Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Crawl Review

Hurry up and Die
  From the moment I started the first round of Crawl I could tell something was going to be different. The controller (PS4) roaring the name of the monster I chose was enough to capture my attention and whet my appetite for exciting, well crafted world of constant dying and futile survival that I was about to jump into.

Crawl is a multiplayer game that carries up to four players into the depths of a dungeon in the hope that you will get out alive. From the start, you can add as many human players as you like up to the four player limit. If you want to go alone, AI will fill in the gaps that you want filled. Difficulty is adjustable for the NPC although it was not something I found myself using much, as the game was challenging enough on 'normal'.

As you get started, there is never a minute to slow down. The goal is for you, a human, to go through the dungeon, find the horrifying evil monster and kill it. However, you only get to be the hero as long as you are alive; being killed by other players (who are in the form of ghosts) will let them become human, while you then try to kill them and take their humanity. From the get go, it is an interesting switch of perspectives, as humans must run and dodge attacks, while the foes land as many as they can in hopes their blow will be fatal. Because I opted to play with more characters (be it the computer or friends) my hero would often be fighting multiple foes at once with a variety of attacks. It is exciting to begin to learn what each move set looks like and how to out-maneuver and eventually dispatch your opponents.  

When it came to killing the computer, my minor grievance was that they are incredibly fast at everything. They can clear through shops and identify chests or usable things in the environment faster than any people I played with. This means as a ghost, you are unable to reach full potential when the human is controlled by the computer; a small grievance, but it makes battles I engaged in as a ghost less exciting because I could never build up and summon the army of smiles I could when my friends were human.

Another tricky situation the game finds itself in by separating ghost vs. human is that when someone who has been predominately ghost does become human, they may not have the right skills or practice to survive long at all, especially in later levels. This case happens to be the one my friend and fellow gamer found themselves in. They became human but found it frustrating, as they had been a ghost since the start of the round and were now playing catch-up in order to have even remotely usable supplies against powerful monsters. In this frustration, the player wondered why they couldn't just win the game somehow as a ghost, as they found it more fun to just kill people.

Rewards for winning each round are given at the end, even if the monster is killed, meaning no round feels like a waste of time and every match made me wonder what I would be seeing at the end of the road. It is a great system, that would be fun to see upgraded in the future, possible with more monster units or different hero looks. Everything in this game is a great foundation for chaotic dungeon crawling, so building on what is a solid foundation seems natural.

In the end, the game is fast paced and exciting. I won rounds and ended some in draws, but never lost and, more importantly, never felt like I was losing because there are so many moments to succeed. Can't kill the hero as a ghost with slime? Throw a spike trap. Unable to stop a human before a boss battle? You get to control the boss(!). The game makes it hard to crawl out of the dungeon, but along the way, makes every inch you gain challenging and enjoyable.


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Friday, February 24, 2017

Silence is Deadly

Silence is Deadly

  As I play through Uncharted 4, I keep asking myself the same question; "Why am I sneaking up on enemies?" it makes sense, to be stealthy, within the context of a game, but why does a game that is more focused on being Indiana Jones find itself being full of stealth? For a moment, let us reflect on why there is stealth in games and why there maybe shouldn't be.

  In the Uncharted series, the control of Nathan Drake is handed to the player, as they criss-cross the world in search of ancient artifacts, lost cities and mysterious tales of splendor and riches. The game at it's core is a 3rd person, cover-based shooter with excellent action pieces that are second to none. However, in playing through the first three games, I was often left with the awkward sensation of questioning stealth gameplay. As you enter what are essentially shooting arenas, players are given the option to try and remove foes with stealth, first. However, the mechanics of the first three games feel underdeveloped, with Drake moving too fast and noisily to be swift, and, when moving slow, being out of cover too long, allowing foes to spot you and begin the firefight. On the other hand, Uncharted 4 does tighten up the stealth mechanic, allowing faster movement while still undetected, meaning faster elimination of foes before the heat of battle begins. The question that continued to ring in my head was one of 'why?'. Why, when I play a game that does action, relationships, graphics and character models, music and dialogue so well, an entire series that is dripping with fantastic moments in every piece, why do I need the inclusion of 'stealth?' in short, I don't.

