Tag Archive: video games


Last week my girlfriend sent me a text message that was gushing with excitement. She had completed Bastion and was blown away by how incredible the whole thing was. I responded to her with this: “Games are defined in their quiet moments of perfect brilliance.” Bastion is one of those games.

Spec Ops: The Line is another. It is a game that is not defined by it’s bog-standard by the book cover-based shooting nor by its anemic attempts at multiplayer. Instead, Spec Ops: The Line is defined by its own not-so-quiet but still equally perfect moments of brilliance.

More Martin Scorsese, less John Milius.

In February I talked about this game. I said that I had high hopes for it, that its developer, Yager Studios, promised a game that would use its violence to affect the players, to prompt emotional revulsion at what they were doing. This would not be a game about mindless self-indulgence and power fantasy, it would be about taking the human condition to the breaking point and pushing it over the line. This would be a game that wouldn’t necessarily be “fun” to play in the traditional sense, but it would be compelling in the way that Greek tragedies were.

Well, they succeeded.

In Spec Ops: The Line the opulent city of Dubai has become the world’s most expensive disaster zone as the mother of all sandstorms tore through the pride of the Arabian peninsula. Colonel John Konrad and the 33rd Battalion stayed behind to assist with the evacuation. For six months nothing was heard from them until a looped radio broadcast from Konrad warns that the evacuation was a total failure and the death toll “too high.” You play as the Delta Force operator Captain Martin Walker who has been ordered on a reconnaissance mission into Dubai to determine the status of Konrad, the 33rd, and any survivors.

Instead you find Hell incarnate.

This wasn’t in the brochure.

The story is on full display here and Spec Ops proves what can be accomplished when game developers put pen to paper and actually put a modicum of effort into the story. Sure things like the graphical details, multiplayer, and even the third-person cover based shooting take a backseat, but those sacrifices are well worth the result. There is a line that runs through The Line and it’s an arc. A character arc. The three friends and compatriots, moral high and cracking dumb jokes you meet in the beginning of Chapter 1 are not the same pissed off, cursing, bleeding and battered shells you see at Chapter 13. This isn’t just a plot, this isn’t just some collection of things that happen from title sequence to end credits, this is a story. And its conclusion is one of the most satisfying I’ve seen in quite a while.

Choice is a core element to the campaign of The Line, but so what, don’t you see choice in a lot of games? Mass Effect, inFAMOUS and Deus Ex where all about choice as well, so what makes Spec Ops so special? Mainly because Spec Ops never takes the core shooting mechanics away from you, pulls a dialogue wheel or menu in front of you face, and then asks you if you want to be good or evil, Paragon or Renegade. Instead it embeds its decisions into the standard shooting mechanics of the game, and in doing so gives players far more freedom than those other games like to proudly boast about. Let me give you an example.

The scene is a highway, once the major artery of the city, bustling with life and energy, now almost completely buried by the desert sands, lines of broken down, subsumed automobiles line left hand side, a testament to tragedy. Hanging from an overpass, bound by their hands, are two men, and on both sides, hiding in the dunes, are four former US Army snipers. A voice on the radio informs you that one of the men is a water-thief, a criminal of the highest order sentenced to death. The other is a member of the 33rd whose fervent application of justice resulted in the death of the water-thief’s whole family. Both are crimes worthy of death. You have the gun, so who will you kill?

In most other games you would be given a choice that’s not a choice at all. Some manner of dialogue box or message would appear, forcing you to choose. If the developers were particularly blind to their own mechanic they might even assign moral values to the choices based on their own arbitary dichotomy. But in The Line once the cutscene ends gameplay as usual resumes, and suddenly you realize that you are capable of doing more. Sure you can kill one of the men. Hell you can kill both of them. But you can refuse and simply walk away, you can coordinate your squad and try to kill the snipers. Or you can shoot the ropes, set the men free and try to save them from the snipers.

Captain Walker at the end of the game. Broken, bleeding, and pissed-off.

Other moments like this punctuate the game, filling the void once all the running and gunning has died down. Other times it’s scenes of the three Delta Force operators interacting. In these scenes you will see none of the macho bravado that permeates other shooters. Delta Force reacts at first with horror, then regret, and finally anger when the smoke dies down and the enemies have been left lying in puddles of their own blood. When you first have to shoot it out with former American soldiers no one is happy with how that turned out, rationalizations of self-defense are the only things that silences talk of surrender.

If there is a moral theme to Spec Ops it is not one of good or evil, or even freedom over order. It’s about pragmatism vs idealism. Both of your squad mates, Lieutenant Adams and Sergeant Lugo act like your conscience, arguing with each other over the course of your decisions. While none of their points are ever clear cut and there’s always a silver lining, their dialogue can always be boiled down to the conflict over what you need to do (pragmatism), over what you should do (idealism). You need to save the CIA contact so you can find the people in charge, but you should save the lives of all those civilians as its the whole point to your mission. And just like the scene with the hanging men at the overpass, this choice is also made within the core mechanics of the game.

So here is my recommendation: buy Spec Ops. Yager have made an incredible effort here, it is well worth your time if you consider yourself a fan of games, and frankly, it would be a mortal sin to see a developer this brilliant and innovative to go under. Then once you have finished it, play it again. See if there are other ways. Try and hunt down every piece of intel, as their contribution as expository and world building devices belie another advantage games have over other storytelling mediums. The recorded conversation you can pick up between Konrad and the Radioman contains more character development than all his broadcasts from the entire game. See if you can find all the subtle clues that build up to the game’s mind-bending finale. And maybe even try see where you draw the line, and where you cross it.

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In my spare time, which I have oddles of seeing that college only prepares you for a career, not unemployment, I have been writing a campaign for D&D. This is something I’ve actually never done before, which is odd in retrospect. The reason I like video games is because they are an exciting way to deliver an interactive narrative, but that’s not really true. In fact if we really want to have a truly interactive narrative then video games, by their very nature, are pretty limited.  This is something a lot of both game fans and game designers underestimate. I’m sure going into Mass Effect 3 BioWare envisioned a grandiose, sprawling narrative that would branch into hundreds of uniquely tailored endings, only to realize that there’s basically no way they can code, render, animate, model, texture, write, and voice act all that. Meanwhile marketing doesn’t get the memo and continue doing their job, lying about the product so people will buy it. But on pen-and-paper, where the only limit is the collective imagination of a group (plus the game rules) we really can do a story that’s completely and wholly interactive. Where players can make any kind of character they want, not having to decide between a nice guy or a bad guy.

