Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Future of Gaming

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Now that all of the major players have put their cards on the table, I would like to give my thoughts on what is going to happen. Given the events of the last week, I think we are on the verge of a very different distribution landscape, and I am looking forward to it. Let's start out small.

Mobile gaming isn't going anywhere; it's definitely going to continue to grow. However, we need to get people more used to paying $10 or more for a quality game if we are going to see more than these simple little high-score focused social-oriented free-to-play games that are the bane of our existence. Why is it that Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery is still the only mobile game with a decent story that I have played?

The Ouya tried to encourage those kinds of games to come to Android, but they really dropped the ball. It took them so long to release the darn thing that Nvidia came out with a new version of the processor they were using by the time Kickstarter backers got their hands on the system.

Nintendo is in an interesting position. The Wii U isn't doing very well, but the 3DS is selling like hotcakes. As we have seen over the last decade, Nintendo can do well by simply having a strong first-party title lineup. This is something nobody else can claim, and I don't see them changing their strategy.

Now to the good stuff. This week Valve announced SteamOSSteam Machines, and the Steam Controller. SteamOS is based on Linux, which is really the only way that they could have done this. Yes, Linux doesn't have nearly as many AAA games as Windows at this point, but licensing Windows for all of the Steam Machines would drive their prices up. Valve gets around this by streaming Windows games from your PC over your home network. Because of that, Steam Machines will initially only sell to people who are already into PC gaming. Not to worry, Valve is working on encouraging big publishers to bring their games to Linux. Because there will be a Steam Machine for all occasions, they will be competing directly with everything from the consoles to the Chromecast.
I am much more interested in the controller they unveiled. Having it emulate mouse and keyboard inputs for games that don't support controllers was a brilliant move, and it means that is the one thing they announced this week that I will definitely be getting as soon as it comes out.

There were a couple of interesting stories about Sony and Microsoft this week. Both are looking into streaming their games to devices other than their core consoles. Sony is considering everything from PCs to tablets to TVs. Microsoft of course will probably only make this available on Windows and Windows Phones. If Valve succeeds in getting everyone to support Linux (I really hope they are) then the only reason for PC gamers to stay with Windows (aside from familiarity) would be for Microsoft to make Xbox games available on Windows as well.
Sony seems much more likely to support Linux, as they have no reason to push Windows sales. I like the way that they talk about treating the PlayStation brand as a service rather than just hardware. And think about it for a moment: how does Sony make money? Not by selling consoles, but by selling the games on those consoles. If they can bring their games to more people by offering a streaming service, I think they will.

The piece of hardware that I am most excited for is the Oculus Rift. These headsets are already incredibly popular, and they haven't even released yet. Innovations like this and the Steam Controller are only possible on open platforms, where they can support games that weren't even made with anything but mouse and keyboard in mind.

My dream for the gaming industry for some time has been for the hardware people to focus on making hardware, the software people to focus on making software, and the distributors to bring us services that add to our overall gaming experience, all on top of an open software platform. This has been how most of the PC gaming world has worked for as long as I can remember, and Valve and Sony seem to be the distributors most poised to take advantage of this model.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs Review

Note: this blog has been migrated to Medium, with the articles here available to preserve permalinks Please see this post at

Right on the heels of playing Amnesia: The Dark Descent I jumped into Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs. Despite the fact that it was developed by a different group and has a completely different setting, I was expecting to have a very similar experience. While the beginning was very similar, as the game progressed it diverged in many ways, and not all of them were bad.

Unlike the first game, the player character has a very specific goal from the beginning: find his children. At first I thought that he hadn't lost all of his memories, but as the story progressed it became clear that he didn't know how the machinery around him worked, even though he was clearly the one who had built it.

Lighting is very important, and just like the original you get a lantern to light your way. However, this lantern never runs out of juice, and spending time in the darkness doesn't affect your character's sanity. I found this very odd, because it was one of the main sources of tension and fear in the first game. As it turns out, A Machine for Pigs is much more about the story it has to tell than it is about scaring your pants off.

The story starts off slowly, when the game is still at its scariest. It then builds into an arch that I don't want to say anything about because it would be very easy to spoil and it really is the strong point of the game.

The themes surprisingly focused heavily on the class struggle of the late 1800s, and utilized pigs as the metaphors and imagery for almost everything. In a way it reminds me of the social commentary that Bioshock gave, but a much smaller taste.