  The problem, as I see it, is blending too many mechanics. Character choice is something that is becoming needed in games, simply to be considered par. Allowing the player to feel as though they could change up the pace of action is not something that a game should require, but rather, creators have worked themselves into a corner of needing. I say this, not to speak out against any one game, and more games than Uncharted suffer, but the suffering is not limited to stealth; games take on RPG elements when needed, simply to give players a sense of progression, games require online achievements, when, in reality, the world is not totally online (looking at you, Mortal Kombat 9) 

  In the end, it can leave gamers feeling as though they are playing wrong or somehow incorrectly, when a game has elements that maybe should not have been there in the first place. I found myself wondering why Drake and I couldn't sneak, and it was simply because that playstyle was not refined to the level I needed it to be to fit into how I play Uncharted. The same problem arises when I play Metal Gear Solid 5; The Phantom Pain. Action sequences or large-scale gun fights often result in Snake suffering, simply because that is not the piece of the game I even consider playing, when I dive into Metal Gear. Does that mean the error is on me, the gamer, for not playing the game well enough in both sides? Am I possibly less devoted than I should be, if I'm unable to shift my playstyle minute to minute? Perhaps. In Metal Gear TPP, gameplay can be done over and over, allowing missions to go any which way, I would stand by my argument, however, that the stealth is still an awkward weak point in Uncharted; it is introduced in every game, then thrown away simply because it isn't useful.


  Games crossing over and sharing pieces is something that lets us see them for the art they are. A game that may have outstanding platforming but lack in combat may be improved upon by a different game altogether, a seed can be planted by anyone at any time, with its effects not being seen for years to come. It is important, whether reviewing or building a game, that we look at all of the pieces. As a builder, maybe it is more important that some sit to the side, as a reviewer, we must be aware that if something does not fit or fits uncomfortably, we can see it and hope it finds where it belongs.

-Matthew Squaire

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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Press Start to Continue

A Breathe of Fresh Air

 The above line, five words, was all I could think as my conversation with the host of Press Start to Continue ended. Aside from a great conversation, insightful ways of thinking and pushing artists that they found interesting, the conversation was fantastic because it ended on what was a great closing thought. I am incredibly pleased with my conversation, and hope you all enjoy listening as much as I did.


Friday, February 10, 2017

Thomas Szakolczay Interview


  Waking up Friday morning is my favorite feeling. Earlier in the week I had a chance to chat with Thomas Szakolczay, from Infinity Ward. However, due to the podcast coming out every Friday, I had to sit on the feeling that something I had was special, yet unsharable.

  Below, my interview with Thomas, where we cover art, his life, one time he made something to viral on  the internet and what working on a Call of Duty game looks like, from an artist perspective.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Chris Avellone (Prey, Star Wars KoToR 2, Fallout NV)

   The next question.

  In talking to Chris, that was a thought that plagued my mind. In covering each question, his answers were so genuinely interesting that my mind kept reeling back to "Oh my gosh, what will the next question bring out?" Much like opening a gift and the pleasant surprise leading to the excitement of opening more gifts.

Chris was that gift.

I sincerely hope this peek into his (silent) writing process is able to help someone, either a writer or would-be game creator. Make something, your future audience is already waiting.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Ken Levine

Energy and Experience

  I think the chance to chat with Ken Levine, which, was incredibly relaxing, even though his work is incredibly off-putting at times due to its engrossing atmospheres. I cannot exhaust this entire post by running down the ability Levine has to use his mind to create worlds. His work has won him lifetime achievement awards, even as he continues to work on new projects. Inspiration and cold, hard reality meet incredibly well in one human and I am incredibly thankful to have had the chance to speak about anything that crossed our minds.

As always, if you have someone you would like featured on the podcast, reach out to me.

Follow me @mattaghetti on Twitter!

Friday, January 20, 2017

Tyler Sigman Interview

Stress Relief

  It's funny, to me, getting Tyler on the podcast as the first posted interview. It was nerve-breaking, it was stressful and most importantly, it was a fantastic time. 

Why is it funny? Because stress is something he is completely comfortable with, his game, Darkest Dungeon, climbs into the depths of a dungeon and makes the player look inside to see how much greed they will allow to pulse through the veins of their party. Is it loot you seek, and, if so, how close to death will you come to get it?

The outstanding, Tyler Sigman, friends.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Changing The Pace!

Below I will be including a podcast!
 *intense music*

  But, why? 

  Simply, I have a lot of things to say. As I have continued to read and write about the world of video games, something has become increasingly clear, to me; we are not doing something right. I bold that because it is the foundation that my change is based upon. Esports are up and coming, leading to an era where gamers may be seen as athletes, using their minds to outwit, instead of their bodies alone. Why, then, are video games and gamers seen in a negative light? Why do the ones of us who are loud, belligerent and care about little other than games, have the most spotlight? In my mind, we need to change and prepare before changes whisks us off to new places.

  What change? We need to recognize the best. We need to kindle the up-and-coming. We need coverage that is as intelligent and cunning as we know we can be. I am, by no means, saying that I have or know who or what this is, but I hope that I, in searching some people or peoples to lead, can help others to not simply follow the trend. Basement-dwelling is not something we, as an industry do, so, why then is it tied to us? Simply, I believe it is because we do not fight to throw that concept.