So yes I’ve been having a lot of fun writing my campaign, and it’s given me a chance to reflect on the nature of writing an interactive story. There’s a quote I like from The Art and Making of Star Wars: The Old Republic about writing in games versus other media that goes something like this: Writing for theater is expressionism, writing for movies is realism, and writing for games is cubism. You have to be able to take it apart and look at it from all the angles. I’ve discovered that that’s very true, writing an interactive narrartive is a lot trickier because you can’t just ask yourself “What would my character do” you have to consider what other people would do. This forces you to write three or five different scenarios, and for a tabeltop RPG, while giving yourself enough wiggle room to improvise once your players do something completely unexpected, which they will. That for me hasn’t been a problem, I’m good at improvising and I understand that as a DM I’m not telling a story, I’m facilitating the story of someone else. What I did learn about writing this was how to use themes to tie all the different modules and adventures together, so they feel like a cohesive story and not a bunch of stuff that happens.

I’m sure you’re all familiar with George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire and its HBO adaptation Game of Thrones. I’m sure you’re also familiar with how it has a million plots going on at once, and yet it somehow manages to still read like a story. What makes it A Song of Ice and Fire and not A Song of a Bunch of Stuff That Happens. Well there’s two tricks, the first is that most of the plots do tie in and influence one another, but the other is way Martin uses a solid core of a few select themes to tie all these scenes and plots together. The most obvious one is power, and in every scene in the TV show you can see how power is used, who has it, who doesn’t have it. Who gains power, usurps it, wields it, and how our expectations of who should and should not have power get subverted. Or even look at The Hunger Games. There’s a reason why it’s called that, and it has something to do with the fact that there are at least five references to food on nearly every page of that book. Part of the reason those books are so good is because of how well crafted they are, how deliberate their writing is.

I’ve applied that same deliberance to my own campaign. I decided very early on, before I started writing modules, that there were going to be at the very least three themes that should be explored in each adventure, to ensure that there is a constant tone that glues these different scenes into a cohesive narrative, one that can survive players making their own decisions and driving the narrative forward. This is hard, but it’s not impossible. Like I said, A Song of Ice and Fire and The Hunger Games were deliberately written, I just have to be even more deliberate.

This is where I want to steer the topic to the matter of why so many games have bad writing. I’ve even argued with someone who was convinced that the interactive nature of games made trying to use them to tell a story impossible, it just couldn’t be done. I was not convinced but that at all, I’ve already written on here previously why I think Mask of the Betrayer has the best story in a video game. It’s because that game had three, very deliberate themes that were explored in very single scene and module. Hell they actually hired a guy whose job it was to go through and make sure that everything included in the game matched those themes, if they didn’t, they were reworked or removed. This is also the reason why I’m LP’ing Planescape: Torment (the first real update will be out later this week), because nearly everything included in that game deals with the theme of torment in some way. What can change the nature of a man isn’t just a way to beat the very definite final boss, it’s what the whole things is about and every scene explores a possible answer to that question. Even if you don’t realize the game is doing that, you have to admit that there is still something at work keeping the story cohesive, how the writers are able to make a linear story out of a non-linear experience.

Games whose stories fall flat simply don’t do this. There are many reasons why but usually it’s because game designers don’t take college level creative writing classes (like I did) while getting their game design or computer science degrees. For example the desingers behind the Uncharted series have admitted that they first decide what set pieces they want their game to explore, and then go back and write a narrative tying them together after the fact. This is not a good way to write a story and while it explains why all of the Uncharted games have flat, uncompelling narratives and characters, it doesn’t explain the strangely specific ways they repeat themselves. Like their habit of introducing a side-kick who gets tons of depth and character development only to wholly disappear from the story half-way through. Or the way each game introduces a potential love interest for Nathan Drake only for him to always wind up with the same blonde chick at the end. I think we can just chalk those up to laziness.

Ah there’s the crux of the matter, laziness is what kills more game stories than anything else. It’s not that games make it impossible to write good stories, it’s that people who write for games are interested in putting in the effort to make the stories good. Sometimes, like in Skyrim they don’t even realize they’re using themes that sabotage their own narrative. Remember how some people got mad that they couldn’t kill kids in Skyrim and Bethesda defended their decision to disallow the murder of children because they wanted to make sure their game had a cohesive tone the whole time. After all in Skyrim you’re a hero, you save the world from an evil black dragon. Except, if I’m supposed to be a hero, why does so much of the game’s side content deal with me killing people for obviously evil forces for no other reason then because they tell me to? In Skyrim there is a side-quest for every one of the Daedric Princes, and about 95% of them are evil. Openly, unquestioningly evil. And they make you preform acts of evil for the promise of material reward. This is not heroic behavior people. Hell even the main quest is dubious at best, since even an evil person can recognize that stopping the dragons from destroying the world is basic self-preservation. Honestly at this point not being able to kill children creates more of a tonal dissonance than killing them.

By the way Bioshock explores this is exact same thing, only Bioshock was aware of the fact it was a game about killing people for no other reason then because someone told you to.

So yeah, let’s talk about this.

Gaming, what the hell happened to you? I thought that as technology would get better games would get better. I mean, on some level they have. Games today are pretty amazing and only the most mindlessly nostalgic and retro of players would ever argue that we should just give up all the graphical, narrative, and gameplay innovations that have been invented in the past 30 years and go back to the 8-bit era. But what has gotten worse is our ability to access and play games on our own time. It used to be that you could only watch your favorite TV shows when the networks wanted you to. Now I can stream instantly all of my favorite shows from a variety of different websites. It used to be you could only listen to the music you liked in your home. Now I can take my entire library with me whenever I want. But with games, it used to be I could sit down and play any single player game whenever I wanted, now I can only do it when a completely different computer I have no control over feels like it.

Let me address the most common argument in favor of this. Pirates have been kicking developer ass ever since the dawn of PC games. Remember Looking Glass Studios? They made the awesome  Thief games. Well you’re not going to find them today, LGS closed down because too many people played their fantastic games without paying for them. Today investments for a standard AAA game can be in the tens of millions. That’s the sort of money that no one is willing to part with unless they have anything but 120% certainty that  isn’t going up into a cloud of smoke. As far as DRM’s go, having to have a constant Internet access is less intrusive and less “let’s punish the people who bought this as well” than other DRM’s have been in the past. The problem with demanding constant Internet access to play a single player game is simple: we are putting more and more of our entertainment technology into the same basket. And if something ever happens to that basket, which this basket is known to do, then we lose everything.

