Console gaming after the fact: Journey

This is just a lovely experience. A small, beautiful, near perfect game with graphics that have held up excellently over time. Are there more games like this? If not there should be. This has such a broad appeal and playability.

Journey which is an absolutely lovely game

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Some of the transitions are among the most beautiful things I’ve seen in gaming. The sunset sand surf through the mountain in shimmering gold (video on YouTube) stands out but most of it is excellent.

What comes to mind with regards to aesthetics and also breaking out of the ‘gamer’ confines is this year’s hit Monument Valley but we could use a lot more.

Console gaming after the fact

I have found myself in the custody of a Playstation 3 console and have borrowed a couple dozen games to play over the holidays. This came to be after I mentioned to my local game design support group that I hadn’t played anything on a console for over ten years and that I was quite happy with that state of being. They thought that this was unacceptable.

Their reasoning was:
1. That consoles get the best games these days. (I’m not so sure about that.)
2. That I should have played some of these games to have an idea what I’m talking about or against. (Fair enough.)

Gaming rig for Christmas

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The big screen is back home because we have emptied our office in Berlin and are awaiting the new one. The biggest impediment to me getting a console in fact was the fact that we didn’t have any screens at home and buying a console would mean having to get a tv/projector as well.

And Markus Kaikkonen agreed to hook me up with his old Playstation 3 since he had just gotten a PS4 and was going to play some stuff on that over the holidays anyway. Many thanks to Markus for that and I do agree that it can’t hurt to play a bunch of these games but now that I have nearly two dozen of them (thanks also Peter Bihr and Simon Cubasch) to go through it does feel a bit like work. I will post my findings here.

Somme preliminary stuff that isn’t very game specific:

Console games are a huge deal. This may seem obvious but I hadn’t fully realized it before. I think it is fair to say that most males below the age of 40 own a console, owned one or have wanted to own one in the past decade. Being a contender in the console wars and releasing AAA games have huge entry costs but they also carry with them the potential for gigantic upsides.

I had noted the fact that there weren’t any good action franchises anymore. The only stuff we get are Bond movies and a Bourne episode every five years or so. I am now wagering that most of the audience and the budgets for these things have gone into AAA shooters. A FPS game is more fun, about as poorly written and more cost effective (for the consumer) than going to the cinema for a similar ‘shoot stuff and blow stuff up’ experience. For the same price as a current AAA game you can go to the movies 3-4 times.

I am surprised at the amount of grinding in AAA games. Playing parts of a game over and over again because of poor design or balancing. Especially egregious are situations where every death means a lengthy reload and resumes you somewhere back before. Also I’m spending a lot of time in geometric first or third person games walking around looking for the clue to the next stage. They may have higher production values than mobile games but the amount of grinding seems to be about the same.

Console gaming after the fact: Killzone 2

Extremely crude but a decent shooter nonetheless. Can be a bit of a slough at times but now that I’ve played more from the genre that seems to be par for the course.

Killzone 2

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The writing is so bad that you seriously wonder where they get it. The target audience for these kind of games does not seem to want much more. Thankfully the science fiction setting where you fight a pure evil removes some of the moral issues that other games in the genre carry.

Console gaming after the fact: The Last of Us

Massive spoilers for The Last of Us follow. Normally I’d encourage you to read on but with this game I recommend renting, borrowing, procuring, house-sitting, whatever is necessary to play it. I played most of the game in a single twelve hour sitting until nine in the morning. That may well be the best way to experience this: one weekend, little sleep and feverishly playing.

I was sceptical at first (I was promised that this game has the best writing that exists) but this was a singular experience despite its shortcomings. It takes a bit to get going and break out of the survival horror shooting game trope even though the beginning is executed very well. Another game where I’m not sure there is anything else to play after you’ve finished it. A sequel has been tentatively announced and there’s a DLC “Left Behind” that I can buy for €15.

The plot isn’t the best thing about the writing in this game and honestly in many examples of good writing the plot isn’t the best part. The atmospheric environments in The Last of Us have a coherence and detail that gives them much more depth than in any of the other games I’ve played since then. These provide a convincing backdrop on which Joel and Ellie play out their relationship and that is the real strength of the writing in this game. Out of a shared experience consisting of horror and idleness they forge a bond that carries over through the screen.

In broad strokes it The Last of Us is a retelling of The Road made stomachable for a mainstream audience. All the other characters are mostly forgettable and their losses however close they had gotten do not really count for much.

The biggest issue in the game is the moral one and not so much the one in the game as it is players’ reactions to it. The game forces you to save Ellie who is going to be cut up to potentially create a cure against the plague. What scares me is the vast number of players who take issues with this choice. I shot the entire OR staff without blinking (also partially because I knew it was coming) because I don’t think there is a real moral issue here. Sacrificing a person to save humanity is unacceptable. It turns out that (too) many gamers are in favour of moral consequentialism and medical experiments on human beings.

Another shortcoming in the game for me was that you don’t play as Ellie enough. I enjoyed her physical disadvantages and her true grit when running through a snowstorm and jumping up on huge dudes to slaughter them with a switch blade.

The bit where Ellie is hunting the buck is meditative and by that time it was seven in the morning, I had been playing for ten hours and it took me a good half hour of chasing the buck through the snowfields. That was a near transcendental experience and in fact those were the most enjoyable parts of the game. Not those where you are on edge because you could be attacked at any moment. The best parts of the game were those where Joel and Ellie are hiking through a forest or on an abandoned highway and shooting the shit with each other. I would have happily played a game consisting of nothing but that.

The upside down fight is amazing.

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