Just how good is “Left Behind”?
So many games are geared towards guys that it’s understandable that many girls and women might have trouble finding games they can relate to. In a recent article in Wired, Laura Hudson explains why “Left Behind” is the videogame that finally made her feel like a human being.
Although women make up nearly half of all gamers, only a fraction of videogame characters are female, and fewer still are playable. Maybe that’s why I felt so shocked when I played Left Behind, the newest chapter of the award-winning survival game The Last of Us.
“I don’t understand how this is even happening,” I said over and over again.
I was playing as Ellie, a 14-year-old girl who must venture out alone into a post-apocalyptic world of monsters and murderers armed with nothing but a pocket knife, desperately trying to find medicine for her badly injured friend Joel. But if battling mercenaries and zombies as a teenage girl weren’t interesting enough, the half of the game with no combat at all is more compelling. After flashing back in time, you spend your time walking around a mall with your best friend Riley, talking, playing games and trying to repair your friendship after a falling out.
It’s difficult enough to find a game where a woman is the main character. Finding one where you play as a woman and have positive, meaningful interactions with other women? It’s like spotting a goddamn unicorn.
I’ve spent my entire life playing videogames, and Left Behind is the most emotionally powerful experience I’ve ever had in the medium – and not just because it let me play as a girl. After all, I’ve played as girls before. In a real way, in my real life, I’ve been playing as a girl all this time.
Read the rest of her article for some great insight on a female’s perspective. This can be a great resource for anyone developing games with female characters.
If Gaming is To Evolve In The Next Generation, It’s Time to Start Ditching the Cinema
Not getting my Playstation in time for the “Final Fantasy VII” craze, my first experience with the series was “Final Fantasy VIII.” While I could make the argument that I got the better game of the deal, that is a topic of heated debate best saved for another day.
Instead the point in mentioning my first exposure to a “Final Fantasy” on Playstation is to reference that moment we all experienced when playing that series for the first time on that platform when you first saw one of the games cinematics. Though I’m not an expert on human behavior by any means, I still feel fairly confident in suggesting that the majority of people’s immediate reaction to viewing one of those beauties was to pick their jaw up off the floor so they were able to better articulate to anyone that would listen how it was “Just like a movie,” and to wonder “When all video games will look that good.”
Now “FF:VIII” may have been my personal exposure to the wonders of the video game cinema, but it would be far from the last. In fact, you could argue that the PS1 was the heyday of the video game cinema, as console developers began to realize the incredible (at the time) graphical potential in these scripted sequences, and just how much they could add to the basic video game story which previously was viewed by even the most intense fans of the medium as a sort of inevitable handicap thats few exceptions of excellence were best treated as anomalies.
Simply put, cinemas on the Playstation were nearly universally thrilling exhibitions that showcased levels of potential out of gaming that may have been dreamed of, but never really considered in earnest as a viable progression.
However, the Playstation came out in 1994 and hasn’t really been actively developed for in about 12-13 years. Cinemas though, in a format that strongly resembles that which they debuted under, remain.
“But,” you say, sensing where I’m going from both context clues and the headline, “cinemas have improved greatly since then, and exercise a level of quality that makes those PS1 examples look archaic and pathetic.
On that point, I don’t disagree. There is a film like quality in the modern cinematic that even during the mind expanding origins of the PS1 cinemas I wouldn’t have been able to properly envision. What’s more is, cinemas of that quality are so prolific now that they’ve reached a point where their construction and implementation can, from a user stand point, be viewed as effortless.
The ability for a modern game to use cinemas in order to make their stories more in line with the presentation style of films may have reached their awe inspiring peak in the days of the Playstation, but in terms of overall quality you can’t argue that every subsequent year makes them better and better.
However, I hate them. Hate them, hate them, hate them. Hate them nearly every time I see them, and have had the experience of several otherwise great ,or at least enjoyable, titles ruined almost entirely by their presence.
To understand the problem with the modern cinema, you really have to look back at why they came to be in the first place. They existed to invoke the aforementioned reactions of “Wow this looks like a movie” and “When will games look this good?” and gave gaming a needed crutch to improve the outward appeal of its storytelling.