 There is a kind of longevity to a game that is lost under this system. For some games it’s true that once we finish them we almost never pick them back up again, but once in a while there comes that one rare game that you do want to play over and over again just because you enjoy it so much. There’s a popular saying that holds true which goes; “Every time Deus Ex is mentioned on a forum, someone will reinstall it.” Right now I can go back and install the original Diablo and nostalgia bomb on the good old days of whacking skeletons in a gothic  labyrinth, and nothing beyond Windows compatibility issues can stop me. But honestly how much do you want to bet I will be able to do the same in 15 years time with Diablo III? Unless Blizzard is foresighted and nice enough to disable this feature in the future, once they decide they can no longer support the costs of running the servers for a game hardly anyone plays anymore, that’s all she wrote folks. Your future self’s sudden pang of nostalgia for Diablo III will just be met by a sad slap to the face as Blizzard says “Sorry, not enough people are playing the multiplayer mode so you can’t play your single player mode.”

Finally I want to talk to developers here, because ultimately running a constant Internet connection for a single player game is bad for you too. I mean first of all it’s bad for consumers and anyone with half a brain enough to remember Econ 101 should know that if something is bad for the consumers it’s bad for the company. But as I hinted at in the previous paragraph, this kind of DRM is kind of cost prohibitive. Yes I understand that Diablo III has a multiplayer mode anyway, so having those servers was going to happen no matter what. But a big contributor game’s failure to deliver the instant it went live was that everyone, even the people who had no interest in the multiplayer had to join in on the server flood which ruined the game for everyone. A server flood so bad that not only is it fucking things up for Diablo III players but also for people playing other Blizzard games. You see not only has Blizzard put all of their games in the internet basket, but they are also all in the Battle.net basket.

But let’s say for a second you aren’t Blizzard, but you’re another company who is doing this for a game that has no multiplayer mode at all like Assassin’s Creed 2 just to throw a random title out there. This is a completely unnecessary cost for your company that does nothing but harm the people who actually paid for your game. Assassin’s Creed 2’s DRM prevented only a week of online piracy, but after that you made piracy the more attractive option because now the pirated version of the game doesn’t require permanent online access, so it’s less of a pain in the butt for the player. And again you have the issue of losing longevity. The instant you decide that the servers aren’t worth it, all the people who bought your game can never play it again, but the people who pirated it, they can play it forever.

I wasn’t there for Diablo III’s spectacular failure at launch, I was not one of the millions who pre-ordered it and sat patiently for 12 years waiting for the moment Blizzard would tell them “Too many people are using Battle.net so you have to wait even longer.” It’s been two days and I still haven’t bought it, and I don’t know if I want to buy it. Our purchasing power as consumers is the only effective tool we have to send messages to companies, and frankly I really don’t want this to be the future of games. There’s no point in even waiting for it to go down in price, Starcraft II came out two years ago and it’s still going at its full retail price. But I do know that unless Blizzard changes it’s policy on this issue, every time I see that box for Diablo III I’m just going to think “Sorry son, it just ain’t worth it.”

God of War 4? God No!

So there’s speculation as to whether or not Sony is going to release another God of War game. I hope not.

Let me explain where I’m coming from for a second. Now I liked the original God of War. It was a modern interpretation of the formula of the Greek tragedy, spliced up with tons of unnecessary violence for today’s jaded video game playing man-children. It told the story of a kill crazy avatar of Ares named Kratos, who vowed to give his life to the god of war if he would save him from defeat. Kratos is eventually tricked by Ares into killing his family (tricked here means that Ares tells Kratos to kill a whole temple and Kratos blindly obeys). Already we have an established Greek tragedy trope, the hero is always punished for their actions, even if they were deceived or didn’t know better at the time. Then Kratos swears vengeance on Ares but only gets a chance to act on that vow when Ares decides to stop following the rules of the other gods, and so Athena gives Kratos the blessing to gather enough power to kill Ares. In the end Kratos is given the vacant seat for the god of war and we are shown he thus watched over mankind killing itself forever more.

It was a really good if rather silly story that hit all the right marks and had a very decent character arc. Kratos learned something about who he was, fought his own inner demons and reached a moment of apotheosis where he became an immortal god. So you can probably expect I was none to happy when sequels were made that they scrapped whatever character growth Kratos got, retconned the epilogue so it never happened, and turned Kratos back into an abusive asshole. An asshole who was so abusive that Zeus had to personally step in and strip Kratos of his godhood because he was doing such a horrible job of it.

Then everything goes down hill from there.

For the next two games Kratos is shown to have lost all semblance of depth and nuance and shows he posses the emotional maturity of a two year old throwing a perpetual tantrum. His entire motivation for the next to games is to get revenge on the entire Greek pantheon, even though all Zeus did was give him a just punishment for abusing his powers of being the god of war to just let the Spartans win every battle they fight. I mean I guess Zeus did trick him, but here tricking just means that Zeus tells Kratos to use a sword that will drain him of all his god powers, and then Kratos does it. So not only is Kratos’ motivation completely piss poor, but he literally has no one to blame for this situation but himself. The worst part is that God of War III shows us that killing the Greek gods ultimately destroys the world, and Kratos doesn’t even care. He literally does not have the intellectual or emotional capacity to think about anyone elses’ needs for a split second. All he cares about is getting revenge for a punishment he deserved.

In the first God of War Kratos was shown to be generally remorseful for his actions, and occasionally showed a glimmer of regret when people would run away screaming from him, calling him a monster. There were even a few scenes in that game were Kratos managed to go an entire conversation without decapitating anyone. Then in the second game after getting Prometheus to help him Kratos just kills the guy instead of releasing him. You’d think Kratos would show some sympathy or relate to another person who was on the receiving end of one of Zeus’ punishments, but nope. Kratos just kills the guy for no reason, and the game makes you do that.

Actually my favorite God of War game is the PSP spinoff Chains of Olympus. Mostly because Chains of Olympus is a prequel and therefore doesn’t have to retcon a perfectly good ending in order to exist. But also because it has one of the most heartbreaking moments in any video game ever. Near the end of Chains of Olympus Kratos comes to Elysium, the good part of the Greek underworld. There he is able to give up his vengeance, give up his curse, and live forever in Paradise with his daughter. Except that’s what the goddess Persephone wants. You see she got tired of being married to Hades and having to spend half of her life in the underworld, so she’s going to take vengeance of Zeus who put her in this position by releasing a Titan to destroy the world. Kratos is the only one who can stop her, but to do so he would have to give up everything he’s ever wanted, and become the monster known as the Ghost of Sparta all over again.

