Why I Love: Resident Evil 4

Conquer the darkness

Okay, I think for most people who play horror games, Resident Evil 4 is not really that scary.  But it’s scary enough to be called a horror game.  I think some people consider Bioshock to be a horror game, but I wasn’t ever really scared in that for some reason.  …maybe.

I get really scared in games.  Super easily scared.  (I know, Bioshock does have some scary moments.)  But like, this is how scared I was: I couldn’t get past, like, the first few cabin areas at the literal start of the game.  I think the biggest problem for me in horror games is anticipation.  I always think it’s going to be way scarier than it’s actually going to be.  My imagination goes wild and it’s never even close to what the actual scary thing is.  But that’s good.  I like games that create an environment that really scares me.

What really brings it up technically are two things which I was totally not expecting:

Inventory Management

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but this made me really grateful for inventory management.  I’ve already played things like the Deus Ex series that has this, but for some reason Resident Evil 4 really helped me realize how much I do enjoy resource management.  I do like not having enough ammo at times.  Making difficult decisions with what I have in the inventory turned out to be really fun!  It makes it feel rewarding and risky, and for some reason I never really recognized that.  I probably felt it in Deus Ex, but I only realized it for what it was here, and looking at the time this game was released, it probably was the same for others as well.

Oh wait, I played Resident Evil 1.   And that was a nightmare.  Pun intended.

For me, it was Resident Evil 4.  It feels rewarding when I save something for later and it turns out to be useful, and it feels like there are consequences if I hoard and it turns out to be detrimental.  I like it.   Resident Evil 1 was a little too punishing in inventory management for me.

Gunplay

This is probably…the best third person gunplay I’ve had.  It feels so good.  It really feels like I’m aiming the gun.  I mean, obviously that’s what we do in shooting games, but it feels so natural here.  When I initially saw it for what it was, again I was really doubtful.  I was like, “This is not going to be great.”  But…every time I had an encounter and I had to shoot, it was fun.  Um…it’s really…it.  That’s it.  

———————

For me, this was also a turning point where horror games changed.  I became more willing to play them.  Which is good, because there are so many horror games that I want to play for the story, but still want to experience the original form of the game.  It’s because of Resident Evil 4 that I played Alan Wake, and then continued on with other horror games.  

Emotionally I really like Resident Evil 4 because I love the characters in it.  I love that Leon doesn’t really care about people being flirty or romantic with him.  He just brushes it off.  I really like that a lot.  I hate forced romance or obvious push for romance.  I like that allied NPCs don’t feel stupid.  And it’s interesting that the graphics still somehow hold up today. Which is kind of weird.

These things in Resident Evil 4 are present in other games, but I think the little nuances of a lot of eastern style approach to storytelling, character design, and enemy design really attract me.  I admit it.  This isn’t to say that western versions of the same are bad, they’re just different, and for the most part each does not have entire exclusivity. Again, there’s some cheesiness in all games, but there’s something both endearing and paradoxically profound about the way it is done in Resident Evil 4.  Most of the people throw it off as only cheesiness and maybe even cringiness.  I don’t know, because my approach to media is different.  I don’t see things like anime as cringy (I mean, unless it’s legitimate like, cringe).  I think it’s partially the culture I grew up in, but it’s also just…I don’t know.  I honestly haven’t found why this happens or where it comes from.

I think part of it is my whole view of treating these worlds and characters with a certain reality and respect.  I see them as people, even if their worlds have some cheese in it or are super fantastical, and they’re still people and worlds with backgrounds unbeknownst to me.  There will be bad parts and characters, this we know for sure, but for the most part I want to respect the strangers I meet here.  It’s more likely that I’m a guest in their world that doesn’t know enough, than for me to be arrogant to judge them with a personal ideal.

I wanted to see what I would write for a Why l Love for a game that has a greater emotional tie, and I don’t know if it was any good.  Heh.  But I would like to thank you for reading.  
Thanks for your support!  I hope you’re having a wonderful spooky season.  Stay safe, but don’t forget to enjoy the wonderful mise-en-scène of Halloween!

Elise

Yes. I’m totally going to get the remake.

Why I Love: Subnautica

Fear and Fun

Subnautica is sci-fi, exploration-survival at its best.  Let’s dive right into it.  Er… sorry.

Subnautica is a survival game where you crash land on an ocean planet.  The normal survival mechanics exist where you have to manage hunger and thirst.  You’ll have to manage your oxygen as you dive into the depths.  You can scan objects and creatures to learn more about them and the absolutely rich ecosystem in the game.  You can build bases to expand your exploration prowess.  Subnautica excels at providing a beautiful ocean of creatures that gives you an amazing sense of wonder.  

I’m not exactly the keenest on survival mechanics.  They tend to get really annoying at some point.  I don’t want to have to find more food to eat.  I just want to explore, and while that option is available as a way to play the game, I definitely would not recommend it.  One of the difficult things about survival games is designing how the player manages their progression.  How do we make it so food is a challenge, but not annoying?  Should we make it so tools break?  And how do we design tiered tools?  Subnautica smooths out those experiences so these things rarely are an issue.  If you’re continuously doing your gameplay loop of survival, I feel like these things don’t ever feel like much of a problem in this game, but they receive just enough attention to make it still feel like you’re surviving on an alien planet.

