Not Every Game is For You


Hyper Light Drifter was just released this week. Word on the street is that the game is quite challenging. There has been a lot of hype surrounding the release of the title; people have fallen in love with the visual style and were waiting to dig their claws into the game.

Gaming Blog “Rock, Paper, Shotgun,” posted an impressions piece in which the author, John Walker, claimed the game was just too hard for him to finish. While I can respect him leveling with his audience about his personal experience with the game, I’d like to make a counter-point to his stance on difficulty.

The closing few paragraphs of the article mention that gaming shouldn’t cater to one specific group of people. I completely agree with that, but not in the way Mr. Walker claims. He said that every game should be made accessible with different options to allow less experienced players to see the game.

That doesn’t make sense to me. Certain games are built around their difficulty. If you changed Dark Souls, for instance, to have an easy mode, its atmosphere wouldn’t feel as foreboding. It’s similar to the problem Resident Evil 6 has with its fundamental design; Capcom wanted to make an action shooter, but shackled the end product to Resident Evil’s past as a survival horror game. You got a pathetic attempt at modernizing a franchise and a really unfrightening horror vehicle.

Some games can withstand different options for various skill levels. Things like Ninja Gaiden and God of War are focused more on empowering the player than berating them. You get to execute enemies in a glorious, bloody hurricane of destruction. The option exists to make the games challenging (and Ninja Gaiden is pretty unforgiving on any difficulty level), but the design wasn’t based around an uphill battle.

You can be this awesome and suck. It’s crazy!

I can understand Mr. Walker’s frustration in being engaged with the game until the first boss. It is truly aggravating to be sinking into a game’s atmosphere and have it pull out the rug from underneath you. We do live in 2016, though, where the amount of available games is staggering. A quick run through Steam, GOG or Green Man Gaming can let you find something else you’re interested in.

There are also a tremendous amount of games built on being a more spectator driven experience or even just a plain easy one. It might suck that you can’t play this one specific game, but just look at how much else you can find online. It’s similar to being rejected by someone you like; don’t fight it, just move on and go your separate ways.

I can’t disagree with Mr. Walker’s assessment that gamers with the mentality of difficult games being only for them is selfish. That is true; I just feel he misses a key point. Not every game is going to be built for your own skill level. If life had an easy option, we would all be sitting on our asses and getting nothing done.

So honestly, I feel Mr. Walker just needs to accept that not everything will be his cup of tea. It’s pointless to change a game’s core design just because you find yourself at an impasse. If your life is so full of other distractions or obligations that you can’t put the time in to learn a game, maybe it’s time you started looking for different games.

The options are staggering.

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Paystation 4

Going into the 8th generation of console gaming, it seemed like Sony finally understood their fans. All their mistakes with pricing and vague marketing with the PS3 were a thing of the past. Microsoft became money grubbing and lost their focus on gaming. Nintendo was being Nintendo, but promising a stronger drive to make new games.

A few years into this generation, Nintendo is the only one that remained consistent. Microsoft made a dramatic reveal of backwards compatibility on the Xbox One at E3 this year and Sony is now following suit.

Wait, let me rephrase that; Sony is now charging us a 3rd (4th or possibly 5th) time to play our old games on new hardware. I think I’ve had enough of this lunacy. Despite me strongly preferring the PS4 interface over Xbox One, I can’t believe that my older games are being resold to me.

It’s not the largest deal to me as my PS3 is still functional and plays PS2 games. Many people are not in that same boat. Backwards compatibility should be a required on all consoles, regardless of architectural differences. All those legacy consoles are not going to last forever and I’ll be damned if I’m going to keep feeding money to a company bent on making me bankrupt.

Sony has gleefully taken to the trend of re-releasing “HD Remaster” ports of PS3 games on PS4 and now the PS2 is falling in line. Instead of selling a more expensive version of the current console with backwards compatibility support (which would make sense!!!), we’re being asked to fork over $10-15 for our favorite older games.

That doesn’t seem too dramatic, but the implication is that this will be a trend. Down the line on the PS6, we’re going to be rebuying our PS4 games. Hell, it may not even take that long as we’re currently rebuying PS3 games!