However, gaming no longer needs that crutch and is becoming weaker and weaker by relying on it. The idea of a video game being able to mimic a film may have once been a fantastic notion, but can now be accomplished by nearly any reasonable budget.
As such, that same idea is now insulting. While there may have been a time when films were the only known effective way to tell a visual story, that time is no more. To suggest that is the case is to ignore the tremendous strides that certain ambitious developers have made in the field when it comes to finding a way to present a story that is uniquely told by the abilities of video games.
Yet again and again, game developers from all walks of life see no problem in creating a tightly scripted, high graphical sequence that allows you to do absolutely nothing but put the controller down and watch. When you consider that the one universally defining characteristic of video games is interactivity, putting the player in a position where they are either entirely unable to interact with the game, or mostly unable to do so, is crippling and converts the experience from game to digitally animated film instantaneously.
What’s more, the use of cinemas to such an insane degree have also spawned a number of other flaws in gaming. Among them, the most consistently annoying of which would have to be the rise of the QTE. These sequenced button presses are, on occasion, a well done way to add a level of interactivity to story segments, but for the most part are used as a sort of begrudging solution developers offer to anyone who may balk at why they aren’t able to actually play the game they purchased instead of just watch it for its presumed technological grandeur and “epic” story.
The game that really highlighted the gravity of this problem to me would have to be “The Last of Us.” While “The Last of Us,” has one of the greatest stories in gaming history, it is made nearly unbearable at times because of its reliance on traditional cinemas to tell the tale. The cinemas themselves may be better scripted and acted out than nearly all others out there, yet still manage to be groan worthy if for no other reason than they force you to stop playing the very game itself. A game that relies heavily on keeping you in the moment, and gains much effectiveness from its tense atmosphere which instantly dissipates the moment a cinema appears.
What’s even worse in that instance is that Naughty Dog exhibits, in the same game no less, the ability to effectively tell a story with nearly no reliance on cinemas. That’s evident both in the banter between Joel and Ellie during levels which does more to enhance both individual characters and their relationship than any cinematic in the game can possibly do, and in the opening moments of the game which show perhaps the most gut wrenching and effective moments of the entire experience and afford you at least some level of interactivity with consequence.
Now even as I type this, I feel a twinge of hypocrisy as I’m among the biggest supporters of Telltale and their “Walking Dead” series, which is more or less an experience made up entirely of cinemas and quick time events. However, the very key difference there is that the “Walking Dead” series openly presents itself as that type of experience. It is a point and click adventure game, which are traditionally expected to be lighter on gameplay, and high on scripted sequences. You know to expect that when you go into it, and the developers are able to put extra work and importance into them since they are the majority focus of the game.
Instead my real problem with the whole idea of the modern cinema, is its appearance in games that otherwise feature an extremely active pace. It’s in those games where I sign up for the action and gameplay, and are instead spoon fed cinema after cinema that, regardless of the overall quality of the individual examples, are with few exceptions nowhere near as thrilling, effective, or certainly enjoyable as the very game they are apart of and, ideally, are only in place to enhance.
There was a time when the cinematic was a useful, exciting tool that showcased the potential for gaming to reach new heights of storytelling excellence. That time has passed, and the entire reason the average pre-rendered scripted cinematic remains is based on nothing more than laziness and an unwillingness, or creative inability, to pursue a viable storytelling evolution that can recreate the feeling and effect of the first time we viewed an elaborate cinema in a game, without harming the game in the process.
Much like 2D gaming or other tropes of the medium once born out of technological necessity, there will always be a place for the video game cinematic, regardless of whether or not it is still universally desired. However developers everywhere, particularly those with budget to spare, need to really sit down and think when designing their next titles if the use of a cinema is actually enhancing the experience in a meaningful way, or is merely preventing the player from actually being able to play and only serving to help the graphic and storytelling teams flex their creative muscles without purpose like the design equivalent of a professional bodybuilder.
Do that, and I think that many of them will come to the same conclusion on cinemas that many gamers have been exercising for years, which is to just skip them all together.