This brings me to the thing that I enjoy so much: you don’t really have a weapon.  Okay, you get a knife early on, but that thing is puny.  It is clear in the game that you are a guest in a foreign world.  Creature designs are beautiful, strange, and sometimes dangerous.  The world is hand-crafted, so everything has its set place and I think that was the better way to go here.  Every time I stumble on a new area my mouth is agape.  I’ve really never felt such excitement and joy from exploring a new world as I do in Subnautica.  However, this may be a bit of a bias having studied biology as a focus in school.  I love learning about the physiological properties of creatures when I scan them.  I just…I need to scan them.  I need to know more.  If biological lore is a thing for you, then you’re playing the right game.  Or maybe you just like codices.

I’m also…incredibly scared of this game.  There is a story in the game and it is a game you can finish.  I love stories in games, but it’s also frightening that, in order to progress, sometimes you have to go into huge spaces of open water.  Maybe that’s also what makes Subnautica exploration so invigorating is that while there is a sense of awe upon finding a new biome or area, there is also fear.  You are a small human in a big ocean.  Sometimes all you can see is darkness or foggy water.  The fear is so natural.  It’s not like there is going to be a person with a pyramid head or a zombie leaping at you.  It is just…water.  I admit it, there have been times I swam forward and had my eyes half closed…maybe, maybe fully closed.  But I think this fear of the unknown is done very well here and is a core part of Subnautica.

Oxygen.  I’m going to say one thing that I think is both frightening and so visceral that I really love in Subnautica.  It’s getting lost in an underwater cave.  Perhaps you’ve heard this from divers or instructors before.  In real life, underwater caves are extremely dangerous to dive in.  If you don’t have a guide or a line to keep yourself in check, even experienced divers can die from lack of oxygen.  And all these things are definitely felt in Subnautica.  I think the intense panic I’ve had knowing my oxygen was running out and being completely disoriented from the multiple dimensions of being underwater is some of the best panic I’ve felt in video games.  Frantically and desperately swimming around hoping that I remembered things right.  It’s a rush.  I know I’ve run out of oxygen before in video games, but I think it’s the whole mise en scène and maybe claustrophobia of it all that makes it such a great underwater experience.  I mean, it is called Subnautica after all.

I hate spoilers, and definitely won’t ruin the game’s story here.  It is a good story though, and it is well worth your time, or at least I like it.  But like most things as games, it has to hold up well as an experience, and I don’t know if I’d play through the story if the way you move through the story wasn’t as well done.  I think in survival games, story tends to be pretty minimal.  I mean, actual survival games, I don’t mean open world games with survival elements.  Games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild are open world games with survival elements.  You do have to “survive”, but you can also get stronger and survival kind of gets cast to the wayside.  That first area with the plateau in Breath of the Wild is the survival part, the rest is exploration.  Mostly.  In Subnautica, you’re always just trying to survive.

I think the biggest factor of all these things is just awe.  It is a game that puts my feeling of how much I love exploring the world of video games into overdrive.  But even if this is so great, don’t go forcing yourself to like something if exploration is not your thing.  Perhaps you may find a certain aspect of it exciting enough, like creature design.  No matter how much I can praise a game on its strengths, if they’re not to your liking, it may be an unnecessary playthrough.  While I won’t deny those strengths are there, I would like to remind everyone that your opinions on what games to play are always valid.  Just remember that there may also be a new thing to love if you’re willing to give it a go.

Subnautica is a game that brings me back to childhood exploring Super Mario 64’s levels again.  And for a game that is good enough for making me want to keep playing even though I’m so scared of open water, it is #29 on the ULTRA.

Thanks for reading, I’ll see you again!
Elise

Note: If you’re feeling woozy because of being in the water and going around disorienting caves, try adjusting things like motion blur (…if the game has them I don’t remember because I always go straight to options to turn this off) and the field of view.  If you feel like puking, adjusting the field of view almost always seems to do the trick.

Why I Love: Warhammer: Vermintide 2

Rat rat rat rat rat rat rat

I’ll admit that I don’t know that much about Warhammer.  But I was craving co-op games and stumbled upon Warhammer Endtimes: Vermintide.  I got a close friend to play it with me, and then we got another person.  So there were three of us just playing this random weird game about killing rats in a cool fantasy setting.  It was good.  It was fun.  Still didn’t really get it, but whatever.

Then Vermintide 2 came out and then…for some reason we just got really hooked.  Actually, that’s not true.   There are good reasons why, and that’s the whole point of this article.  Sorry for being misleading there.

When making a game, you have to make sure it is fun at its core.  Unless you’re going for something artsy, you better have something truly enjoyable at the center of it all.  You need to make the game feel good to move and to do the actions you perform the most.  Mario’s jumping needs to feel good.  Celeste’s movement needs to feel right.  Miyamoto spent an hour just climbing trees during the prototype for The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.  The prototypes for Splatoon were just blocks of tofu shooting color at each other.  These are all Nintendo games and I am both sorry and not sorry for that.

