The Restricted Audience

Ratings for you, not the game

I think it’s easy to forget how restricted rating systems in games work.  In North America we tend to see the Entertainment Software Rating Board / ESRB ratings.  And in Europe you tend to see Pan-European Game Information / PEGI ratings.  In Japan it’s the Computer Entertainment Rating Organization / CERO.  I’m not going to list all of the audience ratings, but those are the three most common ones around me.

And I did say audience ratings.  I think people misunderstand that the ratings are not necessarily about dangerous content.  It’s about content that is dangerous if handled immaturely.  Nearly every single type of restricted content in video games is dangerous if approached incorrectly.  We’re saying rated M for mature audiences, because if you are playing this content you should be mature about it.  

Foul language is something that most people speak, but it’s a matter of when we say it and when it’s appropriate.  If you stub your toe and swear, alright.  But if you’re in a church or in an interview maybe don’t swear outright.  For this one, it’s about reading the context, but that requires some amount of maturity. 

Every time we move further down the list with things like gambling, violence, nudity, and discrimination, each subject must be approached with maturity.  And the truth is that most people who play mature rated or PEGI 18 games aren’t really that mature.  I’ve gotten the response that it’s about whether or not you can “handle” that amount of violence.  I don’t think it’s about “handling” violence.  It’s about how we approach, treat, and respect the events.  People are not mature for watching ultra violence or looking at sexual content, especially if they give the same immature approach to similar situations in real life.  

One thing I found very interesting is that the PEGI ratings have “Discrimination” as one of the factors and it’s noted as a PEGI 18 rating.  I think ethics are something very important in video games.  I mean, we’ve noted how a lot of character development is literally about growth and ethics, and people are not without them in real life.  Some people say that because it’s just a game you can just ignore everything, but that’s not true.  If that were true, trauma wouldn’t happen to people.  Trauma is when unexpected events shatter paradigms and the securities of someone’s life.  You can’t just undo an experience.  Unless there is some sort of brain damage or memory loss involved, what you experience, watch, and play in video games will affect you.  

This is not to deny the studies that people who play violent video games become violent, but it can still affect you if not taken maturely.  Again, it is whether or not you let that become an enabling factor.  Some people use video games as a way to let off steam.  To yell and have a safe place to trash talk and banter.  And that’s okay, because they’re using it as a way to ameliorate the stress and anger.  But I also know people who, when playing video games, become violent.  Most of the time they already are, but enabling them or enticing this kind of temperament is also not okay.

There are mature ways to approach sexual content, and all of them need to be approached maturely.  I don’t want rated M games to be like some sort of light to attract all the bug people who just want to objectify women.  I mean, unfortunately, there are games with that kind of approach in mind, and honestly I don’t find that for mature audiences at all when the whole set of creation is immature.  Perhaps, and this might be sharp to say but, there are some games that shouldn’t be played because the basis of the whole game is not conducive to proper behavior.  I’m not trying to be some sort of policing writer.  I’m just stating the reality that some things will affect people in a negative way and it’s not about being progressive or being “tough”, it’s about teaching people, not just kids, that some things need to be respected.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the same people who sexually harrassed me at school are the same people who play those games that disrespect women.  I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the people who say that video games don’t affect them are the same people bullying others.  We as the players are supposed to be mature about this all.  The people who know that the violence stays in the game.  The people who recognize that war and discrimination are real, terrible things.  The people that recognize that a character is a sex worker not because she is a bad person, but because she is having a hard time in life.  To learn this empathy, to learn this understanding, that’s what maturity is about.  

I’m not saying that we’re stiff and not having fun while shooting enemies and slicing baddies.  Rated M for Mature just means that when it gets down to it, we understand that we must treat these subjects with respect and understanding.

Thanks for reading, I’ll see you again soon.

Elise

There is No Status Quo

Glow in the dark

There are going to be a fair bit of spoilers for these titles: 
Parks and Recreation, the TV show: major spoilers
Super Mario RPG: Major spoilers
Marvel Cinematic Universe Infinity Saga: Major spoilers
Final Fantasy VIII: First 13 hours spoilers

Although I spoil things, I am still purposely very vague.  This doesn’t mean they aren’t spoilery though, so be warned.

Long article time!

Character development works in the same way that people develop.  Whether you like it or not, that’s how some of the best character development works.  And a more turbulent thing that is also true is that it is almost always cheesy.  It’s the cheesy stuff that are the real lessons in life.  When writing character development, it’s important to recognize how and when paradigm shifts in perspective happen.  And we can also, again, skeletonize it to cheesy things, but we’re going to keep it at a complicated level for the sake of showing the individuality of developments.