Because we all asked for this shit…

What makes this so shocking is that Sony was such a stalwart for PS1 support on the PS2. It was one of the defining features of the console when Nintendo switched formats and Sega basically forgot about the Saturn. With a PS2, you didn’t need to kiss your old library goodbye.

When the PS3 launched, Sony figured that not giving gamers an option was best and decided on jam packing the system with a bunch of extraneous features. Most people didn’t need media streaming, SACD support, wireless networking and video playback; for some, just playing a video game was all they wanted.

If you wanted the prestige of owning a Sony product, you had to deal with the price and extra nonsense. You were getting a Blu-Ray player, whether you liked it or not. You were dealing with internal storage and install times despite older consoles not having that. You were making due with WiFi even if your network didn’t support it.

Granted, the PS2 forced DVD support, but Sony managed to keep the price down by including expansion ports on the system. This let Sony develop a hard drive and network port for later use and for people to decide if they wanted.  Now that philosophy is lost.

With Microsoft granting you access to your games simply by owning the 360 disc, Sony has no reason to expect gamers to jump on these PS2 remasters. What is more baffling is that Sony launched a “PS2 Classics” line on PS3 that let gamers purchase things digitally.

They also started an initiative called “Cross-buy” that allowed you to make one purchase of software and get it on every Sony console. Like that cute little game on your Vita? That’s cool; you can have it on PS3 and PS4 for no extra cost! Why is this not a feature with PS2 on PS4?

It’s hard not to immediately jump to the conclusion of, “MONEY, MONEY, MONEY!!!” It’s doubly hard when Eurogamer took an in-depth look at the first PS2 remasters (Star Wars: Bounty Hunter, Racer Revenge and Jedi Starfighter) and found that they truly are emulation. This isn’t even some new code being written for different hardware; it’s the same damn thing!

Yeah! I’ll rebuy that!!!!

I could maybe understand not allowing discs to be used as there were a tremendous amount of PS2 games, but previous digital purchases not being supported is just unacceptable. It’s downright criminal, if you ask me. For a company so prided on their dedication to their fans, this just reeks of greed.

I will not stand for it. I may not be able to speak with Sony directly, but I’m not going to buy a single one of these “PS2 remasters”. There is no point. If I give in, what’s to say that I won’t be buying a PS2 Re-Remaster on the PS5? In some cases (San Andreas), you may already be doing so.

Unless you really cannot find a functional PS2, don’t give in to Sony. Let them know that you demand to have your games back. Owning a disc should mean that I can use it; the PC format has been like that forever. Enough is enough with this remaster trend.

What’s In a Character? – Agent 47

With yet another bomb of a video game movie out, I’m beginning to think Hollywood is picking the wrong games to adapt to film. When I heard of the first Hitman movie, I wondered how the hell it would even work as a film.

For starters, Agent 47 isn’t really a character. He has an iconic style and is very precise, but he doesn’t show much emotion or development. He is a link from which the player gets to enact their prowess. He exists solely so you don’t have to get attached.

That is the basic premise behind his design. He is bald, white and of average build. He is a John Doe if there ever was one. What makes him work is that the game world built around him is incredibly detailed and fully interactive.

The Hitman series is more about how you, the player, approach a situation then how Agent 47 would do it. If you suck and just want to shoot everything in sight, you can. If you actually want to painstakingly follow NPCs and murder by numbers, you have the options and tools at your disposal.

Hollywood seems to think that 47 has something to develop, so I figured that we could take a look at his various incarnations to see if there ever was a chance of him becoming an interesting protagonist.

Hitman: Codename 47

The start of the Hitman series is actually rather bland. While it had some cool new technology in the way of rag-doll and cloth physics, the game was a bit of a mess. Sloppy controls, frequent crashes and unstable performance; Codename 47 felt rushed out to the market.

In more recent times, the game’s issues have mostly been worked out, but it still remains a rather unremarkable game when placed against it’s sequels. I suppose it is more faithful than Hitman: Absolution, but that game is basically a mess.

Anyway, Agent 47 doesn’t really get much development in this game. From our actions, we learn he is super intelligent and very detached. His work is what he was bred to do (literally) and he is a master of his craft.