So long as we can convey the game design using the prototype, most of the time the graphics can just be blocks.  It needs to be fun at its core.  So, what is Vermintide’s core?  First-person melee combat.  I know there are ranged weapons, and those are great too, but the melee combat is where it is at in this game.  

Each weapon type plays differently and they each have different sets of swings, chops, and stabs.  It’s fun mastering each one’s style and how to fight in frenetic combat.  When the game calls itself (well, it was called Endtimes, but I think it’s just called Vermintide now) Endtimes, it is not kidding.  There are tons and tons of rats and northlanders that are running at you.  Chopping with your axe and cutting through an enemy and then feeling your weapon get caught in the shoulder of the next is amazing.  Smacking a chunky chaos warrior and feeling your weapon get stuck in the armor.  Or swinging really wide with a sweeping weapon like a hammer and just smashing through four or more enemies at once.  These things are all part of the intense combat.  

But it’s not just slicing and dicing, just like its ancestor Left 4 Dead there are special enemies that fit really well because of their Warhammer background.  Aforementioned chaos warriors, assassin rats, ratling gunners, and more will keep you on your toes and force your team to work together. Bosses such as rat ogres will smash your party apart if you don’t work together and keep your wits about you.  

I’m not a person that really likes hyper violence.  Which is ironic because this game is exactly that.  And I do love the combat.  I feel like it’s the juxtaposition of us having to fight for our lives when the world is ending kind of situation that makes it not as disturbing to me.  I still feel bad about killing enemies sometimes.  Even chaos warriors.  Especially slave rats.  Especially when they burn to death.  Man, even blightstormers, which cast huge areas of effect storms that are annoying, I sometimes feel bad about killing.  Granted these people are pretty corrupt, but still…

The tension and relief design really feels like an epic fantasy adventure.  I feel like I’m in a war in the Lord of the Rings universe or something.  I don’t know of any game that does it better or comes close. Maybe Deep Rock Galactic.  But I think it’s the high amount of well designed, melee combat that really makes it great.  

While that’s all good, what makes the icing on the cake for Vermintide is how much the developers really care about their project.  Vermintide was a buggy game.  I’m not saying that it’s okay to release buggy games, but it says a lot when developers spend a lot of time actually fixing the bugs that plague their games.  There is constant progress on them fixing things, and you can actually feel the difference.  The disparity between the attitude of developers is sad.  I suppose it helps if the development studio is smaller.  It feels less like a boss saying, “Just deal with it.” and more like a friend that says, “I’m working on it.”  They feel so human.  And that’s good, both that they try and they’re clear they are doing so because they love their game, not just because people are complaining.  It means that when people aren’t complaining, they will continue to improve, and that is what really separates developers.

And that also leads me to the way they handle characters.  You can tell they love their characters.  Each character is so loveable and the way they interact with each other is entertaining.  Even now, after having played over 500 hours of the game, I’m not tired of any of the character’s lines.  I feel like they’re always adding new lines as well.  It’s something that I noticed the Path of Exile developers do.  It’s not always about adding giant blocks of content or fixing bugs.  Sometimes it’s about going back to old stuff and improving on it.  Without prompt from the players or anything.  It’s like going to an old painting and improving upon it.  It shows they really care about it.  Or they have extra time, heh.  But even then that means they’re still thinking in their extra time, what else can I do?  

Vermintide is one of the few games where I’ve played up to the hardest (non-modded) difficulty.  I love Cataclysm difficulty because it’s so intense.  You have to perform your best.  I believe I mentioned this before when I was talking about playing to just focus on something.  It really brings me out of other mindsets and just lets me focus.  If I want to just not think about depressing things I can just hop on cataclysm with my friends.  

Which reminds me of one last thing.  This was added later in the game but the Chaos Wastes update added a roguelite campaign and that has just extended the life of the game by such a huge amount of time I really feel like the game could be endless at this point.  And I don’t mind that at all.  It’s one of those games where if they kept updating it for the next ten years I’d definitely be playing it for the next ten years.  

I didn’t say anything about the classes or the talents.  I like those too, but what I really love about Vermintide is how it mastered the core gameplay of intense co-op combat and how fun and loved the game is by the developers.  I love the characters so much and I will never not enjoy this game.  It’s that thing where I love games, I love when other people enjoy games, I love teaching people to play and enjoy games, and I love when people enjoy making games.  

And there are all these elements about that in this game.  However, there is one…caveat.  And that is that this is a co-op game, and people can make or break the experience.  I am very fortunate to have a group of three to play with (which is rarely the case in other games for me),  and they’re a great joy to play with.  I hope that if you try this game you have some friends or siblings or someone close to play with, because it’s so much better like that.  Maybe the game only feels so good because I have a good group.  That’s very possible.  I apologize if it doesn’t end up as fun as I’ve written due to social factors.

