Why I Love Celeste

Humble Beginnings, Humble Endings

My Introduction to Indie and Thanks to Matt 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 Matt 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

Unsurprise! Why I Hate People Who Spoil Things

And Not Really The Spoilers Themselves

Spoilers are not bad.  There is no “right” path to choosing when it comes to whether or not you want spoilers.  It is merely that someone chooses a path, and you respect that path.  

I am apparently one of those people in the world that don’t enjoy things well when things are spoiled.  According to studies it seems that most people do enjoy things well with them, but I can’t even count any games or films that I actually enjoyed when it was spoiled, even when critically and/or popularly acclaimed.  I don’t care if people want to spoil things for themselves, it’s whether or not they care about spoiling it for others.  It’s not so much a matter of entertainment for me, because it is something I can lose.  It is a matter of gauging people’s respect for others.  The only thing someone can lose for not telling a spoiler is the pride that someone can have of telling someone something they don’t know.  Which, frankly, is a very douchey reason to do it.  Most websites put pretty good spoiler tags, so if you spoil those for yourselves even when it’s obvious like that that’s your own fault.

So it’s mostly the same thing you can realize for how they react to other life decisions, and for this one, it’s really shopping cart-esque.  To put away the cart is of little effort, and there is no consequence for not doing it.   There really is very little loss in not spoiling something, and whether or not someone can hold their tongue in that aspect is quite a tell of someone’s respect.  Accidents happen of course, especially when vocally speaking, and that’s fine.  People make mistakes.

For me it all stems back to what the person is like towards me.  It’s so much more than just the game or the film.  And what worries me the most goes even further.  I am worried for the people who think that, at any level of anonymity, it won’t affect them.  But again, this is a matter of respect, and nobody lives in a vacuum. Sooner or later they will have to learn respect, and I just don’t want their experience to end up being worse than just words.

Leaks are a bit different.  Leaks are more like a surprise party.  I find it even more selfish in this situation than spoilers to give away leaks because the creators are withholding information for the sake of our enjoyment.  I just think, “We just wanted to make you happy,”  kind of thing is a sad expression to see broken.  I also don’t like leaks because they create an unwarranted and unexpected level of hype.  The audience may grow an expectation that is much higher than normal because usually only a little bit of information is let out and at too early a time.  Then they are disappointed when it was they themselves that set up the situation.  A good marketing team sets up times for announcements for a reason, and a lot of it is this.  You want a controlled situation when you show your product to the public.  You’re not being a superfan by sabotaging the creators.

So by all means, if you want to know the stories for yourselves, go ahead and look them up.  If you want to feel ahead, just do it.  Leaks can be illegal, so I would discourage that.  But don’t feel bad about spoiling things for yourself if you consent.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been gatekept out of a situation just because I am someone who doesn’t do well with spoilers.  Not because they can’t talk about it, but because I am both actively and passively removed from the group the same way some women won’t work in some places because the atmosphere is just too toxic.  I am always seen as a lesser person in this community because of this, and, let me tell you, as part of a minority group in real life I get enough of that.  So for goodness sake, all I want is some respect.  The fact that I have to actively ask for that in the entertainment community I exist in is such a low standard, and I care enough to actually vouch for it.

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~

Being an Active Audience

No Backseat Directing

I’ve talked about this before, but it’s something that I always feel so pushed to emphasize all the time.  This applies to books, movies, games, or really, almost any medium that delivers a story or rise in interaction.  

You’ve run into them before.  You know, the people who say they saw that plot twist coming, or the person who knew that character arc.  “Ah, this character is this trope again? I’m so bored of that trope!”  I don’t think there’s anything wrong with understanding the workings behind how a story tells itself, a character arc has its growth, or a game design teaches you how to play.  In fact, these are all things I have had to study as I go along my gaming and art-ing life.  Recently, I read a post on social media platform X on how learning how to write books sometimes takes the fun out of reading books.  You know the designs and the elements.  You know the turns and the descriptions.  Sometimes, for worse and for better, you can see the mistakes.  “Oh, I used to do that too!”

So after all is said and learnt, are these things not fun anymore?  This is where I think there begins a need for effort on a player’s part.  An effort…to make less effort.  To let ourselves be tricked.  To let ourselves be gobsmacked.  The same way we let ourselves take the expected (and sometimes super unexpected) parts of children’s imaginations and go with it, especially if we’re the parents.  To act like a humble student and take it all in as if the world was filled with wonder again.

Sometimes plot holes exist.  Ahem, plot holes always exist, but perhaps, hopefully by an accidental existence, they are now there to be filled with our imagination.  I guess there are people who, when brought a movie, expect the films to do it all for them.  And the same way for books or games.  I suppose the perspective of what it means to be the audience differs from one person to another.  But, should you feel that you are not being satisfied because they’re too predictable, perhaps taking a step into letting ourselves be stunned again, is the step to take.  

