Lucien’s Review: Life is Strange: Before the Storm (Episode 2)

Sorry this is a little late.  Been trying to organize my thoughts, and have other stuff going on.  Here’s the thing about this game – it’s kind of a mixed bag.  It’s not the original.  Part of me is impressed that it is not trying to be.  This game was created for one purpose and one purpose alone – to give players the back-story between Chloe and Rachel.  But it does make your choices feel weighty.  That’s one thing I’ll give this iteration that the original really didn’t have – player choice feeling substantial.  Since there are so few episodes, there aren’t a huge amount of choices to keep track of.  So the writing is easier.  Plus, it’s easier to make your actions feel meaningful.  Why am I going so far out of my way to preface this?  I guess it’s because I honestly like this prequel.  This review is going to be a little odd.  See, there isn’t a huge amount of stuff to substantively talk about.  The visuals are still in the same vein, and good.  Hell, even the kissing animation you have access to later on isn’t the worst I’ve seen.  It’s not Mass Effect 2 levels of clipping.

What do I think of this episode?  As I said, the core of this prequel is to explain the growth of the relationship between Chloe and Rachel.  And they got that right.  My favorite parts of this episode are when you see the relationship between the two deepening.  It feels pretty good.  It’s not perfect.  The dialogue is stilted as fucked.  But where this game goes right is making the emotions match the scenes.  You do believe these characters when they’re on stage together and Rachel is poetically confessing that she has a bond with Chloe that goes beyond typical friendship.  That scene is heart-warming.

Here’s my issue with this prequel – so much of this really doesn’t feel like it’s tying in to the story from the original.  It kinda feels like I’m ret-conning the lore of that game.  After all, I have worked hard to make the relationship between Rachel and Chloe feel real.  So if the events of the other game happen as you find out they did, then Rachel is doomed to basically cheat on Rachel with Frank.  Given the passion between them, am I to assume that in the months or years from when the prequel ends the two got distant enough for Rachel to leave her girlfriend and not feel at least a little conflicted about it?

Not only that, you can affect where the two girls are looking to run away to, which plays a huge role in what everyone believes happened to Rachel in the original.  Maybe all of this was developed just for fan service to fans of the original.  Maybe I’m really over-thinking this.  But as someone who genuinely enjoyed the original game, a lot of this plot stuff just rubs me a little wrong.

I don’t know.  Maybe I need to change my perspective.  Instead of seeing this as an extension of the original game, see it as its own story.  Where I a guiding the romance between two characters, one of whom I have really grown to like.  I still love Chloe as a character, along with the voice acting.  As stilted as the dialogue is, at least it feels genuine with all the emotion she puts into it.  I just know somebody is going to call me an SJW for liking this stuff.  This game definitely takes inspiration from social justice talking points.  Thankfully, that shit seems to be from characters in periphery.  Chloe and Rachel are not just walking stereotypes of Tumblr feminists.

One thing I really wanna touch on is the dream sequences.  I really do like them.  Each one has a thematic purpose.  The first is Chloe addressing the death of her father from her family, as more and more of him is being stripped away.  The second was her addressing the pain of having her blossoming relationship with Rachel seemingly going up in flames, while her father is the voice of reason who tells her that she still has a place in her life.  This episode had a really great sequence.  It has William sitting in front of the car he crashed, burning, roasting a marshmallow with the raven.  Really wondering what the raven is meant to symbolize in context of this story.  The butterfly from the original symbolized Chloe as a character.  The raven is a point of conjecture.  Chloe sits and starts roasting a marshmallow herself, and William tells her that watching everything burn is beautiful, but she might be missing seeing what other beautiful things are being hidden from her by her perspective.  We see this come to a point when she acts in The Tempest, with the stars in the sky sparkling like the ones on her outfit.

I also am really liking the new side characters you meet.  There is so much more personality from them.  Having a smaller cast let them give characters much more presence, and it really pays off.  This episode has a conversation you can totally miss but I’m glad I didn’t between Chloe and Steph where you can grow closer or end up hurting her and I went out of my way to be honest about the fact that I had Rachel as where I was setting up the romance between the two.  It led to a genuinely touching moment where Steph says you can talk to her about what it’s like, since she has been open about being gay.  Subtle touches like that go a long way.

