want to do that? Just sit back and let us take care of everything. Enjoy the story”.

Returning to that idea of control versus free will. I think I’ve laid out that even while in control during battle, I felt that it was only superficial. It was about when to give the character I was controlling orders than actually executing attacks in real time. As I spent most of the game with Velvet, the only time I got to control any of the other characters was when she was forced out of claw mode, and I swapped her out to heal. Each character has their own quirks and special moves. I enjoyed how brutal Eizen’s punches were and Rokurou’s sword combos. Even Magilou’s bouncy magic was fun to see in action. I think I’d love to play a turn based version just so I would have control over each character, enjoying the whole party in combat as much as I enjoyed their dialogue during vignettes. Saying that though, there is also a joy in letting your party members run around and attack with their own autonomy, and it would be hypocritical of me to complain about how the game takes away a chunk of my free will and then hypothosize about doing the same to everyone else in my party.

Wrapping up, I think that the point I’m trying to make is ugly and full of contradictions. I can’t square my feelings about constantly wanting more control in the battle system, and then wanting to give it up by letting the CPU take over. Maybe I did myself a disservice not programming my own combos and executing them in manual mode. I’m reminded of FOOS, which stands for first order optimal strategies. The general idea is that once a player discovers a strategy that works, even if that strategy is boring, they will prefer it over experimenting with what might be more complex and rewarding game systems. Why? Because humans will always take the easiest option if it works. Over thousands of battles my optimal strategy was to let the CPU take over, and when that got boring, I let the CPU decide what attack I was going to use. Earlier I asked what it means to play a video game that plays itself. It either means having the player give up control is the optimal strategy, the gameplay is not engaging enough, its complexities are not taught well, these complexities are not needed to complete the game, or the gameplay was never the focus in the first place. In Tales of Berseria, these are all valid answers.

Thanks for watching. This is my first completed Tales game. I read they overhauled the combat system for this one, so fans of the series, I’d be interested to hear your thoughts in the comments, not only on how the combat may be different in other games, but your take on my experience with Berseria. If you enjoyed the video, please press the like button, share with your friends, and subscribe to the channel for more critiques, and I hope you’re all having a wonderful day.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Why Bit.Trip Presents: Runner 2 Future Legend of Rhythm Alien is one of my favourite games



Hey hey folks, and welcome to episode 8 of Dave’s Favourite Games. This time around, Bit.Trip Presents: Runner 2. Future Legend of Rhythm Alien. I’m just going to call it Runner 2 from this point forward. Before we get to the game, I want to quickly talk about the Dave’s Favourite Games series. It doesn’t feel like it has its own identity yet and over the last year, I’ve felt it’s morphed into Dave’s Critiques but with games I love. Moving forward, the series will still cover games I love, but will focus on just what I love about them, instead of being critical of their faults. This is a place to celebrate the games covered. I’ll do my best not to spoil too much for those who haven’t played the game, in the hopes that they might want to play it for themselves. Ok, let’s continue.

One reason I looked forward to 2018 is that my 5 year rule would end for Runner 2. If you’ve watched my episode on Flower, you might remember that I feel a period of 5 years has to pass before any game can get on my favourites list. It has to withstand the test of time. I have thought about and replayed Runner 2 a few times since its release in 2013. Not only is it now eligible for me to make a video on it, but the timing couldn’t be better seeing that Runner 3 is released on May 22nd (if there are no delays).

Seeing that I’m trying to focus only on the positives, Runner 2 is a wonderful game for this approach. It has a goofy irreverence. There is a dedicated dance button to use as your character runs through the stage, increasing your score. Each character has different dance moves, and the characters include an upright pickle and a Hamburger with limbs in a disco suit. He’s my favourite. His name is Whetfart Cheeseborger. Many levels contain treasure chests that unlock costumes. Want to see Commandgirl Video in 80s gear? Captain Video in his nancy blueboy suit? Commander Video as Little Mac? There’s some wonderful costumes, and the final unlock is spectacular. Don’t worry, I won’t ruin it for you. Oh and the narrator is Charles Martinet, the voice of Mario. I didn’t need to look him up in the credits either. He lets you know.

Before I get too carried away, it’s probably best that I explain how the game works. Runner 2, like Bit.Trip Runner before it, is a rhythmic platformer. The levels start with a simple tune. Each stage has these pulsing red blocks that add to the complexity of the music when collected, but most importantly, all the obstacles are timed to this rhythm. As you jump, slide, kick, deflect and bounce, your actions create a musical soundscape, and if you’ve collected every piece of gold, the stage will culminate in firing a cannon into a target for extra points. It sounds a little odd, so what I’m going to do is show you an early level start to finish to demonstrate how things work.

Looks great huh. Another aspect I love is that most of the game is a player motivated challenge that feels essential to the core idea of what the game actually is. You don’t have to unlock Commander Video’s friends and their costumes, but it feels like you’re going against the spirit of the game if you don’t. You don’t have to collect all the gold in each stage, but it feels like you’re going against the spirit of the game if you don’t at least try. You don’t have to select the tough paths when you have a choice in a level, but then how are you going to collect all the costumes, unlock the other stages, and feel accomplished for rising to the challenge? So much of the game is optional, but aside from the cartridge levels which I personally don’t care for, I feel that everything else is required to enjoy my playthrough. I need more friends, I need all the costumes, I need to beat every stage, and I want to try my hardest to collect all the gold in every run.

Unlike most games I play, I find that Runner 2 is effortlessly able to get me into a flow state. Each stage has its own mini-flow with an easy start, rising action, and triumphant finish. What this does is create a larger wave of riding inside the flow state. Each time I loaded up the game it took about a level to get back into the swing of things, but from that point on I was a part of the game. I was able to know exactly what button to press and when, not only from the visuals of the incoming obstacles, not only from their place in the sound landscape, but from my own intuition. There were only a couple points in the whole game where this state was broken by my confusion about what the game wanted from me, and once this confusion was overcome, it was back to the joy of Commander Video’s adventure.

Let’s end by asking the overall question. Why is Bit.Trip Presents: Runner 2 Future Legend of Rhythm Alien one of my favourite games? Few video games give me such a feeling of joy and accomplishment as I’m playing them. Not an accomplishment that I’ve slammed myself at a difficult challenge and been able to overcome it, but an accomplishment that I’m enjoying every moment of playing a video game. That I am able to handle anything that the game is throwing at me, because the game’s design is facilitating the state I need to be in to do so. I am perpetually engaged. I also appreciate how Runner 2 knows how light and goofy it is, and it takes every opportunity to revel in this goofiness. We need more overtly positive games. Hopefully the upcoming Runner 3 can keep this trend going.

Thanks for watching. If you enjoyed this video, please like, comment, share, and subscribe, and I hope you’re having a wonderful day