These aren’t really personality traits more so than a skill set. I guess 47 is really angry; he does emote that much. Having a single characteristic doesn’t really make for a compelling lead. Like I said above, 47 works because he is so bland.

I really love his suit and tie, but he is an efficient killer. There are no hairs on his head because that would leave traceable DNA. He wears a black suit to hide blood stains. He is always wearing gloves to not leave fingerprints (though knowing him, his fingerprints were burnt off long ago).

Even the end of the game doesn’t really show off much. 47 kills his creator and doesn’t shed a tear or even get too frustrated. It’s just another day on the job for him. So is the way of a genetically altered super killer.

Hitman 2: Silent Assassin

Hitman 2 is where Eidos started to make this series worth a damn. I can accept that the first game was too ambitious for it’s time, but to fail to improve for the sequel would have been a crime. That thankfully didn’t happen and Hitman 2 became a genre staple.

Expanded levels with more choices then ever; better controls and smoother flow; smarter AI and greater detail to their path finding; Hitman 2 was an instant classic upon release in 2002.

Was anything done differently for the story? Yes, actually. Agent 47, apparently, had a desire to get out of the game. Faking his own death to get out of the agency, he is now a groundskeeper for a monastery in Sicily.

The plot kicks off when some thugs come and capture the father at the church. Their motive was getting 47’s DNA to make their own super assassin. They leave a ransom note for 47 to collect an obscene amount of cash or else they will kill the father. 47 gets pulled back into a life he tried so desperately to escape.

It’s a fantastic start to a game that has some great moments, but 47 remains a blank slate throughout. Even if we got a little bit of development during the introduction, nothing else of substance happens. Again, this works in the context of a videogame about killing people, but not so much in making a fascinating lead.

There are some moments where 47 gets in touch with his agency to get an update on the father and those do show a bit of concern on his part. He obviously feels guilty for getting an innocent person involved in his past. He should have been smarter then to think he could escape his rivals.

But other than fleeting moments, the game just ticks along until you kill everyone and get to a dramatic finale. It’s a well executed and paced mission in which the thugs from the beginning storm the monastery looking for you and 47 has to stealth around to find equipment.

After you load up, you get to bring the lead to your foes. In a game focused on making you silent, it’s cathartic to let lose and give it to some truly despicable people (then again, you could be a psychopath the whole game).

Killing everyone sees 47 saving the father and then giving up his peaceful life. He obviously isn’t longed for a world where he doesn’t assassinate. Whatever the agency had started, 47 is going to have to weather this burden until he can discover the real reason behind his existence.

Hitman: Contracts

Contracts is an interesting game. At the time of release, the game was seen as a bit disappointing following the stellar Hitman 2, but I believe the years have been kind to it. Hitman 2 has some wonky AI, even if it is an improvement over the original game.

Contracts is a lot more consistent with it’s enemies. It also remakes some of the first game’s missions in a much more refined engine. Getting to redo the assassination in China is beautiful.

The plot line is a bit convoluted, but it starts when 47 retreats to a secluded hotel room after being wounded. In typical Tarantino fashion, the game is starting from the end and working backwards.

47 ingests some pills and begins to hallucinate about his past. Mixed in with missions from the first game are some new levels. This game basically exists as a retelling of the first title. While I can’t say I truly understand what the plot is about, the game is fun.

The level design remains vast and diverse and the improved AI makes for a more challenging and fair game then Hitman 2. The game takes a step back, plotwise, and focuses more on gameplay.

47 doesn’t get a single hint of development in any facet. He’s never really angry and he doesn’t explain his feelings towards the past or his present predicament. You just experience a setting and are thrust into his shoes.

The final mission is mind-blowingly awesome (which seems to be a trend with the series). After that, 47 escape into the night and we are left to wait for the sequel. It’s kind of a bummer, but whatever.

Hitman: Blood Money

Blood Money is, hands down, the best game in the series. While I once argued that Hitman 2 was the pinnacle, time hasn’t been entirely kind to it. I’d rather take a game with more complex level design, better set-pieces and extremely proficient AI over what feels like random chance.

Blood Money seems to understand that 47 isn’t really a two dimensional being, either. Missions in the earlier portion of the game give you incredibly detailed descriptions of your targets with all of their evil deeds being mentioned.

