GOTYe Awards 2015

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As 2015 winds down and we begin our reflection of the past 12 months, critics and gamers alike are starting their lists of the best games of the year. While I could take the easy route and explain some of my favorite titles, I wanted to put a bit more thought into such a blog.

I decided to take a different approach; comparing games to Gotye song titles. Why would I do that, you ask? Well, apart from comedic value, this is my blog and you can fuck yourself. So, with that said, let’s kick of the GOTYe Awards 2015!!

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Somebody That I Used to Know Award – Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5

It’s always sad when a cherished franchise becomes a former shell of itself. Activision had thoroughly milked the Tony Hawk license after the 5th game, but we kept getting sequels. I guess implementing things like dune buggies and tennis wasn’t enough, so Activision and Neversoft were content with throwing literally everything into a game.

This led the series to open-world territory, “realism” based trick systems and eventually a plastic skateboard controller. The series has been in flames for longer than my young cousin has been alive.

When Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 was announced, gamers let out a sigh of relief. We were finally going to get a game that properly continued the legacy of the original titles on a next-gen system. Except, that isn’t what happened.

The game we ended up receiving was a broken mess of an overpriced coaster that barely functional properly and had very little content. I mean, I’ll all for having Tony Hawk roll around on the ground like he’s having an epileptic seizure, but I’m not willing to shell out $50 to do so.

It just takes me back to being a teenager and playing the hell out of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3. It was the first game I bought with my own cash. It was the game that inspired me to listen to hard rock. It was also the catalyst to me becoming a completionist. THPS5 is basically a reminder that nostalgia is a lie.

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Board With This Game Award – Yoshi’s Woolly World

At this point in time, I’m going to assume that Yoshi’s Island was a complete fluke. I was utterly captivated with the game upon it’s release. It was all my 7 year old self could think about. I was a big fan of Mario, but playing this new Yoshi title was so different. It was colorful, inventive, laid-back and beautiful.

All of it’s mechanics made sense, were implemented in creative ways and never got old. Even the music was timeless, with tunes stuck in my head 20 years later. When I had originally played it, I thought Nintendo would be able to make an ever better game with more powerful hardware. The SNES was old by the time Yoshi’s Island rolled around, after all.

That game has never been given to us. Yoshi’s Woolly World was the best attempt at recreating some of the old-school magic, but Nintendo appears to be more focused on targeting nostalgia then anything else. I miss the Nintendo that took risks with their IPs.

Mostly, I just found the game utterly boring. It’s devoid of challenge and plays things so safely that I often had to stop after beating a few levels to prevent myself from falling asleep. I love those amiibo that were made to commemorate the game, but they don’t make me forget Yoshi’s Island.

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Here In This Place Award – Grow Home

When I saw Jim Sterling talking about an actual good Ubisoft game, I immediately got intrigued. I’ve been a fan of some of their franchises, but their more recent output has been plagued with bugs and issues that often cripple the entire experience. Even “classics” like Assassin’s Creed 2 had major game breaking bugs.

Still, Grow Home looked right up my alley. It was a free form game with a simple goal and endless opportunities to explore. I love exploring, I’m a fan of highly stylized art and I can never say no to original ideas. Grow Home may not be a classic, but it’s very charming.

It’s sense of scale is without equal. Climbing ever higher and peering down to the islands below is enough to take your breath away. It also makes your gut sink if you’re playing on a big enough television. The visuals may not be realistic (in any sense), but god damn if they don’t encapsulate exactly what developer Reflections was aiming for.

The sandy beaches, vibrant colors, endless sky and oddly shaped enemies make you believe you’re in a different world. It’s truly a great concept with awesome execution. It also reignited my love of rock climbing with some mechanics that correctly mimic the motions one makes while scaling a mountain.

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Thanks For Your Time Award – Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

MGSV may not have been the send off for the beloved Metal Gear franchise we all hoped for, but it was a very well built game. It’s unique approach to stealth with an open world that felt like a real land mass made for some of the most intense and endlessly replayable scenarios in recent memory.

MGSV also did something that no other game really nailed quite as well; it acknowledged the player’s role in the legacy of Metal Gear. Sure, the ending twist is revealed in a sloppy manner and kind of muddles the already convoluted plotline ofMetal Gear, but the true message was that we are Big Boss.

We are the ones who have gone through all of the trials of tribulations of Snake. We have seen his best and worst times. We rose to the challenge to save this virtual world on multiple occasions. We started our own private army to combat digital mercenaries and prevent a nuclear apocalypse. Without us, Kojima would have never been able to create such an engrossing experience.