One thing I wanna mention is the fact that the walking animation is so fucking weird in cutscenes.  During gameplay it’s fine, but in cutscenes the walking is just so strange.  And the running is even weirder.  Do the people who made this just not know how to animated that?  So odd.

Overall, it’s a good continuance of the story.  Granted, the opening act is painfully slow.  But once you get back to the junkyard, things pick up pretty quick.  I like this story.  With a bombshell having been dropped on Rachel at the end of the episode, I am genuinely eager to see how it plays out.

Final Verdict
7 out of 10

Peace out,

Maverick

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LGBT Characters in Gaming

Let’s talk a little history.  I don’t know how many of you were around and conscious of what television in the 90’s was like.  Much like the film industry, it produced some of the biggest garbage in the world.  You had shit like Friends and Full House, both of which got unbelievably popular due to nostalgia that people seem to believe the entertainment was so much better back then.  These people are what people like me call “clinically insane.”  But here’s something you may not remember – the 90’s didn’t always write gay characters very well.  Some of the biggest stereotypes about the LGBT community came into being then.  Now, the thing is that they aren’t negative stereotypes.  In fact, they were overwhelmingly positive.  There is a reason for that.  Maybe it was making up for old negative stereotypes, or people just not being able to write these kinds of characters very well.  Whatever the reason, they were all bad.

Here was the problem – these characters all had a bad habit of announcing that they’re gay to everyone they meet.  They are so damn proud of being gay and they are damn sure going to make sure that everyone knows it.  It was bad writing in the worst way.  All of these characters had a bad habit of the fact that they are gay being their entire life.  It isn’t one facet of it, but every facet of it.  Everything in their lives centers around the fact that they’re gay.  It was lazy, terrible writing that led to some of the most one-dimensional characters we ever got to see.

Time went by, however, and writers were able to get past whatever hangup they had and were able to start writing very rounded gay characters who were characters first, gay second.  They had rich personalities and issues with life that are part of the issues everyone has.  It led to some truly fantastic characters, like my favorite anti-hero, Omar Little from The Wire.

That sure was a long intro to talking about what this post is going into.  Gaming is at a similar crossroads.  What led us here is the fact that a lot of gamers are now part of an older generation.  The average age of gamers is closer to 30 than 20.  It’s become a part of popular culture, and is quickly overtaking Hollywood in telling engaging narratives that people can get wrapped up in.  As such, it’s only natural that we see games taking on more and more adult themes.  Things like the nature of marriage and ’til death do you part (Uncharted 4), the price of fame and losing one’s fame and selling out to greed (Persona 5), justifying evil for the greater good and the redemption that comes with being willing to change (Mass Effect 2 and 3).

Something that comes with writing narratives that are more complicated means having characters that are more complicated.  After all, people are not one-dimensional.  And it also means looking at other parts of life.  Like different kinds of relationships.  It was only natural that the gay community would make an appearance in this medium sooner or later.  Now sure, the core gaming audience is men.  That’s just how that goes.  The CoD games will never tackle this sort of thing.  I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the fact that narratives involving LGBT characters will typically be niche.

For a medium that has a real problem with subtlety, looking into something like this should be a niche thing.  There’s a reason why.  Let’s look at one of my favorite examples of it being done right and then it being done wrong.

In The Last of Us, you meet a character named Bill.  Bill is kind of a crazy man.  He’s weird, unwell, and has a real problem with Joel’s tiny companion.  Granted, they meet with her smashing a pipe on his arm.  That’s something.  However, as you go on with his narrative, he tells Joel of a person that he had to look after.  At first, he calls him his “partner,” and really doesn’t want to get very specific about him.  There is genuine venom in his voice when he talks about this guy.  What happened between these two?  When you get to a house after escaping the school, you find out.  He’s hanging from a noose that he rigged to stop himself from becoming one of the infected.