By the end of the game, your agency contact kind of gives up. You are basically told the target is well guarded and has a few habitual problems. No lecture about how evil they are or whether life is too good for them. You’re a detached killer; why would any of that matter to you?

The narrative does at least try to set up some Bourne style intrigue. Apparently the plot in Contracts was more important then one would have believed. 47 was attempting to discover the location of his enemies and take them out.

Having failed at that, his contact at the agency, Diana, devises a plot to fool everyone. She poisons 47 with atropine lipstick and fakes his death. With 47 disposed of, the director of the CIA steps in to brag about his accomplishment and extract 47’s DNA in a vein attempt to recreate him.

The game works in a similar fashion to Contracts in that the story is told through the eyes of his enemies. You play out levels that were basically heard second hand by the victim’s survivors. It’s really neat and the multitude of options makes for playthroughs that are rarely the same.

This game also sets up a sort of mystique about 47. His enemies believe him to be a mystical being with super human powers. He is cold, efficient, precise, brilliant and unrelenting. His targets will die; the question is just when.

We get the most vocal proclamation of 47’s personality in Blood Money. When Diana “betrays” him, 47 lets out a, “YOU BITCH!” That is about it. Through that short exclamation, we can deduce that 47 trusted Diana. It’s something, even if it’s vague.

The finale, once again, is excellent. Diana kisses 47 with the antidote to his fake death and you rise off the cremation table to kill every last witness. I love how the series builds up to some dramatic climax and then delivers better then most action games.

With all of his enemies defeated, 47 is left with questions about why Diana had double crossed him. Unbeknownst to him, she was trying to protect him. Still, he isn’t exactly happy and is looking for revenge.

Hitman: Absolution

I could go on about how much I loathe this game. I could detail about why I think it is a crappy action game and a terrible sequel to an excellent series. That isn’t why I’m writing this blog.

I took the time to detail some of the reasons why I loved the series in the previous game descriptions, but Absolution doesn’t deserve that. It’s basically a failed attempt to make Hitman and 47 “modern.”

With that said, his game is truly where Eidos tried to create a fully defined character for 47. I believe they failed, but that isn’t to say there aren’t moments where he is given clear motives for his actions and some characteristics to bounce off the scenes.

The game starts with Diana goes rogue from the agency. After the events of Blood Money, she reveals that the agency was corrupt. 47 apparently never got the memo, as he rejoins the agency under a new handler.

This man tasks 47 with killing Diana and bringing in the little girl that was with her. Upon pulling the trigger on Diana, 47 comes to a realization that he is being played (*nudge* *nudge*). 47 then defects from the agency and goes on a quest to figure out why this young girl is important.

There are a lot of Bourne Identity style twists and turns and the game loses a lot of focus as it goes on. Instead of making the central antagonist the shadowy agency, the story introduces some redneck by the name of Blake Dexter. He’s wonderfully acted, but he’s so unnecessary and goofy in terms of what Hitman is.

The series never really put much effort in establishing villains. That may sound insane for a series so focused on eliminating targets, but the deliberately ambiguous backgrounds to your foes is what made you truly feel like a hitman.

Learning the how and why to a person’s actions kind of takes away from your severed connection to the game world. You aren’t supposed to be more interested in what makes a bad guy tick. You’re just tasked with finding them and killing them.

It’s similar to how Grand Theft Auto V included a torture scene. It was purely for dramatic click-bait headlines, but it also tremendously impacted the effect GTA has. The game has never up close and personal about it’s violence. Now this one scene came and made the game very intimate.

Anyway, 47 eventually goes through some ridiculous plot points (need to hit that shooting range!) and kills people for reasons unknown and eventually tortures some guy. You make a rudimentary choice that obviously shouldn’t even exist (47 kills people for a living!) and then you proceed through more action set-pieces.

Somehow 47 makes a connection with the young girl and won’t let anyone take her. It’s basically the same thing with Kratos in God of War III and Pandora. There isn’t much reason to have this tertiary character other than a shoddy attempt at character growth.

