I’ve often mentioned how eclectic my video game tastes are, how I’ll pretty much play anything as long as the characters and storyline are interesting and manage to grab me. But I have to admit that of all games I play, it’s horror games that I struggle with the most.
You see, there are horror games that depend on cheap tactics to frighten you, and then there are those where you’re gazing behind you, not in the game but swivelling your chair, because the atmosphere gripped you so thoroughly you’re suddenly afraid the bad things will come get you at home. These are the titles or even sections that I can’t play for more than a few minutes at a time and saving as often as humanly possible.
It’s strange to me because despite the fear and the tension, I keep going, hungry to find the big reveal, the core of the story and its characters, or to at least find a payoff for the dread and the chill in my spine.
Looking back on the many games I’ve played, I wondered which video game scared me the most? Which game fell right under that category of “scaring the living crap out of me?” There are many games I’ve played in that Courage the Cowardly Dog way, and surprisingly some of the scariest moments in gaming for me have been in otherwise non-horror games, just having sequences that scared the living daylights out of me. Continue reading The Bejeezus Files – Games and Moments that Scared me Silly!
The great machines left earth, leaving the poorer and weaker robots behind, defenceless against the Great Beast, a pulsating mass of flesh of planetary proportions. Now you must fight, as A Robot Named Fight. Continue reading Review: A Robot named Fight
A few hours delayed but I had to sort my ideas about this year’s E3 and catch a few more videos, demos and other bits of news. Then I had to make up my mind on which I thought were the best and which ones I really didn’t care about, and boy there’s a lot I don’t give a damn about.
Starting with the now tired notion of “who won E3?” Which is rather pointless, to be honest.
Lately I’ve been playing a slew of games. I got a Playstation Vita on the cheap side to play Ys: Memories of Celceta and Ys Seven. I got a New Nintendo 3DS to replace my old one (it’s an American 3DS and I’m living in Europe and it has some battery issues) and I’ve started a Bravely Second playthrough. Then there’s Xenoblade Chronicles X, which I had to restart and have been playing on TheLawfulGeek Stream.
Metroid: Other M, on the Wii is by far the worst game released in this long-running series, critically panned and an absolute failure in every sense of the word. Even I wrote a scathing review for another site once upon a time, though you can’t find it anymore.
Some of you might not have played this entry and while I usually urge people to do so with any game, I’m not cruel enough to send you to Other M. I wouldn’t do that to my worst enemy, and I have some appalling stuff planned for them. It’s that bad.
So instead I’ll tell you just why it’s so bad, why it’s considered such a step down and back for the series and the worst possible sequel to both Super Metroid and the Metroid Prime Trilogy.
Annoying Game Mechanics are those that just make you groan when you see them in a game. You’ve seen them at their best but you’ve also seen them at their worst. You can’t love them but you can’t hate them either, but you can definitely be annoyed!
This week the mechanic I’m having an issue with is Timed Sequences! I’m pulling this one from the 1001Up.com archives, as this was the last AGM to be featured on the site, and it was a video! Thankfully, there are no records of it ever existing and the world is a happier place for it. You don’t need me mumbling on video with poor audio. You already have me mumbling on video with good audio!
Sometimes games need to add a bit more pressure to your current task. Maybe they want you to hurry the hell up before the nuclear reactor blows up, or maybe they want you to hold on to dear life and withstand something unfairly difficult for a little while before something else happens! These are Timed Sequences, events or segments in a game where you have a finite time window to complete a task. Unlike other Annoying Game Mechanics, there are two types of Timed Sequences:
Timed Tasks, as their name imply mean you have a set time to go about your business. Maybe it’s escaping a room before a bomb blows up, or escape a crime-scene before the police arrive, or lock your doors before someone comes barging in. These timed sequences add tension to a sequence. The gameplay remains the same as do all the rules, but now you have that timer pressuring you.
Survival Countdown sequences are not specific tasks, not simple objectives to follow. Instead your only goal is to survive or hold on until the time runs out or some other even triggers. Real Time Strategy games are fond of this one, of giving you a five minute window until victory triggers with the difficulty ramping up the more time passes. While the previous mean to increase tension, these are frantic and meant to test your composure and reaction time.