So he does.

And the game makes you do it. “Mash X to Push Your Daughter Away Forever”. They could have just shown that in a cut scene. But no, the most important character defining moment of the game happens in the gameplay, and I loved every second of it. For the first time in a long time, Kratos become a real character. Not some one dimensional mass murder, but an actual person capable of putting the needs of others ahead of his own wants.

Of course the Kratos in the God of War sequels, as I’ve demonstrated above, would never do that. He’s incapable of doing that. God of War II and III destroyed the character of Krators for me, they retconed all the growth and depth in favor of cashing in on a popular title. And people loved it. I’ve had so many people react with shock when I tell them that I hate God of War II. I bought the PS3 high definition pack and I returned it half way through the second game because I was so furious with it.

But at least God of War III brought real closure at last right? Kratos kills all the gods and destroys the world. You can’t continue a story set in a universe that’s destroyed. I mean you completely ruined the game already Sony, are you really going to do it again? Who am I kidding, of course you will, but that doesn’t mean we should like it.

Look obviously we can’t stop Sony from doing this, but we don’t have to support it. There’s this attitude amongst gamers that if you are a fan of something we have to support everything in it no matter what. That’s crap. We should celebrate the fact that BioWare has actually decided to end the Mass Effect franchise after three games, we don’t need a plethora of spin off crap exploring every minutia of background details from the games’ codex, doing so means you wind up with something like the Star Wars expanded universe and no one wants that. I know I said in my last post that I’ve bought every single major Assassin’s Creed release but that’s only because so far every game was good, every game contributed to the story and every game expanded the characters in some way. They didn’t have to retcon a perfectly good ending and destroy a compelling character to make a quick buck.

Hopefully this also just a bunch of meaningless speculation and nothing will come of it. Kratos is dead, greed and blindness to decent storytelling has reduced him to a joke, a cruel example of what happens when a fanboy’s relentless desire for more experiences overwhelms the desire for that experience to be good, or even meaingful. The Kratos in the first God of War and Chains of Olympus is a compelling character with a strong arc. Kratos in II and III is a monster who ruins every accomplishment in the titles preceding him, not just in the ruination of his character, but in his crowning achievements. The whole of the first game is built around getting enough power to kill one god, in III Kratos rips off Helio’s head because he needs a lantern. He may as well have jumped a jet ski over a shark.

I don’t want anything more to do with this series, and if you have any respect for artist integrity, neither should you.

I haven’t brought this up before but I’m actually a pretty big Assassin’s Creed fan. I loved the original game even with all it’s warts. It’s just that it was the first time I played a game were the protagonist had a real, well defined arc and discussed genuinely interesting ideas without spoon feeding it to you like you’re an idiot. The bad guys had good reasons for what they were doing and the good guys were freaking assassins. It draped history with conspiracy in a way that was intelligently thought out and not because it’s the result of a loon who replaced their brain with the extended cut of the X-Files complete series DVD box set. I’ve religiously bought every release in the main series (but not the hand-held spin offs) and I’m super excited for the release of the fifth and final installment which is unironically calling itself Assassin’s Creed III.

But I’m actually not here to talk about the fifth and final game. I’m here to talk about the discussion of its setting. From the beginning there has been speculation about which historic period the next game would take place, and inevitably 17th century Japan was raised by some fans. After all it makes sense right, you have the political intrigue, civil upheaval, and tons and tons of assassinations going on. And ultimately that’s what Assassin’s Creed is all about, being a sneaky assassin and killing people right?

Well that’s not precisely accurate.

The titular assassin’s of Assassin’s Creed kill not for money or in service to a particular lord, but because of their ideology. They locked in a secret war that spans multiple centuries and countries with another secret society that wishes to dominate and control the affairs of people everywhere through the use of powerful artifacts from a lost First Civilization known as the Pieces of Eden. The problem facing a Japanese setting for the game is that it doesn’t really fit any of that, where as moving the franchise to America in the 1750’s-1790’s makes far more sense.

The problem with Japan is that it’s very distant and isolated from the rest of the world, and the people who have governed Japan have for hundreds of years tried to keep it that way. Assassin’s Creed games are always set at the crossroads of history, where many cultures are meeting at once, and where violence and conflict become inevitable. It’s these key points in global history that set a backdrop for a secret ideological war for the future of human kind are set. Japan doesn’t have that. It has the intrigue but they are between rival shoguns intent on their own power. This isn’t like the crusades, the Renaissance, or the War of Independence, where many different people from all over the world where coming together and were the battles were fought over loftier ideals than power.

The other problem is trying to force the mythology of the main series into that one specific setting. It would take massive leaps of coincidence and authorial fiat to give Desmond a Japanese ancestor, given how isolated and xenophobic Japan has been until very recently. It wasn’t until the later part of the 19th century that Japan opened up to the West, and then it was by force. And Japan didn’t really play a significant part in global history until WW2 and Ubisoft has specifically said from the beginning they were taking WW2 off their list of potential locations for future Assassin’s Creed games given how over saturated the industry is with WW2. There’s also the problem of trying to explain what the Templars and the Assassin’s would be doing there. Japan is very far away from Europe and the Middle-East and an oceanic voyage around Africa and across the Indian ocean would take the better part of a year. And again I have to keep going back to just how famously hostile they were to outsiders, so even if the Templars tried to gain a foothold in Japan they m0st likely would be unable to succeed.  And finally as I pointed out earlier the Assassins wouldn’t be interested in killing for the honor and duty of a specific shogun, they have more important and loftier ideals to kill for then the squabbling of some feudal lord in a country that is figuratively at the end of the Earth. I’m not saying a game where you get to play in a realistic depiction of a 17th century Japanese assassin wouldn’t work, it just wouldn’t work within the context of the Assassin’s Creed mythology.

But the American Revolution is the perfect setting for the next Assassin’s Creed game. We have both the temporal and geographic distance from Ezio Auditore for the series to be fresh again, but not so far that we end up in alien territory. We also see Desmond’s lineage moving towards America, and let’s face it, it’s far more plausible for Desmond to have some Native American ancestor in his genealogy, which most Americans do, than a Japanese ancestor, which is highly unlikely. And finally we have the whole crossroads of history and clash of cultures that is both iconic and necessary for the series. You have the birth of a new nation, you have the influx of immigrants from all over Europe, you have the British, French, and Spanish interests in the New World, and you have all the aboriginal cultures in their prime before they were crushed by the onslaught of manifest destiny.