I’m also really baffled why some levels are basically cut-scenes. One has 47 go to a shop and get a new suit. That’s beyond pointless; it’s padding for the sake of making a “cinematic” game. I don’t want cinematic qualities; I want to kill people!

Eventually the game wraps up with a generic action scene on the roof of a building. While the final missions were typically the best of the bunch, Absolution throws a wrench into the mix and makes this one a chore.

If you love quick-time events, then I’m sure you’ll dig the closer to this story. Otherwise, we get some anger out of 47 and nothing more. After erasing the villain from existence, 47 drops the girl off at a church and the game ends.

So, what does this whole blog show? Basically, I don’t know how Agent 47 was ever supposed to make for a quality movie leading man. As I’ve hopefully demonstrated, 47 doesn’t evolve much as a character.

While that should be a death knell for any narrative driven experience, the Hitman games have functioned on their mechanics. Like how Miyamoto bases his games on ideas first, Hitman is all about the central premise and not much else.

I know Eidos has tried with their “genetically engineered agent” backstory, but all of that doesn’t matter much. It’s just an excuse to have 47 wind up in shootouts. The ability to avoid those shootouts is awesome.

Still, the series has made some kind of impact on the gaming world. It’s surprising how we’ve seen the likes of 2 movies based on this series and the game is looking to reboot soon. I never thought gamers would gravitate towards a bald, emotionless man.

It speaks to the ingenuity of game mechanics and how gripping gameplay will almost always take central stage. Even if a story is the most dramatic thing ever written, a game is about how you control the outcome of certain events.

Something like Bioshock may have a great story, but I’ve never really clicked with it due to the gameplay being simplistic. That isn’t to lobby a complaint, but I just feel like that series could do a whole lot better.

On the other hand, I think that stealth action games tend to try too hard. Splinter Cell, for how awesome those games are, has a very mind-numbing plot that takes way too much precedent from the 4th game onwards.

Metal Gear Solid is an entirely different beast, basically relying on story more than gameplay. It makes for thrilling and industry defining stuff, but I’ve never really felt that it was a true stealth game.

Hitman, though, nails it. It even allows you to forgo stealth if you want. That makes for a rather short and unfulfilling game, but the option is there. There is more than one solution to any given problem (something that Absolution forgets).

So while the games will continuously be enjoyable, I don’t think 47 is ever going to make a great protagonist in a film. Removing the connection a player makes destroys pretty much everything that makes Hitman fun.

I JUST CAN’T WAIT, but I probably should…

Daft Punk’s newest album will be releasing this coming Tuesday. Expectations are astronomical, which is astounding since the group’s last album came out eight years ago. I am a huge fan of their work, with their eclectic blend of electronic sounds having changed my outlook on music.

To say I’m excited is an understatement. The anticipation has been boiling in me since I heard about the new album in March. I may have spoiled the fun a little by bootlegging the release, but I did already pre-order the disc. Regardless, I’m shocked at how the end result turned out, considering the amount of hype behind this release.

With games, I’ve ruined more than a few titles simply because I wanted them too much. 2011 changed my idea of how I should focus my energy on gaming. I still love the medium, but I just tend to not get too eager about anything. I cannot live through another Uncharted 3 incident again.

I had become a massive Uncharted nut during the course of this generation. The game was the first thing I beat on PS3 (before I even owned the console myself) and I blitzed through the campaign in such a fast time that I needed to play everything again just to remember the best moments.

Then Naughty Dog went and upped the game with Uncharted 2 and lifted my expectations of what a scripted, third-person, cover-based shooter should be. I was annoyed at the lack of flexibility in the setpieces, but blown away by how wonderful-looking they were and how fantastic the game felt.

expectation_2

How can you ruin this? Easily, it turns out.

When Uncharted 3 released, though, everything just felt wrong. Drake moved awkwardly, the controls were never as concise as I remember them being in 2 and the enemy AI took a dramatic step backwards in terms of tactics. Even the cover system became completely worthless with how the level design was.

That was just the biggest disappointment. I was also hotly anticipating Skyrim and I left that game wondering why I even cared. A rushed story with barely a hint of comprehension, a lack of innovative ideas that used to define Elder Scrolls and a generally boring game world just culminated in a game I had to force myself to finish (and at 28 hours, that was a lot of determination).