If done properly these sequences do exactly what they’re meant to do, they add tension and make for exciting gameplay. They make you nervous enough to make mistakes as you fumble with the controls, but lenient enough that you can commit errors and still make it through. The successful ones add an incomparable adrenaline rush to your game and in doing so enhance the player’s immersion.
If they screw up, on the other hand, the only thing they’ll cause is stress and frustration, becoming tall walls the players need to overcome to move along with the rest of the game. They kill the fun and immersion they tried to enhance and make sure the player doesn’t have fond memories of the game.
The staple of an annoying mechanic is that it’s seen both good and bad days. The following are some of the best and most disappointing uses:
Every Metroid game has at least one timed sequence, usually in the form of an escape. From leaving the self-destructing planet at the end of Metroid 1 and Super Metroid to the reactor core meltdown in Metroid Fusion. These sequences are exciting and tense but you have enough leeway to royally screw up and still make it out in time.
Warcraft III has a few of these. The most memorable one is the last mission in the Undead Campaign, where you summon the Burning Legion to Azeroth. The enemies become ever stronger and the units come out faster and it’s a frantic race to keep your defenses up until the time is done. Thankfully your new masters send you aid in the form of demonic units to help vanquish your enemies and give you some breathing space!
Guild of Dungeoneering has an interesting take on the timed tasks. Some dungeons will feature a “sleeping” monster. The creature will come after you in a number of turns and you have to do your best to gear and level up before it does. The best part about it is that if you manage to reach it before it wakes up, it will take a hit to its stats, making the fight considerably easier.
Resident Evil games also have a tendency for self-destruct escapes. Resident Evil 2 is the most memorable of them in my opinion by having a boss fight right in the middle of it. It would be stressful if not for two reasons. First, the timer is generous enough. Second, by the time you get to the boss you’ll have a massive arsenal with which to take the boss out with time to spare. So it works as a wonderfully tense situation.
One of the most memorable stages in StarCraft is the mission where you must hold on until evacuation comes by resisting attacks by the Protoss and Zerg. This is the mission where Kerrigan falls. It was wonderfully paced and by the end you hate to leave her behind.
The Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth has a wonderful starting timed sequence. You have to jump out of bed and block out the entrances to your room before the villagers can come after you. From then it escalates into a chase sequence where each locked door adds a bit of time for a breather. If you’re playing on the PC version—in which the main character moves at 1/6 of the normal speed—this extra time is vital!
Final Fantasy VIII has a fantastic timed sequence. While fighting Seifer on the Lunatic Pandora, Odin will appear and attempt to kill him only to die in the process. You then see Odin’s sword flying through the sky and a mysterious hand grabbing it as it parts the clouds. If you then stretch the battle on, eventually Gilgamesh will show up, kill Seifer and take Odin’s place as your new summon. It’s entirely optional but very rewarding!
Dracula 2 added these to the game, but they are outstandingly frustrating. With the poor resolution on its static backgrounds, finding the latch to close the door or the mirrors to move to kill a vampire is a bit of frustrating pixel hunting that will annoy you to no end.
Batman: Arkham Knight added VR challenges for the Batmobile, where you race from one end to another or have a limited time to do something with the clunky tank. By that last sentence you should know why this is a bad one. The Batmobile has worthless maneuverability, making each turn take so much time that completing the challenges becomes painful. It doesn’t help that time boosters are so out of the way that it’s pointless to get them.
Guild of Dungeoneering makes the list again but this time with its monster chase quests. In these the monster is coming after you and will get to you in a matter of turns. With the way the AI works for determining its next move, these quests can be very frustrating when your character walks straight into the monster’s path.
Various JRPG, including Xenoblade Chronicles, have unbeatable boss fights where you just have to hold on for a certain number of turns until something else happens. These sequences feel cheap and are insanely punishing and barely beatable. Worse still, if for some reason you out-level the content, then it feels as though you lose by plot even if you manage to defeat the monster.
Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness has a few of these. The first one is at an old lady’s house, where you must escape before the police get there, but not before you find a journal. The only problem is that the journal is nowhere in sight. So you look around and of course, it’s in the kitchen? What? The time you have to do this is very tight and the ridiculous location for the item just adds to the confusion.