Skeletonizing a game or a movie can also take the fun out of it, if you let it.  Stories and designs, when stripped of their emotional and cosmetic bearings become technical rigs and concepts, with little entertainment value.  These shells and skeletons have their functions, but if we rip everything off of it, how can we expect more?  I can’t help but feel like it’s a little pretentious when people start talking about how the story wasn’t enough to entertain them or how it was so predictable.  

In the end, it’s not really a wrong perspective.  I mean, without hindsight bias, if they really found out, then they really found out.  But, I don’t know.  Were they thinking about it the whole time or were they watching the movie?  I guess it’s easier in games ‘cause there’s a good amount of downtime in between plot points.  It just feels really weird that people are setting up their own roadblocks to getting entertained by what they want to be entertained by.  I guess the reason I argue for the other side is that this is Game Praisers.

That’s what we do.  We take whatever is good.  That doesn’t mean that we ignore the bad, but the more we appreciate what we can appreciate the less we act as if starving kings and queens who can only partake in the exquisite.  You can be ahead of the game, but you don’t have to be snooty.  Ultimately, it’s also one of my goals in life to just be more accepting and open-minded to what can be good.  To never forget that just because we eat better food now, doesn’t mean food in general is forgotten of what it provides.  Of course the top-notch games and films are what we’d like.  Of course we love the non-broken game design, but we never, ever forget humble beginnings and the child-like wonder that made video games so fascinating in the first place.

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

Nintendo Games Can Be Difficult

Remember the Struggle

I was ignorant in gaming for a long time.  I don’t mean racist or a straight-up gatekeeper or anything, but like a….kind of almost ignorant gatekeeper?  I hate when people say Nintendo games are for kids.  They are fit for them, but that doesn’t mean they’re designed solely for them.  It’s the same way how some animations are really well written and they’re for kids, but adults can definitely enjoy them.  I think a lot of the time, they’re even better as adults.

So, I grew up with the SNES and Nintendo 64.  Platforming games were the thing back then, so I played a lot of Mario, Kirby, and Donkey Kong games.  I think it was just a ton of privilege and I am very grateful for that.  Fast-forward to Super Mario Maker 2, and I was making levels that I felt were fit for the audience, only to find out that the success rate was pretty low on the level.  Now, I’m not a pro at platforming games or anything.  I am not that, but my vision of what a platforming game player was skewed.  And that’s when I realized I am super privileged when it comes to most Nintendo games.

Most people who are playing Nintendo games are younger, and most Nintendo games are platforming games.  I have yet to see a young gamer who, having received a present from their parents, do what I believed to be “well” on a new Nintendo game.  In fact, I remember being young and not being able to make it past certain worlds.  As I got older, the amount of worlds I would get to would go further and further.  I wouldn’t actually finish a Mario game until like, middle school or high school.  You know, the age when kids think they’re so cool and Nintendo is done and away with.

That’s the first set of audience, and the second is adults who want to start to play platforming games.  Introducing people to games or the genre has made me feel so ignorant.  I mean, I’ve done that a lot, but I never realized what a terrible teacher I was.  I believe I’m pretty good at teaching, but for some reason I never applied the proper teaching skills I used before on what I loved the most.  I am patient with the person, but I was just so ignorant.  New gamers don’t know what they can and can’t do.  That’s something that when you play as a younger gamer, you just kind of leap over because you’re a kid and you’ve got time and audacity in your hands.  

Especially for adults, they’re hesitant on what they believe they can do and move like.  Looking back I feel so dumb for not opening that door for them.  Not only that, but then there is the huge gap of just spending time to get better that I don’t really have to worry about anymore because I’ve played so many games when I was younger.  So, I think you get the point.  I just really had to check my privilege here.  But it’s also made me very grateful for opening my eyes to this understanding, and makes me grateful for how well Nintendo designs their games to be enjoyable even when you’re past these stages.  

I think in a way I was kind of soft-gatekeeping people by placing my expectations way high.  I never got upset at them, but in my mind I would still set that expectation, and I would rather I root that out than let it grow into something negative.  I want to be welcoming to all levels of gaming.  The best people in any profession always seem to be the ones that still remember what it was like to struggle, because they’re the ones that are the best at helping people.  Like my entire life with things I study, I want games to be a positive impact on my life, so I will do my best to keep humbling myself and remember the struggle.

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

My 2020 in Gaming

I’m’a drop this real quick here. This was recorded in my notes, and I thought it would be nice to share here. My notes are even more casual than I usually am, so sorry if it’s a little erratic. Enjoy!

——————————————–

My top 12 games of the year in no particular order.  These are games that I’ve played in 2020, not necessarily released in 2020.  Asterisks mark ones that are actually from the year 2020.  