And you know what else, which is probably the best point I can make here, the American Revolution has never been done before. We’ve seen Japan in so many games, and Japanese culture itself is a huge part of the overall gamer culture. How many games that weren’t RTS were set in the American Revolution? None. In fact it’s square in the middle of this weird part of history were firearms were so bad that no one wants to make games about them. Darkest of Days tried to make a game about fighting with realistic Civil War rifles, and even then it still had to spice things up with rocket launchers and assault rifles, apparently saying that since historians didn’t look to closely at this part of the Battle of Antietam as long as the Union wins and the Confederates lose, go nuts.

Anyone could make a game in feudal Japan, but only Assassin’s Creed could do a game in the American Revolution.

Contextualizing Multiplayer

It’s not hard to get most people to love multiplayer. People love it for the same reason we love tag or water gun wars, it’s friendly competition. Multiplayer in video games for most of its existence has never gone beyond the barest of reasons to justify what is ostensibly a game of digital laser tag. Team Fortress 2 doesn’t even bother at all, you’re Red, they’re Blue, now go murder each other. Which, by the way, what is it with video games and assigning the default team colors as red and blue? I like to imagine that colors exist in a relationship similar to the Serpents in Ultima 7 Part 2: Serpent Isle, where red and blue represent opposite forces and they have to be kept in order by yellow; the balance color. And then yellow disappeared so now red and blue must battle for all eternity.

Somehow I just made a theology out of this.

But I digress, my point is for some reason context gets chucked out the window the instant five or six complete strangers get dumped into a room together filled with guns, in fact some see context as a barrier to enjoying the ensuing mindless carnage. People actually praise Team Fortress 2 for its complete lack of plot or justification for why all these unique, colorful characters are murdering each other in industrial facilities. Which I find really strange because in single-player land people actually get very frustrated when they aren’t given a clear indication of what they are doing and for why. Story in games essentially evolved out of a need for developers to explain to players what’s going on and why they should care about their game about shooting squares. This was really important back in the Atari days when graphics weren’t good enough to describe anything but the most basic and generic of objects.

Okay I'm pretty sure your enemies are the orange blobs with erections.

But I am glad that as graphics became more sophisticated so two did our ability to convey more and more complex stories and more interesting characters through a game’s single-player experience. We have effectively created a brand new storytelling medium, as long as you’re playing on your own. For several reasons multiplayer hasn’t changed to keep up with the highly contextualized nature of single-player, and most people like it that way.

But as of last year I’ve noticed a strange new trend amongst developers, namely that some of them actually want to contextualize multiplayer, and the results have been pretty scatter shot. Splash Damage created and brand new intellectual property for the sole reason of contextualizing multiplayer, and insanely risky endeavor whose success is debatable. Brink didn’t just sit around content with being another game about Red and Blue duking out their endless conflict, they created the world of the Arc and gave compelling reasons and justifications for why the Resistance and Security sides were fighting. I love Brink the setting, and I like the game, but their efforts at combining single and multiplayer were anemic. A brief cutscene before every match does not a story make. I would still like to see Splash Damage return to this IP, maybe do a real single-player game given how much work they spent fleshing out the world of the Arc.

Recently the most successful form of bridging the single-player/multiplayer gap was The Old Republic, which I’m sure most of you have at least heard of. The game’s big thing is have Mass Effect styled interactive cutscenes in place of the typical MMO answer to context, blocks of text no one reads. BioWare also decided to go completely beyond what was necessary and created 8 different storylines for each class and have just as much content as one of their single-player RPGs. People have asked “When is there going to be a Knights of the Old Republic III?”. Well, The Old Republic is Knights of the Old Republic III through IX. This attempt has been far more successful, currently ToR has about two million subscribers which makes it the most successful MMO to come out in recent years that wasn’t World of Warcraft. By giving us better reasons for going out and killing X number of creatures beyond because that’s what a block of text told me to do, ToR has held my attention far longer than any other MMO has had any right to, and by giving a multiplayer game a stronger story focus BioWare were even able to bring in people who normally wouldn’t be caught dead playing an MMO.

But in my opinion, the best attempt in contextualizing multiplayer is right around the bend; Mass Effect 3. Now when I first heard Mass Effect 3 was going to have multiplayer I was firmly in the DO NOT WANT camp. This had to be EA’s doing, turning our beloved RPG setting into another competitive shooter to steal dollars away from Call of Duty by pandering to the mindless, knuckle-dragging grognards who sit in a near vegetative state playing the same map with the same weapons over and over until they level up their skill scores or whatever. Then I heard it was going to be cooperative. Then I saw the trailers. Then I heard how it would work. Then I changed my mind.

Mass Effect has a pretty damn big, well realized universe that succeeded because it always felt like it existed beyond the limited scope of Commander Sheppard and the Normandy. In the second game you start it by dying and spending two years in experimental surgery to come back, and the galaxy kept on turning all that time. Now with the galaxy wide Reaper invasion we’re being promised, it’s clear that the game needs to encompass a scope larger than Commander Sheppard. The game does this by having a map of the galaxy depicting which systems are being attacked and combining all this information with a “Galactic Readiness” bar. That would have been fine, but BioWare went one step further, they claim that the Galactic Readiness screen also takes in data from how well you do in multiplayer. This is why this multiplayer is so brilliant, the single-player storyline and universe provide the context for your matches, and the matches feedback into the single-player and provide context for what would otherwise be a pretty abstract system that wouldn’t be able to capture the impact of a galaxy wide war on its own. Unlike Brink, which tried to use multiplayer to tell a story and failed to realize it, Mass Effect 3 is still going to maintain some level of separation between its two game modes, but they aren’t entirely separated. Much like how the dialogue wheel bridges the gameplay and the story, the Galactic Readiness and the context of the game’s universe will bridge the multiplayer to the campaign. And honestly, this is the best of both worlds, multiplayer fans don’t have the story getting its dirt all over their carpet, and us story lovers get to have a justification beyond the endless color war of Red and Blue.

Where I Draw The Line

I want to start this blog off with a quote. I’m not going to cite it just yet because I’m going to do this thing where I blow your mind at the end. So here it is.

“We talk so much about how video games are art. But at the same time the violent video discussion comes up and get people up in arms saying violent video games don’t affect me, they aren’t a big deal. If video games are art they have to affect us. The truth of the matter is violent video games, whether subconscious or not, affect us in some way. I wanted this game to affect you in the way it really made you think about the violence you are inflicting in the world and you’re thinking about the characters going through that.”

