The Games I’m Thankful For 2017

I wasn’t sure if I was going to do another article like this one, but last years did pretty well and I’ve finally got enough time to do some writing, so I figured “why not”. So here are a few more games that either had a profound impact on me or were the catalyst for something great in my life.

Kingdom Hearts

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Kinda sucks i didn’t talk about this one last year so i could make an easy “when is KH3 coming out” joke. Meh, fuck it: WHERE THE FUCK IS KINGDOM HEARTS 3

I moved in with my mother the summer before I started high school. I wasn’t expecting too, I thought it was just going to be a visit, but that turned out not too be the case. Because she had to work I had decided to bring my PlayStation 2 with me, and since I knew I’d probably be spending a lot of time with the sister I hardly knew, I decided to pick up a game for her. Something she could play if she wanted, and something I wouldn’t go nuts having to sit though. I remember hearing good things about this odd little Disney/Final Fantasy cross over and it seemed like the perfect game for a young girl. At the time, I’ll admit to my great shame, Disney meant “princesses” and “princess” mean “boring girl stuff”. I figured the Final Fantasy stuff would balance out the Disney stuff so maybe it would be tolerable.

The game was….not quite what I was expecting. For one it was good. Like, really good. Secondly, it was way more difficult than it had any right to be. I’m not sure how I beat the final boss the first time and my sister….well, I ended up playing most of it for her. But the game did it’s job. We and her bonded a lot over it, and when Kingdom Hearts 2 came out we spent a lot of time playing that one together too. Along with the band Coheed and Cambria, Kingdom Hearts may be the reason me and my sister got along so well.

Volchaos

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Volchaos isn’t really a good game. But it is the game that proved to me that I was doing something right with this site, and it cemented the best friendship I’ve ever had. I had been following and talking via twitter to Cathy from IndieGamerChick.Com for a while. The day after her birthday last year (I remember this because a happy birthday post I made was the catalyst for event), she had decided that I was cool enough to be actual friends with. She friended me on Facebook, and we started talking more on their. When I told her I also did game reviews and stuff, she asked me to send her some of my work. I did, and about 15 minuets latter she messaged me saying “yeah, look, I’m going to be your editor now”. I know that sounds harsh but, it was much nicer that that. She had helped me with a few things I was writing at the time, then asked me if I was getting review codes. I told her I wasn’t and that I didn’t really know where too start with that. A few minuets latter she came back with a code for Volchaos. A friend of her’s developed it, and she went to bat for me to get a code. It was the first game I had gotten a review code for, and I had only gotten it because someone saw something of worth in my writing. Someone saw value in me succeeding in the field I wanted to be in. That was the moment any and all doubt evaporated: I had met my best friend for life. But for fucks sake Cathy, you couldn’t have gotten me a good game? God, friendship over. :p

(On a related note, you can read that review HERE)

Call of Duty: Black Ops 3

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Guys, look, i know. I’m supposed to be better than this, you expect more form me. I know. It’s embarrassing to admit, Let’s just get though this like that awful political speech your drunk uncle is going to give. We can do it together, we just have to push on and persevere.

I’m sorry. I’m sorry i’m sorry i’m sorry i’m sorry. But, I do have to be honest here. If you’ve been reading my stuff for a while, you know I freaking love Overwatch. Even though I haven’t played it in a while (god, this quarter fucking sucks.) I’ve been keeping up with the news and it’s one of the things I’ve missed the most since school started up again. Well, truth be told I wasn’t always the kind of guy that would have liked it. See, once upon a time, I didn’t really care about multiplayer. At all. But when I got my PS4, the only one in stock came bundled with Black Ops 3. I never imagined I would play it, but I wanted that PS4 so damn bad. That was i’d be able to start this site and focus on more topic games, where as with my last site it was pretty much whatever I could get my hands on. Well, being that I was (and still am) poor as shit, I ended up running out of games to play pretty fast. So, one day I decided to just bite the bullet and try Black Ops 3. And to my great surprise, I had a lot of fun with the multiplayer. I was even pretty good too. It wasn’t uncommon for me to be in the top three for my team, or even for me to be #1. That ended up turning me from a “multi-player is a wast of time” kind of guy to a “if I dont get at least one good game of Overwatch in during this break i’m going to FUCKING KILL SOMEONE” kind of guy. I’m not 100% sure that’s a positive change, but it is a change nonetheless.