First I’m going to establish the basic point that my title has made.  There is no status quo.  Characters are like glow sticks, they won’t really shine until you break them.  In Parks and Recreation the character Andy has one of the best developments because the events that happen to him actually change and cause him to grow.  It’s very simple and logical stuff.  Most people know that, but actually having that implemented is a different thing.  He actually does change as his love for April grows.  He really does learn from his time at community college.  He really does start finding footing for where he feels comfortable in his place in society.  These things are actually happening to him and the show acts like it.  This doesn’t mean he can’t be the same goofy character, but it means that he will not return to the original goofy character before.  You cannot return to the status quo, else it seems like nothing significant happened at all.

This happens in all sorts of TV shows where things return completely to normal.  I’m not saying that this is bad, because it fits some shows very well that things always return to normal.  Sometimes these kinds of series will do major shifts to show that something has changed.  This can be something that happens at the end of a season or in preparation for a change of casting.  Super Mario RPG’s Mallow has an identity crisis because he thinks he is a frog.  I’m…pretty sure we all can recognize that he is totally not.  Some character developments happen in drastic shifts like this.  This happens in real life as well, so it makes sense.  

What’s interesting about Mallow’s shift is that he doesn’t really change much, except for his self-confidence, which was an issue for a while.  He doesn’t really mind that he thought he was a frog this whole time.  The big shift wasn’t the fact that he was having an identity crisis, but rather that he needed to come to terms with how he feels about himself.  These aren’t huge lines in the story by the way.  Mallow doesn’t always talk about this, but it feels significant enough.  


Here’s one that I have thought a lot about from the Infinity Saga in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, specifically Thor.  Thor’s development is mostly about who he believes he is and his worthiness.  He goes through a lot of this and it develops on itself multiple times.  In Thor: Ragnarok, he really comes to terms with himself after his father’s “passing”.  Now normally this is it.  But after his failure to kill Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War, he actually returns to what he was previously where he didn’t believe in himself.  This is not a return to the status quo.  This is usually only obtainable through story writing that is extended over time.  I think this is a rare opportunity to recognize how some people struggle to change over time.  He had such a big revelation in Thor: Ragnarok and now he is back to where he was before because of yet another shift.  This new development is no longer about coming to terms with himself, it is about the failure of doing so in a difficult time.  I love the writing of this because sometimes we have big life events happen to us and when it gets hard we do fall back down and we do struggle.


Lastly, Final Fantasy VIII.  Just to be clear, this isn’t a comprehensive list of all the different kinds of development.  Final Fantasy VIII just happens to be the final one on this list.  I love Final Fantasy to death, so maybe I’m a bit biased.  I haven’t finished VIII yet, so this is just what I know so far from the game.  I’ve played 13-ish hours.

Most of the game’s characters are teenagers, and I think it’s a very good opportunity to talk about the small world of the mind.  There are a lot of times where the main character, Squall, says some really angsty stuff.  Same with Rinoa.  There are tons of times where you could ask why the world they make the choices they make or how something they said was ridiculous or immature, but that’s just it.  They’re teenagers.  I think one of the more difficult parts of writing is not only understanding how much your character’s know, but also how much they can interpret.  When Squall is threatened by death he does the most teenager thing and runs away.  I’m not saying all teeangers do this, but it’s been established that he is an angsty teen, so what he is doing is in line with that.  He is so determined to not be something left in the past because someone he is close with may have died.

Having death hit you at such a young age affects you differently than if you were older.  This whole time Squall has set up a tough exterior, but it really breaks when he just runs.   His paradigm has shifted, and he has to come to terms with it.  This doesn’t fully absolve itself immediately though, which I like.  Rinoa also goes through a series of similar rash actions where she wants to try and suppress the evil Sorceress on her own.  This seems so foolish, but remember that her world consists of living in rebellion.  She has been fighting government oppression her whole life and her relationship with her father is not great.  This is what her world consists of: fighting back, no matter how small you feel.  When she fails to suppress the Sorceress, she nearly dies.  

Squall and Rinoa both argue over how serious these missions are taken.  This back and forth starts pretty early on.  Both Squall and Rinoa’s growth intertwine when Rinoa realizes just how dangerous all of this is and Squall feels what the fear of death is like in someone else as Rinoa literally clings to him.  This is further emphasized when he sees how scared Irvine is moments later.  Their small worlds grow larger with every shift.  He is changing how he feels about death, his mission, and what to do.  You see this in how he tells Irvine that it’s going to be okay, no matter the results.

Remember when I said Squall hated that idea of death?  Well, at this point some time later, he fights the Sorceress for the sake of the people and …dies.  Now hold on, this is where I’m at in the story.  So, very likely he’s not actually dead, but the action of this is significant, because now his paradigm has completely shifted.  He has voluntarily given his life for the sake of the people.  The world of his mind has grown.  He is no longer Squall as he was…however many hours ago in the game.  Unfortunately, for the sake of story he is likely still alive, so that status quo is probably still here.  I…I can’t say for sure.  I’m excited to see what happens next.

