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Conflict is key to a good story. That’s something I kept in mind as I played through Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2 again. Because this time I wasn’t playing as a Player, I was merely seeking to enjoy some futuristic role-play or even as a Character, an idealized version of myself tasked with saving the galaxy. This time, I played as a Writer. It seemed as easy task at first since, as a fan of the franchise, I knew what choices get carried through to the sequel and what actions have what consequences. Over the course of the game, I purposely let bad things happen because that would lead to more conflict, which makes for a more interesting story. But gaming is a process of collaborative storytelling, and as I tried to write conflict into the story, I ran into conflict with my writing partner, Bioware.

Solar 2 is easy to compare to Flow, the PSN game from thatgamecompany because on the surface they look very much alike: You play as an object that flies around a 2D space trying to grow bigger. But this surface comparison ignores the more nuanced mechanics of Solar 2. This is a game that is just as much about creation as it is destruction. The endgame may be a black hole that consumes the entire universe, but to get to that point, you must build and nurture multiple solar systems full of life.

Nier is not a good game. It tries to be too many different types of games at once, but that’s also what makes it so incessantly interesting. It’s clearly an experimental game and wears that label like a badge of honor. Based on its core mechanics you might describe it as an “action RPG,” but its role-playing elements are so poorly thought out that it’s obvious the developers were bored of RPGs and just wanted to get to the bizarre shoot-‘em-up-puzzle-survival-horror-text-adventuring. Sadly, for as interesting as this genre-bending is, it doesn’t add anything to the overall experience. Save for a couple examples, Nier is just being weird for the sake of weird.

This post contains minor spoilers for Alice: Madness Returns

Alice: Madness Returns is not a technically impressive game. The landscape is blocky, filled with sharp edges and screen tearing. Textures don’t load properly, turning what should be a stylized rock into a brown/grey blob. Amongst all this poor quality, Alice herself shines. Her dress is always detailed, its every stitch and fold noticeable, and it flutters with every gust of virtual wind. But it’s her hair that stands out most. It looks like every strand is modeled separately, and based on how realistically it moves, one might assume that every available programmer was working on hair physics, ensuring that every strand would fall over her shoulder rather than through it. Their attention to detail is commendable; in a level that takes place underwater, Alice’s hair floats around when you stop moving.

However, what’s most interesting about Alice’s hair tech is how much it supports the gameplay and character development in this title.

Open world games have a certain flow of combat to them. We can’t just hide behind cover since the enemy can always circle around behind us. Instead, players must always be aware of their surroundings. But we can’t just “push ahead” to the end of the level either because there is no end of the level. Open world combat is defined by movement: moving around enemies, moving between obstacles, always making sure to keep something between you and the bad guys. Despite all the space in any open world, combat plays out in smaller arenas defined by the location of enemies; the arena is only as big as the farthest enemy. Red Faction: Armageddon mimics this combat structure of an open world game in an attempt to make up for its lack of a real open world, but in doing so, it misses the real reason why open world combat can be so fun.

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