This quote sums up why I’m where doing what I’m doing. I write this blog because I believe that video games, being the first visual and interactive story telling medium, have the capacity to affect us just as strongly if not stronger than a novel or a film. Let me give you an example of what I mean. This is from the Deus Ex: Human Revolution DLC expansion The Missing Link. By the way, Human Revolution inspite of its very known and talked about flaws, was still hands down my favorite game of 2011 for this upcoming reason. Seriously, go play The Missing Link; it had all the best parts of Human Revolution with none of the bad stuff.  It’s a standalone too, so you don’t even need to buy the full game (but you should also do that too). This will involve spoilers so if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t want spoilers, well, too bad. I need to do this to make my point so I can blow your mind.

In The Missing Link Adam Jensen gets caught in his little stow away attempt from the main game and is brought to a black site detention facility where you discover that the facility exists to run human genetic and augmentation experiments. All of the “prisoners” are innocent people detained on vacation simply because they had the right or wrong genetic markers. You eventually manage to find a scientist there willing to blow the whistle on the whole thing to the U.N. but then the bad guy running the facility finds out and tries to the scrap the whole project by killing everyone with cyanide gas. The mysterious hacker who has been helping you throughout The Missing Link tells you that there’s no way to shut the gas off, you can only reroute it to either the cell blocks or the lower section where the whistle blower is.

And so we come to our choice. There is no clear good or evil option, no morality bar, no reward beyond advancing the game. All you have is a button, a video a screen of people choking, and ticking clock. Do you save the whistle blower or the prisoners, all of whom are innocent people? I saved the game, put it down and thought about what I was going to do for nearly thirty minutes. When I came back I made my decision, and in doing so I learned a little about myself. I learned that even though I like to think that I’m pragmatic and pride myself on how I can “make choices free of emotions” (this is something I’ve said) I realized that when it comes down to the line, 1,000 human lives is worth more to me than a single, albeit far more important person, even if they’re all fictional, and I think this has made me a better person in realizing this.

If this sounds familiar it’s because you watched Extra Credits (good for you), and more specifically you watched their episode “Enriching Lives”. Like the guys there I believe that games can enrich our existence just as much as any other form of art can. But unlike the example they used, The Missing Link actually did embed its choice in the mechanics of the game, like a good game should. I believe that the stage of video games perception as immature entertainment for children is coming to a close, possibly within the next ten years. So let’s go back to that quote because it’s very telling of the direction the industry is starting to take.

It’s from Walk Williams; he’s the lead writer on the upcoming 2K shooter Spec Ops: The Line. If you remember the Spec Ops games then Jesus Christ you have good memory for crappy titles. The Spec Ops franchise was a series of budget military shooters for the Playstation that shriveled up and died along with that console ten years ago. They were the games you bought when Rainbow Six was sold out. Now it’s being reinvented into something I doubt anyone thought was possible with a pedigree like that. Spec Ops: The Line is a game about three soldiers being sent into the city of Dubai after global warming (I think) created the mother of all sandstorms and it kicked the shit out of this shining example of human opulence. From its screenshots you’d think it’s another hopelessly brown and gritty game about shooting terrorists in a middle-eastern city, a concept we’ve only seen a hundred billion times already.

But Walk Williams and the rest of the guys at Yager Development want to do something more with this game. They want to take that kind of moment I described having with The Missing Link and embed it into the entire experience of the game. From what I understand you’re not even fighting terrorists, most of your enemies are former US marines under the command of the main character’s mentor who’s going bat shit crazy, attacking US troops on sight and burning civilians alive with white phosphorus. How many games have the balls to make you shoot at American solders? Spec Ops: The Line wants you to be affected by its violence, and create the same kind of disgust and horror in its audience that books like Heart of Darkness and films like Apocalypse Now! were able to do. The way will do so is right there in its title, the theme of The Line. This is a game that’s going to make you draw a line in the sand on where you stand regarding decency and human life, and then do everything in its power to make you cross that line, and in the process, help you learn who you really are. This is a game that’s not going to be fun, but it will be engaging.

Games receive a lot of flak for being violent, and for understandable reasons. After all even if it’s completely fictional, there is still something messed up about saying how you enjoy decapitating hundreds of people an hour for fun and then say it doesn’t affect you at all. That sounds like the kind of thing a sociopath, not a functional member of society should say. So what I’ve always wanted was a game that wanted its violence not to be fun, but engaging, the same way playing Silent Hill isn’t really fun (it’s scary as hell and  the controls are awful) but it’s engaging. So now we come to the part where I blow your mind. 2012 is going to see a lot of important games: Mass Effect 3, Guild Wars 2, I Am Alive and hopefully The Last Guardian. But if Spec Ops: The Line succeeds on its promise, then a brown, third-person, cover-based, modern military shooter, might be the most important game to come out this year. And if it fails, then at least I know it will have failed through ambition, something this industry needs more of. I hope to get my hands on this once its nebulous release date is set, and see where I draw the line.

I’m going to start this blog with two sentences that are completely, utterly, true. The first is that I hate MMO’s. I hate their grinding repetitive game play and I hate how they treat their players like human milking machines. I have never played a single MMO that I’ve found interesting or engaging, from small free-to-play Korean titles to the giants of the genre like Everquest and World of Warcraft. Now here is the other 100% true statement: I’m really excited for Guild Wars 2.

Yes I am aware that Guild Wars 2 is an MMO, but I’m also aware that those two sentences are not in conflict with one another. I hate MMO’s because every single one of them all makes the same assumptions about how MMOs are supposed to be made. Even way back in ’07 Yahtzee admitted that he felt that World of Warcraft is as good as MMO’s are ever going to get. But ArenaNet is here to challenge everything we’ve held as sacred to making MMO’s work, and in the process, are doing everything right.

Doing it Right #1: No Grinding

Grinding has been such an integral part of the MMO formula, ever since I spent the entirety of my first level in Everquest killing butterflies for XP. This is because of the way the level/XP curve in these games are constructed; in that they’re constructed to resemble an addiction cycle to heroin. When MMO’s start the amount of experience required to level up vs the experience awarded is a linear line, and for the first five or so levels you can breeze through them. But once you get beyond level 10 or so it starts to become unfeasible to gather enough experience from quests and you have to go out and farm experience by killing every hostile thing you see. My brother, whose tolerance for this bullshit far exceeds my own, told me that by the time he had hit level 70 in WoW that the experience requirements for each level were doubling, creating a wonderful little exponential growth curve that ensured that he would spend more time to level up each time.

