Critical Examination: There Doesn’t Need to be a Discussion About Difficulty in Gaming

I recently watched the review of Cuphead by a YouTuber that I find genuinely engaging.  I often have some disagreements with stuff or think some of his perspectives are not the best, but I am not the kind of person who has to agree with everything someone says to like their content.  Contrary to popular opinion, not all of us critics of the regressive left are as bad as the people we criticize.  Some of us actually can deal with disagreement and even have some genuinely lively banter on the subject.  This particular YouTuber and I have actually had very lively debate in the comments section of my own posts where I reference their work.  As a way of helping promote this individual, here is a link to their review of Cuphead, now let’s get to the point.

In the video, he says that there is a genuine discussion that should be had about difficulty in gaming.  This talking point has come about after a frankly hilarious video of a game journalist being oddly incapable of dealing with the tutorial level had this person getting well-deserved ridicule.  There was a guy who is very physically handicapped making a video showing his ability to play the game well.  I’m sorry, but he fucked up, and there’s nothing wrong with making fun of the video that was put out and his butthurt reaction to it.  There is especially nothing wrong with ridiculing video game journalists for standing up for being bad at games when this is their line of work.

The aforementioned YouTuber said difficulty vs accessibility in games is a worthwhile discussion.  I am here to respectfully disagree.  Now let me make something clear – I’m not talking about this when it comes to video games that are virtually unplayable.  If a game has a stupid difficulty spike that makes things unfair, that is something worth calling out.  I’m talking about games that make very clear the fact that they are hard and you should be expecting that.

Best example – Dark Souls, but instead of looking at that (because I never got into the franchise), let’s take a look at a game in the same vein that I happen to love – BloodborneBloodborne is hard.  Really hard.  This game will fuck you up.  Dark Souls is a game where you are encouraged to play defensively and wait for openings to attack.  Bloodborne is nothing like that.  Playing defensively will get you killed.  The reality is that it is a game where you are actively encouraged to take risks.  Did you just take a really bad hit?  Well, if you have the guts and fast timing, you can get back into the fight and regain some of the health if you do it quickly.  You got a limited window, idiot!  So get in there and fight!  That style of gameplay is not accessible to everyone.  Plus, the fact that the game demands that style of play also means that you are going to be putting you fate in the hands of blind luck more than you’d like.

But here’s the thing – the players of this game know this.  They accept this.  It’s an understood risk of playing this game.  Because that’s the kind of game that From Software makes.  It’s in the vein of a franchise that was marketed specifically on it being really, really hard.  The original poster for Dark Souls had the line “Prepare to Die” on it.  Players went in with both eyes wide open.  Uncompromising difficulty.  But here’s the thing – you can learn how to work with that.  You learn the placement of the enemies, and the weaknesses of bosses.  Then you put that knowledge to use and fight your ass off.  A little luck will sometimes be required, but you will learn by trial and error.  Lots, and lots of error.

At what point does a game that is difficult become inaccessible?  When it doesn’t appeal to the casual?  Games that market themselves on difficulty are by their nature going to be niche.  Despite the mainstream success of Dark Souls and Bloodborne, they are games made for a certain type of gamer and they know that.  They aren’t the only ones.  Look at Devil May Cry 3 as another example.  That game’s difficulty is downright punishing at points.  The final fight with Vergil requires nerves of steel and a little bit of genuine luck to overcome.  But players understood this.  No one was saying back in the day that we needed to have an Easy mode.

The big debate seems to be that we need to make games easier so that people who don’t like difficult games can have them.  Why?  Why should a game designer compromise their creative image of a game in order to cater to people who don’t want to invest the time or energy to master the game’s mechanics?  You can become pretty badass at Bloodborne if you just learn the placement of enemies and learn how to telegraph their attacks.  I can take on giants and wolf-men early on just by being able to dodge at then strike while taking time to step back and recover energy.  It’s not that hard.  Guess who I did that – by mastering the game’s mechanics.  While the enemies get more difficult in New Game Plus, now I have the weapons I like best and can make even shorter work of my foes.  Because by now I’ve played the game long enough to have that level of mastery.

Plus, there is no way to make that game easy.  Not really.  The game’s entire mechanics are centered around the difficulty and playing well to be able to overcome that.  Everything is built around that!  Take that away and what are you left with?  A game where you wander around beautiful gothic environments and kill the occasional bad guy.  Where’s the fun there?

I’m not seeing where this idea that games need to be easier in order to cater to more people comes from.  The new Assassin’s Creed game has a kind of spectator mode where there are no enemies or threats and you can just wander around the world and look at stuff.  I mean, sure, the environments are pretty, but why not just make a game that is an open world walking simulator at that point?  I don’t even hate walking simulators on their merits.  My favorite game of 2015 was Life is Strange.  But Assassin’s Creed isn’t that type of game.  It’s the kind of game where you are supposed to be taking out targets and using stealth to infiltrate places.  All of the game’s mechanics are built around that.  Take that away and what’s left?  Nothing important, that’s what.

Here’s the thing – I get that hard games can be frustrating to people.  The uncompromising difficulty of Cuphead with its catchy art style and glorious music (sucks that I don’t have an Xbox One.  Will never get to play it unless I get a decent gaming PC) is something players have to adapt to.  But forgive me if I actually believe that players can do that, instead of having to have their hands held the whole damn time because the devs need to make a mode just so they can get in on the fun.  I can play the easy mode on Persona 5 because I love the story and I am just dying to get ahead on it without grinding for long periods of time.  But then I can crank up the difficulty on Doom and rip and tear with the vast arsenal.  But the thing is that both devs made those choices for those modes to be in it.  Can you imagine Doom with a safe mode?  That sounds boring as fuck.

Will be sending this article to the aforementioned YouTuber.  We’ll see where this goes.  What about all of you?  Thoughts about the difficulty vs accessibility in gaming?  Let me know in the Comments.