I still think that the game design and character designs are great.  And I still stand by it by putting Warhammer: Vermintide II: (Chaos Wastes) at #33 on the ULTRA.  Huh, I think that’s one of the highest ranking games I’ve written a Why I Love on the ULTRA.  I think I write less on the higher ranked games because it tends to be more sentimental, but I’m sure I will write about them eventually.
Thanks for reading, and I really hope you enjoy the Skulls event stuff going on today!  Be safe!  And happy gaming!

Elise

Why I Love: Dark Souls

Death and Conflict

For clarity, I played Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition, not the Remaster.

Dark Souls.  What a troubled game.  Remember when I talked about that toxic culture in the article Why I Love: Celeste?  Well, I’m not going to talk about that here.  We get it.  

Dark Souls is an action RPG with paced combat.  The absolutely fantastic artistic direction makes this fantasy game very beautiful and interesting.  It is brutally difficult and challenging.  Wait, did I say brutally difficult?  I meant, it’s brutally different.

I played through so much frustration thinking to myself, “I just need to get good.  I just need to practice.  Everyone says this game is so hard so I just gotta train myself to be more skilled.” 

After a series of frustrating boss fights, I told a friend, who is really into Dark Souls, “This game is just stressful and frustrating.  There is a limit to certain design elements that just make it seem lazy.” 

And he replied by saying, “ No, it’s just eccentric.”

I continued my argument of game design, but I also continued to give his side more thought.  And then after more frustrating failures against the enemies of Dark Souls, it finally dawned on me.  Earlier in the game my friend said that I just wasn’t good enough.  Which was not very nice of him to say, but now he said something different that was the solution to everything.  The game isn’t hard.  It’s just different.

And then everything clicked.  The game isn’t difficult.  It’s just different.  Here I was floundering about for hours without end because all I was trying to do was get better, when in reality I was supposed to just learn how to play differently.  Dark Souls went from “the thing I’m trying to enjoy” to “the thing I am enjoying a lot.”

I think the whole idea of this game being super insanely difficult really dug into my mind and misguided me. Dark Souls is hard, yes, but I think one of the things that could be more important against certain aspects of the game is that sometimes it’s more about how you go about doing things, rather than how good you play.  It’s more about thinking of different ways, than being more skilled.  I rooted out the idea of not being good enough, and replaced it with, when, what, and how should I do anything.  Or…if I should anything at all.  If I should just watch and think.  I think the problem is that I was so used to just getting better and better at doing the main thing in a game, like jumping, aiming and shooting, using combos and elements, or building in better patterns.  So while skill is important in Dark Souls I think there is a process of interpretation that is just as important.  

Dark Souls’ main game mechanic is that when you die you leave behind your souls, which acts as both experience and currency.  If you don’t spend your souls on stat points or items in stores, you are prone to dropping them upon death.  After you respawn, you must go and grab your souls.  However, all the enemies respawn, and should you die again, that old pile of souls despawn to make way for your new corpse’s souls.  

I played through the game with a broken controller, and which button was the broken one?  Ah yes…  the block button.  So I was extremely frustrated playing as a melee character.  The block button only worked some of the time, and “sometimes” is not a good way to go about blocking.

I struggled a lot in the beginning.  I didn’t know my block button was broken yet.  I thought it was me being terrible, but once I realized that I found out how to rely on the times when the button did work.  I did this by holding down the block button when it worked so I don’t have to risk pressing it again only to not raise up my shield.  And if my shield was down, staying out of combat until the time when pressing it did work.  A bit dreadful.

And the second thing is time.  I hate wasting time.  I don’t like sleeping.  I don’t like taking breaks.  And I especially do not like my souls going down the drain after killing a boss.  See, in games like rogue-lites and other RPGs your exp and new unlocks/equipment are always a little step forward after you die.  Even if you die, the time spent is usually accounted for by loot or some exp leftover after an exp loss.  Or maybe you unlocked a new item.  But in Dark Souls…they dump your time into the abyss.  And that makes me really upset. 

Until.  Until I realized that is exactly what Super Mario Bros did to me as a wee child.  Because in old Super Mario Bros and in Dark Souls, sometimes the only thing you have after your death is the skill you gained in playing and nothing else.  Personally, I think this was the biggest thing to overcome for me in my entire playthrough.  It was understanding how to not be frustrated with myself.  This is something that I have trouble with all the time in real life.  If I am not showing progress, I get really upset and sad (or angry).  But Dark Souls is like any other game concerning how it handles your time.  And if you’re not looking at the right way to go about things, whether it’s getting more skilled, being patient with yourself or the game, or learning how to interpret the game, I think it can be pretty frustrating.

Someone else questioned me about why I was trying to play a game that made me so angry in the first half when I was not enjoying it.  And honestly, the thing that kept me going, were the boss designs.  Wow. Most, if not all, of the boss designs are just so good.  From an art standpoint, they’re designed so well.  It gives me goosebumps.  They’re innovative, yet clear.  They’re themed and emotional.  So, that’s what pushed me.  I just really wanted to see these things and fight them.  In the half of the game where I learned to enjoy it, it became a joyful experience to have a new enemy to learn to understand. 

