The Blessed State of Gaming

I feel like now of all times should be a time of being grateful for the games we play and for the communities the video gaming industry has allowed us to be in.  I’m talking about the communities that are welcoming and good.  The ones that help us feel safe and well when we are, in physicality, alone.

The state of gaming qualitatively is always fluctuating, but the people we love, the characters we’ve bonded with, and the adventures we’ve had are usually good ones.  And more so the shared experience we’ve had as gamers and as friends are pretty much always good. Most hobby communities have fallen under or have struggled, but during these times, video gamers can be strengthened.  We have more opportunities to uplift each other through video games.  This is the medium that we proclaim to be such a great purveyor of happiness to us.

Digital downloads and streaming systems have allowed us safety from the outside world during a tumultuous time.  I don’t think it is the norm, at least where I am, to play video games for long periods of time each day.  Conservatively, video games are an extra activity that males tend to do.  Usually a Call of Duty here or there.  Maybe some Grand Theft Auto.  From my local community they tend not to be gaming every day anyway.  

But any of you who would like to call yourselves gamers, and in almost all cases you are the judge of that, we have our sanctuary.  The video game industry and world has driven us to the point of such relative safety and I am extremely grateful for that.  Of course the industry has also brought along its own faults, but what industry has not done that?  In a strange way the growth of the industry is like a relationship that is tarnished and rebuilt over and over again by the developers and the audience.  I think at all points, both sides have contributed both positively and negatively to it.  

We’re still here though, and I would like to express my appreciation for the fact that we have survived this long as an industry and audience that we can ask a friend if they want to play some Borderlands, and that we can chat using programs like Discord.  The current disasters of the world, although of still great concern, do not touch our bubbles of comfort.  That is what makes this current state of gaming so great.  I would that we could all pitch in for the troubled state of the world, and also have a place of safety to return to when we are weary and are in need of recharging.

We DO have a place to return to that is unharmed, and that is a blessing to which I say,
“Thank you.”

I’ll see you soon.

– Elise

Why I Love: Mega Man 2

Mega Struggle

…Why do I love Mega Man 2?  I looked back on this as it is number 130 on my loose list.  If you look at Mega Man 2, it has a lot of unnaturally rising difficulties.  Sometimes, you can’t even call it rising difficulty because it’s just straight up hard from the very beginning.  A few things are not very respectful of your time either.  I mean, I am very grateful for the E-cans and codes, because in Mega Man 1 you had neither of them.  If you died trying to figure out a level or a boss, you are also expending your time.  Now Elise, you mean you got experience right?  Yes, but we get literally nothing but that, and it’s difficult to find the game respectful of your time when it throws all that out the window because you had to try and figure out something that wants specific solutions.  Or glitchy ones.

So why do I even like this game?  Your top tier platformer gamers will be fine, but I would say the average gamer would have a hard time with game, this series even. So why do we like this kind of game that punishes us so severely for trying to figure out a design the developers do not explain?  Isn’t it partly the responsibility of the designer to make sure cheap shots like this don’t happen?  

Why do we like being punished so much!?  It’s not that we like being punished.  It is that we like climbing something rather difficult.  Although I personally DO enjoy the struggle of climbing a mountain, sometimes it is difficult to see that in game design.  The difficulty of designing a game like Mega Man 2 is that you are risking the retention of your player.  There are moments in this game where you may drop on one-hit kill spikes because you do not have insanely fast reaction times that are not normal for a human being.  UNLESS.  Unless you die to find out first.  Which again, is you spending your time to pay for something that blindsided you.

I guess we want the fight.  We want the fight of knowing that the designer is against us.  It is those games that have enough design in them to not push us over the edge.  Or games where the punishment is the sole deliberation of the designers in games like I Wanna Be the Guy.  They make it pretty obvious in that game that it is being unfair on purpose because that’s the point.  That game is a game where designs don’t matter as much.  The game will blindside you at almost every turn and in the end, the skill is some platforming, but it is mostly you remembering where the enemy will come from.

But Mega Man 2 is still on my top list.  I mean, this is the tops list.  It is some people’s favorite game ever.  Maybe it’s the exception that this game is old.  OR MAYBE.  Maybe it is mercy.

I mean, graphics act a little smoother.  The soundtrack is even better than the last one.  Lot’s of things are great.  But I think it is the added level of mercy in the game that makes it even better.  The game doesn’t reconcile with you by making the game easier than the last one.  It is still brutal, but there are always moments of mercy.  A tiny bit of health here.  A tiny bit of ammo there.  E-cans that fill your life to full can be used in times of desperation.

