Monday, July 18, 2011

Monday Musings - 18th July 2011

Wow, another week of waking up early for a Pay Per View (damn time zones), and i'm only having my first coffee now at 5pm. The horror! Let's muse!

Super Mario Galaxy 2 (Wii)

My buddy Barrett came over on Tuesday and we started up a co-op game of SMG2, passing the controller between stars while the other player killed enemies, and grabbed star bits, coins, and lives. Another session was had on Friday and we are at world 3.

I think i understand why i put this game down. Once you've experienced co-op, single player just feels kind of cold. I had the same problem with New Super Mario Bros Wii. Having a friend there to pass the controller to and share the experience with makes all the difference. I am a fan of shared experiences for single player games as well, but co-op extends this belief. Case in point, we decided to try and grab the first comet star where you have to use invincibility to kill 30 spinys in 60 seconds. We must have spent close to an hour on that. My god was it a test of platforming skill. In the end it was pulled off and we felt like champs. Without the ability to pass the controller to someone else, i don't think i would have persevered that long.

The excellent level design and variety of worlds to play around in helps a bunch too!

Sanctum (Steam)

Gifted to me by another friend who i will call Dakker as that is his game handle, i played this co-op tower defense first person shooter for the remainder of Tuesday evening. This is a well designed game here. You start the map off by building the maze you want to funnel the monsters down, you then build towers on top on the blocks (along with slow fields, and the ability to upgrade your character's weapons), then you click ready and try and survive the wave. You aid the towers by shooting the creatures yourself, and then when the wave is over, the money earned can be used to upgrade towers and weapons, or to build more defenses.

The creatures all have weak points but playing on endless, we quickly got to a point where we could defend anything the computer threw at us. It may be due to the low difficulty we were on. I shall have to see next time we play and i kick it up a notch.

Earthbound (Snes)

Got to Threed, and my party members were captured by zombies. Telepathically calling a new party member, i am now in control of Jeff, boy genius. I have worked my way through an easy dungeon created by a man who wishes to become dungeon man, and have become stuck in another dungeon. It may be FAQ time. I also got to ride a lochness monster.

It's really fun to talk about the things happening in this game as re-reading these paragraphs, it sounds a lot zanier than it feels when you're playing the game. Not to a detriment mind you. The quirky nature of the situations and the dialogue is really what is keeping me going, as the game itself is rather standard RPG fare, except for the somewhat humerous enemies.

Continuity 2 (Iphone)

I'm up to world 6 where i have stopped playing, and am unsure of whether or not i shall return. The first level of this world seems to rely on precision and quick tapping to pass it. Now perhaps i'm approaching the problem the wrong way but i am not a fan of dexterity in puzzle games. It could be my Iphone as well. It's old and swipes and touches don't always register too well.

Still, all the puzzles leading up to World 6 were great. Level 5-8 was a real brain twister for me. I stopped playing and went to have a shower (am i the only one who does their most creative thinking in the shower?). Afterwards i picked the game up again, took one look at the puzzle, exclaimed, "I'm an idiot!", and solved it. Hooray for the wonders of a fresh mind.

Amnesia: The Dark Descent (Steam)

I have a love/hate relationship with horror games. I hate them because they scare the pants off me. Seriously. Just the fact that i am controlling a protagonist in a tense setting is enough to set me on edge. I was scared playing Doom 3! Well, until i got back from hell and the game continued and then i got bored. This genre is more effective then any other in immersing me, but i don't necessarily like being scared or being always on edge when exploring a game world. This is also why i love horror games. I just don't play them often.

I bought Amnesia because of the amount of good press it received (and the glowing reviews of the studio's previous games, the Penumbra series). I finally decided to try the game Saturday night. I played for 17 minutes and i haven't been back. Let's discuss why.

In those 17 mins, the game got me right on board. The atmosphere is great, and the ideas behind the player's sanity and the game taking control away from you at certain points is amazing. Where i quit was right after the prologue. I found a diary which contained backstory (not the initial one, this was when the house opened up a little). I sat there listening to the voice actor read the text in front of me, and realised that this has broken all immersion. I'm hunted and haunted by something, this place is immensely gloomy and suddenly all is safe while i read this book. That really got to me.

Of course this also could be an excuse that i knew the game was ramping me up for danger and a good scare, and i might have concocted a design reason to bail on playing before that happened.

Both points are probably valid.

Vanquish (Ps3)

I finally decided to get around to picking up where i left off with Vanquish. I'm in the middle of Act 2 after a play session last night. I wanted to quit after Act 1 finished, but if there's one thing about Vanquish's pacing, it's that thus far there really haven't been any low moments where one feels they can stop. You keep feeling like playing on, waiting for that break in the action to collect your thoughts. Oh sure, there are sections where there is dialogue, where you're walking, we're you're scanning the landscape, but these don't really feel like breaks, or at least they didn't to me.

The game is a ball though. Once you get a handle on what you can do with the controls, and feel comfortable with the level design (which can be a tad confusing as you're careening down the landscape with your propulsion systems), you can pull off some stunts that give you plenty of, "Oh my god, that was awesome!" moments. I believe they are also known as 'memorable moments' (i like my phrasing more).

There's been a little bit of variety in gameplay, but for the most part it's a lot of fire fights with cover and the chance to do something fun (and there are bosses too). Since i've heard the game is short, this probably won't be an issue as the game keeps propelling me forward with a clear goal and the action is still enjoyable. I doubt the mechanics will wear out their welcome.

Final Thoughts

I think perhaps i need to explain myself more in regards to horror games. I enjoy watching horror movies (although i need to be in the right mood. I can't just pop one on any night of the week). I get scared during horror movies. I cover my eyes during bits, i tense up. Basically the film-maker is able to play me like a fiddle. Why do i subject myself to this? I don't really understand it fully, but i guess there must be a part of me that likes to be scared. Perhaps its seeing how some writers and directors tackle the unknown and play on our fears of safety and social norms (for instance one horror movie that still sticks with me years after watching it is 'The Mist'. The monsters were scary enough, but the true horror for me was the religious zealotry and how the humans turned on each other. Still, teeth spiders? Yeesh!).

Games take this one step further as you are controlling the poor sod who's being subjected to the horror of the game world. You can't put your fingers up in front of your face here. You have to keep a watchful eye out and play things right, otherwise you might have to subject yourself to the same horrors again. Now that's funny isn't it. Just by its nature, dying and re-living a section of a horror game dilutes the fright. You've experienced it once so just by familiarity, it is not as scary subsequent times. Still, the fear of reliving horror is very powerful, and staying alive is front and foremost in your mind as you play these games.

But staying alive is part of every game (well every game that has death in it... or has a negative consequence to death). This is why horror games are so immersive. It's not just trying again with a new life or continue as Mario, or going back to the last checkpoint in Call of Duty. There's something more here. Surviving is in the mechanics of most video games, yet in the horror (and especially the survival-horror) genre, survival seems to be everything. It's like our ability to reload and retry has been forgotten. Maybe it's the strange circumstances and horrific creature design. Maybe it's the sound and visuals. Whatever it is, most horror games don't feel like games, and perhaps that's why they at least freak the hell out of me.

Till next week, happy gaming all!

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