The gameplay was a lot simpler than the first game. Most of the tasks that I had to complete wouldn't even count as puzzles, they were that straightforward. It probably helped that most objects that were interactable were puzzle elements. For example, I once found a candle that I could pick up; suspecting that there was a puzzle coming up that required it, I brought it with me. I was right. A lot of the drawers and doors had these huge visible locks on them that clearly meant "You cannot open this, there is nothing useful inside, and the developers don't want you wasting all of your time opening tons of drawers because there isn't any health or sanity for you to worry about. Just move along and continue the story we have crafted for you."

One of the creepiest things in the game were these colorful pigmasks. They would show up in areas that I had already explored, and occasionally disappear again while I wasn't looking. It gave me the sensation that I was being watched. I also suspect that they sometimes changed the map around me, similar to Antichamber but much less obvious. Or maybe I just got myself lost.

Oddly, there were several things in the game that reminded me of Portal 2. In many areas there were large maps of the complex with the area I was in highlighted so I could tell how close to my goal I was.

There was also this one walkway that would have fit right in among the older parts of Aperture Science.

I love it when games acknowledge the silly things they make us do.

A Machine for Pigs was a very well-made narrative, and it moved me deeply. However, it was extremely short at 4.5 hours long. I would price this game at $10, so wait until it goes on sale.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Dream: The Galactic Senate

Note: this blog has been migrated to Medium, with the articles here available to preserve permalinks Please see this post at

Note: in this dream I take the role of the silent observer; I'm not a character in the story.

Last night's dream started off with a situation similar to that in Spacetrawler: there is a large Galactic governing body and Earth is currently considered a "dark planet" which means that nobody is allowed to visit until the humans have discovered interplanetary travel for themselves. However, there are a few humans who were illegally brought off-planet and are now representing Earth in the Galactic Senate. Chief among them is Daniel Jackson, who is really good at this whole diplomacy thing.

Before long the Foosa (from the movie Madagascar) show up, saying that they have as much a claim to the planet Earth as we humans do. Most of the Senate was going to vote in favor of the humans, but then Daniel surprised everyone by voting in favor of the Foosa. Why would he do that?? Well apparently he realized that the only way for us to be able to get rid of the Foosa without looking like terrible people was to give them a share of the planet and then go to war with them for some atrocity that they would inevitably inflict upon the people already living there. Very cunning, Daniel Jackson. Unfortunately my alarm went off before I could find out how this one turned out.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Amnesia: the Dark Descent Review

Note: this blog has been migrated to Medium, with the articles here available to preserve permalinks Please see this post at

Whenever someone asks me what Amnesia: the Dark Descent is, I tell them it is the scariest game they will ever play. I stand by that assessment. I tried to play through it two years ago; I got an hour into the game, saw one of the monsters, and hid in a closet (in the game) until it went away. I decided to take a break and come back to the game a little later. Two years later I finally came back to the game and I have finished it!

Amnesia is scary not through jump scares and carefully scripted events, but through the oppressive and tense atmosphere that is constantly pressing in on you. This is the kind of scary that really affects me, because I tend to psyche myself up more than any scripted events will. It also means that you will only be scared if you let yourself become immersed in the environment; this is why I played in a dark room, alone, with headphones on whenever possible.

You play as Daniel, who wakes up in an old Prussian castle with no memories of who he is. You soon find a note to yourself that kind of explains the situation. Apparently there is a bad man named Alexander in the bowels of the castle, and you have to go down there and kill him. There is also a Shadow hunting you, breaking down reality; you cannot fight it, your only choice is to run and hide.

Lighting plays a critical role in this game. Not only does it determine how far you can see, but if you spend too much time in the darkness Daniel will start to lose his sanity, and then you can't trust the things he sees. To combat this you can light candles in the environment with tinderboxes and you can use your lantern. You have to be careful not to use too many tinderboxes or oil though, which adds another layer of tension.

You can get sanity back by solving puzzles and progressing through the game. Most of the puzzles force you to explore and find items in areas that you would probably rather avoid.

It took me seven and a half hours to complete the game. I am glad that it wasn't longer, because by the end I was starting to recognize the mechanics underlying the puzzles and monsters, and I was having trouble immersing myself as much as I had in the beginning.

Obviously if you don't enjoy scary movies you won't want to pick this game up, but if you do I highly recommend Amnesia: the Dark Descent. It is well worth the $20 price tag.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Cabin in the Woods Review

Note: this blog has been migrated to Medium, with the articles here available to preserve permalinks Please see this post at

As part of my eternal quest to see everything that Joss Whedon has ever worked on, I sat down with a fellow fan to watch one his most recent movies. I was kind of nervous about watching it, because I tend to freak out spectacularly during horror movies. Or even movies that I think are going to be scary.

