Saturday, May 15, 2010

Game Diary 02: 16 May 2010

[Game Diary is a semi-regular column reflecting on the games I am currently playing, articles I have recently read, and work I am currently writing.]

Games I Played

I've moved on from every game I was playing in my previous post. I completed Pixeljunk: Shooter (though, I still have more scientists to save); I am stuck on the same boss on Dishwasher; and my veteran-difficulty attempt of Call of Duty 4 has stalled about 1.5 levels from the end. Instead, in the past ten days I have bgan exploring yet another apocalypse in Metro 2033; returned to Liberty City and Nico Bellic in Grand Theft Auto 4; I was lured back to Borderlands by some unresolved achievements; and I belatedly discovered the LittleBigPlanet water update.

Metro 2033. I entered the Moscow Metro with trepidation. I had read such positive things about the game's storytelling ambitions, but such poor things about the gameplay. Overall, though, my fears were for naught. The gunplay is nothing to write home about, and the generic mutated monsters are nothing exciting, but the snapshot of humanity clutching onto survival like it has no right to is beautifully captured. Every little detail expresses a society adapted to this existence. The most enjoyable moments of gameplay have been simply walking through the stations (or sneaking through the hostile stations). The characters look and act beautifully, and the comradeship with npcs is heartfelt. The game is far from perfect, but the overall sense of atmosphere and place is great.

Key Moment: Crossing the front line of a war between communist and Nazi stations. Just as in Fallout 3, it is depressing to see that even the apocalypse won't stop us from killing ourselves, but witnessing the fantastical ways in which war might be adapted to play out between two subway stations feels like something out of a Neil Gaiman or China Meiville story--horrible and beautiful in equal measure.

Grand Theft Auto IV.
A paper I am currently writing for uni about the relationship between player and character has been focusing greatly on Nico Bellic, and has lured back to my third playthrough of GTAIV. This is my first playthrough since completing The Ballad of Gay Tony, and I am really appreciating the coherence of the fiction. It's the little things, like when Ray's man, while driving the garbage truck to pick up the diamond stash, says, "Ray got the bikers to steal the diamonds off some nightclub owner." I had always known the DLCs would tie in closely to the original story, but that the original story ties into toe DLCs is great. How many other stories are criss-crossing Liberty City?

Key Moment: So, so many. But just from recent play, seeing Luis Lopez interrupt the diamond deal, and this time knowing exactly where he came from this time.

Borderlands. I thought I was done with Borderlands. I hadn't finished my second playthrough, but I was more powerful than anything Pandora was throwing at me so the challenge was gone. However, after a spontaneous motivation to get the few achievements I was missing (or rather, an apathy towards all my other games), I decided to wrap up my original character, for tidiness sake. This only took a couple of hours, but then I discovered how utterly powerful every enemy became afterwards. I was no longer the most powerful being on Pandora. This could not be. So forgetting any promises I had made to myself on the contrary, I purchased The Secret Armory of General Knoxx solely for the raised level cap. The new levels and enemies of the DLC are nothing special so far--just a lot more driving, but driving itself is no more fun. So Borderlands has its teeth into me again, and probably won't let go until I am once again the most powerful mercenary on the planet.

Key Moment: Borderlands doesn't have moments. It is just one long, long grind.

LittleBigPlanet. On account of being in French-Canada at the time, I completely missed LBP's water update. I knew it was coming eventually, but up until this week, I was still (somewhat embarrassingly) still eagerly anticipating its release. My girlfriend had the genius idea of googling its release date, and we discovered it was part of the Pirates of the Caribbean DLC, months ago. So we spent a good night working through the awesome new levels and squeeing as we watched the cute little sackboy and sackgirl gasp for air as they broke the water's surface. And then we were lured back to the level editor and made a giant, bizarre, crossdressing-sackboy paddle-steamer.

Key Moment: Water!

Honorable Mention: The Humble Indie Bundle. So I grabbed the Humble Indie Bundle, as everyone should, but am yet to really explore it. Penumbra is interesting, but strains my poor, old laptop. Waking up two days after purchasing it to discover I now also had Samorost 2 was a delightful surprise, too.

Articles I Read.

"Who Killed The High Score?" (Part One and Part Two) at RedKingsDream.
Fraser Allison's two-part, thought-provoking article addresses a question I have only every asked rhetorically, one that is repeated in Part One's comments: "Why can’t you do it for yourself and not because someone simply slapped some numbers down on the bottom of the screen?" It turns out, this is actually a question it is seriously worth asking. While we may feel that games have 'transcended' the need for numeric scores, they are still in fact everywhere, and we as players still rely on them to gauge our experience.

"Why Won't You Let Me Be Stupid?" at EDGE. Chris Dahlen's piece is an excellently written criticism on the tendency of modern games to not let the player figure things out themselves.

"Characters: The Building Blocks of Your Reality" at GameSetWatch. Christian Nutt's piece relates very closely with my current work on the shared agency between player and character. This article demonstrates why blank-slate characters can only exist in blank-slate worlds. If you want your game-world to be meaningful to the player, then the character must have a meaningful existence.

"Reflections of a Five Year Vet" by Manveer Heir. Manveer's blog, Design Rampage, has been hibernating for some time, yet I never removed it from my RSS feed. Now I know why. This massive, heartfelt, at time rambling piece provides a rollercoaster montage of Manveer's first five years in the industry. It makes me feel regret and relief that I gave up on my own interactive entertainment major when I did.

What I Wrote.

I wrote two pieces in Critical Damage this past week. I started another semi-regular column called Moments where I am trying to use my creative writing a little bit more and record some of moments of my gaming that have stuck with me. This week I looked at a highlight of my Far Cry 2 days. I also wrote a piece about disempowered play in Call of Duty 4 that I am less pleased with. I don't think it could decide if it was academic or personal. Either way, it tries to figure out why I enjoyed the game's story so much when by any right it was not really a story worth enjoying.

And that is what I have been up to. By the time I write another Game Diary, I imagine my time will have been taken up almost completely by Red Dead Redemption, but Mod Nation Racers might get in there as well. Time will tell!


Fraser said...

I like the fusion of academic and personal writing in your article about CoD4. It can be a useful style for reflecting on game design, although one I struggle with a bit; you don't want to sound self-obsessed, but the experience is personal.

For all the talk about Modern Warfare, I'd never considered how much of the game you spend - in various personas - following other people's orders. Now that you've pointed it out, it seems so obvious, and crucial to the story. The game is all about being a soldier in someone else's army (it's in the name: Call of Duty). And, yes, the scary parts are when you're not given directions; the helicopter crash scene is so effective because it drops you into a situation with some mobility but no idea what to do.

I'm sure it would be interesting to look at the controversial plot of Modern Warfare 2 with this in mind, but I haven't played that yet.

I'm about to start the GTAIV DLC games (not technically DLC, since I got the Liberty City Stories disc). It's been a while since I played IV; I'll try to keep an eye out for those cross-overs.

Helen said...

Firstly, well hurrah for my awesomeness at using the internet for its divine purpose: finding out useless (or in this case, useful!) bits of information that passed you by! Water in LBP was heaps of fun!

Secondly, it keeps striking me how the games you love, and the games you enthusiastically speak with me about in RL, all have echoes of the same things you love about Gaiman or Mieville (and others). And what I think underlies your motivations in your creative writing as well.. the grittiness, an emphasis on relationships - both loyalaty and betrayal, and post-calamity (in various ways, whether it is apocalyptic or imposed alienation in the middle of London). Perhaps no real point to this comment, but an observation!