Later on you need to escape from a room where someone set a bomb, but even the smallest of missteps will make the thing go boom.
Time to spare, especially with a rocket launcher! (Image Credit: Game Informer)
If the Batmobile handled as you’d expect, this wouldn’t be so bad! (Image Credit: VGFaq)
The wait is well worth it! (Image Credit: IGN)
Make sure you check the kitchen…because that’s where you hide secret journals! (Image Credit: Tomb Bugs)
The bosses move too fast and your AI can go the wrong way!
Yeah, that’s pretty much how you do it, stacking Ziggurats! (Image Credit: Green Leaf – YouTube)
Lock and bolt that door, you have no time to lose! (Image Credit: Pagb66 – YouTube)
There’s a very common phrase I never thought I’d use before now: Back in the day. But here I am, just about to do it.
Back in the days of the NES, games were hard, so much so that at some point, someone coined a phrase to describe the NES and its games, “Nintendo Hard”. Games left you weeping and throwing controllers at the TV, just not by accident as it has happened with the Wii Remote, but out of pure rage at, for example, dying for the seventh time in a row, to those unfair birds on Ninja Gaiden.
NES games are among the hardest games ever created, simple to play but extremely hard to master and even complete. Games on the NES were unabashedly hard, sometimes feeling unfair but they never were; they just demanded attention to detail and constant if not complete dedication. They were harsh, but fair, and the sense of achievement when you managed to make it one level further, if not only a screen, was amazing. In a much more simple era, where technology was extremely limited and 8-bit was the most you could expect from the console in both graphics and sound, it was gameplay and challenge that drew people in and made these games into the classics they are now.
Nothing better describes the Nintendo Hard paradigm, also called Old School by those of us gaming for more than 30 years, than a few examples from that generation.
Take Ninja Gaiden, a series of games that before being released in glorious HD were just 8-bit platformers with one of the highest difficulty curves ever created, and with one of the most frustrating enemies ever conceived: birds. Hawks in the original Ninja Gaiden were infamous for their last second player killing swoops, often causing you to lose not only a life, but also a bit of your sanity. Climbing walls was easy, but once on the edge, the climb up could get messy and yet a bit more of your sanity went out the window. But despite all of this and the harsh boss battles, Ninja Gaiden was never unfair, and if it crossed the line, it paid you back with the very powerful powers at your disposal.
For another example, and close to heart to the Big N, you had Metroid, the first in a now long running series starring bounty hunter Samus Aran. Over the course of the game, you’d acquire plenty of upgrades to improve your chances of survival against not only the bosses but the entire world, which as is often the case in Metroid, everything on it wanted you dead. From the planet’s native inhabitants, to the environment itself (from acid pools to lava to spikes), everything in Metroid was designed to kill you. But you were never at a clear disadvantage and there was always a way out, even if it meant going backwards, as the game’s freedom of exploration gave you that choice.
Finally, there’s Super Mario Bros. the greatest of all NES classics, and while we all have fond memories of it and remember it joyfully; at the time, and even today, it’s a pretty hard game. If you don’t remember SMB as a hard game, then you probably used the warp on Level 1-2 and didn’t go through the entire game. Levels got increasingly complicated and dangerous, castles were painful and lethal and made the “The Princess is in another Castle” message that much more frustrating. Nowadays you can catch hundreds of speedrunning videos that make it look very easy, but once you are in control of that Italian Plumber, things became hectic, unpredictable and nerve-wracking really quick. But just like the previous examples, you had plenty going for you, from powerups to clear the way for you, to multiple lives and even the ability to get more of them. Super Mario Bros. was harsh at times, and often you paid the price of carelessness with one life, but you always had more to make up for the mistake, and by stacking the powerups (Mushroom, Fire Flower & Star), you had a greater margin of error.
These days, the focus seems to has moved away from the simple, yet elegant and challenging gameplay in favour of majestic visuals and inspiring music, and with greater focus on the cinematic, getting close to the line separating games and film, or in case of David Cage games, jumping it completely (and losing almost all gameplay in the process).