Honorable Mentions:

DiRT Rally 2.0

  • I can’t really tell when I started playing this, but I think it was January/February.  So I’ma put it on here.

Celeste 

  • Nor can I tell with this one, since Epic Games doesn’t tell you, which is why it is here, because I think I played it like, the last week of December. But if it is from this year, most darn definitely it should be on the actual list.  This game made me cry and I love it, because I can relate to the story so well.  Number 9 on the ULTRA.  This game can boast the most absolutely perfect difficulty curve.  Tells a super super good and mature story through a platforming game.  Also, I’ve been following Matt Thorson’s games since Jumper 2.  It was his games that got me through the era of “I’m Too Young to Buy Games for Myself”, and his free indie games got me through life.

Path of Exile

  • Because I still play this wonderful game.

Fallout 3

  • This is a super good open world game, but I have very little emotional attachment to it.  If you want a good sci-fi open world game though, play it.  It even rivals Skyrim for me.  

THE ACTUAL LIST:

Crysis

  • Man.  This game.  I thought it was just going to be a show off of graphics, but it’s more than that.  The attention to detail is what makes this more than “graphics”.  There are a lot of unnecessary details that they have in this game that they just weren’t lazy enough to do.  Also, the gameplay proved to be quite fun.  The super suit really makes you feel like The Predator.  It mixes up the gameplay and makes it really unique.  The weird silly-movie-ish storyline is really fun as well.  

Dishonored series

  • Oh my goodness.  I can’t… I can’t.  Dishonored 1 and 2 slashed their way to the top of the ULTRA, getting 5th and 3rd place on the entire list respectively.  The world-building and lore are so insanely well done, and the level designs are definitely some of the best game designs I have ever seen in my entire gaming life.  The stealth mechanics are done very crisp.  Things react the way you expect them to react, making plans feel great when you pull them off.  Problems do not happen for arbitrary reasons, it’s because of planning.  But they also designed it well in the way the game plays after problems happen.  I actually do not flip out when I get caught, because the way the game moves after you’re caught is designed well.  If you want a good stealth series, or just a game with an awesome world, play this series.  Dishonored: Death of the Outsider is also great, but it’s definitely a smaller punch than 1 and 2.  I’m counting these as one game.  HA!

Kero Blaster

  • This game is made by Studio Pixel, the creators of Cave Story.  Amaya Daisuke STILL GOTS IT.  This is such a good 2D shooter, but you might have noticed it never got on the Top 12 Games list.  BECAUSE IT’S TOO DANG SHORT.  It’s such a tease because Amaya does such a good job at making these funny little 2D shooters.  

Psychonauts

  • Psychonauts is an…unexpected game.  I usually play these cult classics to see what the fuss is all about.  The controls are a little bit janky, and the graphics are old, but it’s still a great game.  The music is quite nice, but the thing that really gets me is it’s super progressive (at the time) approach to mental illness.  I also really love Rasputin, because his voice actor does a good job and also because Ras is someone who genuinely cares about the people who are suffering mental health or trauma.  The way the level designs are conveyed accordingly to each person’s experience are very inspiring.

Resident Evil 4

  • I’m not good with horror games.  You’ve heard me say it before, but… I really really really really really love a fun story.  And it turns out, the gameplay is really good.  The way you shoot is unique and feels great, which in turn I think would be terrible on a controller.  A small spoiler, [[[[[[[[[[]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]   

    NPCs that you have to guide around are NOT annoying.  Seriously, this is like a huge plus.  It’s one of the few times where I felt like the NPC didn’t actually feel very helpless and glitchy.

    [[[[[[[[]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]

    Inventory management turned out to be kind of fun, and some of the designs of the monsters are really cool (and scary).

Transistor

  • Uhm…  this game is more like an experience.  I admit I had a hard time with this game, as in it was just difficult for me to play, because I suck at the strange and cool system they have for combat.  The art style is absolutely fabulous, as Supergiant Games is wont to do.  The story, characters, and world murder my soul.  If you want a top-tier indie experience, play this.

Borderlands 3 Super Deluxe Edition***

  • Ah, Borderlands.  I love the Borderlands series so much, but it kind of petered out for a little bit, until I finished the campaign and started playing the seasonal stuff.  I’ve explained before but I must say it again; the core of the new gun designs and gameplay mixed with the funny and well-written content for the seasonal stuff is what I’ve been wanting for a new Borderlands experience.  It’s a lot of good fun, and I’m lucky enough to have experienced it with someone who I very much enjoy playing games with.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons***

  • Probably the best in the series.  Every time a new Animal Crossing in the main series (sorry Amiibo Festival) makes a big jump (sorry City Folk) I feel like I fall in love with Animal Crossing all over again.  However, lately I’ve been pushing myself to finish more games, and so my play time with Animal Crossing has decreased, but whenever I play again, especially when I play with my siblings, I have a ton of fun.  We goof around a lot and do silly stuff but it’s a fun time.

