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October Gaming Update

October 14, 2013

I played some GTAO with a real life friend, and it wasn’t terrible. The best fun we had was goofing off. We also played a few “big heist” missions (namely just stealing that C-130, which is really boring, but easy money). The missions themselves were pretty much like the single player game – it didn’t add a WHOLE lot to have other people playing – they were about as effective as your NPC counterparts in the solo game, except one is bitching about his work, another can’t get his mic to work right, and yet another has to AFK to get a sandwich or something. It felt more like a 10-man WoW raid than it did anything else.

My buddy hasn’t asked to play together again – I think he’s power leveling and I’m too low level to help him much, he’d probably rather take the +1 life. <shrug> Doesn’t hurt my feelings, as it wasn’t really that much fun, other than just screwing around on the open world map.

They will be apparently patching the game to give people money for how bad the game has sucked so far, to entice people to keep playing. If it weren’t for the huge latency and how boring the missions are, I’d be more interested. I’ll log in to collect my free money, just in case they add worthwhile content in the future. Otherwise I’ll probably retire GTAO.

I beat the relatively brief BioShock Infinite over the weekend. I’m going to talk about the game’s plot and ending – so SPOILERS AHEAD. I would say that BSI is a good game, but hardly “great” – and I consider myself a fan of the entire heritage of BioShock, going all the way back to Ultima Underworld. It’s funny to me how BSI gets brought up in any conversation about choices in games, in particular moral choices – and also any discussion about the “illusion of choice”. In particular, how “betrayed” gamers feel that their choices were, in fact, just illusions. I think the fact that the player is tricked into believing that their choices matter makes the theme of “choice is just an illusion” much more powerful -similar to when viewers find out that Bruce Willis is /dead/ in the Sixth Sense… You buy into an idea, you get invested in the characters, only to find out that an underlying premiss has been taken for granted.

I wish that the ending of BSI had been a bit lengthier to really flesh out what is going on – I kind of turned my brain off after a while and waited for it to be over, before watching a video explanation. While I had a hunch very early in the game that Booker Dewitt is ALSO Comstock, it’s never explicitly stated, nor is there any obvious indicators. I was basically watching a cinematic of a man who is being quickly lead to his own murder at the hands of his daughter (presumably). While the symbolism was solid, and the message could be understood with some interpretation after the fact, the ending felt very rushed – and I would have appreciated it much more if they had taken their time with it, or been a bit more opaque with the logic of “OH DROWN ME NOW BABY!”

I also think the origin and nature of the Lutece twins could have been explored a bit more. Lutece is an interesting character (or, characters?) – akin to what you’d expect to find on an episode of ST:TNG… Yet Lutece takes a backseat to far less interesting, less thoughtful characters. Early on I had a feeling that they were “odd”, either pan-dimensional beings (1) (2), ghosts, illusions, or figments of Booker’s imagination (1) (2). In particular it was made obvious that they were tracking both chance and choice in the first scene of the game – and again by their inexplicable ability to appear and disappear. Characters like these are always interesting by nature of being otherworldly, and Lutece was particularly compelling because of the character’s strong intellect, moral ambivalence, and lack of a clear motive. Lutece also exhibits an almost incestuous-seeming self love between the male and female counterparts.

Otherwise, the RPG element was decent if shallow, likewise the action was solid but shallow (no cover element, dumb AI, rock-paper-scissors use of powers against heavy infantry). The powers themselves were fun, but I disliked how impotent they were against the harder enemies, namely the Handymen and the Patriots – especially in the case of the Handymen. I also didn’t care for having to search every single trash can to afford decent upgrades – it really bogs down play and doesn’t add to the role playing element. We are long, LONG past the days of System Shock, basically a /survival horror/, where checking every nook and cranny for bullets and medkits was a matter of survival. BSI is an action-RPG-FPS hybrid, whose game time is artificially inflated by encouraging players to hover around trash receptacles mashing the X-button to scavenge half-eaten sandwichs.

Elizabeth is easily the best NPC follower of all time – and she should serve as some kind of template that other game developers should copy from. First of all, she’s less a follower, and more of a side-kick; in fact, Booker ends up becoming /her/ follower on a few occasions, allowing her to set the path and pacing of the story. Second, she’s an interesting character – rather than a mute wireframe model, and her lines aren’t repeated /too much/ – giving her a lot more life than most NPCs. Beyond that, she’s INVULNERABLE! While she can’t tank for you, she’s not a liability. I’m not sure why game makers INSIST on throwing in “NPC escort missions” in every damn game they make, because all it does is expose weaknesses in the AI (both friendly and enemy) and frustrate players. The weakness in the AI becomes apparent in vulnerable escort missions, because the player is required to try and predict AI behavior, in order to predict what stupid shit the escort NPC is going to do, and to predict where and how the enemy will attack. This is the moment when the disbelief not only fails to be suspended, but it is absolutely f-ing ruined. Whereas in BSI it’s not necessary to try and out-think Elizabeth, because her pathfinding is flawless and she doesn’t get involved in combat. The player can just focus on the mission at hand. She also helps the player out, by tossing him ammo, health, and money – I’m sure this was designed to cause players to bond with the character more than the ordinary NPC. Which NPC are you going to care for more, the one that runs blindly into enemy fire, or the one that tosses you a health kit when you are about to die?

Otherwise the game was good. I think I would have enjoyed the incredibly well crafted environment and character graphics more, if I hadn’t just finished Dishonored a while ago – as the two are visually and thematically indistinguishable. This is undoubtedly due to the fact that they share quite a bit of the same heritage, being that both studios got their start from members of the company (Looking Glass Studios) that made Ultima Underworld and Thief: The Dark Project (and its numerous sequels). Some displaced Looking Glass employees went to Irrational Games (of BioShock fame), and others to Arkane Studios (Arx Fatalis, Dishonored). The two companies have even collaborated on a few projects. Nevertheless I can’t help but feel like I’m playing somewhat of the same game at times.

An interesting note is that I am not playing games as much, because I spend so much time reading up on gaming news websites, namely PCGamer and GameInformer. I occasionally read Kotaku as well, however it has way too much non-gaming shit, in particular Wapanese frothing at the mouth about Asian culture, Anime and similar BS. If I could just block Brian Ashcraft‘s posts, I might actually read Kotaku. <ahem> I got off track there. Anyway – I find myself checking out just about every upcoming game and skimming almost every review. I’m not entirely too sure why… Other than I get trapped on the computer sometimes when the family demands the living room (and my 60″ plasma with surround sound, that I bought mostly for /gaming/). I probably shouldn’t read as much gaming news, as it takes a lot of time, and it’s kind of meaningless – other than giving me something to talk to one of my former coworkers about. <shrug>

That being said, I’m off to play some games!

P.S. I’m reinstalling Star Wars: The Old Republic, since they’ll have space combat /sometime in the future/. I’m willing to try that out. Plus, maybe they’ve streamlined the leveling system a bit – and I’d be willing to try out a few characters for the story. It is BioWare, after all.

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