Until next time, a quote,

“It is one of man’s curious idiosyncrasies to create difficulties for the pleasure of solving them.” – Joseph de Maistre

Peace out,



Critical Examination: The Real Villains of ‘Beauty and the Beast’

I am of course talking about the animated version, not that live action abortion that showed that not only can Emma Watson not act, but she can’t sing either.  But as I have been chilling with my girly-mate guest, we have shared in one of my favorite pastimes – over-analyzing media that we watch.  In this case, it’s a classic Disney film that a lot of people have already over-analyzed, but I think have all been fooled.  It’s all over the Internet that the Beast is actually a horrible guy, but while he is an abusive monster, he isn’t the real villain of the story.  Nor is Gaston, who is actually the hero of the story.  More about that later.  The true villain of this film is more nefarious than you can possibly imagine.  It’s perhaps one of the darkest secrets in all of Disney, that we shall uncover now.

The True Hero

Cracked already did a video discussing this but the real hero of the story is Gaston.  Which he totally is.  The film tries to play it as he just judges the Beast because of how he looks and that’s wrong, because really the Beast is a good guy underneath it all.  Right?  Wrong!  The Beast is a monster!  His outer image has become his inner one, as he has had years of anger and hatred of the world and himself to turn his psyche into an abusive monster.  Gaston, on the other hand, is not really a bad guy.  Let’s look at some evidence.

The entire village treats Belle like she is a weirdo.  After all, she’s reading books and trying to learn things.  In that time period, for a woman to do such a thing is considered alien and they regard her very negatively.  All with one exception – Gaston.  He treats Belle like she is someone he wants to get to know and care about.  But I hear you say – he comes on WAY too strong and is kind of a dick!  Well, yeah.  But there’s a reason.  For starters, he’s kinda dumb.  But that’s nothing to hold against him.  Him being dumb isn’t his fault.  And the reason he is a dick is because he has an inflated ego.  Why?  Because he is the most valuable member of the community.  He shows that he has a vast amount of animal heads and is a very skilled hunter.  In a time when being able to kill animals and get food is a skill that can sustain a community, it makes sense that he is a celebrity.

But think about this – in the song he sings to himself, Gaston shows that there are a ton of women who are after him, but he makes clear that these are not the women he is interested in.  These hussies are just cheap lays that he gets because he can.  The woman he is actually interested in is the woman that the rest of the village treats as something of a pariah, not only because she isn’t very ladylike for the time, but because her father is kind of insane as well and it has gotten around.  So he is a little dumb and kind of boorish, but he still wants to get to know and seek the hand of a woman that no one else in the community likes.  What’s the problem there?

Why the Beast Isn’t the Villain

We’re building up to the reveal, don’t worry.  The aforementioned video by Cracked said that the Beast is the real bad guy in the film, and while I can see where they are coming from, they didn’t go deep enough in their analysis.  See, here’s the real kicker – the Beast is just a victim of his circumstance.  While he is an abusive monster (and that isn’t going to change with him becoming human again), you can track what got him here.  Years of living as an animal in a home where the only companions he had are people who are terrified of him and whom he has probably killed a few of.  After all, it’s shown that pretty much every inanimate object in the house is one of the servants, and we see Beast’s quarters filled with destroyed stuff.  So was some of that destruction servants who made him upset?  Scary to think about what will happen when the Enchantress’ magic wears off and how many mutilated corpses will be found later.

However, the truth is that of all the characters in the film, the Beast is the one with the least agency.  He is just being strung along by the plot.  Sure, he has a goal of breaking the curse placed on him, but he is just being led along by the real villain of the film.  Some of you may have seen this coming, but it’s even more diabolical than you can possibly imagine.

The Real Villain of the Film Is…

The servants.  That’s right, all the fun servant characters, who you grow to love and think are the best part of the film, are the ones who are secretly manipulating everything behind the scenes.  I can prove it, too.  Let’s get down into this.

Have you ever noticed that the servants don’t age?  The film implies that it has been years, many years, since the Enchantress did her spell.  Yet, the little teacup children are still teacup children.  At the end of the film, when the magic wears off, you see them turn back into children.  The little dog stool creature turns into a dog and it is obvious that it would be old as fuck or dead if it had been aging like a normal dog.  But one character does age in that castle – the Beast.  Beast is aging like a normal person, because even though he looks like a monster he is still flesh and blood.  Which means that his body is growing older.  And it also means that at some point he would die.  You know who wouldn’t die?  The servants.  They are now inanimate objects that only age as their parts decay.  Or if the destruction in Beast’s quarters is to be believed, when they are destroyed.  Which means that some of these now living pieces of furniture could have centuries of life to live.  Doesn’t that sound like a fresh Hell to have to suffer through?  Makes you wonder what such a potential fate would compel one to do, doesn’t it?

The servants talk in the film about how they had nearly given up hope that they would be able to escape that fate.  But then, along comes hope!  A girl who can potentially break this curse and save them from this torture existence of being objects for the rest of their potentially eternal existence.

But I hear your rebuttal – how does that show that they are the villains?  I mean, sure they got a stake in the situation but how do you postulate that they are the bad guys because of it?  I’m glad you asked.  Here’s how I know – because they know what Beast is like.  They are terrified of him.  They know what kind of monster he has become.  And while some of them like the Cogsworth may be delusional enough to buy that he will snap out of it when he turns back into a human, others like Lumiere are nowhere near that naive.  He is clearly the smartest out of them, and he knows the truth about what will happen when the Beast is given back his body.  His physical appearance will change, but his internal violence will be right where is was before.  The only difference is that now Belle will be trapped.  Trapped in a relationship with someone who is still an animal that will likely abuse her, physically and emotionally at the very least, and potentially sexually.  There is no way these servants who have had to suffer through this for years won’t have some idea about what is going to happen once all is said and done.

The thing is – they don’t care.  Why would they?  After all, if you faced the reality of living the rest of your life as a dresser, would you?  Which brings to mind another rebuttal I hear – okay, so Lumiere may be playing things to his own end.  But how do we know the others are in on it?  I have an answer to that too.  When Gaston rallies the town to go and save the woman he has feelings for, and they attack the castle, the furniture fights back.  The bureau actually leaps off a balcony and lands on a guy and crushes him.  You even see his lifeless legs after she smashes him into the floor.  That dude is dead!  She fucking killed him.  And you see the rest of the servants doing real damage to Gaston’s posse.  A threat to their freedom means that they are willing to straight-up murder people in order to ensure success.