It’s here that we see another side of this.  At first, he’s clinical about it.  He’s looking over the body and seeing what happened.  But as you listen to him talk about him, there’s real pain in his voice.  Pain, anger, all sorts of emotions.  It’s a testament to what a good performance the voice actor does how much depth he brings into talking about this guy.  As I was playing this with my gay girly-mate Erin, she had this to say, “they had to have dated.”  To which I asked, “how do you figure?” “Easy, you don’t hate someone this much unless you’ve dated.”  Well put.  Bill lives a life where everything is regimented and safe.  When you find Frank’s letter, it tells of a man who was angry with Bill.  He wanted more from life than Bill was willing to give, and it ended in him leaving.  In his last letter, he says how much he hated Bill and wanted more from life than he wanted to give.

What happened between these two?  We never know.  It clearly must have been a very damaged relationship.  The audience can see some of the history and it’s enough to tell us a tragic story of two men who ended up hating each other because of irreconcilable differences in how they lived.  In a world where love for a gay person must be unfathomably hard to come by, to lose that relationship must have been hard for both of them.  But by the end both of them hated one-another.  It was done so well, and played very subtly.  I love everything about the nature of that relationship.  It also shows a side of Joel.  He figures out pretty quickly the deal between Bill and Frank, but he doesn’t make a big deal out of it.  After all, he is a Texan.

Now let’s look at this done wrong.  In Mass Effect 3, you meet a shuttle pilot named Steve Cortez.  He seems like an interesting character.  But there is a stark contrast of narrative quality in his his story plays out, depending on if you have male or female Shepard.  If you have female, it is a very interesting narrative about a man who is getting over the loss of someone dear to him.  If you have male Shepard, it’s a narrative about a gay man throwing his grief away in a nano-second in order to try and jump your bones.  It’s cringe-worthy to say the least.  Since I preferred Femshep because she was a much more engaging character, I was able to see the story done right.

What happened?  I’ll tell you – a narrative had to be spun.  See, we have another player in the problem with writing gay characters in gaming right now – SJWs.  Social justice decided to come in and take over the writing process of this character, all so they could call foul when the gamers were like, “this gay sex scene sucks.  Where did this come from?”  Good fucking question.  He was poorly written in order to spread a narrative and get a subject matter talked about.

This has happened quite a bit.  Gay characters are being written where the fact that they’re gay is their entire personality.  Or now the big one is trans.  Like how Ubisoft created an openly transgender character in Victorian London.  A time when I guarantee NO ONE was open about gender dysphoria.  Yet this character is all about talking about it to whoever they meet.  Or the trans character in Mass Effect: Andromeda, who really had to make a big deal out of this when they have a fuck-ton more things to worry about.

I get why this medium is going to be the hardest to write these kinds of characters in.  The core demographic is men.  That’s a demographic that is going to see this stuff pretty black and white.  Hell, in this insanely divisive culture that we live in, nuance is hard to see on any sides.  This is why I genuinely believe that if we are going to see more and more gay characters, it needs to be first handled in the niche markets, where it can be handled with a deft hand, rather than a stick to beat people over the head with, despite how rarely that deft hand is applied.

But maybe there’s hope.  I just got done with the latest episode to a prequel to my favorite game of 2015 – Life is Strange.  That game already had a very well-done relationship between Chloe and Max, but the real stand-out example of a blossoming romance that I genuinely enjoyed playing was in the prequel.  While it is miles below the original, the thing I can say is that the relationship between Chloe and Rachel that I have been able to help shape feels genuine.  And this most recent episode had payoff to that.  We’ll see if it can keep the trend of well-done character development happen.

The ultimate message of this ramble is that making gay characters should be about making characters first.  Being gay is a part of a person’s life, but it isn’t everything.  At least not if they aren’t these social justice idiots who feel the need to make everything tie back into it.  It’s just one part of who that person is.  That’s how these kinds of characters need to be written.  Make them a character first.  Make gamers like them for who they are, then ease them in.  Just like how straight men can have gay friends who they are cool with, I guarantee that that gay friend knows that he can’t be too in this person’s face with how they are, because they know it would make the other person uncomfortable.

Wow, this seems like a whole lot of nothing, doesn’t it?  Maybe I should have made this a RAB post.  Unsure.  What do you all think?  Let me know in the comments.