It’s sad to know that the future of Metal Gear is basically dead. Konami is a tired excuse of a once golden company. We can be grateful that Kojima won’t have to spend the rest of his days wasting away at a worthless sinkhole.

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Like Drawing Blood Award – Mortal Kombat X

I was pleasantly surprised with Mortal Kombat (2009). While the game was maybe a bit too similar to Street Fighter IV, it took a dying franchise that once captured the attention of the United States and brought it back to life.

The older games were focused on making the most gory and explosive experience possible. The first two haven’t aged particularly well, but Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3remains a classic. It’s combo system, innovative block button mechanic and aggression meter all make the game feel unique and brutal.

The 2009 reboot captured that same essence. It has the gore factor in check (and jacked up to 11), it has lots of combos strings and move cancels and it’s got plenty of diversity with it’s cast selection. Mortal Kombat X is basically a lesser version of the 2009 game.

While it’s graphics are insane and the gore is even more stomach turning, the game just feels off. From it’s garbage PC port to the milking of DLC with almost literal cheat codes bearing a $1 price tag, the game just feels gutted.

The story mode that was so fun to play in it’s predecessor has been cut down to a measly few hours with no real purpose. The online functionality has somehow gotten worse, despite being on more powerful hardware. Even the DLC fighters feel like a wasted opportunity, going with film nostalgia over any real innovation on or celebration of the MK legacy.

For a game that looked so promising to basically fizzle out after being launched is just sad. Playing it is like visiting the doctor’s office. You don’t want to be there and watching the needle draw blood is enough to make you pass out. It really sucks, as I thought Mortal Kombat was going to be here to stay.

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Easy Way Out Award – Call of Duty: Black Ops III

Another year, another Call of Duty game. A series that I once looked forward to is now a running joke with most gamers. It’s also a good case study for how to save on production costs between sequels.

Ever since Call of Duty 2, there has been a new game in this series every year. We are on the 12th entry in almost as many years. Having two developers working on a series should make for a fresh approach with every passing game, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

Treyarch was, for a small while, attempting to do different things with the tired COD recipe. Black Ops brought things to the Vietnam War Era and Black Ops II attempted to inject some different gameplay elements into the mix, but Black Ops III just falls on the same bullshit as before.

I guess Advanced Warfare was a roaring success, because trying to actually distinguishBlack Ops III from the last title is a nigh on impossible task for anyone but diehard COD fans. The game doesn’t even make sense with the Black Ops name, having little connection to the previous games in it’s own trilogy arc.

Activision doesn’t care about that. Why try putting effort into your titles when you can take the easy way out and produce the same garbage year in, year out? For as much unfounded flak as the Call of Duty series gets, Black Ops III is an example of when the internet is actually correct about something.

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I Feel Better Award – Bloodborne

When Demon’s Souls came on the scene, many people took notice. Here was a game that was going against the norm and actually challenging gamers to think on their feet. There was no floating arrow to point you in the direction of the objective. There were no easy ways out of difficult situations. If you sucked, you weren’t finishing the game.

While Dark Souls seems to have stolen everyone’s heart, I’ve always had a fondness for the smaller ambitions of it’s predecessor. I loved the level structure, darker tone and more challenging combat of Demon’s Souls. I wanted a game with more brutality and with a stronger sense of challenge.

Bloodborne delivered on that. It’s level design created a sense of tension and dread in the early stages that gave way to more expansive and mind-bending labyrinths in the late game. It’s enemies were fast and ferocious with stronger AI and a thirst for blood.

Beating any single area felt like a massive accomplishment, let alone surmounting the bosses. Coming to terms with the combat, getting a feel for the world and making forward progress all led to a really gratifying sense of fun. The DLC was just icing on top of the cake.

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I’m not sure if this list ended up being as funny as I originally planned it to be. The whole Gotye craze that happened a few years ago seems to have disappeared. The guy clearly wasn’t trying to be a pop sensation, but the masses wised up to some decent music for once. It was frightening.

Regardless, I feel that “Somebody That I Used to Know” is still a part of the internet’s collective conscious. If you don’t get the reference, then too bad. Gotye certainly doesn’t care.

Anyway, happy 2015 everyone. Hopefully next year, I can think of some more Gotye related song titles to go with some awards. Or maybe it will just be “Smoke and Mirrors”.

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Integrity Vs Monetary Gain

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens just opened up worldwide and a big question has been on my mind; where does art end and money making begin? One of the biggest struggles I’ve had in my life is dealing with the fact that, to make a living, I need to accept money from people.