Everything that the servants to help foster the relationship between the two of them wasn’t to help the Beast.  It was to help themselves.  When Mrs. Potts was singing that iconic song, in the back of her mind she was thinking – get with her, damn you!  I want to leave this teapot body behind!  Hell, the first thing Lumiere does after he turns back is make out with a maid.  You just know that afterwards he took her to a room and got his dick wet for the first time in who knows how many years.  And I bet you that after they are returned to their bodies, they high-tailed it out of there as fast as their legs would take them.  Given back their ability to live, why would they want to stay and watch the relationship between the two titular characters devolve into a destructive pattern of abuse?

And the best part is – they got away with it!  The servants manipulated the situation to their own ends, and they win.  They got their bodies back and condemned an innocent woman with mental problems to a life of abuse all so they could get their own bodies back.  Scary shit.  But also kind of cool.  Makes me like Lumiere as a character more, really.  From the very beginning when he started to make nice with Belle, he was planning his return to his own body because he knew that this was his last chance.  It was his ultimate gambit, and he got the entire servant body (with the possible exception of Cogsworth who was completely the Beast’s bitch) to assist him to this end.  Hell, Mrs. Potts kinds of hints to it in her part of the song.  She says that she has to make sure everything is perfect in every conceivable way for Belle, because she knows what he does too.

Kind of makes me wish that I could have seen the deleted scenes where Lumiere has the servants gathered and is talking to them about what to do next and how they were planning things.  Am I alone in that?  What do you all think?  Let me know in the Comments

Until next time, a quote,

“But that’s just a theory.  A Film Theory.” – Film Theory

Peace out,


Critical Examination: Realism vs Style

Quite recently I have been playing Persona 5, and man am I in love with this game.  This game has taken the title of best game for me quite handily.  Sony seems to be eager to come out of the gate swinging with some very polished games.  First it was Horizon: Zero Dawn, now it’s Persona 5.  And given some of the exclusives we have to look forward to in the future, I am excited to see what happens next.  The thing to know about this game is that it is DRIPPING with a style all its own.  The punk aesthetic, vibrant colors, and jazzy soundtrack all mesh so well in immersing me in this world.  I feel like each of the Palace worlds was a place that I would at least like to see once.  Style was oozing out of every pore in that game, and bless it for that.

We live in an age where it sees like every game company is looking to go more and more into the realms of realism.  Seems like there is an arms race to get past the uncanny valley of a game that looks so real that I can’t tell the difference between it and reality.  However, there are pros and cons to both sides of that.  This is something that is being lost on people.  Let’s dive into this and show these elements in respect to one-another.

Pros: Realism

When I think of games that have embraced realism so heavily, two that come to mind immediately are The Last of Us and Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End.  Both games had incredible detail put into every element.  Naughty Dog has gotten something of a pedigree for games that are insanely detailed and have characters who feel believable.  This could only be possible with effects that fight that Uncanny Valley I mentioned earlier.  I could get lost in every environment in those games.  They were visual masterpieces, which I can and do replay over and over just for how beautiful it is to go through.

There is also the element when you are looking to capture how grim something is.  A war, for example, can be brought to life much more horrifically when you bring it into the realistic space.  Fear is also more palpable.  I played the PT demo like some of you, and holy shit!  The realistic nature of that is what made it so unnerving to play.  I had the shit getting scared out of me because it felt like I was really in that hallway, with that ghost who was after me.  And fuck that telephone!  Gave me a fucking heart-attack.  It’s hard to imagine such a game being done any other way.  Although, Silent Hill 4 did the concept pretty decently, for the part of the game where you are trapped in the main character’s apartment.

Pros: Style

Style allows a game world to feel unique.  When you want to create an atmosphere in a game, it helps when you have a universe where the rules of it feel unique.  As a frame of reference, let’s take a look at Persona 5.  This game is about youthful rebellion against authoritarian rule-making.  Every element goes along with this.  The vibrant use of colors in every regard, even the menus, makes you see this aesthetic.  Like watching a punk rock music video from the 90’s, and with the jazzy soundtrack to boot.  Everything goes towards making you feel like this world is all its own.  Plus, the style helps tell the stories of the protagonists.

Another game which had a unique style to see it was Life is Strange.  While the ending to that game was bullshit, it was still pretty awesome to play.  Part of this was because the style felt like a teen comic.  While the facial animations could most definitely used a lot of work, you still get invested because these characters have personality that goes along with the soft colors and pastel look.  It’s a game which uses that aesthetic to compel you to slow down, take your time, and investigate things.

Then it can be something that assists gameplay.  Look at Mirror’s Edge for that.  The world of that game was drenched in white.  It made the colors in it stand out so you knew to pay attention to them.  Not to mention that it made the authoritarian nature of the government more apparently.  The world is white, they are always in black and blue.  Their color tells you how you should see them.  It’s not the most complicated method of story-telling, but it gets the job done.

Something that you also have to keep in mind is that style is easier to do.  Games that go for realism take longer to get right.  And in a gaming market where people are demanding games quicker (I have no idea why.  I have no problem with delays to get it right), this ends up with a TON of bugs.  Style has no such limitations.  It can be done much quicker and use a smaller budget.  Which brings me to the cons.

Cons: Realism

There is something to keep in mind when you have games shooting for that Uncanny Valley – they have a bad habit of having bugs.  A TON of bugs.  And with the rush I said before, more and more games are being shipped with bugs that the industry calls “known shippable.”  Hell, when Naughty Dog was working on Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, they found a bug in the game just three days before shipping that would have crashed the PS3 console.  Thankfully they were able to patch it in time, but you see what I mean?  Going more and more real means that if you don’t want a game to have a shit-ton of bugs, you have to devote more and more time to it.  For me, that’s fine.  I wish more developers would take the time to hold back and get it right.  If anything, that is rewarded with player loyalty as we feel the developers want to take the time to make us happy.  Granted, that can go both ways.  Just look at the backlash with all the delays of Mighty No. 9.