Many people say that it’s impossible to remove grind from MMO’s because of the way you have to structure the leveling curves. Here’s the thing, who says you have to structure them this way at all? ArenaNet is replacing this exponential curve figure with linear growth. Simply put the ratio of experience required to go to each level remains the same, meaning it requires the same amount of time to go from level 1 to 2, as it does to go from 79 to 80. The previous game tried to eliminate grind by having a level cap of 20, but they still had the exponential curve, meaning that at higher levels it was harder to balance the experience required to level against the experience gained by questing, and like every game before them, they came out lacking. Now that the ratio to level remains consistent, ArenaNet knows precisely how much content per level they need to get the players to level up without them having to go out and farm experience on their own.

Doing it Right #2: Character Design

I want you to imagine for a second that you are a girl playing Horde in WoW for the first time. If you are a sexist you might find that thought impossible, but yes, girls do play WoW. In fact MMO’s tend to have more female players per capita than any other genre of games. If you actually are a girl then you may have come across this problem.

So you’re playing Horde and you’re looking at the race selection. They all look really cool but the one that catches your attention are the Trolls. Look at them; they don’t look like any kind of troll you’ve ever seen in any fantasy setting ever. They’re lanky and hunched over, have awesome Mohawks, large hawk like noses and massive, jutting tusks. They have a voodoo vibe and Rastafarian accents. Delighted you pick Troll and click the female gender, and suddenly all of that is gone. Now you’re looking at a normal looking blue skinned girl with bad teeth. This doesn’t look like a member of the same race as the male, and worse, it holds none of the unique features that actually make Warcraft trolls stand out from the legion of Tolkien inspired derivatives that flood the market. No, that right is held exclusively for males; enjoy being some nerd’s masturbation fantasy.

While reading ArenaNet’s developer blogs I saw that they were almost about to fall into that exact same trap when designing female members for the race of monstrous felines called the charr. The original designs felt more like cute monster anime girls then a plausible example of sexual dimorphism. Instead they went back to the base charr design and simply scaled back the more monstrous features and made them look more like lions. They also made the wise decision to not include swollen mammaries. Good job on you.

But Guild Wars 2’s excellent character design extends beyond not insulting us with implausibly sexual exaggeration, it also looks at every one of those Tolkien inspired races and leaves them in Middle-Earth where they belong. Player races include not just the charr, but the diminutive asura and the floral slyvari. Now both of these races are inspired by stock fantasy clichés, the small but smart and sarcastic guy and the magical nature guy. But they key word there is inspired, not derived. There’s something unique here that we haven’t seen before in a fantasy MMO. Everyone knows what a dwarf is like, but how do you play a member of a species whose oldest member is 25 years old?

Doing it Right #3: Archetypes? Who needs them?

When you hear any designer discuss MMO game play at some point the trinity of Tank/DPS/Heal gets mentioned, and every time it is the developers gush and praise over it like it’s the ultimate unchanging pinnacle of MMO deisgn. Every WoW  class fights into one if not two of those roles perfectly and BioWare have basically made it a point that their classes will be married to one of those concepts, with range DPS being added into the mix. Except here’s the thing; we don’t need those three archetypes at all to make an MMO and ArenaNet seems to be the only developer who understands that.

Instead they are building their own trinity of archetypes, called damage, control and support. But the way this really breaks everything we’ve held sacred is the fact that every class can do all three of those, on the fly. An Elementalist (or mage) can either focus on spells that do lots of damage to a single target, or switch to spells that do wide range AoEs that work in tandem with other players, who can cast buffing spell and AoE shields. Then there’s the fact that there is no dedicated healer and good thing. Instead each class can recover hit points on their own. So you never have to sit and wait around your LFG screen until a healer decides to join your group.

“But OsirisLord,” you whine “I like playing healing classes.” No, what you like playing is support. Frankly, healing is always the least interesting part of what is overall a support role. That’s because if you’re healing it means you’re losing, so you take a reactive role instead of a proactive role. Being a support player in Guild Wars 2 means you focus exclusively on proactive support, whether it’s the buffing and shielding spells of Elementalists, or placing down turrets and traps as a Mechanic.

Doing it Right #4: Questing

Whenever an MMO starts a talking about quests I can’t help but feel like they’re being a little condescending. Going over to a field barely five hundred away and killing enough boars to bring back ten servings of barbeque rips they seem to be carrying is not a quest, it’s a job. And you’re not playing a hero; you’re playing as a freelance muscle for hire with terrible job security. You know what a quest is? When Frodo had to trek across the breadth of Middle-Earth to destroy an artifact of power in very heart of the domain of true evil, now that was a quest.  ArenaNet is promising they’re going to completely change the way quests are done in Guild Wars 2, a promise that for me is both the best news I’ve heard in ages, yet is also one I fear they can’t keep.

In their MMO Manifesto video game designer Ree Soesbee complains about the static persistent nature of MMOs, how everyone is doing what you’re doing and how the boss you just killed respawns ten minutes later. It’s all well and good but I don’t see how you cannot do that and still have content for tens of thousands of players to enjoy, especially if you’re planning on having single-player story content as well. Let’s face it ArenaNet you’ve talked about having story-line driven dungeons that can be explored again after completion, doesn’t that mean you’re going to have bosses that respawn? Or at the very least players can go back and kill the same boss over and over again in an instance based dungeon? Or does that not count because it takes place in a dungeon and not the larger game world?

Actually I want to talk about the way the larger game world will work. Like I said, in the MMO Manifesto video there was talk that quests will be generated procedurally from a living dynamic world, instead of being doled out in a persistent world that never changes. This is a very ambitious goal and if it succeeds will no doubt be the biggest game change Guild Wars 2 brings to the genre. But it’s also playing with fire; playing with chaos theory actually. They say that one player makes an action that sends repercussion out across the entire world, or at least the entire zone. That sounds cool, but with tens of thousands to potentially millions of players each sending out those kinds of repercussion waves, well, it sounds like it’s going to end up creating a huge mess. Suppose a player logs out in a friendly village they rescued only to log back in and discover the very spot they’re standing in is now infested with rampaging monsters way above their level. Like I said this is something that we will have to wait and see if it works.

I hope it does, because I hate MMOs and I want to love this game. I love the lore, I love the look of it, I love the way ArenaNet is actually innovating and not just remaking World of Warcraft and added one new feature on top of it (like what Rift and The Old Republic did). It sounds like they’re rearing up for a closed public beta test in April sometime so let’s see. If I get in and I don’t have to sign an NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement) I will let you guys know what I think. Until then sorry for the unexplained hiatus, I will get back to regularly updated posts now.