Until next time, a quote,

“Do you think there’s a point where you’ve been acting so much that you don’t even have your own personality anymore?” – Rachel Amber, Life is Strange: Before the Storm

Peace out,

Maverick

Lucien’s Review: Life is Strange: Before the Storm Episode 1: Awake

I’ve talked at length about how my favorite game of 2015 was Life is Strange.  While it had its flaws, it told an interesting narrative about a girl with time powers and a mystery that unfortunately had a lackluster conclusion.  The outright-terrible ending of the game, however, didn’t ruin the entire experience for me.  I still love everything leading up to it.  It’s kind of like Mass Effect 3 in that regard.  When I saw the announcement for this, I was more than a little pissed.  I mean, why would I want a prequel?  It’s a story I already know!  Rachel and Chloe were tight as fuck, Rachel was secretly in love with Frank, she gets killed.  What more could they fill in?  I said in my First Take post that if this was just some stupid prequel telling us crap we already know and nothing else, I would ream this game a new one in a way that Square Enix would feel.  I’m happy to say that this prequel challenged my skepticism.  It’s not perfect, but for the flaws it has, it has some things done better.  Let’s talk about it.

This game is still a prequel.  Set four years before the events of the original game, we see a much younger and much more vulnerable Chloe.  She’s trying to get into a concert where a band who is weirdly playing the tune of another band (did the actual band not want their name associated with this game?  You’d think they at least would have had to have the song licensed, so why not just play as yourselves?  Odd).  After getting in trouble, it’s here that we see her meet Rachel Amber, the most popular girl in her school.  From there, our young protagonist gets involved in a new life of freedom, friendship, and maybe something more.

There’s a lot to say about this prequel, and it’s a lot of the same stuff one could say about the original game.  For starters, the dialogue is just as bad as the first episode of the last game.  Maybe this is a trend with this game.  I don’t know who their writing staff is, but no teenager anywhere talks like this.  But just like the original game, that grows on you after a while.  It sure as hell grew on me.  So there’s that.

The visuals are much better.  They’re using the Unity engine, and it really stands out.  The faces in-particular.  My biggest complaint with the original game was that the faces were so inexpressive.  Better facial animation would have made some of the best scenes of dialogue even better.  Here, there is much more expression, and it makes the dramatic climax of the episode really good.

One thing I do miss is that the time powers are gone.  Now, instead of being able to rewind and make a choice about whether or not you want to follow through with something, you have to basically own it.  Not gonna lie, that does bother.  You also can’t restart episodes from various chapters.  That’s kinda frustrating too.  Here’s hoping future episodes fix that.  But you do have some new mechanics.  Like this back-talk mechanic that makes no sense in reality but it is kinda cool that you get to play mental games with people.

Let’s talk about the characters.  There are some REALLY weird voice-actor changes that totally take away from characters.  For example – David.  I grew to like him at the very end when you finally see under the hood of his mental problems if you tell him that Mr. Jefferson killed Chloe and he shoots him.  Whoever they got to replace him as a voice actor does NOT sound at all like a torn-up veteran.  The first guy they got was a douche, but you believed he’s a tormented veteran haunted by what he saw.  This guy sounds like a fucking doofus.  There is no presence with this guy.  Same with the dude they got to replace William.  I can at least forgive that because you only see William in dreams.  His weird speech patterns fit with the scenes they are in, but still.

Ashly Burch is back to play Chloe, and I genuinely do like her character more.  It’s pretty clear that the voice actress is older, but the performance feels more genuine.  Stereotypical punk Chloe is cool and kinda hot, but young and vulnerable Chloe is genuinely more interesting.  One of my biggest complaints from the first game was the fact that we never got to meet Rachel Amber, since I assumed that the power Max had has some connection with her.  Thankfully, I at least know that’s right.  But that gets into spoiler territory for this game.

Something I’d like to add is that there is one genuine improvement over its predecessor.  So many choice-based games make it so that the choices feel meaningless.  This episode doesn’t!  There are a ton of variations, little things that change in scenes because of choices you make.  It was surprising when I’d go through the same scenes over again and have them play out differently because of things I’d done.  That’s pretty cool.  It gives me some hope that the decisions I make in the end will actually amount to something.