Another thing is that games that shoot for that point are often pretty ugly.  People complain that games have way too much gray and brown in them, well, that’s part of the fact that they are shooting for realism.  Most apartments have white walls and tan carpets.  Most cities are gray and dismal.  Not everywhere can be Seattle or Tokyo.  So your palate of colors gets very limited the more realistic you shoot for.

Cons: Style

The biggest problem with a game that has a unique style is that you are almost certainly condemning it to be niche.  Remember all the games I listed above?  From Persona 5 to Mirror’s Edge, one thing they have in common is that they don’t appeal to a mass market.  There are so many games I can think of with a fascinating unique style.  Flower, ABZU, The Wolf Among Us, Journey, Borderlands, and one thing they all have in common is that they are niche.  Borderlands is the most mainstream, but even it doesn’t have the mass draw that other games do.  For whatever reason, people are just drawn more to the realism side of the spectrum.  Something I will never understand.

Then there’s the fact that the Uncanny Valley of facial animation is lost on you.  Without exception, it’s gone.  With realism they can use motion capture tech, and it is getting better and better at making facial animations that look like real people.  Stylization has that concept forever beyond its reach.  After all, if the feature of a character are off from normal people, you can’t believe that they are real when they talk.  It’s like how a cartoon can have good lip-synching, but you still know it’s a cartoon.  That’s just how it goes.  But that’s no excuse to skimp on the facial animations.  I’m talking to you, Life is Strange.  So many of the more emotional scenes in that game would have been better if we could see the character’s emotions better.

So, which side are you?  Let me know in the comments.

Until next time, a quote,

“Style – all who have it share one thing: originality.” – Diana Vreeland

Peace out,


Critical Examination: Open World vs Open Levels

I’m about to make an argument that is more than a bit unpopular in today’s gaming world – open world games are really starting to suck.  It’s true.  As I was playing Final Fantasy XV, I was in awe of the beautiful visuals and the fun gameplay.  However, after a while, so much of the open world got very dull.  Why?  For the same reason that most open world games are suffering, these days – lack of stuff to do.  It’s easy to have a big, open space that has nothing in it.  That was the biggest flaw with Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain.  Well, that and the fact that the game was clearly incomplete.  Funny, that’s the same feeling I have about Final Fantasy XV, too.  The plot to both games was stupid in the extreme, while the gameplay was fun beyond all reason.

The simple reality is that with more and more games looking to go open world, they are sacrificing making the most of the space they have to just give the player more area to be bored.  Sure, there are the games that do it right, like the Grand Theft Auto franchise, or The Witcher 3, but the reality is that they are the exceptions, not the rule.  And both of those games have a mix of open levels to open world.

I can hear your question – what’s the difference?  What separates an open level from an open world?  It’s easy – open levels are contained spaces where things happen.  There are rigid boundaries that dictate where the player can and cannot go.  The common gaming culture says that this is nothing but making things linear, and while there is some amount of truth to that, I think people with that perspective are not seeing the bigger picture.  Just because it is a limited space doesn’t mean that it is a corridor.  Before we get into that, let’s analyze why an open world is not always a good thing, by showing when it goes wrong.

Games that do Open World wrong

The first big example – Watch Dogs.  Didn’t play the sequel.  Never will.  Was burned enough by the original game.  The original game had a vast, very tacky open world.  And like most Ubisoft sandbox games, something about that open world – it was boring.  There was virtually nothing to do.  It was the same repetitive shit, over and over again.  Without anything truly interesting to look at, the whole concept got dull almost like that.  However, then there were the internal areas.  Once you were cut loose inside of buildings or levels you had to infiltrate, using your hacking tools was infinitely more fun.  You could get through a whole mission without a single bit of violence, if you knew what you were doing.  Those were the best moments in the game.

Next up, let’s talk about Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain.  I actually do really like that game.  When you are doing what the game was meant to do, it is loads of fun.  Sneaking through a base, never killing a single soldier, is an awesome experience.  Sure, sometimes Quiet would blow someone’s head off because they spotted me, but that’s why I have her with me.  The base is on alert, but that just makes sneaking easier.  Now I can quietly get around in the confusion and tranq a few soldiers who just happened to be dumb.  The base levels are awesome, and make me feel like a stealth agent.  But then there is the overworld.  In Afghanistan, I’ll at least give that the overworld is fun to look at.  Hell, it’s downright beautiful.  The desert they rendered was simply fantastic.  Made me wish the entire game could have taken place there, because Africa was butt-ugly.

Speaking of games with an overworld that is nice to look at, but boring to traverse through – Final Fantasy XV.  The world of that game is sublime.  No joke, I love looking at it.  But the problem is that the overworld is really big, with not one fucking thing to do.  Sure, there are the monster hunts, and those are genuinely fun.  Aside from the nighttime ones, when you can’t see shit.  Or the wasp ones, where they spray the confusion stuff and make fighting them so much more difficult.  However, that game had the unfortunate distinction to not having many cool contained areas to explore.  Were it not for how fun the gameplay is, this game really would have fared much worse, in my eyes.

So, what have we learned?  Hopefully, that an open space means that you just have more opportunities for the player to get bored.  It’s impossible to have some massive space and have enough stuff to keep a player’s attention.  Ask the makers of No Man’s Sky how that works.  Let’s look at some games that took the open level design motif.

Games that did Open Level right

Let’s look back at 2016, and talk about Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End.  This game was very linear, but was still able to use open spaces within its levels to give the player options.  Whether it be the driving segments in Madagascar that allowed you to explore a frankly-gorgeous terrain, or the areas in an action space that allow you to make use of stealth or go all-out, guns blazing, the game has lots of variety in its environments while still keeping it contained.  That was part of the fun.  Another Naughty Dog game, The Last of Us, used a similar style.  Anywhere that there was sneaking to be done, the game gave you lots of options in each level.  Each area had a ton of choke points or hiding spaces to make use of.

I haven’t played the newest iteration of Hitman, because of the episodic bullshit and the always-online DRM crap (planning on getting it when it comes out on disc so I don’t have to deal with that), but from what I was told, the use of open levels was done brilliantly.  The levels are large, and have a lot of moving parts, but because it is still a contained space, the game lets you play around within its space.  You have more tools at your disposal to get your signature kill done.  That’s smart.