Mysognistic Gamers: Tera

I stumbled across a very chilling thought last week, one relating to a massive problem with people who tend to play games; i.e male nerds. The problem is that a lot, not all and this is definitely a decreasing number, but quite a bit of nerds are straight up misogynists. We see it all the time in the industry, were female characters are almost always depicted as objects of sexual desire. And when some comes along to challenge this insulting tradition all the artists and marketing people can do is shrug their shoulders and offer the pathetic excuse of “Well, because sex sells.” And what does that say about us as an audience that all they need to do to convince us of a $60 sale is that the cover art shows a pair of ridiculous female breasts? That men are so lead by our dicks that we let the lizard parts of our brains make our purchasing decisions? We’re better then that. And then there is the increasing number of female players who have to not only put up with a marketing mentally that acts like they don’t exist, but a number of male players who still think this is a “No Girls Allowed” club. Tits or GTFO is not an appropriate response to a potential player.

And that’s the worst part. Not enough guys are fighting back against this senseless pandering. They want to keep the industry “No Girls Allowed” and want games to pander to their sexuality. The reason I’m bringing this up is because while doing some random Google Image Searching for examples of ridiculous female portrayals I discovered this very telling reaction. This picture is made by a forum poster for the upcoming MMO Tera, and the way male members of Castanic race dress.

How dare I look at the naked chest of my own gender in a video game.

Yeah that’s a lot of skin. Except that’s usually how female characters dress in these kinds of games, but there Tera goes reversing gender roles and ensuring that retarded fashion is an equal gender endeavor, and the OP of this thread who posted this image was none too happy about it. He basically said that all these guys are dressing gay and that no one is going to play a male Castanic, cause it’s not like there are equally perverted women out there who would like to look at some nice six packs. Now to give the Tera community credit it seemed like no one else in that threat shared the OP’s opinion, and that it seemed like the design idea for the Castanics is to make both genders sexually appealing. But to take credit away from the Tera community, no one mentioned that female Castanics wear even more ridiculous clothing, and unlike the males, there are zero female models that wear clothes that completely cover their bodies.

This metal thong is doing wonders to my sphincter. And by wonders I mean shredding it to bits.

Here you go, a female Castanic in “heavy armor”. All of those guys up there were wearing light armor or just normal clothes. When they actually gear up for battle there are around three or so armor sets that completely cover them up. For females, there are none, and all of them revolve around this metal thong paradigm you see above. In fact, that’s the least revealing plate armor for females. This is sexist, and worst, it’s stupid. No one would willingly go into battle like this. It defeats the purpose of armor. Armor is supposed to protect your vitals, all of which are located in your torso. But her torso is utterly exposed, in fact the most protected part of her are her legs, the part of your body that’s least likely to get hit in a fight. Unless you’ve developed some kind of martial art were you only block with your legs, no one would dress like this in their right mind. Oh and notice how she has stilettos built into her sabatons. You’re not going to see that feature for males.

This is the most heavily clothed female Castanic.

Sorry, I wish that image had a higher resolution. But I’m completely serious, that is the most fully clothed you can get with a Castanic. It’s all downhill from there because the higher you go up in armor class, paradoxically the more skin you can see. No seriously, check it out here. Naturally this is the complete inverse of how the males work, and like I said, there are three armor sets that completely cover the males. Those same identically sets somehow transform into naked torsos, metal thongs, and stilettos when put on women. I am putting my serious face on here people. And by the way, when your best attempt at fully clothing a woman is a dress that reveals her back and is cut low enough that I can see her thong you’ve got problems.

I’ve long been a person who has subscribed to the very rare school of thought that the advancement in gaming graphics was largely unnecessary. It felt like this whole stride towards more realistic graphics was born out of constant developer one-up-manship. Developer A starts to implement atmospheric lighting so Developer B improves it and adds bump mapping. And to catch up with this constant stride gaming technology has had to become more and more expensive, driving the price up both not only for consoles but  the cost of development cycles as well. Games ten years ago could have been made on a fraction of an average AAA game’s budget today, and most of that is because modern games have to employ more artists and invest in more expensive render farms. Then there’s the game play impact. Modern games can take up well over ten gigabytes of space and most of that space is for graphics. Fans of the Elder Scrolls series have constantly sat by and watched as the depth and sophistication of the games were lost to fit in more space for the new shiny graphics, all of which would become hideously obsolete in two years anyway. Even the size of the games have decreased. Oblivion had a smaller map then Morrowind, which in turn had a smaller map then Daggerfall. Sometimes it feels like this advancing graphics is not only adding nothing to the games, but are taking away from them; space for game play is sacrificed for space for graphics. Until this came along.

I can't tell if those masks are cool, or creepy.

 From Dust is a god game NOT from Peter Molyneux. In it players are tasked with helping a wandering group of non-denominational island people reclaim their lost culture. You do so by reshaping the landscape around you, creating islands out of water and diverting the paths of rivers and volcanoes. What makes From Dust special is that you can only control the land, by picking up undulating orbs of dirt, water, or lava and using it rescultp the land. You can also gain the power to jelly-fy  water so you can protect your islanders from the random tsunamis that are to this game what Creepers are to Minecraft.

What a nice civilization you have there. It would be a shame if I were to wreck it.

So what does any of this have to do with graphics? Well, simply put I don’t think that with the processing and graphical powers modern PCs and consoles developed to keep up with the rapidly exploding graphic technologies, From Dust would have been possible. From Dust is not a game that uses its visual technologies to enhance the experience like in Crysis, it needs those technologies for even its most basic mechanics to function. At the heart of the game beats a highly advanced real time terrain deformation system that allows the game to radically reshape the geography in real time. Remember when people lost their shit over how you could suddenly create a volcano in Magic Carpet was back in ’94? Well now we have volcanoes that start as little fire spewing mounds that will transform into megalithic mountains that will ran lava and ash all over the place. Rivers naturally carve their way across the landscape, sticking to the contours of the geography. And then you have all the little AI controlled villagers running around. Even without the pretty graphics there is a lot of processor heavy stuff going on here, and I don’t think a game like this could have been possible even five years ago. Graphics are the game here and the game is the graphics. The two are occupying the same code and the same software and you can’t separate them, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Even kids wear them. Yeah, those masks are creepy.

From Dust is available on the Xbox Live Arcade and is coming to the PC August 17th and to PSN…er…soon.