All I’ve ever truly wanted to do was exist in this world and help others. That I need to constantly be searching for work and getting paid puts me in a sour mood. That some of my favorite entertainment properties also exist to make cash also gets me agitated.

I wasn’t alive at the advent of film, but I can’t imagine that visionaries who saw the format were immediately thinking of monetary gain. Artistic integrity had to have been present for some of them.

To take it back even further, what of famous authors or composers? Was Shakespeare simply churning out comedies and dramas for cash? Did Mozart take his talent for music and use it solely for personal gain?

When I review a film or game, I tend to look at it like a piece of art. I certainly understand that not everything is created to stimulate the mind, but most works have a purpose. Someone doesn’t come up with an idea and then pause their train of thought to consider how to market the thing.

I’ve always believed that film makers and game developers create to express themselves more so than inflate their pockets. It sickens me when I read stories about selfish producers or greedy corporations churning out endless amounts of trash for misinformed masses.

The Force Awakens happened to actually be good, despite existing solely for money. The film makers behind the project put a lot of passion into their craft, but that doesn’t excuse the film’s cynical nature. This is a nostalgia vehicle with plenty of fan service and a vague connection to what came before.

Does that mean I shouldn’t enjoy it? Are the themes present in the film not worth discussing? Do any of the people involved truly care about the project beyond launching it? It’s tough to think about.

Nintendo seems to be riding the nostalgia train of the Legend of Zelda as hard as they can. That series is my personal favorite game franchise, but even I am beginning to feel queasy. Nintendo definitely is whoring it out with re-releases and updates.

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Don’t forget your amiibo! *additional fee of $13.99*

Big publishers like Activision and EA have relied on their “flagship” franchises for over a decade now. Call of Duty has become a November staple despite negative feedback from the more current titles. Battlefield hasn’t gone away since 3, even with skipping one year for a Medal of Honor title (made by the same developer, no less).

Mario has turned into a bloated excuse to keep a legend around. Sega won’t put Sonic out to pasture. Capcom is trying their damnedest to copy everyone else. What happened to the games made with love and care?

I know indies exist (in both the film and game industry), but those are hardly getting the attention they deserve. You also have indie developers like Double Fine who are leaning on their own pasts to create a sequel to a game that don’t really need one.

It feels like artistic integrity has long been forgotten. To create any kind of brand recognition takes too much effort for studios to invest in. Gigantic budgets and record breaking sales aren’t required to make something successful, but companies tend to close down without positive reception.

The cost of production for films and games has ballooned out of control. To stay in the business that one may love, they have to compromise their own desires to work on something that is devoid of integrity. Artistry and revenue don’t co-exist.

It breaks my heart to see this. Maybe this is all a part of growing up and following the development process so close, but I’m really becoming jaded to films and games. I want to see brand new things, but even I am afraid of buying into a game that I know nothing of.

When I pick up a new Zelda, I at least know the general premise of what I’m getting into. If I go for something like Undertale, what the fuck am I supposed to expect? The name doesn’t really make sense to me and the small glimpses I’ve seen of it are ambiguous. That doesn’t instill confidence in me.

Is it possible to make something with your heart and soul and then demand people pay you for it? I personally don’t agree with that. The reason I gave up pursuing a  career as a gaming journalist was because of the struggle I had with asking for money.

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I love to discuss my thoughts on games and what I feel playing through a new experience. To tell people that they need to pay me before I do that is gross. Why should anyone be required to fork over their hard earned money for my stupid ramblings?

I want my message to get to other people, not have it locked within a cage. Stories that intrigue me always have some kind of deeper message or meaning. They pay respect to their viewers and don’t compromise their creator’s being. That is what I’ve always sought out.

That doesn’t seem to be the case anymore. Anything truly new will be swept under the rug to make way for the corporate machine. Visionary ideas will be buried in favor of guaranteed success. Maybe I should just fall in line and accept my check.

I Need a Bigger Gun

As we progress into the future, games become more and more limitless. When hardware or storage capacity used to hinder developers, new formats and emerging cloud gaming have basically done away with old constraints.

Have you ever noticed how most newer games lack unique or memorable arsenals? With all the power at their fingertips, developers still rely on the tried and true Doom arsenal to pepper their games with variety. Nothing against Doom or iD Software, but that was 1994.

We are in the year 2015. The fact that I couldn’t recall any weapons from the latest Call of Duty is a tremendous problem. Even if the first game relied on period accurate weaponry, the series was known more for how it changed the way we utilize the guns more then the guns themselves.