Oddly enough, Saints Row: The Third was another game I truly desired. I have such fond memories of destroying Saints Row 2 with my friend, Dan. We spent most of my college days goofing off on the Xbox 360 and just plowing through Saints Row because of how absurd the game was. The campaign was a great riff on the realism that Grand Theft Auto was drifting towards, not to mention Volition implemented some smart improvements in terms of playability.

Then THQ became greedy. Somewhere along the line, it joined the ranks of Activision and Capcom in regards to DLC policies. Saints Row: The Third is too long, but feels devoid of content. I believe the campaign lasts around 13 hours, but there are maybe half of the side missions that 2 had. Some of those side missions pad out the campaign, making most missions feel disconnected.

The game also performs miserably on the Xbox 360. I later played through it on PC, but my own memories of the experience tainted the entire game. I could not shake off the feeling of being let down by a game I wanted. Nothing was going to replace that.

expectation_3

DLC ONLY, SUCKA!

If I never had any expectations for these games, I may have enjoyed them. The hardest part of evaluating any piece of media is removing your preconceptions before going in. This is nigh-on impossible for the average person, but gaming has almost seemed different to me.

Usually with sequels, general improvements are par for the course. Even if you feel that the game isn’t as creative as the predecessor, playing feels like a joy because everything is refined. Every game I mentioned above is a victim of the current game industry’s insistence on DLC.

I suppose Uncharted 3 did feature a full campaign, but the multiplayer component handles far better. The controls aren’t sloppy and the level design is tight, other than the lack of maps (which got rectified by plenty of DLC). The general feeling I get is that Naughty Dog wanted the game to sell more map packs instead of provide the tight, scripted and funny campaign that the previous games had.

Bethesda happens to be a product of its own ambition. Oblivion redefined the Western RPG and Fallout 3 showed that first-person shooters could adapt to the RPG template very well. Both of those games followed an oddly similar template, though, and after trekking through three individual Bethesda games before touching Skyrim, I feel that the company just has no tricks left.

Oblivion started the DLC craze and Skyrim just put it into overdrive. I haven’t heard a single good thing about any of the packs released and they all feel like content that could have been included in the base game. I remember mods for Oblivion that allowed you to own homes, yet Bethesda made sure to not include that in vanilla Skyrim.

I remember other moments in my life where anticipation ruined the final outcome. Halo 2 stands as the worst let-down of my teenage life. I was never a giant fan of Halo, but the first game was so much fun with friends and was wholly unique for a console FPS that everyone had to have the sequel.

When that day came, though, I was treated to sloppy graphics, copy and paste level design and a very strange game feel (the field of view is zoomed in too far). The rest of the game continues down this path, too, making for a wholly polished but entirely soulless story.

Not to mention the game doesn’t even have a conclusion, but I couldn’t stand anything else about the experience. The multiplayer may have been a monumental achievement for consoles, but the balance of the weapons is ludicrous. Whoever has the biggest weapon wins, every time. There is no hope for someone spawning with the dingy pistol.

expectation_4

Working all the way towards nothing. Feels great, right?

Why bring this all up? Well, along with Daft Punk’s latest material finally getting unleashed on the world, Microsoft is set to reveal the next Xbox on Tuesday. The Internet is buzzing about how badly Microsoft ruined goodwill and how all the rumors of always online might be enough to spur people away from another Xbox.

I cannot say I have much anticipation for whatever this next generation brings. Maybe that will work in my favor. I do not regret buying a Wii U, but I can’t claim to be infatuated with the device. Nintendo definitely dropped the ball in that regard.

So hopefully Microsoft does something right. Even if they don’t, I know that for once in my life, the sting of disappointment will not be festering within me. I’m glad I finally got over that, too.

An Ode To Shooters (Short Poem)

Guns, guts, glory and gore,
When gripping the trigger, I’m craving more,
Lining up my shots and firing away,
Making sure you won’t see another day.

Stalking the prey and counting my shells,
Grabbing ammo so all is well,
Stacking on armor to prevent expiration,
Cooking grenades for your brains evacuation.