Not all teenagers and people will develop like this.  That’s fine.  But each has their own views and shifts.  Squall’s tough exterior has been well established by this point, but it is so fluid in his change over time.  His is not an immediate change, and that’s why I really like his development so far.  His “death” could also be just his desire to fulfill objectives for his organization, but he ran away last time.  He literally ran, and now he died.


Maybe I’m getting this all totally wrong.  I could totally, totally be getting all of this wrong.  But I’m still very happy with how they show the perspective of the small worlds Squall and Rinoa both live in.  It’s easiest to see these kinds of things in the main character who starts in humble beginnings, except it’s usually more literal in that the world they fight for gets bigger and bigger as you explore more places.  But for what I can see in Squall and Rinoa right now, is the change in the mind, and I really, really like that.  

Why is this so important to me?  I mean, other than good character development, this helps me recognize people’s perspectives and how they see the world.  To be less at conflict with others, I need to be more understanding of their perspectives and what their mind-world’s look like.  What I look like in their world.  

Things are not always black and white, and seeing character growth like this is a good way to better understand how some people might make bad decisions when they’re just trying to be good people.

Thanks for reading, I’ll see you next time.
Elise

My Natural Attraction

No, I’m not talking about people.

I was thinking that with the ULTRA, I should be able to compile a list of what genres I tend to be attracted to.  After making an Excel sheet and messing around with stuff in there I created this table. 


Explanation from left to right: First Person Shooter (FPS), Third Person Shooter (TPS), Turn-based RPG (TBRPG), Turn-based Strategy (TBS), Real Time Strategy (RTS), Racing (RC), Action Adventure (AA), Classic Adventure (CA), Puzzle (PZ), Action RPG (ARPG), Platformer/Platforming (PLAT), MMORPG, Fighting (FG), Simulation (SIM), Survival (SURV), MOBA, Music (MUS), Metroidvania (VANIA).

Two notes:

  • I separated RPGs and Shooters in general to create large, chunked versions to compare those two genres because I knew they would be the highest numbers.  
  • And through this second, improved version (I had another excel sheet that was not as good), I was able to have games count as multiple genres.

The lowest count genres are Turn-Based Strategy, Real Time Strategy, MMORPGS, and music.  Even combining strategy genres, it still isn’t that much of a count.  I grew up in the era when strategy games were huge, and now, other than a couple of grand strategy games, it really has dwindled.  It’s being kept alive by things like Civilization, Total War, and maybe Age of Empires II and IV.  It’s really sad.  Starcraft and Starcraft II still live on for me though.  Very typically Asian of me.

MMORPGs are low count because it takes so long to invest in one to really recognize whether or not it’s a good MMO, so that would explain that.  I have played a ton of MMOs though, and let’s be honest the era of 2000s for MMOs were not that great.  It was ruled by like…World of Warcraft and Maplestory.  Most everything else was mediocre or way too filled with pay to win elements, which is what Maplestory has become now.

Unfortunately, Classic Adventure games are also low in count, but those have been some really great experiences, and I feel like they’re kind of niche even now.  Yet today there are some really good classic adventure releases that have dominated charts: games like Norco, Disco Elysium, and Kentucky Route Zero.  And I’ve only played one of those!

I was originally surprised by the amount of Fighting Games on there but then I realized half of them are probably Super Smash Bros.  Haha!  Puzzle games are also pretty low on the list, probably because I’m…not very good at them.  Oh wait, I realize I’m not good at fighting games or puzzle games, so that explains both!

I think Shooter games are so high on the list because I grew up with my brothers playing first person shooters a lot, so I’ve inherited a lot of that, and there are a lot of platforming games as well because I grew up with the SNES and the N64.  It also helps that those are the two genres I’m most proficient at, so of course I can enjoy them well.

RPGs are in such a large amount likely because of how emotional they tend to be.  They usually have good writing, or at least fun writing.  I also like games that tend to have political commentary on the sad state of things like Deus Ex: Mankind Divided or Path of Exile.  These games point out how grey the spectrum of human morality can be.  Sometimes there are no good choices and sometimes good people get caught up in bad things.  Some people really just want to be bad, but there are some people who just want to do good.  And some people in between, like in Baldur’s Gate or Mass Effect.  Oh darn it, I just chose two Bioware titles.  Okay, um, Guild Wars 2.   I love storylines that get caught up in the small nuances in life as well as the real and cheesy lessons.  I’ve stated before and I’ll say it again, the important lessons in life tend to be cheesy.  Games like Genshin Impact, Kentucky Route Zero, or Final Fantasy VI have these elements and help me reflect on myself.  