Well, that’s it for this year folk. Have a happy (and safe, I need you fuckers for the page views) Thanksgiving.

Video Games Represented by Metal Sub-Genres

I think by now it’s pretty obvious to everyone that I like video games. I mean, I spend a pretty exhausting amount of time writing about them, so hope that isn’t a surprises to anyone. But depending on how long you’ve been following my work, what you may not know is that I also like Heavy Metal. If it wasn’t for my complete and utter lack of knowledge of music theory, I’d probably spend an equally exhausting amount of time writing about that as well. The other day, as I looked over my game collection listening to my Spoitify Thrash Metal Mix I noticed that games can be pretty metal, even when they’re not trying to be. So today I decided to look at a few games and talk about the Metal Sub-Genres I think fits them best.

1: Doom (2016)
Metal Genre: Thrash Metal

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While the extreme gore might scream Death Metal and the satanic iconography says Black Metal, neither one of those really fits Doom. Sure it’s fast and brutal, but there’s a playfulness to Doom that just doesn’t fit with the Metals most extreme genres. Music wise bands in these genres just take themselves a little too seriously. That’s not quite as true in Thrash Metal. It’s high energy and brutal, but there’s also a certain je ne sais quoi to the genre that just makes it fun to listen too. Even with bands like Slayer that lean heavily into Satanic and horror imagery, the genre tends to be more “action movie” rather than aiming to truly frighten. It’s music you kick ass too. Kick the establishment’s ass, kick your boss’s ass, kick God’s ass. Now, look at Doom. You alone fights the hoards of Hell, and the demons are scared of you. And all the while, the game never forgets to have a since of humor.
Song that best fits the game: Chainsaw Ripping Death by Hellcannon

2: Dark Souls
Metal Genre: Epic Doom Metal

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Dark Souls is a grand, sweeping game that truly aims to calibrate the victories of it’s players. But it is also a game were you are resigned to fate: you are going to die. This is both true in the game play and the story. If you link the flame you must use your own body as kindling. Even then, it’s only a matter of time before the cycle begins again and someone decides to let the fire die. There is no happy end to the story of Dark Souls. Doom metal is very much the same way. It’s the music of disparate, a genre of heavy metal that aims to really put the “Heavy” back into perspective. Songs like “Devoid of Redemption” by Pallbearer almost literally weigh you down as you listen. However, I picked Epic Doom Meta specifically for Dark Souls for a reason. Not only do bands in the genre tend to use fantasy and mythology based imagery in their lyrics while, but the music is just as grand and sweeping as the journey you go on in Dark Souls. It’s music that can inspire you even though you know the end will soon come. It’s all but certain you’ll lose you’re life in the upcoming battle, but it needs to be fought, and you need to fight it.
Song that best fits the game: Graveyard of Broken Dreams by Altar of Oblivion

3: Spec Ops: The Line
Metal Genre: Grindcore

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Spec Ops: The Line is a game that forces you to look at humanity at it’s worst. It’s a game very much trying to say “isn’t the current state of things kind of fucked up?” It uses sheer brutality as loudly and as violently as passable. You know who else does that? Napalm Death. While not all Grindcore is about making social statements, and it’s not the only genre where doing so is normal, Napalm Death’s “Hardcore Punk by way of Death Metal” approach fits the tone of Spec Ops better than anyone else. While the game might be much longer than the bands record setting “shortest song of all time”, it serves to ask the same question: you suffer, but why?
Song that best fits the game: You Suffer by Napalm Death

4: Batman: Arkham Knight
Metal Genre: National Socialist Black Metal

Look, I like Batman. I even like a lot about this game. But the fact is, Arkham Knight is just one more step towards the Frank Miller-ization of the character than I can’t stand. Scenes like this…

…show that this isn’t a character spread on by personal tragedy to make the world a better place. This is a “might makes right” bully who wants to hurt those he sees fit to hurt. And I can say almost the exact same thing about this nazi bullshit blight on my favorite music genre. I like black metal, and I’m sure there are some good musicians here. But at the end of the day, nazi’s are nazi’s, and Nazi Punks can Fuck off.
Song that best fits the game: None, because I’m not going to activity support nazi’s on my site.