Climbing up a mountain without food or supplies is incredibly difficult, but so is climbing the mountain with supplies.  The difference is one is survival and feels unfair, and the other is a challenge.  That is what makes Mega Man so fun.  That is what makes Dark Souls so fun.  They crush us, give us some water, and then send us out to be crushed again.  Because of the bits of mercy here and there, it still feels like a game.  It still feels like a challenge, and just like a challenge, when we overcome it we look back and say, “Wow.  I made it.  I really did it,” and not, “Ugh, I’m finally done with that. Let’s get out of here.”

Ironically, the artificial difficulty in these games is balanced by the complete opposite of what these games feel like: sanctuary.  And I guess that’s why I love Mega Man 2 so much.  Also the soundtrack.  Listen to that thing if you can.  I love it.  I mean, play the game if you can as well.  The collection is available on Steam.  

This is the Ultimate Loosely-Thought Ranked Analysis, and this was Mega Man 2 at number 130.  I’ll see you next time!

Why I Love: The Stanley Parable

You Read This Article

Okay, how do I say this?  I guess I could just say it like this: The Stanley Parable is a first person adventure game, and I very, VERY, highly suggest you play it before you read this article.


You can go grab it here, where it is, as of this article, at $15 USD base price.  You’ll want to play it multiple times.  There is also a demo available on the page, if you want to do that.

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So, this game is one of those games that really reaches out as to what a video game can be like.  It does this without trying too hard.  There are games that want to have such a unique idea that they find one, but then they keep pushing it to the point where it is not really a good game.  Or they keep trying to shove new ideas in until the game is a mess.  It’s okay to have a lot of cool ideas in your game, but don’t force it.  It has to fit.

The Stanley Parable does not do that.  This is a game where you play as a man named Stanley.  Stanley works in an office, and one day his computer screen does not show its usual display and so Stanley must look for his higher ups to find out what’s going on.

However, what makes this game unique is that there is a narrator telling you what to do.  Now obviously you are Stanley, and you as the player are free to do what you wish.  That disjointed collaboration between you and the narrator is what makes this game so special.  Let me emphasize this as well: this does not just make it unique, it makes it fun as well.

A lot of games trying to be unique tend to leave behind the fact that games are meant to be fun or perhaps inspiring in some way, whether that is artistically or philosophically.  The experience that is played on in skits by comedy groups becomes something you get to play!  You decide whether or not you want to follow the narrative.  It also really helps that the narrator’s voice actor is absolutely wonderful.

This game sits at number 131 of the Ultra Loosely Thought Ranked Analysis.  

I mean, that’s it really.  This whole game revolves around this interaction with the narrator and I cannot say much more.  If the silliness of this premise is not intriguing, then maybe this isn’t the game for you.  However, as a game and experience I think it is something most people should play to see what it’s all about.  Play the demo at least.  It’s not my choice to make.  I’m just saying things.  It’s up to you.  In a way, we’re already playing the game right now, because I am telling you what to do, and you don’t have to do it.  For once in a video game, you don’t have to do what it says.


So…  what do you choose?

Why I Love: Metroid

Vania Begins

I would say I really started playing video games with the SNES and early PC games like DOOM.  I never really got into what Metroid was until Metroid Prime, and even more so with Metroid Prime 2: Echoes.  It wasn’t until after that I actually went back and played Metroid on the NES.  During that time I took a step back to play other NES games as well and, I have to say, I missed a lot of good stuff.

Before Metroidvania games became more commonplace as it is today, I didn’t…play any.  I played Castlevania: Circle of the Moon, but only for like ten minutes.  So that doesn’t count.  Metroid and Castlevania are the main ancestors of the genre, and that is why we are here today.  I wanted to know what this genre was really about.  And it is about a guided open world. 

Metroid is a game with a large, 2D world to traverse.  You play as Samus Aran, the bounty hunter, who is sent by the Galactic Federation to stop evil people from creating a bioweapon using metroids, those jellyfish looking things you see in relation to the series.  The main thing about exploring the planet Zebes is that you cannot explore all of it at once.  There are always limitations, some ability, some knowledge, or some event that prevents you from exploring everything, and that is the biggest thing about metroidvanias that make them the genre they are.

Different items like suits or weapons open new places where you’re allowed to go, and they also open new locations in old spots.  In a sense, every time you get something new, you unlock content for what’s ahead, as well as everything you’ve done in the past as well.  I think that is one of the big appeals for the genre.  Your character’s growth is shown by what you’re allowed to explore.  You genuinely feel stronger and better.  This isn’t because it’s the only thing placed in front of you either.  It’s not like, “Hey, with this ice pick, you can now climb ice walls,” and then they place an ice wall like, in the next room.  It is more like getting an ice pick and recognizing the fact I can go all the back to the beginning because it’s one huge level.  All those ice walls I saw before are now applicable.  (Ice Pick is not an item in the game.)