Another example of doing it right is in most JRPG games like Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch or Skies of Arcadia.  In both of those games, they have a large overworld that you can explore at your leisure, but the details are vague and travel is implied to be over a period of time.  This is smart because it gives the player the chance to explore and find hidden secret areas, while having the individual levels be really open and interesting.  I have actually been missing such an overworld.  Been missing a good JRPG, too.

Both of these styles of games have their advantages.  The best example of both concepts coming together was in The Witcher 3.  That game not only had a very dynamic open world, but also very dynamic smaller levels to play around with.  It was right brilliant.  However, that game was the exception, not the rule.  Ubisoft has become the punching bag of the Internet for doing the concept wrong.  Sometimes they catch lighting in a bottle, like with Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, but that game REALLY was the exception.  Developers needs to learn that it’s okay to sometimes make things linear.  Just balance it out by letting the player have more open spaces to play around it.  Linear can be good for moving the story along.  Sometimes you don’t need a huge amount of space to fuck around in.  All you need is a hallway to walk down, or a building to explore.  However, then you go to a place where the game lets you unwind and explore at your own pace.  It has to be a balancing act.

Part of me is hoping that we’re going to be stepping away from these big open-world games for a while.  It’s become not only a hassle for developers, but also a crutch for games to lean on.  After all, if you can have a huge world for players to grind and do busy-work in, then that keeps them playing for hours and hours.  Makes them a lot of money.  However, true inspiration comes from when you are able to make the most of what you have.  Open levels give players the best of both worlds.  The linearity that gives games smooth plot progression, and a way for them to feel like they have control over the pace of how they play.

What are your thoughts?  Let me know in the Comments.

Until next time, a quote,

“Choice.  The problem is choice.” – Neo, The Matrix Reloaded

Peace out,


Critical Examination: Zuko Alone vs. Korra Alone

Let’s talk about something that I guarantee you almost none of you have thought about in a long time.  I had a conversation with someone tonight where I laid out what my issues were with Legend of Korra.  That was a series that had two absolutely-superb seasons (1 and 3), one mediocre season (4), and one downright awful season (2).  It was a series that had something of an identity crisis, but when it finally figured out what it wanted to be for long enough, it gave us one of the most mature kid’s series ever made.  If only it didn’t have such a crash and burn at the finish line, it might have been more memorable.  There is one example of the series identity crisis that truly shows off why Legend of Korra didn’t work for two seasons – the episode “Korra Alone.”

A riff on the episode from the original series, “Zuko Alone,” this episode tried to recapture the magic that that episode had, all the while not remembering what made that episode so good.  I thought I would do a compare and contrast to show where Korra went wrong and how it could have been done so much better.  Let’s talk about the original first.

Zuko Alone

In this episode, we see our favorite villain by himself.  He left Iroh because he now felt that there is nothing left for him.  He struck out on his own and trying to figure out who he is.  Now that he knows for a fact that his father is trying to kill him, the prince feels very lost and alone.  While there is stuff that happens in this episode and it has a complete arc, it isn’t so much about the plot as what is happening in the mind of Zuko.

Between the instances of things happening to him, we see flashbacks to his earlier life, when he was living with his family in the Fire Nation capital.  We get to see his mother, who we find out that he was incredibly close to.  We also get to see his crush on May, and his tumultuous relationship with his sister, who was very open about not liking him.  Life was good, and we also get to see messages from his uncle Iroh talking about the siege of Ba Sing Se that eventually took the life of his son.

Meanwhile, in the present, he comes across a run down village in the Earth Kingdom.  He’s just trying to pass through, when he runs afoul of a kid being accosted by some Earth Kingdom soldiers who are using their power over the people in that village.  Beating them down with ease, Zuko is invited by the kid he rescued to stay with his family as a reward for helping him.  While he is wary about doing so, he takes the kid up on his offer.  There, he meets the kind family and trades helping them with being fed and given provisions.  There is a scene where he bonds with the child he saved after the kid steals his dual-swords.  You can see that, as lost as Zuko is, he is finding ways to bond with people who he felt no kinship with up to this point.

As things are getting settled in the real world, the flashbacks show Zuko angering the Fire Lord when his display of firebending is unimpressive and he has to get comforted by his mother.  The Firelord is displeased, and it is clear that something bad is happening.  Meanwhile, he also finds out that Iroh’s son died in the siege, which has ended in failure.  Azula hints to Zuko that the Firelord is going to do something bad to him, but he covers that by saying that Azula always lies.

The soldiers come to the farm that Zuko has been hiding out at and the leader tells the father that their son’s unit was captured, and he is likely dead or going to be put out on the front lines as a way to protect the Fire Nation troops from Earth Kingdom attack.  The father, desperate, says that he will go and find his son and bring him him home.  Zuko, feeling somewhat responsible for what happened, is distraught.  Just as he is about to leave, the mother approaches him and says that the troops have taken their youngest child and are going to send him to fight unless Zuko faces them.  He agrees to help, heading in to town.

This is where all the mental anguish that Zuko is feeling comes to a head.  As he faces down the troops, he takes out the bulk of them with ease.  Then there is the commander, who has some earthbending talent.  Since he is trying to hide who he is, he doesn’t use firebending.  All he has is his swords, and that alone isn’t enough to stop the commander.  A smash to the skull sends him down, which leads him to remember his mother waking him in the middle of the night, telling him that he must never forget who he is.  In that moment, emboldened, he uses firebending and drops the enemy commander in seconds.  He sheathes his blades, letting the people in that village know who he is, because he has made peace with it.  The episode ends with him leaving, still alone, but at peace with what he has become and who he is.

The entirety of this episode was about Zuko’s mental state.  It was perfectly paced, showing the progression of his mental state, from being walled off and in denial, to gaining strength from remembering who he is and coming to peace with who he has become.  Simple, clean, and got the job done perfectly.  If only the other series didn’t have that problem.