I guess this can feel like an enormously large and vague explanation of why I love Dark Souls, but it all ends well I believe.  I think the whole game is an unconventional way of allowing the player to interpret how to approach enemies without having systemic game design like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild or Dishonored.  And I honestly really like it.  The semi-open world feel fits well too.  I think it takes the idea of “every enemy is different” from games like The Legend of Zelda series far enough to make you have to work hard for it.  To die for it in many cases.

And so that kind of leads to my last points.  I’d like to make a statement about “souls-likes”.  I hate when people develop a game just for it’s difficulty, because it creates a very toxic environment.  There have been a plethora of souls-like games that try to copy the formula and many of them do not do it well.  I think they put too much focus on the game being hard or having slow and/or paced combat.  I really don’t think those are the things that make a souls-like game.  I think the souls system makes a souls-like.  I don’t think any of the previously mentioned aspects are without purpose in Dark Souls.  The game is difficult, but in a way of design and approach.  The game is slow and paced, but in a way of allowing you to observe, think, and react.  And the souls system backs up the paced combat, forcing you to do those aforementioned things because your experience is on the line.  

And…. maybe that’s just it.  It doesn’t do things “just because.”  It’s different for the sake of game design, and not just for being different.  Dark Souls is so great because it is so deliberate.  And the way it’s designed makes it so we have to be deliberate in everything that we do in the game.  That kind of design is what makes some of the hardest games I’ve played challenging, and not frustrating.  And Dark Souls has managed that in possibly one of the best ways I’ve ever seen.

Dark Souls: Prepare to Die Edition is #82 on the Ultimate Loosely Thought Ranked Analysis, or the ULTRA, which is basically my top games list.  I guess at this point is getting less and less loosely thought.

Thanks for reading, and I hope that Dark Souls doesn’t turn out to be a toxic or super frustrating experience for you if you play it. As much as I am not wont to say it, take breaks if you need to.

Blast that broken block button though.
– Elise

Why I Love: Celeste

Humble Beginnings, Humble Endings

My Introduction to Indie and Thanks to Maddy Thorson

Sorry for the hiatus.  I had an unfortunate episode with something, but now I am back and hopefully that doesn’t happen again.

The origins for me loving Celeste go all the way back to when I was young and indie games were a super niche thing.  My family didn’t have a lot of money, so games were a special occasion.  However, I began to wander the internets for more games that I could get for free and stumbled upon indie games.  The ones that really stuck to me were a group of developers that seemed to be connected.  A lot of them proved to be so in a website that, unfortunately, no longer operates today: the eo community.  Then from there my interest in indie skyrocketed.

One game I obsessed over was released a couple months before I got into all of it: Jumper 2.  I was tired of the glitchy platformers that inhabited many indie websites, but when I found Jumper I was so excited because platformer games were the thing back then.  The graphics were great and the game wasn’t glitchy.  The main character is a failed experiment named Ogmo, who looks like a red block with legs.  Ogmo is adorable and I love him so much. I bet I can find sketches of him in the margins of old school notebooks if I somehow have not thrown them away yet.

And that was it.  I was sucked into the world of indie games.  I made levels in the editor all the time.  I wasn’t super good at platformers, but I think I managed to make it an okay distance through the game while not being pro.  I have followed Maddy Thorson’s career ever since.  I even got my friends to play Jumper: Redux on LAN.   I’ve seen how Thorson grew over time in their designs and it has been an incredible journey.

And then Celeste was released and it took me a long while to play that one.  I was bogged down in everything in life.   Eventually Celeste was being given for free on Epic Games Store.  It brought a renewal of attention, so I decided I would finally play it.  I am immensely grateful for this game.

Why I Love Celeste

Celeste is not an easy game, and it is not a hard game either.  In fact, I don’t know what to say about difficulty in Celeste.  For me, the difficulty curve is the prime example of well done difficulty curves.  And yet, I can say that it was not easy.  

Good video game design usually involves teaching the player without having them read blocks of texts or having them look at a video.  But I would like to propose the idea that Celeste takes good design one step further than pretty much any other game I’ve ever played so far.  The game is humble.  This is not because the game is modest in content or gameplay or anything.  The movement designed in the game is insanely well done.  No, this game is humble because it feels more like a teacher and it feels more like a human, than any game that attempted psychological strategies (or even tricks in the case of some horror games) that I’ve ever played.

Celeste already does the established good designs with good level layouts and quick respawn with little consequence.  Through the game’s story and mood, the game helps you with one more thing that so few games do: it wants you to improve and it makes that clear.  I’ve recently finished Dark Souls 1, and while the game has many good designs in it, the whole attitude and system it has encourages a strong culture of gatekeeping, which is a definite no-no.  There’s always the “You’re Not Good Enough, Scrub” attitude.  I said that it encourages, not creates.  While the culture definitely surrounds it, and I found friends whom I didn’t expect to be enveloped in it too, it does not create it.  Because of the universal struggle in the game, there have been good experiences with other players as well.  But I just can’t say that the culture of the game is good.  It unfortunately, just isn’t.  It wasn’t a good experience, but I’ll talk more about Dark Souls in its own “Why I Love.”  (So at least I still love it.)