The final two reasons are very polar.  I like games that I have an emotional connection to.  I love Control, Perfect Dark, and Celeste.  I also love games that are extremely well designed.  Games like Dishonored 2, Super Mario Odyssey, Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Konquest, and Hollow Knight.  This isn’t to say I have no emotional connection to them, but a huge chunk of the enjoyment I received in addition to my personal experience was because of how well they were made.  The disparity between emotion and technical don’t negatively affect each other, but the objective difference is huge.  

Enough about me.  What genres do you lean towards?  And what are some examples from those genres that you really like?  Are there any games that helped you become a better person or helped you get through a difficult time in life?

Thanks for reading, and I hope that you find more games to put into your lists of favorites!

Elise

Note: My work will continue to be pretty intense so my posts will be scarce until about September 12th.  I will still try to post at least once a week, but we’ll see. 

Loud Voices, Small Voices

Voices in the Crowd

I’ve been thinking a lot about yesterday’s post.  I don’t apologize for a lot of it.  Most of it had to be said.  Perhaps it was not as celebratory as it should’ve been.  This is Game Praisers, but I also need to state some crap going on.  And while it is all true, we should continue in a different iteration.

Let’s be honest, I’m a pretty…pessimistic person.  I don’t know if it’s my anxiety and me thinking about bad things over and over and over again.  Supposedly I have a dark sense of humour as well, but I can’t really tell.  So I admit I do tend to focus on the negative, which is partially why I started Game Praisers to help me be more positive.  While this has indeed helped me see the positives of video gaming, especially with the good community I’ve run into here, people are a whole different matter.

I’m trying to see and understand that there are so many good people in the game community.  I have had good experience in Genshin Impact, and I’m sorry if I made it seem like I didn’t appreciate it.  It is a really fun game and I absolutely love the world and its characters.  I let the loud voices of the ugly people get the best of me.  I have met people who wanted to learn more about Chinese culture, and that’s all I’m going to say.

Look in any place where the players are allowed to say anything, and there will be loud, supported, angry players whinging about the most unimportant or specific of things.  Once you’re allowed to be anonymous, people will say the worst of things, but I have to also remember that most of the crowd consists of the silent majority.  There are a lot of people that are good that support others and they just don’t say anything. 

All the kind Guild Wars 2 players that go out of the way to help me when I’m down are a good example.  Guild Wars 2 seems to have an abnormal amount of kind people in it.  On the Steam launch, which I believe happened yesterday, there were tons of people that were prepared to help new players.  It was so wonderful.  There are loud, irritating people in Guild Wars 2 still, but there are just so many nice people that they get drowned out.  I really wouldn’t mind that in the other game communities.

But that’s just it.  I bet they are there.  They’re just quiet.  They’re reading.  They’re ignoring the comments.   They just love their game and play it.  I’ve been thinking about this a ton since yesterday and I am so happy and joyful that there are cool people out there in the gaming community that I genuinely would like to meet.  Although, I will probably disappear afterward and never be heard from again because I will be overthinking everything, but there is hope in it all.

It is good to have hope in the gaming community, because, let’s be honest, it usually doesn’t look great for us.  I think I have to change my perspective a bit and have more hope.  I don’t want to become insensitive to the rude people I always see, but I also need to keep myself focused on the hope that there is still humanity left in the community of gaming.
Thanks for sticking around!  I’ll see you again soon.

Elise

Sentimental ULTRAs

In a minute, I’mma need a…

Objective lists of bests always make me scratch my head.  I know there will always be at least some bias in lists, but my favorite rankings I hear from people I talk with are the ones that are very emotionally biased.  I’m talking nostalgia, events that transpired during plays, purely sentimental acts, and emotions just taking over.  Even if this means emotionally attached to a certain game design.  Even if this means emotionally attached to a bad game design.


If you’ve been here, you’ve heard me talk about the ULTRA, the Ultimate Loosely-Thought Ranked Analysis.  This is my internal ranking of all the games I’ve ever played.  This list is processed by a current top twelve list that rotates as new games enter that list.  When games are added to that list and leave, they graduate to the ULTRA where they are ranked. 

There is no other process other than just sitting there thinking and discussing with other players.  Things move up and down that list all the time depending on discussions, thoughts, and epiphanies.  There is no extreme, numerical game design analysis.  It’s just thoughts.  While I have studied a lot about game and art design in video games, those things are not what I pride my list on.  I love my list because it’s so emotional.

When I speak to players I like to bring up the question, “What are some of your favorite games?”  I say “some of” because asking for a number one game is usually too difficult or stressful to answer.  Just give me a couple of games where, if you had to recommend to a random player, these are the ones you’d choose.  I want them to choose whatever loosely-thought, emotional choices they made.  I want to get to know the player as a person, not as a critic.  