Korra Alone

At the end of the previous episode, I was drooling, because I thought that this series was about to go to a whole new level of dark.  We see Korra in an underground arena unlike any we have seen.  Here, there is a bending match, but it isn’t like any we have seen.  Here, benders are fighting for real.  It’s an underground fighting pit, and Korra is getting the shit beaten out of her.  What an awesome way to get inside her head!  It’s perfect!  I can’t wait to see what happens next!  The rest of the gang has heard that she has been gone from the Water Tribe for months, so has she been in that place for that long?  Has she been living alone, fighting out her personal demons in a bending fighting arena?!  The possibilities for character growth are unlimited!

Oh, wait, she was only there for a day.  That’s right, the episode starts with seeing Korra leaving the Water Tribe, and going all over the world, trying to talk to various people and get some form of enlightenment from other cultures.  The end of the battle with Zaheer has scarred her, and she doesn’t have the drive that she did before.  She stared death in the face, become an vengeful beast, and then lost the use of her legs for months.  Alright, we got ourselves some good mental conflict.  Visiting other communities doesn’t work, so she decides to return to Republic City and find comfort in her friends.  She gets there, but doesn’t have the will to face them.  Instead, she goes into the city, and she finds out about a special bending competition there.

Which brings us to the part that was the biggest let-down of the entire series.  We see Korra indeed in that arena, trying to excise the demons inside of her by brute force.  All the narrative potential there is beyond words.  But, just as she is finishing her first and only match where she gets the shit kicked out of her, a plot device leads her away to find Toph for plot reasons.  Groj-dammit!

The entire episode then has plot shit, because this entire season has plot shit.  There isn’t a single drop of character development in the whole fucking thing!  I mean, who awesome would it have been if she had been in that pit for months?  Maybe show her body becoming more and more broken as the fights go on, with her viewing getting the shit kicked out of her as justified punishment for her own weakness.  Wouldn’t that be awesome?!  A physical indicator of her mental pain.  I get that they can’t do much blood in a kid’s series, but you can still show bruises and signs of her pain.  Have her in some run-down apartment, by herself, with only her demons to keep her company. Maybe having hallucinations of her enemies as Amon and Zaheer, the only two villains in the series to actually frighten her.

I even know how they could have perfectly ended the episode – by helping fix another plot-hole in the season.  This season is infamous for having a big plot change that has a lot of people all worked up, on both sides.  I hate it, but only because I don’t feel like it developed naturally.  It feels like it was just thrown in there because.  I am, of course, talking about the relationship between Korra and Asami.  An episode like the one I described could EASILY have laid the ground-work for the two of them getting close.  Like have Asami be given a tip by someone, maybe a person who cares for Korra and is tired of watching her nearly killing herself to excise her pain, that she is in the arena.  Then she drops by and sees Korra in the ring, barely able to keep going.  Have her take a particularly brutal blow, with Asami screaming out and jumping inside.  She runs in and goes over to the fallen Avatar, holding her brutalized body and crying.  Much like how Katara had held Aang at his worst.  In that moment, Korra realizes that she’s been trying to deal with all of this alone, when the thing she needed is right here.  It could be a beautiful bonding moment, either as a the pretext to romance or just as friends.  Either works.

Part of me thinks that that was the original idea for this episode, with the plot stuff coming later.  But Nickelodeon caught wind of it and put the kaboshes on it.  After all, how would that look, to have a female character getting the shit kicked out of her in a fighting pit?  Yeah, that’s some dark shit.  But that’s why I loved it so much!  This was a series that had gone WAY past what other kid’s shows had done!  It had someone’s head exploding!  In the previous season, one of the villains has her head trapped inside a metal space with an explosion.  That head is gone.  How can a show that blows someone’s head off suddenly back down from being willing to go to that length?  We will never know.

In the end, the episode has Korra dealing with inner pain for five minutes, before having to get back to the plot.  This was the problem with the previous season, which could easily have been remedied if they didn’t have to be 13 episodes long.  Frustrating.

In the end, both episodes have their merits, but in execution, one is flawless and the other is a disorganized mess.  That’s a good analogy for both series, one is flawless, the other is a disorganized mess with occasional moments of absolute brilliance.

Until next time, a quote,

“My name is Zuko!  Son of Ursa and Firelord Ozai!  Prince of the Fire Nation and heir to the throne!” – Zuko, Avatar: The Last Airbender

Peace out,


Critical Examination: Gameplay Growth vs. Narrative Growth

This is one of those things that I have seen a few forum posts arguing about.  Which is better?  Is it better when a game helps a narrative grow, or one where the gameplay evolves in some way?  After all, we’ve seen how that can go wrong.  Just look at the Resident Evil franchise.  After RE4, the franchise was irrevocably destroyed.  The newest entry looks to be going into a whole different extreme.  Maybe to have a fresh start.  Maybe to capitalize on the success of P.T.  Or the new fad that’s sweeping gaming – VR.  And yes, that is a fad.  What I’ve seen from it gives me no reason to think that it won’t be a novelty.  For gamers like myself, the appeal is non-existent.  I’m a story-seeker.  What does virtual reality mean to me?  Nothing.  Nothing at all.  Man, there was a digression.

Which of these two things is more important?  I’m going to highlight each and then I hope you all will have some swell arguments in the Comments (I get so few.  Maybe that’s for the best, but whatever).  You all probably know where my opinions lie.  I’ve gotten way ahead of myself already.  Let’s talk about the distinctions.

Gameplay Growth

Assassin's CreedThere are several franchises that show this off to varying success.  The one that comes to mind the quickest in Assassin’s Creed.  Each of these games was supposed to be an evolution of the franchise.  For the first four games, I argue that that was the case.  Each game gave you new elements to play around with.  The first game was raw, and the people who made it knew that.  Many of the flaws were fixed in the sequel.  Gameplay-wise, at least.  The reason I put it firmly in this category is that anyone who has played these games knows that the plot is ridiculous.  The plot was never meant to be the driving force.  That’s something Ubisoft forgot, along with what made the games good.

In Assassin’s Creed II, all of the problems that most players had with the original got fixed.  Your character could swim.  He could swoop down on people from above.  He could use other elements to hide from guards.  It was a lot better than the original.  Plus, we had a much better protagonist.  The half-baked semi-sequels to the game also had their own improvements.  I will say that the combat in Brotherhood was infinitely better than in ACII.  Were it not for how limited that game was in its scope, I honestly would have had a load more fun with it.  But by that point, the franchise was becoming Ubisoft’s version of CoD.