Overall, this game is about growing up.  It’s about Chloe accepting that her dad is dead and making a new friend and how she can’t deal with how alone she is.  We also get to peek into the life of a character who I always wanted to meet.  But I am glad to see that it isn’t just a prequel to stuff we already knew.  They actually go back even further than recent history and give us some stuff.  We get some hints as to the nature of the supernatural in Arcadia Bay, which I am desperately hoping they run with.  I’m curious to see where this goes, and while I do hate how much Max gets shit on, we have two new characters to see where things go.

Final Verdict
7 out of 10

Peace out,

Maverick

Lucien’s First Take: Life is Strange: Before the Storm Premier Trailer

I’ve made no secret that the original game is my favorite game of 2015.  Aside from the ending, which is stupid on so many levels that it forced me to do a rewrite which is on this site if you want to look for it, I loved it.  The game is truly phenomenal.  And just like Mass Effect 3, I don’t let the fact that the ending is pants-on-head retarded stop me from loving the rest of the franchise.  However, when I heard there was a sequel episodic series coming out, I was more than a little worried.  I mean, where are they going to go with the franchise?  I had games where I both saved and let Chloe die, so are they going to pick up with Max back in Seattle?  Where could this go?  Are we FINALLY going to get an answer to what Max’s power is and how it works?  That’s the biggest question I have after the series so that could be a little interesting.

But today Microsoft decided to unveil the latest season at their press conference.  And…I don’t know what to think.  Let’s take a look at the trailer and then talk about it.

Okay, so we have Chloe, who is one of my favorite female characters of all time, voiced by an amazing voice actress who I also loved in Horizon: Zero Dawn.  She’s in her room, smoking.  I can see the art style is the same, but it does look a lot more detailed.  The facial animations in-particular, which was my biggest gripe with this style.

She’s sitting there, smoking, and we see a raven land on her windowsill.  The previous game had a thing about the blue butterfly that Max took a pic with.  Is that the way it is with the raven?  In all mediums the raven has symbolized death.  A theory just came to me, but I want to keep going before we talk about it.

There’s a montage of things happening, and one of the things that gets my attention is her being in a car with her father when he is hit by a train.  Is that a dream sequence?  If it’s not, then it makes my theory have suddenly a lot more credibility.  There are things like a tree burning, and Chloe climbing the steps of Blackwell Academy with a sign about good luck seniors.  More Chloe being angsty and shit, but always alone.  That interests me.  The previous game made it seem like her and Rachel Amber were nigh-inseparable.

Here’s why I’m worried – part of me is thinking that all this is is just filling in Chloe’s backstory before the events of the game.  Why?  We already know what happened.  That would be stupid.  That would be the biggest waste of time and potential ever.  And the worst thing is that I’m going to buy the first episode to find out.  Because I have to know.  I have another theory, and I’m desperately hoping that it’s true.  If it really is as simple and dumb as what the title suggests, then I am honestly going to be nine kinds of done with Dontnod and their episodic games.

My theory is this – Chloe dies in so many of the timelines that Max has.  Whether it be in the beginning when Nathan shoots her, the junkyard where you can accidentally shoot her while playing with David’s gun, the alternate timeline if you have Max kill her when she asks her too, and at the very end if you choose to sacrifice her.  I always believed that the tornado was the alternate timelines Max created coming together to fuck up reality.  It made sense.  My theory is that this game has Chloe in the nether-space between timelines.  Like a space where nothing is real and she is desperate to escape.  Kinda like the world of the Nexus in Star Trek Generations.  That would be fascinating!  No joke, if they go that route then it makes sense why her reaction at the end where she sees Rachel is one of awe.  Like she can’t believe that she’s actually there.