Each viewpoint that the player brings to the table is what makes everything so unique.  Their likes and dislikes of the game tell me a story that gives me a greater understanding not just of their thought processes and perspectives, but also their goals and what they value.  I believe every experience in life does have an impact.  This is why I oppose those who bully others online and why I oppose those who think just because something inappropriate is on a screen and “isn’t real” is okay.  It’s the same emotional connection that gives the reason why you can’t go about saying that certain anime is okay even though there are definitely pedophilic things in it or other similar stuff.  Whether you like it or not, watching that thing is going to affect you for the same reasons that other “innocent” things affect you for good.  I can’t believe I’ve had to make that argument (and have it be ignored by said person).  Why do I always hate being part of this entertainment community?

I digress.  Let me talk about something a little less depressing.

I love Remedy Entertainment’s Control.  I deal with some addictions in my life, and I don’t handle them well.  I used to be addicted to gambling (darn you lootboxes), but thankfully I’ve gotten a lot better at that.  So that’s one of the many down.  I’ve been through therapy, drugs (ironically, for drugs), and other treatments.  It’s not an easy road, but it’s a road that always makes me feel like it is my choice.  Addictions blur the line between what is choice and what isn’t.  It also brings up a ton of other contextual sociocultural things that also ask the same question depending on said contexts.  It’s just…not fun.  (I hope if any of you are dealing with similarly degrading things that you are getting as much support as possible.)

Playing Control felt different.  I felt free.  It’s technically considered a horror game, and I don’t do well with those, but I managed to get through the main game.  (I haven’t finished the DLCs, I’m saving that for spooky month.)  I’ve thought about this a lot, and I’m not sure what it was.  That week I played Control I was free from all my addictions.  I felt like I really was in control.  It wasn’t because I played all day and night or anything.  They were normal sessions.  Maybe it was Jesse’s independent attitude and my role-playing as the characters that gave me strength.  Maybe it was the emotional connection I had with her confusing experience.  Maybe it was smashing stuff with the physics in the game.  What if it was just good gameplay and world building?  These are just some of the ideas, but I honestly can’t pinpoint why.  That whole experience is one of the biggest reasons why I love Control.  

It’s so…simple if you look at it.  The event was complicated for me, but if you look at it from the outside in, it seems so simple.  It’s very emotional, and it’s super insanely biased.  It is in fact, probably one of the most biased positions on the ULTRA.  Control sits at #6.

I think what I am trying to say is that I love people.  Don’t get me wrong, I am a hermit.  I rarely go to events for the social parts.  But I admit that I really love people.  Sounds like an oxymoron, but I think it somehow works.  I’ve been following other players like Later Levels, where life, games, and being a parent all coincide.  And how about The Gamer With Glasses, a gamer trying to get through life and talk about their love for RPGs.  Or Ace Asunder’s unique perspectives on gaming feel empowering and eye-opening.   Their views on games tell stories.  These are stories that help me grow.

I am far, far from a perfect person, especially as I have just been kind of vulnerable about my life just now.  I value the struggle, and all the hardships in my life have given me the opportunity to become a softer person.  I have chosen that.  I want to see that.  I want to see how video games are a force for good for people in the world.  How has gaming shaped struggles for you?  How has it helped, even in the most minor of ways?  


Hearing emotional lists and likes of games helps me realize that the player I am talking to is a human being, and with that human being comes struggle.  And with that struggle is usually someone who is trying to be a better person.  And with that striving person, maybe another reason for me to hate being part of this media community a little less and love it a little more.

Thanks for reading. I’ll see you again later this week if my work isn’t crushing my soul.

Elise

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.

The One Note NPCs

Love the passions

This is for those NPCs in video games that have great designs, but they’re pretty one note.  I’m talking about the NPCs who are so focused on a single goal in their life.  Their character designs are usually fantastic and when you meet them you feel like you can immediately get what they’re like.  The eccentric bug collector that will buy all your bugs or take them for upgrades.  The man that is so fascinated by this very, very specific kind of rock that will give you a bunch of cash for them.  And those rocks just happen to be in places of great achievement.  

I know that these characters are frequently just filling in the niche roles of some side quests or collectibles, but there is so much darn character in them and I love them.  We’re always pushing for more interesting and complex characters, but the passion in someone so one note in these games, which are usually RPGs, is so charming.  I can’t get over how happy I am for this person when I finally find that golden beetle or whatever it is they’re collecting.