This means there are only so many things you can do before you’re forced to move on or to discover the next thing for advancing the story.  This is the genius thing about metroidvania games, and in this case Metroid.  You do have a choice to do what you want, but the game can still guide you to progression.  If you feel too weak, you’re not going to go grind.  You are going to go and explore.  The replacement of redundant grinding with exploration is what makes metroidvania games so satisfying.  If you are those of the adventurous nature and would do this regardless of your character’s strength, then your exploring will be rewarded!  So there is a good funneling of gameplay loops for either situation. 

This does create an issue of backtracking, and each game and gamer has their own way of handling that.  It’s a matter of shortcuts, transports, or fast traveling.  Sometimes it’s up to you to decide when to go backtrack as well.

Proper gameplay loops should be fun or rewarding in all parts of the loop and I think Metroid does a wonderful job at that.  Being an awesome bounty hunter woman is definitely a plus as well.

Metroid is at number 132 on the ULTRA.  Things have shifted around the ULTRA since we last wrote anything.  That is my fault, because we haven’t…written much.  Thank you for reading this though!  We’ll see you next time!

Why I Love: Iji

Rise of Indie

I’m going to skip a bunch of games to talk about this game, and then we’ll head back up to where we were before.

I grew up playing indie games.  I remember playing Jumper and Jumper 2 by what is now Matt Makes Games.  I remember scouring the internet for Mario-clones and playing bullet hell games like rRootage and Tumiki fighters.  I remember being hyped for Jumper: Redux because it had multiplayer.  I was curious how big indie games were going to get.  Well, as we know now, they’re everywhere, but I really feel like there was that second surge of indies that, for me, started with An Untitled Story (also Matt Makes Games) and Iji.

Iji is a free, side-scrolling shooter made by Daniel Remar.  The protagonist Iji is a young woman on Earth where an alien invasion is taking place.  She is turned into a cyborg to give humanity a fighting chance against the aliens.  However, as you go through the game you learn more about the aliens.  You decide how to approach the invasion.  It’s up to you to bring peace or death.

Iji proved so many things to the indie world.  It proved there were great stories and lore in indie games.  It also showed a great system with the level up of skills that affects the way that you play through the game.  You can choose between two different weapon technologies (or really, both if you want).  There are exciting secrets that you can find if you were cheeky enough.  And, there is also a bit of a “choices matter” element to it as well.

I also love that it is kind of a balance between classic side-scrolling shooter and metroidvania.  Your choices for your skills can determine if you can reach specific places.  Hm.  I guess that is just like a normal game these days like Dishonored or something, but still.  It’s really well done.  I’ve never had problems with glitches.  It’s fun discovering different weapons and enemies.  The world felt very new because this deep world wasn’t as common in the indie world back then.

Let’s be honest, a lot of indie games back in the days didn’t have super amazing graphics.  I think that never having the most amazing computer until later in my life taught me that graphics don’t matter that much.  They are always icing on the cake, and a cake without icing can be very delicious.  Having the option of icing and what you can do with it has the potential of deliciousness though.  

Indie games and growing up with games on the SNES also taught me one more thing: how graphics can represent things.  These days graphics try to be real.  They try to literally be the thing that they are supposed to be, but back in the days you had to create a representation.  The graphics had to make you feel like it was the thing without completely looking like it.  And limited graphics really weeds out those who can’t do it.  Iji does whatever it needs to make it feel like what it needs to show.  I don’t need perfectly detailed Tasen aliens to know what they look like, because Daniel already got the feeling down and that is a beautiful thing.

Also, the music.  The music is amazing.  The entire soundtrack is so strong.  The very first sector’s song, Kinda Green, nails that perfect feeling of waking up in a changed world with changed abilities.  The beginning is soft, with a repeating background and a soft melody.  After two minutes, the music kicks it up with an electric guitar, but it’s still not too intense.  It’s still a slower melody.  The music feels just as apprehensive as Iji’s attempt to approach this new life, but she’s now on her feet and she knows she has to move on.  The soundtrack’s increasing intensity keeps up with Iji’s emotional ride as she has to go through the story and as you go through the game.

The sounds are all fantastic as well.  The different weapons and their crazy effects feel bright and new.  The small particles of debris and rockets flying around.  Every sound just brings more environment to what is now Earth under fire.  I also absolutely love the short lines Iji says as well.  It helps her feel alive, human, and malleable.