Fire Emblem: Awakening

  • A weapon durability system that doesn’t annoy me?  Great turn-based combat?  Characters and story filled with emotions and dialogue?  Art style I friggin love?  Amazing music?  This game checked all the boxes.  I also just really love the art.  Also I love all the characters.  I want to hug them all.  This one is definitely up here more because of my love and emotion than the gameplay (although that’s good too).

Genshin Impact***

  • This thing.  Another surprise I was not expecting.  I gotta be honest, a huge part is that I’m so darn proud of a good Chinese game, and one that is (mostly) not battered by racist or typical comments about Chinese products.  And of course the other part is that I love all the characters and story.  The exploration and combat are fan-friggin-tastic.  Although if you get to the late game it gets kind of grindy and mobile-gamey, but the demand for your money concerning the gacha is not really there unless you desperately want a different character.  Some of the story elements in this game are really, really good.  The characters, I want to hug them all.  I feel all chummy because of all the story arcs.

Final Fantasy VII

  • OKAY.  Why did I play so many emotional games?  Final Fantasy is one of the long-standing gaming goals I have to play them all in order.  I’ve heard people throw their opinions of the ones I am going up against. Ever since Final Fantasy IV, this series has been slicing onions in front of my face and FFVII was no different.  I LOVE THIS SERIES SO DARN MUCH.  oof.   There are a few designs from FFVI that I prefer would be brought over, but it’s still such a darn good game.

Paper Mario: The Origami King***

  • Last one.  Maybe it’s because it looked severely disappointing.  Maybe it’s because I still hoped in my heart still even after all that.  OR MAYBE.  Maybe it’s just because Nintendo and Intelligent Systems actually made another darn good Paper Mario game.  It’s different, yes.  And the next one after this will also probably be different.  But, for now let us savor the fact that this game is really darn good.  Music and writing/jokes in the Paper Mario series has ALWAYS been up to snuff, even during the Sticker Star / Color Splash era.  That checks off here too (I REALLY love the music).  I’m surprised the world and characters are built so well even after the no non-standard Mario lore restriction.  And the puzzle attack gameplay turned out quite all right.  I never would’ve thought, but this game turned out to be one of the best ones of the year.  

Maybe it’s because of quarantine or something, but I finished a ton of games.  There are still more that are not on this list, but I didn’t put them because I’ve already eaten a ton of your time.  Here’s to another year of gaming! 

The Power of Implied Lore

What You Don’t See

Some people have a strong focus on lore in video games.   There are modes in games that are meant for the story, characters, and history of the world to shine.  I love lore in video games.  I may not have the greatest memory, but I sure do love to store as much lore as I can into my brain.  I love reading Mass Effect’s history of the planets.  As a biologist, I am so happy that they got a lot of the chemical and evolutionary biology correct when it comes to how life develops in other worlds.  The fascinating connection between what is real and the fictional elements are so brilliant.

But perhaps even more so are the things that are just mentioned.  The strange labyrinth of an ancient unknown race from eons ago.  Just through the story we think we know of old, old aliens, but these structures are unknown.  Or what about in Path of Exile, where many of the legendary items speak of old proverbs, that are absolutely fantastic and usable in real life, that mention great heroes or villains that are not part of the story anymore.  With the divination cards we hear murmurs of stories that take place in small worlds like one that really only involves only a lover and their lost one.  What happened to them?  Or what caused madness in another implied legendary figure?

I love implied lore.  It’s the kind of thing that makes science so captivating for me.  Science and mathematics always implies something bigger or stranger.  When mathematicians begin to see patterns in the way numbers are organized, or chemists recognizing similar chemical patterns in a far away planet, these things imply there is more to the picture than we know about.  That sense of curiosity is sort of a thing that encapsulates my mind.  My name in my native language was originally going to mean “wonder”.  I think that defines pretty much how I feel about these things.

The same feelings happen in real life when we see empty office buildings or abandoned industrial structures.  What history happened in these places?  What are their daily lives like when they’re active?  And what about right now, empty?  What is it like?  You don’t need to show every bit of history to let the player know there is history.  Let it be explored and excavated from the recesses of the virtual world.  Make legends and tall tales for the players to see glimmers of leftovers in the world.  There are few things so exciting as seeing a sly reference in the world when you first read or heard it in a game’s books or myths.  

I think implied lore is just as important and wonderful as concrete lore, because it allows you to explore the imagination of what the world is like, just as we do in real life.  
Thanks for reading!  I’ll see you next time!

Elise

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