Celeste successfully brings difficulty without that kind of attitude.  It shows its tough side with extra objectives and B-Sides to stages for those who want to push themselves to breaking limits, but it does all this with the note saying “You can do it,” or “If you want to.”  I don’t feel like this aspect is “weak” in any way.  In fact, I think it shows that it knows the player, or rather I should say, the person.  

The best professionals and inspirational people in my life are always the humble ones.  The ones that made it through without becoming hardened.  The ones that chose to stay soft so that they can truly uplift.  It is never the easier choice.  These are the kinds of people that when they teach, they teach with heart because they still choose to remember what it was like to struggle not only with the limited skill set of someone just beginning, but also the limited knowledge as well.  

The honor of their prestige is based on being able to share their experiences rather than boast about how others cannot get them.  I think this is what Celeste embodies, in both story and gameplay.  This is why I love Celeste.  The game is no slouch.  It will push you, but in a way that allows oneself to commit to learning and becoming better.  It teaches the player to push themselves more than the game pushes them.  That’s what I’m all about, I’m sure you know.  It is something that I hope that schools one day better integrate into their systems.  It is the optimistic hope that humans can be like that to help each other, because let’s face it, life is not easy alone.  

Celeste is #9 on the ULTRA.  Thanks for reading.  Stay safe out there.  I hope that we all can stay humble, remember to stay soft, and remember that it is not a weakness to help others.


– Elise

Why I Love: Alan Wake

Two Sides

I love Alan Wake, for the same reason a lot of people found it mediocre.  Alan Wake is a third-person action (shooter?) game.  Alan Wake, a writer of a thriller series, goes on vacation to a lake house, only to be haunted by shadowed entities that remind him of his own works.  He can expose and destroy these entities by shining a flashlight at them.  That’s mostly all you need to know about it for what I want to talk about today.  

It is a good game.  It is very crisp, and it feels like playing an episode of The Twilight Zone.  Were it not for good game design it probably wouldn’t be on the ULTRA.  But what I really like about this game is that it is truly a simple game about fighting the darkness, both outside and within.  

I don’t feel like Alan Wake is that psychological, but it’s what defeating darkness within sometimes feels like.  It feels helpless and frustrating (not game design-wise, just for Mr. Wake).  It feels like we’re in an episode of a TV show we can’t get out of.  Ultimately, it’s a fight of light and darkness.  We can also mean that literally because of his flashlight.

I remember when my brother and I were so excited for Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty, and we were watching the trailer.  In the trailer Raynor says, “Because the one thing I know; some things are just worth fighting for.”  And I remember my brother saying something about how that is so, so cheesy.  I love cheesy things, and over time I’ve learned why I love cheesy things like that line or the fight between light and darkness.  I love cheesy things because they’re the most real, and Alan Wake emphasizes that in an age where we’re supposed to be so unique in themes.

The struggle against ourselves and knowing what is light in our lives is real.  That’s a real thing.  Knowing what you fight for?  That’s real.  “I’m doing this because I love you”?  I need that.  I wonder if the reason we don’t like cheesy things sometimes is because they remind us of what is real.  This is why I love Alan Wake.  We’re just some random person fighting to find their way out of the darkness. 

Isn’t that what most of us want to do?  We want to be a light to those around us.  We want to truly find light and what is good in all the travails of life and use it to banish the darkness.  When it comes to those that we love, isn’t that what we want to do for them?  It’s cheesy, but it’s true, and Alan Wake embraces it.  That is one of the big reasons why I love the game.

Alan Wake is #116 on the ULTRA.  I hope that we can all endeavor to be a light in the darkness especially during these strange times.  Thanks for reading, I’ll see you next time.
– Elise

Why I Love: Team Fortress 2

Less is More is Less

I said I would talk about some of the design side of video games.  I have been sitting on this idea for almost two weeks, because the more I think about it the more I realize this is such a big chunk of something that I do not believe I have the skill capacity to do so.  I may have bitten off more than I can chew, but even more so, it’s just so much.  

But I said I would.  It’s going to be watered down, but I’m going to do it.

Clarity is something the developers choose on whether or not it is an important factor.  It is not something that is required, but in many cases it is helpful or important to the game.  Fast arcade style FPS games are a good example of good clarity.  You want the brain to be spending as little time as possible understanding what you’re shooting at.  Team Fortress 2 is an excellent example of one of the most common forms of clarity in design, silhouettes.

Team Fortress 2 consists of 9 classes, each with very different functions and important approaches one must consider to remove or run from.  They’re all men, and most of these men are of similar body type.  These characters move through bright terrains and shadowed caverns, which means things like contrast, in color and line, are not always up for consideration.  Let’s take a look at Breath of the Wild.  

Just looking at the trailer, you can see how contrast is used.  Shrines stick out like a sore thumb because of their bright contrast with the desaturated landscape, towers break from the silhouetted forms of the hills, and enemies bring your eyes to them with their many tangenting and crossing forms of line.  The simplicity of other colors, brings your attention through complexity.  Line, value, and color contrast are all done in Breath of the Wild.  But color and value are diminished in an environment that can have the lights be on and off like Team Fortress 2.