Iji is #55 on the ULTRA list.  There are a few indie games that are higher on the list, but Iji is such an amazing game I still recommend to anyone looking for something to play.  I am a very emotional person, and so stories and characters are always a strong point for me.  I also loved that the protagonist is a female who isn’t sexualized or has some sort of romance.  She just is.  

Iji is also very high on the list because I feel like it opened so many doors to understanding video games and that is very important to me.  It accomplished so much and did so much for me as a gamer and I can only show thanks for it.  Just like with films, I feel like the ones that help us become better people or better at understanding people tend to resonate the most with me, and Iji has done that.


If you want to play iji go to Remar’s site here!

We’ll see you next time on ULTRA!

Why I Love: Final Fantasy V

Ancestry

I played Final Fantasy in order.  As fun as the first four are, they haven’t aged too well.  Each one brought strengths to the table, and I feel like Final Fantasy V is the culmination of what they’ve learned.  Let’s take a walk through Final Fantasy’s life up to this point.

Final Fantasy
I played through some of this on mobile, and then I played through the whole game on the GBA collection.  I tried to play through this with the idea that turn-based RPGs were not overflowing with games.  You know how in a lot of RPGs, especially JRPGs, there are monsters where they just change the color palette and call it something different?  For some reason I LOVE that.  With less limitations on space, that could be more of a lazy thing nowadays.  It might be because I studied biology and simple things like that can mean crazy histories within a species.  I always imagine what it took to reach that point in the video game world.  I think that sort of “imagination running” keeps video games so alive to me.

The first game doesn’t really do a good job of telling you where you’re supposed to go and what you’re supposed to be doing, especially in the GBA version where there are bonus things to do that I thought were part of the original game but were totally not.  It’s an annoyance now, but it’s also nice to see the gaming world how it was back then when game guides were totally a thing.  Calling friends or those help lines were really a thing back then!  Without them, you’re forced to explore every bit of world to try and get you where you need to go, which would be a lot more fun if there were more things to find.  Haha.

That takes me to one more point.  Back then, I don’t know how many people actually owned a lot of games.  Remember when constant sales weren’t a thing?  Remember when games costed a ton?   So having a game last really long, whether through wandering around or grinding (or both at the same time) is actually fit for the time.  Or you can …go outside and stuff.

Final Fantasy II

This was also played on the GBA collection.  The proficiency system.  I love it.  It might not be the best thing ever, but that mechanic was enjoyable to me.  They don’t really use this system that much up to V, but they were definitely exploring their way through RPGs and I think this is a nice result of that.  It could have been worse. 

There were also more people of significance.  People that apparently meant something.  …my memory is very fuzzy concerning story.  It still wasn’t as significant as Final Fantasy games now.  

But I still liked it!

Final Fantasy III

I played this one on…PC.  A billion classes.  Okay, not a billion, but there are a lot more classes, and this is when Final Fantasy decides they can do whatever the world they want with making more classes.  That’s okay with me!  You can pretty much do that with all the characters too.  That was kind of…strange to me.  But this was still a fun experience with understanding how we can go about leveling these classes to benefit the party as a whole.  Also, on the 3D versions, the chibis are really cute.  I really like the battle theme in this one.

Final Fantasy IV

This is where story and characters start getting into being…well, a story and characters with meaning.  I was actually invested in the characters and the world.  It was still a bit confusing at times, but a lot less so than the first game.  At least I had more motivation to see what would happen next.  I played that remake one on PC, so I think this has the time-based battles.  It was kind of difficult to adapt to after three games in regular turn-based style, but I think it’s worth the change.

Final Fantasy V

V is most of these things combined.  Unfortunately, I had to play the fuzzy version on Steam, but it didn’t affect things too much.  It had a good story and characters that I really liked.  The classes could be interchanged and I could still customize them to what I wanted my party to be like.  It still keeps a good final fantasy feel.  A lot of the emotion I get from playing V is because I went through the journey of the first four, and we can look and see how far we’ve gone.  Especially in franchises, the games do not exist in a vacuum.  The journey beforehand most definitely affects the way we see the games when we play them.  

That being said, I think it’s arguable that Final Fantasy IV should have a spot on the ULTRA.  It sits in my Honorable Mentions right now, and it is the first game to actually start that list.  I’m not as knowledgeable on game design of turn-based RPGs as I am with other games, but I really think the turning point for Final Fantasy started with IV.  V is proof that the developers can build on what was learned in the past, even if a game didn’t turn out to be perfect.