Rounding each corner with reckless abandon,
Hoping to rapid fire shots from my cannon,
Itching to see the dye in your eyes,
Screaming to hear your blood-curdling cries.

Spinning turrets to cause you blight,
Piloting vehicles to any height,
Sprinting faster to chase you around,
Curb stomp you until you’re down.

Blood flows down like a river,
Reminding me of how you shivered,
Turn my head to walk away,
Bullet collides and ends my day.

The cycle repeats for what seems like hours,
Lives lost and new blood cowers,
Shooters provide such visceral thrills,
To this day, I still get chills.

Endless arsenals full of ridiculous gear,
Games dedicated to eliciting pure fear,
Gory romps through hell and space,
Tension making your heart race.

Plotted tactics in a realistic style,
Or mindless killing to drive you wild,
The range of titles is limitless,
But they all fill me with pure bliss.

I’ll never tire of the fights,
Popping off rounds and setting foes alight,
Masterful killing is what I can do,
But certain death is not good enough for you.

East Vs West: Seriously, Japan Hasn’t Lost it’s Touch

A few months ago, I wrote a blog that detailed my love for the Yakuza series. I titled it, “Japan Hasn’t Lost its Touch,” but never really went on to explain that idea. I really couldn’t think of a title at the time and the whole Japanophile setting of Yakuza just made me think of Japan.

Now, we come to this week’s topic and all of the community members are tasked with debating which side of the hemispheres makes better games, East or West. Well, considering that I love Yakuza and my other favorite series are Zelda and Street Fighter, which side do you think I’ll be leaning towards?

This current console generation has shown me one thing; the Japanese totally understand game design. My most memorable moments come from games such as “Yakuza 3,” “Zelda: Twilight Princess” and “Super Street Fighter IV.” Sure, I’ve had my share of Western games in the form of “Oblivion” and “Assassin’s Creed,” but those games borrow heavily from what the Japanese have started.

My life has been shaped by the likes of Link and Mario and I can’t imagine what kind of a person I’d be without them. Both characters are so defined and yet ambiguous enough that it’s easy to attach yourself to them and understand that they are different from you. Link never speaks, so you do the speaking for him. Mario wishes to save the princess, and that is symbolic of something you want to save in your own life.


I wouldn’t even dream of fucking around with this guy.

Yakuza has made Kiryu Kazuma one of the most bad-ass and ruthless characters around, but he also has a heart of gold. He cares for orphans on a beach in Okinawa, for Christ’s sake! He relaxes by shooting pool or darts, playing some rounds of bowling or golf, or even frequents hostess clubs. He’s just like any of us, but on a souped-up level.

Hell, Kiryu is so incredible that my friend/brother, Jim, actually bought an import copy of “Ryu Ga Gotoku: Kenzan!” We have no idea what the plot is or what we’re actually doing, but we can’t stop playing because of how charismatic and powerful Kiryu is.

One of my favorite console exclusives from this generation is “Demon’s Souls” on PS3. Surprise, surprise, the game is made by “From Software,” a Japanese developer based in Tokyo. Souls is a throwback to the classic days of gaming where guides were limited and enemies were deadly. Everything is such a damn challenge that overcoming a single enemy feels like conquering an entire game. It’s something only Japan could create.


Such a bad-ass that even “Ninja Gaiden 2” can’t keep him down.

Last generation saw me latch onto “Ninja Gaiden” instead of “God of War,” and the reason was clear: I liked the gameplay more. Gaiden was much less forgiving, and the sense of style, flair, and character was just more engaging and hilarious. While everything may have been tongue-in-cheek or less than serious, Ryu Hayabusa is just a complete and utter bad-ass. The hell with Kratos!

Another series that I love to death is “Metal Gear Solid.” Kojima is a master of his craft and his titles, save for MGS2 and Zone of the Enders, are all fantastic. He takes the shooting mechanics of Western games and spins them into a Japanese soap-opera. I can have solid gunfights and get engaging drama — that’s just a win-win!

My youth was punctuated with frequent Japanese developers, too. “Mega Man” is a series I love and, other than recent newer versions, is 100% Japanese. The Ninja Turtle games, while based on an American property, were developed by Konami and exhibit some of the very best design in beat-em-ups. Hell, even “Final Fight” is pure Capcom and Japanese.