And that’s where the strong silhouette design comes into play.  One of the reasons personality is such a strong concept to push for in Team Fortress 2 is because it shows in their demeanor, and that gives a perfect idea/excuse to change silhouettes.  The squat stance of the Scout makes him stand out.  His running animation has his legs swing wildly compared to other characters, which makes him even more obvious.  This is especially important as the Scout will almost always be moving when you see him.  The Medic’s trenchcoat sways in a shape that is not common with other characters.  Small things allow for extra clarity: the Soldier’s poofy clothes, the Pyro’s smooth suit, the mountain that is the Heavy, etc.

It really wouldn’t be so much of a complaint if we saw them all pretty similar.  There are plenty of games where realism is the focus, and clarity may be a matter of combat awareness.  But having the characters just different enough so you can tell from their shape helps in such a hectic environment. 

This is just one of the many things that Team Fortress 2 does so well in visual design that makes it stand out as a class based shooter.  Unfortunately, a lot of this deteriorates when everyone is wearing hats and holding different guns, but in return they (the guns at least) provide a different gameplay variety.

There is more to just these that make Team Fortress 2 a great design though, and there is definitely more that I would encourage you to check out from their developer commentary in game.  I choose Team Fortress 2 as a model multiplayer game, not because other games are bad design, but because Team Fortress 2’s designs are the most clear cut and obvious to a normal player that has no experience in design.  It is sometimes difficult to find out the why behind game designs, but Team Fortress 2 does an amazing job at that.

These kinds of things are also the reasons why “feedback” from players in a competitive environment is oftentimes more dangerous than helpful.  The spectrum of skill that spans the players always looks different when you’re supposedly very skilled, because developers don’t design only for the very skilled, and to encompass all of that without creating two separate games is just terribly inconvenient.  Team Fortress 2 takes in a lot of those variables and makes things like level design, gameplay mechanics, and art design work together as best as possible and makes a fairly balanced game within all of that.  Too many times I read of players who want something changed without considering all sides of the equation, which is to say programming, art, and balance at high levels, low levels, and those in between.  

There are SO many things that Team Fortress 2 does well in art design that involve the other elements, but I love that the silhouettes work so well when all other elements are absent.  So please check out the developer stuff to learn about those other things if you have the time.  The game is free to play and is available on Steam.

Team Fortress 2 is #105 on the ULTRA.  And it’s still a fun game to play now.  I really wish I could speak more in a better descriptive manner, but I’m just a normal person who plays a lot of games.  I just have a desire to talk about games.  I hope I can point you in a direction that helps you appreciate games, as that seems to be the best I can do for now.  Thanks for reading, I’ll see you next time.

Why I Love: DOOM

Not Just a Nostalgia Thing

The classic game DOOM is an obvious icon in video game history.  The series still lives on today with the newest release of DOOM Eternal.  But all the way back in 1993, this little thing came into the house through a set of floppy disks and introduced my family to first person shooters.

I admit there are some games on the ULTRA that, although good, have not aged very well.  They are upheld by my emotional values and experiences or their historical achievements.  But DOOM is still a strong contender even today.  The most common things that do not age well are graphics and movement processes, and DOOM still conquers both.

I used to say graphics are the least important part of judging a game, but I realize that the point isn’t being given clearly when I say it like that.  What I mean is, the generation of graphics is the least important part of judging a game.  Bad graphics can make a game less appealing, but good quality graphics at the time make them stand out more.  This doesn’t necessarily mean the graphics have to be insanely amazing, but rather that the graphics have to be good at conveying what they mean, and DOOM successfully does that.  It’s entirely clear what you’re shooting at, whether demon, barrel, or just a wall.  Just two or three years before DOOM, there were games where some of the sprites, I really have to use my imagination to understand what they are.  I will write an article on the design aspect of that next.  I feel like it is a concept that I only recently learned as an artist and I want others to be able to learn about that from a game design perspective.

But moving on from that, the character movement of DOOM is one of the things that makes DOOM such an easy game to play as of 2021.  DOOM is one of the first, if not the first, to set off on the arcade style FPS.  The time it takes for your character to go from standing still to top speed is very short, and that top speed is no slouch.  Reloads are minimal and, in this case, non-existent.  The movement is contemporary.  So many games don’t age well because things like movement are outdated.  Characters walk super slow (or can’t even run), dialogue is sluggish, or doing random tasks take five times longer than they do now, regardless of load times.  DOOM is smooth like butter compared to most games of its time.  It even outpaced its predecessor Wolfenstein 3D.

If you open up DOOM today, it feels like some indie FPS game.  Few things about it have really felt out of place.  Okay, so maybe the movement is a little bit slippery, but arcade shooters are still like that today.  I think it’s important to learn video game history, and DOOM is a fun way to learn what it was really like back in the days when it took several floppies just for DOOM to run, and then you realize it was a shareware copy all along.  But it didn’t matter, because back then we had a ton of shareware and it was pretty much like free games for a kid.  

