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.

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.

The Good Ol’ Days are Still Ahead of Us

With 2016 being as dead as everyone it took from us, and us facing down the barrel of some really bad choices made over the last 12 months, I think right now we could all use a good dose of positivity. With that in mind, allow me to posit something of a controversial opinion: we have not entered into the golden age of gaming yet.

Don’t get me wrong, I love retro-games and I really fucking love the retro-revisionism going on in the indie scene. In terms of pure hit and miss ratio of good to bad games I still think the PS2 was the best console ever made. I would even say that with a few notable exceptions, the last generation was filled with mostly forgettable crap. So forgettable in fact that even I found it hard not to look to the past with a since of longing.

And yet, I still think gaming’s better days lay in our future.

More interestingly, I think the reason the future of games is so bright is in large part do to the same factor that made last gen so overwhelmingly dull: those filthy casuals. Most of the people I know don’t want to say this in fear of driving away new members of the gaming community, but the fact is most of last generation was centered around teaching new comers how to game. At beast games were streamlined for accessibility to this new audience and at worst they were stripped of their “gameyness”. The best games from the era managed to make that work (hell, even I’m hoping that the System Shock remake takes a few queues from the Bioshock series) but overall gaming last gen very much felt like an introductory course to the medium.

And in almost every way it could have, it paid off. Not only are video games out selling their media rivals, but a slew of quality games that have reached that mass audience over the last year has show that the “Gaming 101” generation has started moving into 200 level classes. Those filthy casuals who weren’t ready for the depths and complexities of old school CRPGs or arena shooters, they’ve learned, and learned very well.

The last few years have seen some truly great games released and become hits, while still feeling very much like video games. Dark Souls 3 found a nice middle ground between being an entry point for new players while not abandoning it’s trademark difficulty. Overwatch took the crown as king of the Online FPS, and not only is it surprisingly deep and complex, it also has a roster of colorful and diverse characters that wouldn’t have felt out of place in the “golden age”. The Doom remake very much was just a prettier version of its predecessors and look how well that did with audiences. Hell, even Call of Duty has started incorporating more traditional video game and geek culture iconography.

But even more impressive than that, this new flood of gamers has also brought with it new experiences. It is sadly true that big companies aren’t taking as many risks as they once did, but new voices are making up for it. Even in an age were Okami would have been green lit could you imagine games like Her Story or Gone Home getting the go ahead? I hate to say it, but I don’t.

Right now we are living in a time where the things that made games great are coming back while also having the freedom to question what exactly it is that makes a game. We live in a time where the line between “retro” and “modern” are beginning to blur. And most importantly, we live in a time were almost everyone is invested in seeing what comes next. The future is bright my friends, don’t let anyone tell you our best days are behind us.

Looking back at 2016

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2016 has been a year of cognitive dissonance and emotional whiplash for me. In almost every way that matters this has been an awful, awful year. It’s also been one of the best years of my life. If you read my last Lab Notes then you’ll know that the last few months have been hard for me, but for the most part the story of my 2016 has been one of my life coming together as the world tried it’s best to tear itself apart.

To illustrate what I mean: back in June I met one of the biggest goals I set for this year. I got Moviebob, one of my three big idols along side Laura Kate and Jim Sterling, to like and retweet an editorial I wrote. That was a huge moment for me. But then I had to deal with the fact that my first big “fuck yeah, I’m getting good at this” moment was riding on the coattails of one of the worst domestic terrorist attacks the US has ever seen. That piece I wrote was about the blowback Moviebob and others got for saying that E3 presenters should maybe think about what they were presenting as the Orlando shooting had happened the day before. While I’m not going to go into all the awful shit that happened as my life seemed to be getting better, I think it’s important to know for an honest assessment of my 2016.

This year also saw me finally getting review codes! Back in August I got my first code, for the game Bear With Me Episode One, and a little bit later I got my first pre-release code for The Final Station. While I haven’t done nearly as many reviews as I would have liked, this was another step in the right direction. Ever since then i’ve made enough contacts with developers and publishers that I honestly don’t always remember who I’m already on their press list and have to check before sending out emails. I mean, Nintendo probably won’t be sending me review codes any time soon, but I’m at least a little more sure that’s I’m making progress.