But I am still worried that this is just rehashing a backstory we already know.  To Square Enix and Dontnod, if that is really the route you go, so help me Groj I will make the longest and most nit-picky post explaining why you are wasting gamers’ money that you have ever seen!  Not that you care, I’m sure, but hopefully my audience will care.  And I’m going to make sure all of you are told as fast as possible.  The first episode comes out August 31st.  Your move, Dontnod

Initial Verdict:
You Have My Attention

Peace out,

Maverick

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,

Maverick

The Infinite Space

There’s something that you should know about me – I don’t believe in free will.  I think that all the decisions that people claim that they have the power to make are illusions.  Everything that could happen already has happened, and we are powerless to change the nature of our fate.  It’s not because of some divine being.  In fact, when one truly thinks about this idea that I have, the existence of a divine being becomes even more ridiculous.  Because it makes the idea of lording over this one universe that much less impressive.  I know what you’re thinking – how can you possibly believe that?  How can all choices just be an illusion?  Simple – the Infinite Space.

Let me explain.  I believe that the universe that we exist in is but one of the infinite number of possibilities that exist in an endless ocean of possibilities..  These possibilities are connected through forces unknown.  It sounds like a bold declaration.  But let me give you something to chew on.  Here’s a video from Minute Physics about the Schrodinger’s Cat paradox.

This video got me to thinking about so much stuff.  Why?  Because the concept is interesting..  We don’t know what the truth is until we look to see if the cat is dead or alive.  It truly is both.  How can that be?  The answer seemed pretty obvious to me – both possibilities have to exist.  It can’t be one or the other.  But where is that other possibility?  Easy – the Infinite Space.  In that place, there is a reality where the cat is dead, if we look and kitty is alive (we love kitty!).  There is no other way.  Quantum physics is trying to figure out the answer, but I think that this makes a lot of sense.

Many of my favorite works of fiction have toyed with the concept.  In Bioshock Infinite, there is a kind of particle that can break the bounds between the spaces.  The Lutece’s figure out how to harness it and use it to break the bonds between worlds in the Infinite Space.  Elizabeth has the ability to open doors between the spaces between worlds, but there was a time when she was able to create them on her own.  She called it a form of wish fulfillment.  Whatever she wanted, she just had to concentrate and she could open a door to that thing.  It’s crazy stuff.  While that was interesting, it all ended on a note of disbelief, where Booker is killed and that someone closes the door to all possibilities.  Yet you hear in the end that there is still a universe where he is alive and everything happens as it is supposed to.  So I guess she still failed.

Next up is Rick and Morty.  In this series, they have repeated instances where they go into alternate universes in order to do things.  But the one that really got me was the episode where Morty wants Rick to create a love potion for him to get his girl, and it spirals out of control until they reach a point where Rick had destroyed all of reality and there seems to be no way to put it right.  So he doesn’t.  Instead, he finds a universe that exists where he manages to solve the entire problem, and then both him and Morty die.  The two then bury themselves and carry on.  It is implicated that this strategy is one that Rick has used before, as he says that they won’t get too many opportunities to do this again.  I love the grim undertones of that show.  It really takes all the hijinks in the series and makes them out to have horrific, ongoing consequences.

Finally, there is my favorite game of last year – Life is Strange.  This series did something similar to Bioshock Infinite, but it took the concept a little further.  See, it has Max be given the ability to control time.  But is she truly controlling time?  I did a post about this (link here), but I’ll give my main points here.  When Max uses her talent, you see something interesting.  She remains in a given place, but time moves around her.  It’s how you are able to use it to sneak past guards or get into places without other people knowing it.  But what happens to those timelines that she leaves?  The implication is that they keep going.  So the timeline that Max and Chloe blow up the door to the Principal’s office still happened.  As is the one where (if you are really dumb and couldn’t resist trying everything) Chloe accidentally shoots herself when you’re messing with David’s gun.  Worse still, there is the one where Max saved William and ended up paralyzing and potentially killing Chloe.  That reality continues with Chloe’s parents being destroyed and Max being solely to blame.  But the end of the game fucks that up and makes it just like the Bioshock Infinite ending where you can just go back in time and stop it from happening by stopping the catalyst.  But that wouldn’t have stopped the tornado.  I talked in another post about how dumb the ending to this game was (please don’t make another season.  It can only get worse).  I still love it, but like Mass Effect 3, the ending crashes and burns.