So yeah, DOOM is still an amazing, relevant game, even though it’s super old.  Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
They also just updated the multiplayer in September last year.  Definitely still relevant.  DOOM still holds its place at #133 on the ULTRA.  …oh man, I am not going to get anywhere near the top at this rate.  Although I want to say, “Keep up the pace, Elise,” I also don’t want to write articles that are not as fun to talk about, so I am cherry picking a little more as we make our way to the top.

Thanks for reading.  I’ll see you next time~

What Makes an ULTRA Game?

What are the determinant factors that trend on the Ultimate Loosely-Thought Ranked Analysis?  

I believe there are two main factors.  Is the game entertaining?  Games are entertainment after all.  Does the game provide a good gameplay loop?  How does it handle design and difficulty curve?  Does it provide more artificial difficulty or natural difficulty?  How is the game feel?  Is it just fun to play?  Is it just…fun?

Games that have a greater focus on entertainment are things like DOOM, Dungeon Siege, Megaman 2, Star Fox 64, and Super Mario Bros.  The stories are not really a huuuge part of the game. The story is a platform for the action to take place.  There’s nothing wrong with a game that focuses just on the fun!  You don’t need to be a tea-sipping fancypants to know good games.

The other factor is whether or not it is inspirational.  Do they have good stories and characters?  Is the world built and designed well?  How well is the player’s emotion directed?  What innovations are there?  These are games like Final Fantasy VI, What Remains of Edith Finch, Baldur’s Gate, Genshin Impact’s character arc quests, and Psychonauts.  Characters don’t need to be super deep.  They can just be fun, have great synergies, or present the world in a way that makes you think about life.  Stories don’t need to be entirely plothole clean.  You gotta use your imagination too!  

I am a little biased because I tend to lean towards more story-telling, world-building, inspirational games.  That’s just who I am, but all gamers are different!  And that’s okay!  There’s also a third mini-factor that I also recognize: the history and context of the game.  What did the developers have to go through to make this?  What was development culture like?  How have they approached this game in the franchise as compared to the past?  What artifacts and history lie beyond the game?  Game history is important.  I love art history, and I think video game history is just as important.

Something that I’ve noticed as we get near the top of the ULTRA is that the games start to converge on both ideas of entertainment and inspiration.  The top ones are usually brilliant at being both.  These are things like Dishonored 2, Celeste, Bioshock, Guild Wars 2, Starcraft, and Hollow Knight.  

I think video games can be such an inspiration and entertaining thing at the same time.  I feel the same for films.  Artistic vision backed up with great cinematography makes amazing films.

I just wanted to let you have a little more insight into the way that video games are seen in my mind.  Although I’d like to believe I have a lot of insight on video games, as it has been a focus and study of my life, this list is definitely not going to be 100% solid for other people.  That’s why we like different games. 

What are some foci that represent what you like in a game?  
Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you next time! 

– Elise

Why I Love: Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness

Ready to Work

Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness is where Blizzard Entertainment really started to shine.  They began to show the strong character of the studio.  Every song, animation, and voice line has so much personality.  You were fully prepared to delve into the world.

Blizzard has made games with quite a bit of personality like Blackthorne and more so with The Lost Vikings, but Warcraft II just exploded.  Real-time strategy games were on the rise and Blizzard Entertainment was leading the charge.  The flow would be helped with games like Command & Conquer and Age of Empires, but both of those games settled on a grittier, hard world.  Blizzard leaves enough soft world building to give a sense of wonder.

I think one of the things that really attracted me to Warcraft was how fast the battles took place:  the flying of arrows and axes, the galloping of knights, and cannonballs being fired from ships.  It was all so intense.  I think it may be annoying to some, but the constant clanging of swords when the units are fighting each other is super pleasing to me.  I just imagine them smacking each other with all their might.  It reminds me of playing with toys and making them go to war with each other.  Some toys had special abilities. Some toys were tanks that would just break through the lines.  I guess Warcraft was kind of what I imagined all that to be.

I messed around with the level editor and made some pretty crude levels.  I was pretty young so it’s not like I was making anything fancy, but again, it was one of those situations where I could set up certain situations and have them go at each other.  It was a dream come true.  

Most of the units in either faction were pretty similar which likely helped with balancing issues, but I loved how into the fantasy setting the voice-overs were.  They really felt like two different factions, when stat-wise they were mostly the same.  I think what I love most about Warcraft II is the fact that they fully committed to this fantasy war game.  

With most RTS games game theory is a thing so this is not specific to Warcraft, but I want to point out that this is where that really started building in my mind.  The idea that there are so many different variables and situations that makes each battle feel unique and fought for are what really make RTS games something I love.  I think the esports scene for RTS games are the most interesting because of how mentally intense it is with commanding an army and determining strategies mid-battle, especially in something as fast paced as Warcraft or Starcraft.

Maybe I’m just super biased.  Haha!  But these are the things that makes Warcraft appealing to me.  Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness sits at number 130 as of writing this.  I need to write more frequently or else I’m going to keep getting pushed down this list.  I’ll see you next time on the ULTRA!