Maybe they’re someone fascinated by flowering vines, and it turns out flowering vines indicate secret climbable areas.  If it weren’t for this person saying, “Oh, look at that one.  That flower is purple.  Ooh!  This one is pink!  Oh, I just love flowering vines.  Don’t you?” we never would’ve guessed!  Okay, maybe we might’ve guessed, but it’s a cute way to point out things.  I admit sometimes these people can be a bit annoying, like the guy in Pokemon who just wants to teach you how to catch a Pokemon.  I get that that is an important aspect of the game, sir, but I do want to move on with the game.  But still, his passion is noted, and I’m glad he just wants to share it.

I guess that’s a good sign of someone who is very passionate about things: they want to share their knowledge and their experiences.   It’s the reason why we don’t talk about certain things in games, because we want people to experience the same shock and awe that we went through not knowing a plot twist or something.  

If you’re reading this article, it’s likely you’re passionate about games.  That’s great!  However, it is also quite likely there is something else outside of games that you’re super into as well.  Maybe the people in these worlds do have other things they’re chasing after but we just don’t know it in the context of the game.  Luckily for us, we can always have many passions.  It’s still great if games are your only passion!  Don’t let me stop you there!  

I get excited with people just starting to get into video games, but fully committing to them.  Sometimes they struggle with the disparity between the controller and their character.  Maybe they’re getting used to understanding game system intuition.  But they still push on through, and it makes me so happy to see them develop a new love for something.  Their growth is just as important as mine no matter how long I’ve developed mine.  

Wait a minute, maybe in your world, I am the NPC who is just really passionate about video games.  Well, I suppose then that you’re part of the community and I’m one of many video game loving NPCs.  Don’t let other people push you away from what you love.  If what you love is starting to get unhealthy because you’re staying up until four in the morning to play, okay, maybe slow it down a little.  Don’t let your dreams be thrown away by someone who doesn’t own them.  A small insight from someone who has let that happen, it is debilitating and humiliating.  It really cut into how I felt about my self esteem and self worth.  Let’s be frank, the video game community can be choking to the individual.  They can easily smother what they hype up.  It has taken me years and years to repair the damage, and I’m still working on it today.

Oppositely, that is why I love those NPCs.  They are unabashedly showing off that they love this thing.  They’re (usually) not interrupting anyone else’s lives, but they definitely want to talk about their excitement for something.  They’re free.  

Too many times I regret falling to that choking idea that what I love to do isn’t good enough for someone else.  Or even that I’m not “hardcore” enough to have a passion to belong to a community or something. 

And that simply isn’t true.  I hope none of us ever has to feel embarrassed about what we love.  

Thanks for reading, I’ll see you again.

Elise


The Open World Crab

A lateral journey

I really don’t like the idea that open world design is an evolution of gaming.  I think it’s progressive in the fact that our technology can now handle it, and that we can create such things, but a game going from linear or another design to open world is not necessarily an evolution.  I think it’s a lateral change.

Like most things in design, from art to games, changing the rulesets always have consequences.  You can’t change the variables in your style and design without consequence, no matter how abstract you make it seem.  In abstraction you willingly remove authorial interpretation and put it up for the consumer.  I’ve probably said this a million times, and I will say again, I believe authorial intent to be important.  The mistake is always believing it to be the most important.  How important authorial intent is depends on the context of who made it and who is consuming it.  

Open world styles will give up some paths for others.  It’s difficult in a linear game to have the Red Dead Redemption moments that are the source of much hilarity or amazing feats.  You won’t get that in DOOM, but you won’t get the level designs in Red Dead unless you’re playing a mission or something.  Open world isn’t so much an evolution as it is a choice in design.  It could be that a game’s style better matches the open world setting, and even then we sacrifice much.  

One of the things that tends to be commonly sacrificed is story.  To have a story work well in an open world means spreading content.  You give up pacing if the player is allowed to go on a 20 hour journey into those mountains on the map.  Subnautica would be very unfortunate as a linear game, but there is a story in there and the writers are restricted to building it in a way that allows it to be approached in any way and timing the player chooses.  You can indeed choose to go view that beacon that popped up on your HUD, or you can spend more time harvesting that copper.  

You give up development time for the advanced writing you’re going to have to make if the player wants to get creative with their progress.  As I previously wrote in an article, most open world games have custom characters, and that means sacrificing some story telling developments of your choice.  Sacrificing these things are not necessarily bad things, but they’re exactly that: sacrifices.

An unfortunate example of not sacrificing things just to fit your bill is Far Cry 5. The game is a fun open world sandbox, but too many things are squished in just to try and be the open world sand box game. They want a story, but they don’t want it on the terms of an open world. You are constantly interrupted by the story and the open world feels staggered because of it. You are restricted in some points in the story, and then it openly mocks how bad your “choices” were when you couldn’t really make choices at all. The whole time I was just kind of thinking, “Well, I was just trying to wander around and do stuff.” I felt pushed to the point where the story was an annoyance and felt unworthy of my time. Far Cry 5 could have been good if it was story based shooter or the open world jaunt, but it chose both, and it did not work. Can you implement a story into an open world well? Yes, you can, but you have to play within the consequences of your designs. Otherwise your designs will end up competing with each other.