What a digression all of this was.  My point in all of this is that I believe that all possibilities exist in the Infinite Space.  An endless space where every outcome exists in its own reality.  I don’t think there is a way that one could possibly see this, but I like the one in Cosmos, where it’s like this huge area of interconnecting lights that stretch out for forever, with each light being a possibility.  Within the Infinite Space, there are endless possibilities.  There is a universe where the first girl I ever loved and I are together.  There’s a nice thought.  There’s a universe where I chose to turn down the PR company that ended up being a disaster for me.  There’s a universe where I didn’t lost my first apartment.  It is an endless sea of possibility.

But there’s an interesting idea that a girly-mate of mine posed to me – what if there were realities that touched one-another?  I got to thinking about that.  If we are to believe the Infinite Space is a real thing, and all of these universes are connected through a larger tapestry of existence, then I don’t see why universes couldn’t touch one-another.  There are likely points, countless in number, that our universes have touched one-another and even interacted.  I can hear the counter-point –

Then why wouldn’t we know about it?  Wouldn’t there have been like people or something coming through?

It’s hubris on our part to think that only our world or our species could be affected.  There are endless possibilities for how our universes would interact when making contact.  It could also affect anything.  There are countless instances of unexplained things happening.  Any number of those could be our universe interacting with another in an unforeseen way.

The goal of sciences like quantum physics is to understand stuff like this, and I acknowledge that my perception is simply conjecture that is based on what I have taken in and conclusions I have reached.  Could totally be wrong.  Part of the fun with science is finding out.  What do you think about my hypothesis (yes, hypothesis.  It cannot be a theory because there is currently no evidence for it.  For all those who say that evolution is “just a theory”)?  Let me know in the Comments.

Until next time, a quote,

“The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance, but the illusion of knowledge.” – Daniel J. Boorstin

Peace out,

Maverick

Critical Examination: When Choice-Based Games Fail

I made no secret of the fact that I didn’t like the end of Life is Strange.  I made a post talking about why I didn’t like it.  I made a post where I did my own self-indulgent corrected version of the ending.  But as I look through that post, I realize something that I didn’t before – I am guilty of the same thing that the people who made the game are.  The reason that the ending is something I despise as much as I do isn’t because it’s a giant plot-hole or ridiculously sad for NO reason.  The problem with the ending is deeper than that.  It’s a problem that in this game is actually worse than the last game with the EXACT same problem.  Most of you might see where I’m going with this.  But to really address this problem, we have to look at games that get it right.  Then we can talk about the games that get it wrong.  I am, of course, talking about when the endings of choice-based games fail.  Let’s talk first about a game that gets it right.

Until Dawn

This was one of the most unexpected survival horror games I have ever played.  It was a send-up to so much of the nostalgia that I loved growing up.  From the campy story-line to the tank-controls, this was a game made with all kinds of love for the craft that it worked with.  But this game also did something else right.  Something done so well that I was legitimately shocked when I got to the end.  It got the choice aspect down the best that I have ever seen.  How?  That will take some explaining.

It helped that the narrative of this game played over the course of one night.  In one night, you had to develop characters and make choices that had real consequences.  The consequences were visceral and right in front of you.  I’m talking, of course, about who lives and dies.  That was the biggest consequence of your choices.  Depending on the actions you take, some characters will live, and some will die.  There is no reset button.  Once you make that choice, it’s done.  What’s more, your choices actively shape the relationships of the characters that you are controlling.  You get to see this play out in their interactions.  If you chose to sacrifice Josh instead of Ashley, then you foster a relationship between her and Chris.  If you chose to shoot yourself instead of her, that relationship is cemented.  You see her kissing him when he goes out to save Josh later on.

This game had real consequences with your choices.  Ones that were clear-cut and shown to you.  But this game has a trick – it was all done in one night.  A game with a larger narrative can’t be so simple.  When this game ended, you got to see the ultimate fate of the choices you make.  Instead of some stupid ending choice, the ending to this game was just the culmination of all the choices.  Everything came together, and the ending cutscene was seeing the characters who survived the night being interviewed.  That’s smart!  None of the stupid final choices.  Just the ending to the game.  This game did it flawlessly.