5: Darkest Dungeon
Metal Genre: Depressing Suicidal Black Metal

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Life is cheap in the world of Darkest Dungeon. Extra adventurers is the only thing you get for free in the game, and in order to do the best you can in the game you have to discard them once you break them. This is a world were mental health problems make you a burden and that will force them to leave you behind. And as someone with metal health issues, that feeling is incredibly relateable. I’m not saying it’s right, and neither is the game, but when I start to get depressed, I may try to seek validation from those I care about that they are still my friends, but doing so often frightens me that I’ll annoy them into not wanting to deal with me. Darkest Dungeon forces me to me to treate those who I send out, those whos minds I break, exactly how I fear people will treat me. It validates my worst fears. And so does DSBM. And that’s not a complaint. In fact, Depressing Suicidal Black Metal is probably my favorite form of Black Metal, because it allows me to engage with my self-loathing and depression in a safe environment that says “yes, these feelings are real and you’re not wrong to feel them”. The same is true for DeathDoom metal aswell (which I honestly like more), but as there isn’t an active “nazi death metal” scene that I’m aware of, I decided to show some extra love to the guys in corpse paint.
Song that best fits the game: Slave to Nativity by Forgotten Tomb

Fun Isn’t Everything

By William Shelton

At E3 this year Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aimé said something I want to talk about. It was something I was glad to hear him say and something I think speaks deeply to Nintendo’s core design philosophy, but none the less it is a statement I hate. He said “if [a game] isn’t fun, why bother?” While I’m not going to try and argue that video games need to stop being fun, that would be ludicrous, I do have to ask why this line of thought is so prevalent in the gaming community. Every other form of Art has its masterpieces that are not meant to be enjoyed in a way you could call “fun”. From Bosch’s “A Violent Forcing of the Frog” to Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List”, a lot of great art can be unenjoyable and even downright hard to sit through. Not only do I think games are capable of this as well, a few have ready proven it can be done.

Spec Ops: The Line is a great example of this, if a little cliche to talk about. In a lot of ways the game is a complete mess. The controls are far from tight, enemies act in predictable ways and spawn in obvious “video game-y” locations. On top of that, it had it’s fair share of bugs as well. I remember spending 10 minutes trying to shoot out a window in order to move the plot along, only to restart the mission and have it break almost instantly. There just isn’t a lot of enjoyment to get out of “Spec Ops: The Line”.

But it is a game I think every one should play. Released in 2012, Spec Ops: The Line came out near the height of the “Modern Warfare” craze and was a damning critique of both the genre and the culture that made it one of the biggest phenomenons in entertainment. While it would be easy to look at the games mechanical flaws and say it was shoddily made, in fact almost every part of it was expertly crafted. The poor controls and obvious enemy spawns help reinforce to the player that they are in fact playing a game. Unlike most other games were the control scheme is made to help the player forget about the hunk of plastic in their hands, Spec Ops never wants you to forget that you’re playing a game. It wants that fact in your mind at all times. Because the game soon starts asking you to do things that are meant to feel wrong. The games enemies are American soldiers, Not just that, they are the player characters countrymen. Through out the game you are constantly killing your own people, and you’re aware of that from the nearly the very start of the game. Then there is the games famous white phosphorus scene, when you kill hundreds of civilians. The question is, why? Why do you do these horrid things? Because the game tells you too. The game asks you to commit war crimes, and you do, because the game told you to and thus it must be the right thing, right? Spec Ops: The Line was designed not to be fun in order to ask why a game about armed warfare should be considered fun in the first place.

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Some have argued that Spec Ops failed in it’s message by not offering the player a choice. I’d argue that it did: You chose to keep playing.

Another game well worth you’re time despite not being a whole lot of fun is Loneliness by creator Jordan Magnuson. Loneliness is a masterpiece of minimalism and a game that taught me a lot about myself. You play as a single pixel and you can beat the entire game in about 5 minutes by simply holding the up key. As you play other pixels appear, all of whom scatter as you approach. After constant rejection you may choose to stop interacting with the other pixels, much like I did. Or maybe you hold on to hope, enthusiastically greeting each new cluster as they appear. There is no wrong way to play Loneliness, but how you choose too speaks volumes. I never realized just how poorly I handle rejection and abandonment until I played Loneliness and was forced to confront it. After the second group ran off I started to avoid any other groups I saw. Just like in real life, I had been hurt and I isolated myself in return.