I think the thing that companies struggle with today is learning from previous mistakes.  Some really have become executive amalgamations for the money, and although developers deserve pay, it can degrade game quality by quite a bit.  Even worse, it may break down the morale of those wanting to make games that did their best only to have it shot down by the decision makers.  

Humans can’t really improve unless they make mistakes, and we can’t move on from our mistakes if we cling to them.  As consumers, we have a direct connection to video games that makes us extremely powerful.  It is good to take action when a game dares to siphon the money out of us, or does something absolutely terrible design-wise.  We also have the power to do some bad things to companies, like holding grudges for…well, ever.  Companies may not be our friends, but they really can’t get better if we don’t let them.  Thankfully, the vocal minority is the one shouting and claiming unfair designs or things like that when things are actually okay.  I think sometimes we need to take a few steps back and remember that companies consist of human beings who have motives and dreams of their own.  They’re dreamers, perhaps even more so than us in this industry, because they actually make the games, and yet we hold the power of the industry.   

The best kinds of companies build on previous games and know what they should improve on by themselves.  I see this in Square / Square Enix as they go along Final Fantasy.  Mistakes will come.  Sometimes there will be such mistakes that really knock a franchise off its course, but I think proper experimentation and getting themselves back up are what makes companies even stronger (if the executives are willing to part with the money again to try).  The best companies don’t necessarily look for what players want, but what they need in order to have fun.  We see this in some of the best designed games out there where fun is brought to the table in a way that gamers don’t realize they wanted.  Although the early days were rough, Final Fantasy V (and yes, IV,) are good examples of that.

I love the far and wide opinions of the Final Fantasy series and how different people like different eras.  What are your favorite eras?

Final Fantasy V is ranked 125 on the ULTRA.  We’ll see you next time on What I love!

Why I Love: Harvest Moon 64

Labor of Love

You know what is strange about Harvest Moon?  Playing the game as a younger person who hasn’t done heavy farm-related labor.  It’s weird then that we enjoyed playing Harvest Moon so much.  It’s like pretending to work, and I guess that really is why these kinds of simulation games are so fun.  There’s all the reward in doing well, but there’s no major threat if you do not succeed.  

Harvest Moon is a farming game.  For the longest time it was the farming game.  The SNES was very good, but it was the N64 one that really put it on the map for me.  Lifestyle simulation games tend to have the core gameplay loop of working to earn money to buy better tools to work more efficiently.   I think it was this game that really introduced to me the gameplay in video games where we set goals for ourselves in order to become better versions of our video game selves.  The independence in what we’re allowed to focus on to earn our money gave freedom in what little we could do as youngsters.  I could choose to plant specific types of plants that I enjoyed eating in real life, or I could focus on growing a ton of animals.  I can talk to townspeople and gain a better relationship with them.  

I liked the progression of almost everything in the game.  I like how your person gets better tools as they use certain tools over and over again.  In the beginning your farm is pretty much a mess and you have to clean it up with what little you have, and you don’t have a lot.  You’re just a young man who inherited a farm.  That sort of building up experience is something I always enjoy.  I mean, I guess that’s how it is for a lot of these games.  Hm.

In Harvest Moon 64 there’s also a weird sense of exploration as you try and find out how much things are sold for or other strange mysteries you can find around town.  I think a lot of simulation games that have a little bit of the supernatural or fantasy always have a lot more character to them.  They can always add their little twist to things and makes the wonder of what is out there that much more satisfying.  What I suppose I am trying to say is that even if we know a lot about the thing the game is trying to simulate, there are other things it can surprise us with.  

The graphics are also very appealing.  The smooth little, almost claymation-looking, characters are always fun to see, and the animations are run in a way that is very smooth.

I have one personal complaint.  I feel like the days are really quick in this game.  Perhaps it’s because when I was a kid I was a lot less organized with my in-game time, but it felt like I could barely squeeze in all I wanted for the day.  I suppose I’m still not the most organized, but at least I knew my limits and how to maximize my time.  Hm, if you’ve played the game, what do you think?

I admit that a lot of the reason why Harvest Moon 64 makes this list is because it was my first major step into simulation games, but it really is a fantastic game by itself.  A game that can make work so fun surely deserves something. This is a game that can make nearly every loop of it’s grind to get better at farming enjoyable, and that is a huge reason why this game is on this list.

And that is #126 on the ULTRA.  I admit that there is a ton of bias on Harvest Moon 64’s spot on this list, but that is why this is the Ultimate Loosely-Thought Ranked Analysis.  Much of this list is based on game design, but it’s also emotionally close to me.  That’s how it was set outright, and I think it would be right that your lists also contain things that you are just really close to personally.  I’ll see you next time on “Why I Love!”