Assassin’s Creed III had a lot of cool elements, but the problem was that it felt half-baked.  You get the ability to climb trees, and the parkour elements work a lot better.  That was awesome.  It made being able to set up some awesome assassination options very interesting.  But the real addition that was the ship battles.  Battles on the high sees was amazing.  Everyone who played that game thought it was the best part.  There was just one problem – far too little of it.  There was far too little of a lot of stuff.  The plot of this game took over, which is never a good sign, considering how absurdly stupid it is.

Then we got what I will virulently defend is the best of the franchise – Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag.  That game got absolutely everything right.  Instead of the stupid crap having to do with the Assassin’s and the Templar, you are now a nameless employee of Abstergo.  There is plot stuff, but all you are doing is helping it be done by someone else.  That’s awesome!  I love that!  But the gameplay here is the best in the series.  It nailed what made the franchise so good.  Something Ubisoft forgot ages ago.  The reason we loved these games is because they allowed us to explore a world that was unique and diverse.  Lots of things to see and a culture to get to know.  Here, you are given a ship and told to go explore the Caribbean to your heart’s content.  And I did.  I so did.  I went everywhere and did as much as I could.  Even the side-quests that Ubisoft is infamous for making into busy-work were fun.  The diving bell stuff, the ship battles that just fill out a completion meter.  Each time I took on a fort was a great experience.  Which was the other thing that was awesome – the ship battles.  The formula the last game had was perfected here.

Finally, we have the most recent two entries in the franchise.  The ones that made the whole thing go to shit.  Instead of moving the franchise forward and letting us explore some interesting parts of history and get to know the culture by traveling around, we were put into a single city, and that was it.  Hell, even Brotherhood gave you side-missions that allowed you to go see other places.  It took some of the monotony away from being stuck in Rome.  That was something that died with the Ezio games – the side-quests that either took you into structures to find secret stuff, or the missions to deal with some random, likely-absurd thing in some other city.  Groj how I missed that.  Especially since the secret stuff was puzzle stuff, and puzzle platforming in those games was great.  At least I thought so.

This franchise is where the growth of gameplay over time was done right and then done wrong.  All within nearly ten years.  That’s impressive.  The franchise forgot what made it good, and instead became a mishmash of the worst things about the franchise.  The reason is because Ubisoft has been making the same game for so long that it’s all they can do.  Even when they claim to be shaking things up, they don’t.  It’s part of why their company is going to die.  Here’s hoping someone who is better at open-world games can pick up the Assassin’s Creed IP and remember what made these games great.

Narrative Growth

Before we get too far into this, let me point out that I’m not saying that focusing on this kind of growth means that all of the games in a franchise will play the same.  Not at all.  I am saying that the growth of gameplay is far second to how the story progresses.  In other words, the gameplay elements can have tweaks, but are not substantially changed, while the story has to be the focus on moving forward.  Where better to look than the franchise Uncharted 4that recently wrapped up – Uncharted.  These games have been pretty uniform throughout.  Both the primary gameplay elements, and the typical twists in the plot.  But what makes this franchise work so well in how it grew was that we were able to see the growth of these characters, over time.

The story is about the growth of Nathan Drake.  From when we first see him, as a young thief, to him being a married man who is dissatisfied with his domestic life.  We get to see how it progresses.  Between the first and second game, he doesn’t grow especially much.  Just enough to see his relationships develop.  But then we see him in the third game.  Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception has Nate getting on in his years.  He’s looking to settle an old score with a woman that he had a beef with earlier in his life, and solving what may be the greatest heist yet.  It’s a game that highlights his ego, and how he is unable to stop himself pursuing treasure and his willingness to get his oldest friend/father figure Sully in danger in the process.  The game ends with him finally being able to let things go.  Sully gives him a ring that he thought he got rid of, and tells him to make things right with the woman he loves.  At long last, he is able to set aside the thief he had become and be a better man.

We get to the last chapter, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, and we see Nate is now living the domestic life, but he can’t get away from his life as a thief.  It’s calling to him, and he’s finding it harder and harder to pull himself away.  When his brother comes back into his life, Nate is given a chance to jump back, head-first, into that life again.  He tells himself that what he is doing is to help his brother, but even his wife can see through that front.  What he’s doing is for himself, and no one else.  He wants to be back in the thick of this.  When he’s finally confronted with this reality, he fights it and ends up nearly destroying his marriage and oldest friendship in the process.  But then he is reunited with is wife and both of them realize that this is a life that neither could walk away from.  Both of them need it.  However, since Elena is a clever sort, she wants to seize the day in a way that doesn’t leave them as criminals.

The franchise ends with Nate having gotten to the end of his dream and gotten exactly where he wanted to go in life.  He’s telling the story of what got him there to his daughter.  It’s a perfect way to go out on.  Nice and wrapped up.  That was the ultimate narrative growth done right.

Now let’s look at a franchise that does it wrong – Kingdom Hearts.  I do love these games.  For real, they’re loads of fun.  But I won’t lie – the plot to these games is so damn convoluted, and it just gets moreso as you go along.  I found myself scratching my head so many times.  What’s more, because there are so many spinoff games, following the plot becomes a complete mess.  I’m hoping that the final entry in the franchise is able to avoid that somehow.  It’s a small dream, I know.  But there it is.  It’s very easy for a franchise to get bogged down in its own lore.  The way the Mass Effect games were able to avoid that was by having a Codex.  This helped keep its lore and its rules very clear.  But then that series fumbled and crashed at the end.  The most unfortunate thing.  Games that focus on narrative growth have to make sure not to stretch the limits of what their narrative can handle.  It’s easier than you think.  Just ask Stephen King.  His books, while fun to read, can become so damn convoluted.

So, which is better?  That’s the biggest question.  A YouTuber I follow said that plot in a game is like plot in a porn.  I know that plenty of people agree with that.  I don’t.  At all.  Yeah, the plot in The Last of Us.  What porn plot that is.  The plot in A Wolf Among Us.  I’m sure that was on par with a porn.  The truth is that it all comes down to your preference.  The truth is that it does take a bit of a mix in order to get right.  You can focus on one more than the other, but you still can’t have a game that is too much like playing the last game over again.  It’s hard, but it can be done.