Now, let’s look at a game that did it wrong.

Mass Effect 3

I know, everyone saw this coming.  This game is famous for an ending that is so terrible that it ruined this game for most people.  Were it not for how unfathomably good EVERYTHING else about this game was (up to when the Victory Fleet went to Earth), it would have done the same for me.  But it was all so good.  However, it’s no joke that the game’s ending is bad.  Video after video after video was made explaining why.  It’s pretty simple – the three final choices you make are bullshit.  What’s more, they are ALL plotholes.  Each and every one.

Why does shooting a tube trigger an explosion that destroys the Reapers?  Why does it also destroy the Geth?  How does this technology work?  Why are you walking toward the tube as you shoot it, with it being abundantly clear that it will kill you?  How does grabbing two do-dads make it so you can control the Reapers?  Why not have them all go pile into the nearest star after having control?  How does Shepard maintain his/her conscious mind after doing so?  Without a body, how does Shepard exist?  How on Earth does jumping into a beam of light merge organic and synthetic life?  That is literally impossible.  How does no one realize what absolute hell it would be to force sentience on the husks that were created by the Reapers?  Am I the only one who sees this ending as the most nightmare scenario of all?

These are just a scant few of the endless series of plot holes that were wrong with this ending.  And the truth is that so much of why this ending sucks comes down to having to make this final choice.  There was a fan-cut to the ending of this game where they cut out all the god-kid stuff, and instead had it be where Shepard and Anderson are both bleeding out.  When the Crucible docks with the Citadel, it goes off and triggers the Destroy ending.  That was so much better.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s still stupid, but at least that makes some sense.  This game actually had the balls to introduce a character in the last scene and create a stupid ending that ignores every single thing you did throughout the series.

Here’s another game that got it right.

The Wolf Among Us

Unlike the previous Telltale title, this game had it where the choices you made didn’t just affect who lived and died.  It also affected the relationships that developed over the course of the series.  As Bigby Wolf, you are having to keep the peace in a part of the world where there are a lot of unpleasant people.  Every choice you make affects those relationships.  But the real thing that makes the end of this game works isn’t how there is some final choice.  Instead, there is a final confrontation that culminates in all your choices mattering.

Did you kill the villain of the game earlier?  That was something you could do.  Did you save the life of the club owner who knows the truth about how the girls who work there are kept enslaved?  Did you allow the woman who gave him the enslaving tool the right to kill herself?  Did you foster positive relationships with the various characters, which other characters can then exploit?  Did you solve the various mysteries that were in front of you?  Everything you did affects the final confrontation where the crowd is judging the villain of the story.  That is genius!  One final test, to show how well or poorly you played the game.  Very smart.  It is also cathartic because, if you are like me and want to immerse yourself in a game’s world, getting to play the politics of a world can make you feel like you are a part of it.  The growth of relationships is a good way to have choice mean something.  After all is said and done, and Bigby is continuing his life, you get to see even more results of your choices.  That’s brilliant!

Which brings is back to Life is Strange

Conclusion

The thing that Mass Effect 3 did wrong is the exact same one that Life is Strange did.  Instead of having some big moment of culmination of your choices, all of them get immediately obliterated and turned to ash.  We have seen two examples to games doing it right.  Another example would be The Witcher 3.  In that game, your choices and how they shape things isn’t always clear.  The politics of that world are pretty interesting.  But it makes how things play out that much more appealing.  The thing is, when we play a game that involves choices, we want to feel like they matter.  It’s the whole reason that we were so eager to get further in.  When a game chooses not to follow through on this, it’s more than a little upsetting.  Then you get the assholes like the ones at the now-defunct Kotaku who say that gamers are entitled because we want a game to stick to its conventions.  They have the right to their opinions, I guess.  But they’re still stupid.

Hopefully I get to see more games like the ones that got it right.  I loves me some choice in a game.  It makes things interesting.  Let me know what you think down in the comments.

Until next time, a quote,

“Freedom of choice is more to be treasured than any other possession Earth can give.”  – David McKay

Peace out,

Maverick