The linear world is easier to control.  As a designer you can set the stage, and you can arrange the scenes.  What do you want the player to see?  What do you want the player to feel?  You can get some of these things in the open world.  How far along the spectrum of the two extremes do you want to pull it?  

I think the other difficult thing is changing development mindset when designing open world games.  I don’t think The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is some sort of evolution.  It’s just an open world with a lot of design implementations in it.  They made sure climbing, running, and gliding felt good.  And yet, those are not things that need to be in an open world game.  They took into account how locations looked at different angles as players were approaching them.  Hills, mountains, trees and all geography was taken into account.  Where they hid treasure and secrets were considered in the design of the landscape.  These are all things that you also consider in more linear games.  It all goes back to design, and how well you implement it.

You can always create a systemic game and plop large swathes of land and say it’s an open world game, and you will get those open world moments naturally, but designing the world to also be a huge, explorable set piece is what sets Breath of the Wild apart from other games.  Red Dead Redemption 2 leans towards the large swathes of land with random events, but that’s the whole feel of Red Dead.  It is a large, untamed land full of animals, mystery, and highwaymen.  There is a balance between what is handcrafted and what is meant to be accidentally encountered.  You can say they handcrafted what wouldn’t be handcrafted.  What you intend to do with your open world can be a guidepost to how you want it to be designed. 

There are a fair amount of games where it’s just a content dump.  You can feel some of that in the Assassin’s Creed series, especially in the earlier games.  Dynasty Warriors 9 takes the franchise and sets it in the open world, but it really doesn’t adapt the series well to the new design.  What you do and what your guidepost is, which is usually some sort of franchise core concept, is what can really hold your game design together.  


There is nothing wrong with having open world design.  There is nothing wrong with having linear design.  The only thing wrong is not having good design.

Thanks for reading.  I hope you’re all staying safe out there.
– Elise

It’s Okay to Grind

A little bit of that

There is a parallel in gaming that always makes me think.  In a lot of RPGs, especially MMOs, we are just grinding to get that next weapon or cosmetic.  Every day, every hour, every minute, we’re moving that little progress bar forward.  Sometimes when we do this it’s that little movement that makes us feel satisfied.  I feel great that I filled that exp bar again.  I suppose in those situations it can seem a little more justified, as that skill point can make a difference in what I can do.  

Maybe we’re grinding because we are undertrained for that boss that we died from.  Maybe I just want to open another engram in Destiny.  Sometimes we’re grinding the grind, like in The Sims, where I’m just trying to earn enough money to get a new piece of furniture.  We’re literally playing a game where we grind to earn money just like in real life when we could be doing the exact same thing in real life.  The weird thing is that one of the versions is considered entertainment.

Is there something wrong with just chipping away at life to get to the next thing?  While I believe that enjoying the journey is important, what if we really just want to learn that skill or get that sound system for the home entertainment room?  I think there is a lot of good that can be found in the grind, especially if it involves community or friends.

Let me be clear, it can be a negative thing.  It’s often not a good sign if we’re grinding months away of our lives just to get that one object.  It’s probable that the satisfaction won’t last very long.  This applies to both real life and in game.  Maybe that weapon wasn’t as exciting as we thought it was going to be when we finally wield it.  I think what I’m getting at is that the best situations are when the grind and the end result are both enjoyable.  Sometimes the grind itself isn’t enjoyable.  I’m thinking about long term goals like getting to a good place in physical health, earning money only to spend it on fixing something in the house, or the grind of working at a place I don’t want to work at but I still have to to survive.  Some grinds are more valuable to me than others, and cutting some out or adding some in can greatly affect my health.  This includes games.

Some games won’t be worth my time anymore.  I stopped playing Destiny 2 because I’m a lonely person who pushes away those who try to get close to me, but also PvE as a lone person was not great.  The grind for the engrams/lootboxes got even more tedious with their newer updates.  I love cosmetics.  I like the grind to search for an item, but…who am I doing it for?  The games weave in and out of my life depending on how important those grinds feel to me.  Guild Wars 2 appears every once in a while when my small community pops in to play for a couple of weeks.  Is my daily maintenance of Genshin Impact worth it?  The gameplay is always fun, and I love the characters, so it remains.  I still play Path of Exile, but I’m running out of themed characters to make.  Will it still be worth it to me?  I guess that depends on why I’m doing it.