   So, below I include my first shot at looking at the upcoming change and, hopefully, voicing the change the industry needs to see.


Monday, January 2, 2017

Dishonored 2 Review

Revenge Still Solves Everything

  When Dishonored came onto the scene in 2012, it breathed a breath of fresh air into world-building in games. The game allowed players to move through the world in a way that was not seen in games before it on such an excellent level. Different levels were designed in very subtle ways, with the main quests being easy enough to complete and focused, and side quests and upgrades being harder to find. Backstory to the world is hidden in books and the player, choosing to focus on the objective, can breeze by or, without any penalty, slow down and dive into all of the small nuances to the world. This balance is what made the game such a delight and this balance is in full form as Dishonored 2 delivers its outstanding performance.

   It is hard, to give a solid review to the game. On one hand, this game is outstanding. Moments are mine and mine alone. I watched as a guard who discovered me fell to their death without me doing anything, because they were near an edge. I remember taking Clockwork soldiers out after figuring out that spring razors would harm them in a deadly way. I planted stun mines for Witches and hid as they tried to chase me and, one after the next, fell to their deep sleep, and I loved every experience. But the review for this game is tricky, because those are my moments. The game, in setting up player moments, is outstanding. Each mission allows the player to use supernatural powers or pure stealth to sneak through levels. It allows excellent combat from foes who try to flank, and it allows bold, bloody assassinations if the player so chooses to walk that path. Because of the excellent form of the open endedness of this game, the review may not be the same feeling that other players come across while playing, but that is perfectly okay.

   In my play, I chose a low-chaos style with Emily, after all, it is my kingdom and I must put it back together, and doing so in peace seems needed. I was slow and methodical in my approach, as well, choosing to pick up each and every bonecharm and rune as I went. Through the game, I had levels where I ghosted (completely undetected) as well as ones I was detected 80-plus times, all the while, trying to keep the body count as low as possible. In the end, this was my style, because Dishonored, to me, is about stealthy, body hiding ways of not killing your foes. 

  This game, however, finds its footing in the completely inspired level design. As I started, the world of Dishonored welcomed me back, with the same style of art and the same character voices of the land that made it so gross and welcoming in my last outing. Dunwall has been replaced with Karnaca, which, feels more open, more vertical and more alive. In Dunwall, everyone was inside because of the plague, but in Karnaca, you can climb into the buildings that house the bloodflies and the dead bodies, observing the people and their last moments as they fight the leeches that are stealing their life. This world, one that is slowly dying, is the perfect setting for a great outing where our heroes fight through the elements that are slowly getting worse, in the hope to make things better.

  On the last note, that should be found in any conversation of the game, the levels are outstanding. Past setting alone, the design of the levels is near perfection. I will never forget as I was becoming proficient with my super powers, I moved stealthily along, towards my target. I arrived at his house and, as I entered, I was given the true treat of unfolding the Clockwork mansion. The Clockwork mansion, while being one of the best, most visually and mentally engaging levels in video game history, possibly ever, was so profoundly outstanding, that I invited friends to watch rooms change simply because it was excellent. Further, it was the first part of the later piece of the game, which, aside from the mansion itself, included other missions that continue to bend time and space, while feeling somewhat reminiscent of Raven's 2010 Singularity. 

   I intend these reviews to be something of a conversation, a recommendation from a friend with a bit more insight into the game, rather than fully breaking down every aspect of the piece. 

  In this though, it must be noted, the difference from the royalty and the rest of the world never feels fixed. There is a lot of emphasis through the story, especially at the end, that people cannot be royality simply because they are. Leaders are just people who have been chosen to lead, not leading for leadings sake. However, the game never explains Emily or Corvo's association with this lesson. The duo (whoever you play) takes down a whole group of unsavory characters who are all incredibly dangerous, but why? Because they kill for what they want? Because they believe they are above the law, though magic and their given titles? That thought, is no different than the player character, who is doing the same thing as they move through the ranks to undermine 'evil' powers. The conversation of what good leadership is seems lost, especially if the player does choose to embrace higher chaos. 
  Magic, is another piece that feels a bit disconnected. The game world, as it is still being established (the series is not even five years old) and magic does not seem to have any sort of checked place. Magic can trap souls, as we have learned in this outing. Magic is given from some other force, to The Outsider, but we do not get to know much about that, leaving more unsure footing for the magic to be built on. Why does Emily have the ability to Shadow Walk, but Corvo cannot? Magic. A bit more explanation, in a world that is so fleshed out in lore and history, otherwise, would have put a number of thoughts and questions to rest.

  I do not talk about what games could be, I talk about what they are, and, in Dishonored 2, we have a game that the player must choose for themselves how it should be formed. The player's ability to think on their feet, know what they want to do and follow through makes or breaks this game, for every player.


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