I don’t think it is passable to create an experience like this that manages to be fun. Loneliness, depression and isolation are not fun emotions. As such, really getting a player into that head space requires engaging them in ways that are atypical to gaming and antithetical to being “fun”.

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Loneliness is mechanically boring, but i highly recommend giving it the five minutes it asks for.

I don’t want to see a world without my big dumb action games in it. I will take all the Uncharted’s, Overwatch’s and Mario’s this industry wants to throw at me. But there is a whole host of human emotions and experiences that games can address, and I also don’t want to live in a world were developers chose not to engage with that material because they don’t know how to make it fun. Fun is great, it’s important. But it isn’t everything.

The Challenge of Difficulty

Recently I had a “lovely” conversation with a “gentleman” regarding one of my reviews. This “gentleman” had an issue with the fact that I didn’t complete the game due to finding it needlessly frustrating. To them, the game’s difficulty was a feature and my criticism with it showed a misunderstanding of the game. Obviously I disagree, but the conversation did make me think about difficulty in games and what separates an enjoyable challenge as opposed to rage inducing frustration. In the end it all boiled down to good design, much like everything else when it comes to good games.

I’ve made it pretty clear on my cite that I am a “SoulsSlut”. I love From Software’s Souls series, and the easiest way to get me interested in a game is to tell me “it’s like Dark Souls but….”. Salt and Sanctuary was like Dark Souls meets Castlevania and I loved it, Nioh was like Dark Souls with Samurai and it’s a forerunner for my game of the year. The Serge is like Dark Souls but Sci-fi and it’s the last game for this year I’m truly excited for, even though it’s made by the same people behind Lords of the Fallen, which was like Dark Souls but Crap. And in each and every case, the thing that drew me in to each game, the reason “it’s like Dark Souls” works for me, was the expectation of overcoming the games challenges. Even back in the PS2 era I was a big Devil May Cry fan, which were known for their difficulty back in the day. The funny thing about all of this is: the original Dark Souls, my personal favorite of the bunch, proves my point for both good and ill.

I’m one of those people who hate the idea of Dark Souls having an “easy mode”. Not because I don’t want more people to enjoy the game, but because I don’t think it’s possible. Enemies hit hard in Dark Souls, but their wind up and cool-downs compensate for it. If you change the amount of damage enemies do, the time it takes them to prep and unleash an attack is too unbalanced. If you change the animation times to compensate, then the enemies are doing proportionately the same amount of damage, they’re just faster. The same goes for the player character. If you boost the damage or attack speed you end up breaking the games balance. None of that was to say that there aren’t accessibility issues that From could work on, but for 90% of Dark Souls, the games difficulty proves my point: good design leads to good difficulty. The games systems are connected and balanced in such a way that the easiest way to overcome the game is to have a thorough understanding of these mechanics and systems.

And then there’s Blight Town.

Most fans of the game will tell you this is the worst part, and I am in that camp. (However, Hamish Black from Writing on Games did an excellent video countering this point. But this isn’t about him, fuck off Hamish.) So, why does Blight Town not work: it lags. By this point in the game you should more or less have a firm understanding of the combat. Attack animations are long, and you can’t back out of them, so you have to time your hits. Due to the lag in Blight Town, getting that timing right is much harder than it should be. In fact, I’d even wager that without that lag Blight Town wouldn’t be an issue. The enemies aren’t hard to beat and there’s enough land to avoid getting poisoned. Even the boss is one of the easier ones in the game. The hardest part is navigation, but so long as you keep moving down you’ll be okay. So, here’s the million dollar question: why is Blight Town so lagy? Because some stupid fuck thought it would be a good idea to render the entire area all at once. From the very top, if you look down you can see a clear outline of the poisonous mire down beneath. Rendering all of that takes a toll, and that toll was playing havoc with the games frame rate. As one of the Dan’s from Extra Cridits mentioned in his Lets Play of the game, a Silent Hill like layer of fog to hide some of Blight Town from the player so that not everything had to be rendered at once could have easily fixed this. The one part of the game that was poorly designed lead to the one part of a game that was no longer challenging, but frustrating.