Some people can go for hours because they’re with friends.  Or maybe they just really want that Dragonbash stuff in Guild Wars.  I think for me, while there is some feeling of missing out at times, I grind mostly to unwind.  If I don’t have the mental strength to commit to a story, the grind is the way to go.  I am often in a bad way because of a collection of mental illnesses, but grinding is something that is alright for me during those times.  And sometimes it’s the opposite.  

I think the idea that grinding is such a bad thing is not inherent.  It all depends on how we use it.  Sometimes you need a break.  It’s okay to slow down and just chip away at something, hang out with friends, or just recharge.  There is nothing wrong with that.  Maybe design-wise grinding can be bad, but how we use it can be healthy.  It is easy to fall into bad habits of letting the grind takeover our lives because we don’t want to be doing things, but with good management I think grinding can be a refuge.  It can be a refuge from our refuge of gaming.  We just need some time to not worry. 

It is perhaps in times like these that that kind of feeling is a sanctuary to us: a place where we can rest and say, “It’s okay.”

Thanks for reading.  I’ll see you next time.
– Elise

Thoughts on Summer Game Fest Part 2

Alright.

I’m only going to talk about the stuff that excited me, which is a lot.

Redfall
Redfall excites me because it is Arkane and I love Arkane.  I know it’s kind of different because it’s Arkane Austin, but hey, we might be getting something good here.  However, I don’t…like the way the game was demoed.  It didn’t…feel very good.  For a game that’s a co-op, class based shooter it felt very tame, and not in a good way.  I’ll have to see it when it gets closer to the release date and people are playing to show it off at as a presentation.

Hollow Knight Silksong

Yeah, we’ve been waiting for this forever, and I didn’t even watch this trailer because at this point I’m just going to wait for the game to come out to experience any of it.  Still excited though.

High on Life

I was not expecting this one at all, but it looks so unique I am actually interested in it.  The dialogue and voice acting might…turn me off though.  

Forza Motorsport (2023)

This looks GOOD.  But I don’t know how progression is going to work.  I like Gran Turismo 7’s progression a ton and most of Forza’s progressions are not…like that.  But everything looks beautiful and I still want to try it.  Unfortunately, that also means having to work with Microsoft’s super high prices for their games.

Overwatch 2

I quit Overwatch a long time ago.  I still grab loot boxes every so often when they’re handing them out, since cosmetics should carry over.  I just don’t handle PvP very well.  Less of a problem if I’m actually good, but more of a problem if the community isn’t great.  …I think you can surmise which of the problems Overwatch has.  But Overwatch 2 has me interested and I will probably play it until PvE comes out and then never return to PvP.

Scorn

It’s finally going to be here!  Will I be brave enough to play it?  Maybe…

These are all games that I’m interested in, but I don’t have much to say about them:

  • Flintlock: The Siege of Dawn
  • Minecraft Legends
  • Lightyear Frontier
  • The Last Case of Benedict Fox
  • As Dusk Falls
  • Pentiment
  • Cocoon
  • Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty

Starfield

I admit that Starfield is looking super interesting to me.  This is especially so when I just finished Fallout 4Starfield looks like everything I ever wanted in a space RPG.  The mechanics are familiar but also different.  I’m so excited for this game.  Some people are worried the planets will be empty, but I want empty Mass Effect 1 like planets.  I love that feeling.  PCGamer wrote an article about empty planets and also referenced Mass Effect 1.  When I read that I laughed and cheered out loud.  That person knows exactly how I feel.

There’s something about that realistic weirdness of stumbling upon something that feels like “it had to happen to” be there instead of “everything designed to make you happy” be there.  The only thing I’m worried about is taking care of people in a base or a crew or something.  I hate managing people.  I’ve mentioned this previously, I always adventure alone if I can.  I’ll always tell off AI.  It’s rare that I find an AI I like enough that it doesn’t bother me.

UPDATE: Wait, wait! I forgot something. The System Shock remake. Oh, that looks so good!


Most of everything from the second half was this Microsoft conference, which I think went very well.  Capcom showed off a few more things, but stuff that was so far ahead of my obligations I wasn’t as excited.  And Nintendo showed off Xenoblade Chronicles 3, and that’s…just too much.  Unless I was lazy and just wanted a PC release of all of the Xeno series.  Yes, actually that’s just what I want and I’m stubborn.

I’ll get back to normal writing and less of this short stuff now that this is all over.  I feel like these past few weeks have been hectic, and having Summer Game Fest here is both a boon and a curse.  Good because I have something to write about, but curse because it still feels like I have a ton of work to do at the same time.

So, all in all, what games are you most excited for from all these presentations?

Can’t wait to see what Nintendo actually has in store for us.  As always, be safe, and happy gaming!

Elise