Sonic the Hedgehog” was a favorite back in the day, as well. I always loved his speed and attitude. His games took the Mario formula and spun them on their head. You no longer needed pin-point precision to pass levels; instead you had to figure out paths through the labyrinthine level design. That series sparked my love for puzzle games.

I could keep listing games all night and day, but one thing is clear: Japan just knows how to attach their fan-base to their IPs. Sure, Western developers might know how to make shooters better or they may champion strategy games, but Japan is the one who keeps my love going. I’m sure that a few other readers would agree with me, too.


Love Japan or Domo will get you!

Technical Difficulties: Adapt to This!

Difficulty is a very subjective topic. Many gamers are going to write about specific games they found too hard or easy and they’ll get plenty of responses saying they’re wrong. While there technically is no right and wrong answer, I honestly cannot think of a game that really drives me mad with difficulty.

To further elaborate, I’m a fairly hardcore gamer. I play nearly every type of genre and I try to play them at the highest possible setting available from default. RTS and Racing games I draw the line (as I’m next to awful at them), but I typically will go for Veteran/Legendary/Realistic, etc.

To say the least, my view of difficulty is skewed. Miyamoto was claiming that “New Super Mario Bros. Wii” and “Super Mario Galaxy 2” would be difficult games and I did not find that to be true at all. It has to be my previous experience (something like 18 years) with the genre, but who am I to say?

What I would like to talk about, though, is Adaptive Difficulty. This is still a fairly new thing in video games, but it’s something that intrigues me. The prospect of doing well in a game and the game calculating your skill and increasing difficulty is something that should be ironed out in gaming.


We adapt to your skill…but really can’t calculate that because the game uses autosaves.

The first time I saw this feature was in “Far Cry” on PC back in 2004. The developers claimed they made a system where the A.I. (already fairly intelligent) would be able to distinguish your ownage from your suckage and react accordingly. That was a total farce.

I believe the LEGO series of games uses this technology, as well. I cannot tell you how much of a joke that is as the game doesn’t even allow you to die. I will say more enemies appeared in my playthrough of “LEGO Star Wars II,” but I also rarely died anyway.

“Left 4 Dead” administers this technology and it mostly gets it right. As you do better, sometimes random zombie hordes will ambush you or you’ll be facing off against a few tanks. The game even changes the layout of items based on your prowess. But sometimes you get nothing even after failing multiple times.

My question is, why does Adaptive Difficulty not work? From all the applications I’ve seen of this new feature, I’ve never once felt like the developers knew how to program it. Either the game is pathetically easy or it’s ridiculously difficult. I know “Far Cry” failed as the game used a checkpoint system, so it never really dropped from the initial difficulty you selected.

Like I said with the LEGO games, you cannot die. So, changing enemy layout isn’t going to suddenly have an impact on your experience, unless you’re an 8 year old and don’t truly grasp game mechanics.

My research into the topic only brings up “Halo: Reach” and how the A.I. will compensate for more or less partners in a Co-op match. That isn’t a true Adaptive Difficulty, though, as the game is just compensating for more people. The enemies won’t get easier if you all die.


We’ll “Adapt” to how many are here. Get it?…C’mon guys, it’s funny!

I’m not sure how to even offer a solution to this problem. What I have in mind is something along the lines of taking the stat tracking from a Halo or Call of Duty game and using that to calculate the perfect opponent. Bungie has some truly incredible stat tracking systems and I’m sure there has to be some way to sync those with A.I.

BioWare even has some kind of stat tracking for their single player games. If you can tell me exactly how many players per platform picked a Female Shepard, you should also be able to read and calculate my accuracy rating and my amount of kills. Use that information to suit the A.I. to my playstyle.

I do have faith in the term. I truly think that the perfect game could be achieved if the A.I. were able to track everything. It would be awesome if the game progressively got more challenging instead of developers just making the game harder purposely.

Until that day, though, I’ll be chugging through my games on the hardest settings possible. I live for challenge and it’s great to overcome extreme odds. Maybe I shouldn’t look for something to ease up on me, but I think it would sell games to a broader audience. That could only mean good things for our future.