Yes! That gun I’ve used in every game for the past 4 years!

Even with that, Call of Duty is eternally boring with it’s selection of firearms. You have the general ”Weapon” category and then everything to broken into sub-catregories. Rifles, Machine Guns, SMGs, Snipers; you name a real life gun, Call of Duty has it.

While this may make sense for a Tom Clancy game with it’s focus on realism, Call of Duty should be pushing the boundaries of the genre. The games are the most popular thing in the medium and collect ridiculous amounts of money every year. You’d think Activision would want to spice things up a bit.

To lay off that franchise, what about any other games? Grand Theft Auto is guilty of phoning in the weapons. I remember the stupid glee I had when I first obtained the chainsaw in GTA: Vice City. About the coolest weapon I found in Grand Theft Auto V was a golf club.

Even Assassin’s Creed has basically stopped innovating in terms of arsenals. Since Ezio introduced the dual hidden blade, every subsequent game has contained it. Ubisoft then started throwing in items that took away from the idea of stealth (who the hell wanted bombs?).

Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate looks to remedy this problem, but I don’t know if one game series is enough. As popular as those games may be, shooters still reign supreme and have been stagnant for a long time. I don’t want to always rely on an M4 or ACR in my games.

I used to love old-school shooters with their insane, unrealistic and creative weapons. I loved how, when Half-Life took a turn for a more realistic style, the weapons remained unconventional. I truly love how Unreal introduced two firing modes.

Even their “real” guns had different modes.

Painkiller, a game which was seen as a bit vapid back in the day, has probably the best arsenal of any shooter around. There are only 6 weapons, but each gun has an alternate mode that is basically a new gun. It doubles the arsenal without bombarding the player with different models or information.

To that effect, Halo has always been fairly inventive with it’s guns. While some are basically analogues for genre staples, the Needler and the Plasma pistol are wholly unique. The pistol is also god damned incredible with how well it balances the multi-player (as far as the first game is concerned).

Unreal Tournament and Quake 3 Arena never had issues with balance as their arsenals were diverse and different. Obviously a rocket launcher was in both, but each game had a different feel and different fire rate. The rail-gun was a much faster sniper, while UT’s plasma rifle and ripper have never been replicated.

You can dig through iD Software’s past and find plenty of different guns. Quake had the lightning gun, Heretic had a damned staff and Doom introduced the world to the BFG 9000 (later upgraded to the BFG 10k for Quake 3).

And all was right with the world.

Then I go to my PS4, boot up Killzone: Shadow Fall and see weapons that can be replaced with any real world equivalent. It really makes newer games feel completely dated. What about when future warfare becomes a reality? Now these weapons will be old-school and worthless.

With the likes of old-school shooters, most of those weapons will never exist. Even if you could produce a facsimile, the game’s weapon would remain an entity unto itself. The fun wouldn’t be lost or feel lazy.

I would just like to see shooters try harder. The genre used to be a trailblazer for graphical technologies and creativity. Now, we pretty much have a paint by numbers system for creating first-person games. I don’t want that to be the standard.

The Necessary Evil

Creative geniuses won’t strike gold each time. When you’re at the top of your game, you sometimes just mess up. Even Miyamoto recently admitted that, yet his works are still looked at with awe. Gamers don’t hold a grudge against him.

I attended the ScrewAttack Gaming Convention this past weekend and got a chance to ask the guys from Acclaim Entertainment about their past. I didn’t expect to get such a lively response, but I walked up and questioned, “Are there any games that you guys regret making?”

During their explanations, I began to understand a bit more about why publishers will license specific games. Ever wonder why so many sports games exist? Well, over half of Acclaim’s revenue came from its NFL Quarterback Club titles. Without those, we would have never seen Turok.

This just got me thinking about something like Call of Duty. In the hands of a better publisher, we would be seeing more creative titles coming from Activision instead of retreads or iterations of the same ideas. In a better industry, giants like EA and Ubisoft would be producing a more diverse range of titles.

Even so, something like Madden and Call of Duty are a necessary evil in the games industry. Without any money flowing in, how would we continue to play games? PC gaming is an exception, not a rule. For consoles, if we didn’t have cash cows to move hardware and fund publishers, we probably wouldn’t be getting anything.

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Even Nintendo is guilty of this. Mario has slowly become an annual franchise. Just last year, we were graced with two Mario titles, even if they were basically the same game. Nintendo uses the ludicrous sales from Mario to fund its other games and online services.