I needn't have worried; Cabin in the Woods is really a movie about horror movie tropes (I bet the TV Tropes page for this movie is pretty long) and it is hilarious. As always Joss Whedon writes the wittiest dialogue I have ever had the pleasure of hearing, and the overall meta-ness of the story appealed to the part of me that loves analysing movies.

I have gotten used to having multiple episodes or movies to get to know the characters, and I feel like a 96 minute movie isn't enough to really do them justice (they were really well-written and well-acted) but as far as the story goes it was the right length.

There was a surprising number of actors that I recognized, including several from Stargate Universe and Stargate Atlantis. I was also told that some of the main actors had been in other shows of Whedon's, so I'll be seeing more of them in the future.

I highly recommend this movie to anyone who doesn't throw up at the sight of blood (it is rated R for a reason.) I know for a fact that it is free for Amazon Prime members, and I hear that it is on Netflix.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Antichamber Review

Note: this blog has been migrated to Medium, with the articles here available to preserve permalinks Please see this post at

Antichamber is a thoroughly mind-melting first-person puzzle game that utilizes non-euclidian geometry as most of the puzzle elements. Now there's a sentence that doesn't apply to most games.

The visuals are very simple; the hallways are mostly white, with only black lines to indicate where corners are. Colors are very important in this game; they can help you orient yourself as the world changes around you (did I mention that you can be walking down a hallway, get to the end, turn around, and see a completely different hallway behind you?). The color of your gun also determines what its powers are. There are several sections of the game, each requiring a different gun to solve its puzzles.

Speaking of puzzles, they are a doozy. Because the game does not rely on traditional notions of geometry, they can really do whatever they want. I don't want to spoil any of the puzzles, but don't feel discouraged if you can't solve one the first time you try. Sometimes there is a tool or technique that you have to get in a different chamber first. And even if you get completely stuck, you can just hit Esc at any time and go to the Antichamber.

The antichamber serves as a main menu. The game's options and controls are all plastered over one wall, a map of all of the chambers you have been to (you can travel to any one of them from the antichamber) a view of what claims to be the exit, and a big chalkboard of the lessons you have learned.

Those lessons are my favorite thing about the game. They are often placed just before or after a puzzle, and they contain a life lesson that pertains to that particular puzzle.

Eerily, my 21st birthday is coming up.
I've played about three hours of the game, and I have discovered two different colors of the gun, and I think there are two more. I'm kind of stuck though, and I might have to bite the bullet and look at some walkthroughs.

I would say that a reasonable price for this game is $10, so you should definitely wait until it is on sale to pick it up.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Stargate Universe Review

Note: this blog has been migrated to Medium, with the articles here available to preserve permalinks Please see this post at

I grew up on Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis, both of which were over by the time I watched them. My parents got me each season on DVD over the course of many birthdays and Christmases. As Star Trek was for many nerds of the previous generation, Stargate was for me.

I knew that Stargate Universe was happening during my final two years of High School, but my family doesn't have cable so I couldn't catch it. I had also heard that a lot of Stargate fans disliked the series, so I wasn't in a huge rush to see it.

I finally started watching SGU with another Stargate fan last spring, and initially we had a good time making fun of the series. I think that most Stargate fans dislike SGU because it is very different stylistically from either of the other shows; the colors are very saturated, there is a lot of film grain, just a hint of shaky-cam, the show focuses more on the interpersonal issues of the crew than the big save-the-world moments, and honestly there were very few characters that I liked at the beginning. I was reminded of the episode 200 from SG-1 where they make fun of shows just like SGU. Seriously, they have "younger, edgier characters" and they "just throw the title up and get on with it."

Despite all of that, by the end of the second and final season, I had really grown attached to the characters. I can't really point to where it turned around for me, but I remember really liking the season finale for season one because it was so personal. There was also a three-episode arc towards the end of season two where they explored the what-if scenario of these characters living out the rest of their lives together much like the final episode of SG-1, but I liked this one a lot more. It was clear that they had known that the show was ending when they wrote the final episode of Universe, because they ended it in such a way that they could justify either bringing the show back in a few years or never touching it again.

My favorite thing about the show, and the thing that differentiates it from pretty much every other show that I have seen, was their willingness to kill off characters. Sure, they have their core cast of about seven that clearly weren't going anywhere, but many secondary characters kicked it throughout the series, and I really cared about some of them. It really drove home the idea that these characters were the wrong people for the mission, something that was frequently said during season one.

I really want them to bring this show back. I'd even pay money to see it.