What are your thoughts?  Let me know down in the Comments.

Until next time, a quote,

“These are some of histories greatest pirates.  And they all perished, in and instant.  At this very table.”  – Nathan Drake, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

Peace out,


Critical Examination: The Use of Silence

I just got done watching the season finale of Game of Thrones.  I am in love with this episode.  Most people think the last one was the best of the season, but not me.  This was the one that truly made it for me.  The level of payoff here was just spectacular.  So many great character moments that pay off what we’ve seen about these characters both this season and over the course if the series.  But there was something else that got my attention this season as well – the silence.  So many shots in this episode were marked by absolute silence.  The use of it was so prevalent that it set the stage for the emotional climaxes so perfectly.  It got me to thinking about something that I love – the use of silence in visual mediums.  There are a thousand different ways that it can be used, and I’m going to talk about my favorites here.  I’ll save Game of Thrones for last.


There is a great argument to be had about which is the better of these two films.  The original was a better-made film, if you ask me.  Its use of silence was near-constant.  That was a very quiet movie.  We all think of the loud segment where Ripley is abandoning ship, but for the bulk of the film it is pretty damn quiet.  But the sequel, on the other hand, is loud and bombastic.  It’s a movie that almost never takes a break.  However, when it does, we get scenes like the one with Ripley and Newt in the medical room, sleeping.  When Ripley wakes up, she can tell something’s wrong.  Newt can feel it too.  They aren’t alone in there.  She feels above to the bed for her rifle, but it’s gone.  Now she knows that she’s in trouble.  Something is moving.  When she looks, she sees two open tanks with the xenomorph spawning variations.

The silence here is only for a few minutes, but it makes the tension so high that you could cut it with a knife.  And when it all explodes and the two aliens are attacking, you feel the pressure that the characters to.  It’s legitimately scary to see those creepy fuckers slithering around, trying to get our heroine and her companion.  The thing about good use of silence is that I think it is more noticeable in loud movies.  When you have a film that is all about pulse-pounding action, a sudden use of silence makes you take notice.  When it’s done well, it sets the tone for what’s to come.  Another example of this is in Raging Bull, when the screen goes silent as the main character sets himself up for being slaughtered.  It was a great scene where that silent moment has you contemplating, like the character, what is about to happen and how fucked he really is.


Like all games in the Souls series, this one has a unique tactic for how the game plays.  It uses silence almost entirely throughout.  Over the course of the game, all you can hear is this dead silence all around.  It really gives you a way to take everything in.  The ambience puts you in that shoes of the character, wandering through this world that feels as foreign to us as it does to them.  The only time that the music really turns up is during a boss fight.  Here’s an example from one of my playthroughs.

Notice how quiet it is beforehand?  Then you step into the mist, and the fight is on.  But the thing to notice is that it becomes silent again immediately afterwards.  The game is set up so that you can feel the pensive atmosphere before and after a fight.  Gaming’s use of quiet time can vary, depending on your title.  Most people think of the bombastic nature of Call of Duty games, but there is a wider selection than that, and most of them make great use of quiet time.

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

I know what you’re thinking – an Uncharted game?  Come on.  You’re just fucking with us now.  This latest entry marked one of the quietest in the entire game.  All four of them have good use of quiet time, but it was at its best in this title.  But there is one scene that stands above the rest when it comes to the use of quiet in story-telling – the finding of the last meal of the Founders of Libertalia.  It’s my favorite scene in the entire game.  I just uploaded it to my channel on YouTube.  Check it out and maybe you’ll see what I’m driving at.

Did you all catch how silence was used?  Granted, there is a score over parts of this, but its use is so quiet that you wouldn’t even notice.  I am certain that was a deliberate choice.  Because, while this is cool to learn about history and what happened to these Founders, that isn’t what the scene is about.  It’s about Nate and Elena and their relationship.  This entire game is about Nate and the relationships in his life.  So, as he is talking about this, you can hear in his voice the passion for the topic.  He loves what he is learning.  Then he is lamenting it.  It has him in the same shot with Elena, and you see the look on her face as he’s talking about it.

It’s in that moment that she realizes that he truly wasn’t here just for some treasure hunt.  This man is driven by a love of history and discovery that gives his life so much.  And she is learning that in order for their marriage to work, the two are going to have to find a way to have the best of both worlds.  The exploration into history, but minus the violence that was doing real damage to them.  All of that done with facial expressions and the use of silence.  It’s incredible.

Finally, we get to what I have been wanting to talk about…

Game of Thrones

Which scene could I pick to talk about the use of silence in this latest episode?  There are so many.  But one in-particular stands out above the rest – when Tommen dies.  Not only is the use of silence and ambient noise so perfect, but I am in love with how it is shot.  The entire scene is done in one take, from one angle.  You see Tommen, looking over the destruction of the Septum, which has resulted in the death of his queen.  You never see his face.  It’s just his backside.  It’s dead silent.  He then walks off-screen.  You hear his footsteps going away, and you’re left seeing the destruction that he was looking at.  There is nothing but this shot for a few moments.  More footsteps coming closer.  Tommen is back.  He’s removed his crown, and then he walks up to the window and swan-dives out.  Holy shit!  I did not see that coming.  It’s so well done!  I could teach a class about the way one angle and ambient noise incorporate so much into this one shot.  By being able to look at the destruction, we are getting a visual representation of the feelings inside Tommen.  When we see him having taken off the crown, that’s a way for us to know that he is done as King.  But it’s short-lived, since he is done with his mortality as well.

Almost every major event in this episode is marked by silence.  It’s so good.  If only we had more filmmakers using that to their advantage.  Whoever did the cinematography for this episode deserves a raise.  A big one.  So big.

So, what do you all think?  What silent moments in film or vidya stuck with you?  Let me know down in the Comments.

Until next time, a quote,

“For what it’s worth, I’ve been a cynic for as long as I can remember.”  – Tyrion Lannister, Game of Thrones

Peace out,