I also met one of the most important people in my life, my editor and best friend, Cathy of IndieGamerChick.Com. Cathy has done more for me than anyone I’ve ever known, both professionally and personally. When it felt like my life was falling apart she was the only person I could really talk too and she has helped me improve as a writer to an astonishing degree. Honestly, go read my old Poor Mans Geek reviews to my the last few I put up and it’s night and day. Hell, compare my ClusterTruck review to my Dark Souls 3 review (which I put out before working with her) and you can still see the improvement. But as great as all that is the best part is just having her as a friend. Literally almost every interaction I have with her makes my day better just by the fact that I got to have that interaction. I don’t know what else to say other than she has made me a better writer and a happier person. Cathy, if you’re reading this, I love you friend and I wish I could repay you for everything you’ve done for me.

And as if that wasn’t enough, Vikkie Blake followed me on twitter and I have semi-frequent conversations with Joe Parlock. So I’m getting noticed not only by really fucking cool people, but people I hope to someday work with. Vikkie even called me cool on the podcast they do, so that’s pretty neat. If either of you two are reading this, keep doing what you;re doing: your both amazing and I look forward to reading many more piece by each of you and suffering through as many bad jokes as the world can produce along side you both.

I am not where I want to be just yet, but this year has made given me the hope that I can get there one day. While I do kind of hate that I can say that in a year that’s been as awful as it’s been for pretty much everyone, I can’t lie: I will always look back at 2016 with some degree of fondness. I’m looking forward to the upcoming year, and I feel ready to take on whatever 2017 has to throw at me.

The Games I’m Thankful For

I wrote a while back about how Dark Souls made me a better student. Thinking about that and knowing that tomorrow (as I’m writing this) will be Thanksgiving, I decided to do something of a listicle detailing other games that have made a positive impact on my life. So please, enjoy this little bit of year end positivity and feel free to share your own stories in the comments.

1

This came out when I was in middle school, and at the time I had only met my mother twice in my life. As fate would have it however, I was living with my grandmother on her side, who thought it was important for me to have some semblance of a relationship with her. So every Saturday she would call me on the phone (you know, that thing phones did before the rise of texting) and we’d talk for at least an hour. One of the things the two of us found we had in common was a fondness for cartoons, specifically the then still child-friendly Toonami showings. At the time Toonami ran game reviews every now and again. One of those was for The Sands of Time and I was instantly hooked on it. What really made this game stick with me over the years however, is just how in tune it made me feel with my mother. The Saturday after seeing the review (or, lets be honest, glorified trailer) my mom said it looked cool and, with out any form of prompting, asked me if I’d like a copy as a gift. Even if the game had been total crap, the instant connection I felt over how much I had in common with the mother I’d never gotten to know was enough to keep the game in my good graces.

 

2
I remember being in awe of how “realistic” this game looked.

This was the first game I ever played. I moved around a lot as a kid for reasons I wouldn’t know until much later in life, and as such making and keeping friends wasn’t something I was good at. Add to that a home life that i’ve only recently feel like i’ve been able to recover from, and its not hard to see how I was maybe a little more isolated than I should have been in my formative years. Well, in one of the houses me and my father moved into the previous owners left behind a Playstation 1 and the first disk of Metal Gear Solid. The disk was scratched to hell, so I didn’t make it every far in those early days, but I was completely engrossed with the parts I could play. It also didn’t hurt that it was pretty much the perfect game for me at the time: Solid Snake was pretty much everything young me thought of as cool meaning he was also my complete opposite, making him the perfect avatar for my much needed escapism. So when ever home became unbearable I could beat the shit out of a bad guy and was rewarded for doing it, plus this was a “friend” I could take with me. While this wasn’t “the” game that made me an avid gamer, it was the beginning.

3

As far as I can recall, i’ve lived with 8 distinct family set ups. Most of those were christens. Most of those were the crazy kinds of christens. My first stepmother was not an exception to that rule. See, me and her two sons, in our time together, had met an older guy in our neighborhood and had formed something of a friendship by playing a streamlined version of Dungeons and Dragons. Stepmom#1 did not like that. Even though our game was streamlined to the point of being near unrecognizable to real fans, to her it was the same “satanic” game alarmist news had warned her about. I didn’t take that kindly and ended up get myself grounded for my…less than tactful attempts to persuade her to let us keep playing. While I couldn’t go out and play, I was still allowed to play video games. And the one I played the most, the one I got hooked on was one of my stepbrothers copies of Pokemon Stadium for the Nintendo 64. I sucked at it, but everyday after school I went back to it hoping that would be the day I’d power on through it. By the time my two week prison sentence was up, I really didn’t want to do much else but keep playing.

So those are three games I’m thankful for: the one that started it all, the one that cemented my love for gaming and the one the made me feel like I really had a family. There are so many more I could talk about, but I’m going to end there for this year. If you’re reading this I hope you’re having a happy thanksgiving, and I hope to see you again soon.