A Nintendo without Mario or Zelda to fall back on means a games industry without nostalgic games, platformers or local multiplayer. Ever ponder why Rayman: Origins had 4-player co-op? If Nintendo didn’t even attempt it with Mario, Ubisoft would have never thought of including it.

Gamers bemoan iterative and annual franchises, but we really should be thankful for their existence. We never have to purchase them and if there needs to be a change, we can clearly voice an opinion. Still, ridding the world of these titles would only lead to bad things.

I’d definitely like for more creativity in the industry, but we should never be so naïve as to think that Call of Duty is ruining gaming. The only thing that is hurting developers’ creativity is how bloated console game prices have become.

As MatPat from The Game Theorists put it, “Don’t buy a game if you don’t like it. Don’t like the new Call of Duty? Don’t like the new Battlefield? Don’t like the new Mario? Then don’t buy them.” Taking that advice to heart, we shouldn’t be angry about people who do.

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Everyone likes something for some reason or another. We may have grown tired of the repeated tricks and boring tropes of these games, but they serve a purpose. That purpose is to get new ideas and hardware rolling.

With the next-generation looming, I hope Call of Duty has enough steam to keep going. If Microsoft and Sony fail to keep their hardware moving, we really will be looking at another industry crash.

If that happens, we might not have anything new again.

I’m Part of the Problem

Every now and then, a treasured developer will produce a game so dissimilar to their previous work that fans will begin to rage. They’ll lament the good old days and chat about how said developer has lost their way. What happened to the tight level design? Where are the classic monsters? Why does this game feel so different?

Id Software’s “Rage” is such a title. Playing almost nothing like their previous games, “Rage” feels very awkward to a longtime Id fan. Why would you even bother with this title, outside of the developer’s legacy? After playing through the game, I can’t answer that question.

Still, I can’t help but think I’m a part of the game industry’s biggest problem; creative stagnation. Id Software tried their damnedest to create a brand new IP and I hate the game. Hell, even when they took “Doom 3” in a different direction than the classic games, I was first in line to bitch and moan.

“Rage” definitely isn’t a shining example of game design, but it’s not poorly made. When the characters finally shut-up and you’re thrown into a dungeon, it plays like a better version of “Fallout 3.” The guns have great weight and the graphics completely sell the putrid creatures and their agility. It can be really tense.

In the same instance, though, nothing about the game is original and most of the ideas are half-baked. The upgrade system shouldn’t even exist with how few options are available, the car combat side missions feel like half of a game (or early PS1 era cash grabs) and the weapon crafting is entirely pointless when you can just buy everything.

“Rage” is mind blowing if you haven’t played a single game this generation. If you have, you’ll just keep thinking about “Borderlands,” “Fallout 3” and “Call of Duty.” It’s sad when even in a brand new game, I can’t escape thoughts of everything else.

I can’t even tell which Call of Duty this is…..

At the same time, because I made those previous games successful, I’m partly responsible for “Rage” being an amalgamation of features from other shooters. I can’t imagine playing a classic style game in the modern era, even though I’d probably enjoy it to some degree.

Still, when new IPs are released, I’m the one responsible for sequels never happening. I’m the guy that craps all over “new” ideas and stops developers from taking chances. I dictate to them that Call of Duty and Battlefield are the only way shooters should be, so why even try something new?

To that degree, I also disliked “Sonic 4.” I’m not one of those people who abhor the physics, though. I was more in the camp that the level design wasn’t adequate and that the boss encounters lacked originality. Since I love classic Sonic, though, what else was Sega supposed to make? How do they make me happy?

I’m also the same person that is lambasting Square-Enix for “Final Fantasy XIII.” I can’t stand the auto-battle system or how streamlined combat is. The linear level paths for an RPG do nothing for me and the absurd story just brings my piss to a boil. How else is Square-Enix supposed to innovate, though?

If I could embrace “Rage” as an actual beacon of creativity, then maybe we’d be a better and more realized sequel. Maybe Id Software could expend more time in designing new mechanics or fleshing out the groundwork laid down with the first title.

If I treated “Final Fantasy XIII” with more respect, maybe Square-Enix would finally give us that “Final Fantasy VII” remake or another title in the classic, 16-bit style (excluding the FFIV pseudo-sequel).

Since I don’t allow developers to try anything new, I fear that the next generation of consoles will just keep producing the same garbage over and over. I keep buying awful sequels in hopes that some of the original joy will be contained; I almost never leave happy.

Even this looks like Call of Duty….

So my only conclusion is that I am a part of the problem. I’ll do my best to embrace the indie game scene, but I don’t see how I’ll be helping triple A title’s become more diverse in the future.