Yet there are exceptions, and the most notable among them is From Software’s Soul series, in which death is not only a constant companion and more than often an absolute certainty but is also an actual in-game mechanic, teaching the players how to progress through the games through trial, error, repetition and perfection, just as it was in the old days, and just as it was in those NES classics I mentioned, mastery is achieved after hours of play. What is your reward? You get to move to another area where you’ll go through the same again, or maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll have finally figured out when to take a risk and when to play safe and won’t die again.
There have been two games in the Souls series, Demons’ Souls and Dark Souls, and while both use the same overall mechanics, it’s Dark Souls that comes the closest to the Nintendo Hard, The Old School paradigm of the NES era, and mostly for a simple reason: fairness; but not only that, their focus on delivering challenging yet rewarding gameplay, and not just focus on the visuals and music and the cinematic experience also falls under the paradigm. As series creator Hidetaka Miyazaki said (according to Dark Souls 2 actor and series fan Peter Serafinowicz in a recent Developer Diary): “Films should stop being more like games and games should stop being more like films. They should both try to be more like themselves.” It is clear how much these two simple sentences influenced the series design, with their minimalist approach to storytelling and narration (minimalist, yes, but in no way shallow, just up to the player to fully explore) and strong focus on delivering satisfying gameplay.
Dark Souls fits snuggly inside the paradigm, with its tough but fair approach. Everything that works against you in Dark Souls works against everyone else, from monsters and other players to even bosses. The Hellkite Drake’s fiery breath will inflict its massive damage on players and enemies alike, sometimes working in your favour and sometimes against it. Enemies, and bosses, falling off ledges into the abyss will die. They can be poisoned as much as you can, and even toxins work. When you use a bonfire to rest, they all respawn, because if you can restore yourself, why shouldn’t they? Blocking and parrying work all around and your handy healing Estus Flask aren’t yours alone. They also have stamina just like you and their attacks and blocks and maneuvers drain it as much as it does yours.
Dark Souls is never unfair (except on that one unavoidable and unwinnable Seath The Scaleless fight), and once it has successfully and thoroughly hammered its important lessons into your head, you’ll find yourself breezing through previously nightmarish areas (though some, like Blighttown remain a thorn in your side), taking bigger risks more confidently and finding the overall difficulty lower than what you’d previously thought. The game teaches you how to play it, being tough but fair, and like any lesson, there’s a fantastic feeling of accomplishment once you successfully learn it and pass the tests. From personal experience, defeating Ornstein and Smough gave me an amazing, yet fleeting, sense of accomplishment akin to having actually done something in real life.
On subject of fairness, Demon’s Souls falls slightly outside the fence. While the overall gameplay mechanics are the same as Dark Souls, Demon’s Souls had one in particular that made it very unfair: when you die, you lose half your maximum health until you “restore” yourself; which you did by killing a Boss. Combine that with World Tendency (each world has it and it determines how the world behaves, including events and enemy strength), and the fact that multiple deaths can make it Pure Black, in which enemies are boosted to very harsh levels (though the give greater rewards), and the already difficult game becomes a nightmare.
With Dark Souls 2 recently released (and a month for the PC version), and its step towards Demon’s Souls’ HP loss on death, it’ll be interesting to see if the game ends up conforming to the Old School paradigm of tough but fair, and focused on delivering what its predecessors already have, a pure gaming experience with a focus on challenging gameplay.
Silent heroes are a video game staple, from the days when there wasn’t really much of a choice to the modern days where their use is deliberate. Some silent heroes make sense while others don’t, and I’ll go through a few of them in this piece, as well as explain why the Silent Hero is such a good thing, why we need silent heroes in video games.
Silent Heroes such as Link, Gordon Freeman, Adol Christin and Crono from Chrono Trigger to mention a few have been used in the past to enhance the immersion of the player. Some characters aren’t completely mute; they react, like Link silently answering the question “What’s your name?” which makes him seem he’s telepathic or something. Same with Adol Christin from the Ys series, he never says anything, but when prompted, a text-box appears saying “Adol explained the situation and introduced himself” or something similar. You never get to see him actually saying things, but you know he’s saying them. In fact, Link could use that as well, give at least some indication the guy’s talking. Some others, like Crono, Freeman and the Marine from Doom, never say a single word and if they do (within the game world), you’re never given any indication it actually happens.