For another example, lets look at the game I’m most in love with right now: Persona 5. I have very few issues with Persona 5 overall, and for the most part the difficulty isn’t one of them. Sure a boss or two have given me a few issues, but in the end I think the game is a little too easy. However, there is one exception to this. In the latter game safe rooms become more and more rare while enemies increasingly have attacks that can instantly kill members of your party. And if that happens to the player character, it’s game over. Where I am now the game even through me into a scenario where I had to fight three mini-bosses back to back with no ability to save between them. The second of which had two separate one hit kill attacks. If I had not been slightly under leveled to create a new persona and not been forced to stick with my main (who could block both attacks) this battle could have lasted hours. Speaking just for myself, out of the 70 hours I put into the game, I think there has been at least one hour per dungeon extra just for the amount of times I got instakilled in the level and had to redo long stretches of it. Thankfully in bigger fights the game gives you the ability to start over from the beginning of that fight, but this doesn’t ease the frustration of losing large amounts of progress when you did nothing wrong.

And yet again, almost all of that was also true for Darkest Dungeon, a game I loved and in which these same things didn’t bother me. Why? Because everything in Darkest Dungeon, from story to tone to game play mechanics, reinforced the idea that the world is a cruel place that does not care about you or your goals.

Good difficulty stems from good design. Good difficulty requires work and dedication by the player in order to overcome, but it does not get in the players way. Good difficulty does not ask a player to brute force their way past the games challenges, but to make smarter use of the games systems. Good difficulty does not laugh at a players failures, but revels in their successes. Good difficulty may ask for a players dedication, but it does not waste the players time.

Ludophile Lab is having an Identity Crisis

I haven’t been posting as much as i would like. Hell, i haven’t been posting much at all. Part of that is just life. School takes up a lot of time and there isn’t always something interesting to talk about. Recently, however, I’ve come up against a new issue. I’ve always been more interested in doing reviews more than anything else, and with my review now being mainly hosted over at IndieGamerTeam.Com, i’m having kind of a hard time coming up with what exactly i want Ludophile Lab to be. Part of me thinks it would be a good idea to try and make this more editorial based, and reviewing Non-Indie Games (like Persona 5 which i am loving and putting way too much time into). However, by the time a topic reaches me bigger and better voices have probably already wrote or made a video on it. I mean really, between Jim Sterling, Writing on Games and Noclip there really isn’t much i can add to most conversations.

So now that you know what’s been going on and where my head is at most of the time, i’d like to ask: what would you like to see? Stuff like the trailer reactions and stuff probably aren’t going away becuase they give me an excuse to talk about games. But other than that, what kind of stuff would you all like to see? Editorials? More personal game related stories? Fucking Top 10 lists? Please, feel free to leave a comment and give some ideas, i’d appreciate it.

An Open Letter to Atlus in Regards to their Streaming Policy for Persona 5

To Whom it May Concern,
Persona 5 has been one of my most anticipated games since before you announced it. I jumped on bored with Persona 4, played 3 soon after and even bough a copy of the PSP re-release of the original game. I regularly find myself hoping you will release a Persona 2 collection in the US with both parts of the adventure. I love this series, I love these games. And so far, I am loveing this one just as much as I hoped I would. Because of this, let me say right off the bat that I understand your reasoning behind your position on streaming Persona 5. Even though I’m only about 6 or 7 hours in, I’ve already experienced events that make me glad I went in cold. Understanding is not agreement, however, and like almost everyone else I disagree with this decision.
Given your track record and my love for these games, I am going to assume you’re being earnest about wanting to avoid spoilers. Here’s my issue: you are showing a profound lack of faith in a game that doesn’t deserve it. The message you are sending is that once people know what happens, there’s nothing else worth experiencing. That isn’t true. I still have my PlayStation 3 hooked up to my TV because I have Persona’s 3 and 4 downloaded on to it. I have done damn near everything there is to do in both games, but I know at some point I am going to go back to them. So far I have no doubt that Persona 5 is going to end up along side those. If you make a good game, people will want to play it. Even know the story, people will still want to play a good game. And again, all you are saying here with these restrictions is “this game is not worth your time”. That isn’t true, stop acting like it.

Best Video Game Dogs

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To my pleasant surprise today is National Puppy Day! As a lover of dogs i thought i’d celebrate today by putting together a list of the best dogs in video games. This list is super scientific and cannot be argued with:

  1. All of them.

“But William, what about those mangy dogs from Dark Souls and Resident Evil that want nothing more than to chew your face off?”

I’m sorry, did i stutter?

All.

Of.

Them.

That concludes this very scientific list. All dogs are good dogs. If you have a dog, please tell it i love it.