Posted in: Reviews
Tags: best video game cinemas, end of video game cinemas, games, gaming blogs, I hate video game cinemas, no more video game cinemas, problems with the Last of Us, Video Game Blogs, video game cinemas, Video game news, Video Games
The Best Zombie Games of This Generation
In a gaming generation as long and influential as this last one, it’s hard to boil things down to just a series of buzzwords and hope to possibly encapsulate even a minuscule portion of it. That being said, bring up the the word “zombie” to a dedicated gamer of this gen, and you can sit back and just wait for the conversations and memories to start pouring in.
While video games weren’t the sole contributing factor to the zombie craze that took over the pop culture world, the sheer amount of zombie games that resulted from it certainly fueled the fad and helped propel it to levels of mainstream notoriety uncommon for such a topic. While many of the early zombie games were made to capitalize off of the growing popularity of the genre, as the years wore on some of the best experiences to be found in all of gaming were zombie based.
There’s just something about the idea that brought out the creative best of game designers everywhere, and as a result the prospect of trying to determine the best the zombie genre had to offer is daunting. As always, a number of high quality titles had to be cut to make this list, but that aside here are the best zombie games of this generation.
10. Killing Floor
Originally starting out as an ambitious “Unreal Tournament 2004” mod, by the time that “Killing Floor” got a retail release, many of the things that initially distinguished it would be copied (and admittedly improved upon) by other games.
However, there are still quite a few things this game does well that the flood of zombie games that followed couldn’t quite replicate, including an extremely well developed character and class based enhancement system. Even stripped of those unique elements though, “Killing Floor” is so mechanically sound and viscerally satisfying, that its place among the best zombie games of this generation is unquestioned based on no other merit than how purely enjoyable it is.
9. I MAED A GAM3 W1TH Z0MBIES 1N IT!!!1
For sanity’s sake, I’ll just be referring to this one as “GAM3.”
Like a few other titles on this list “GAM3” just embraces the kill em’ all element of the zombie genre. Unlike other games, however, it has a freaking sweet theme song named after the title of the game that quite honestly makes all of the difference. “GAM3” very much feels like a throwback to any number of top-down action PC games of old and, much like those old games, has the ability to suck away hours and hours of playtime off of 15 minute or less play sessions. It’s provides the kind of simple pleasure instant gratification game that needs to exist somewhere in the zombie genre, and is clearly having the time of its life doing it.
There’s a number of great indie games that fall under the “artistically beautiful” label, but I never thought that a zombie game would fit into that style. While “Deadlight” can at times feel like a greatest hits collection of the major indie games that preceded it, the end result is one of the most cinematic zombie games ever made.
The biggest draw of “Deadlight” is its silhouette art style, which not only initially turn heads its direction, but proves to have long term appeal as well once you realize just how the art style lends to a journey which feels epic and effortless in equal measure. Deadlight will only last you around five hours, but much like “Portal,” its value isn’t so much in the quantity of the experience, but rather in how it achieves everything it sets out to do in that time.
7. Dead Rising
One of the first games that really felt next-gen to many people, “Dead Rising” really kicked off the boom period of the zombie genre in gaming, and is really one of the first games to let us live out our zombie fantasies in a way that adheres to all their fallacies.
What I mean is, rather than burden you down with things like survival and morality, “Dead Rising” just throws you into a mass of zombies and lets you mow them down with ease using a variety of weapons, just like we always envision when picturing ourselves as a participant at the end of the world. It may be full of design flaws, but still provides one of the most purely enjoyable zombie game experiences out there.
6. Call of Duty Zombies
It may be popular to mock the “Call of Duty” franchise due to the insane levels of mainstream success it has achieved, but regardless of your views towards the series, you’ve still likely played and enjoyed the game’s zombie mode that started in “World at War.”
That’s because while the rest of the franchise may be getting more and more bogged down by its same old, same old releases and presumed grandeur, there is a humble pleasure in the zombie mode’s series of last stand levels that is immediately appealing regardless of your feelings towards the series. With the inaugural nazi zombie mode, “Call of Duty” may have found its gameplay calling, and is still worth purchasing the games for to this day.
5. Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare
There’s two kinds of DLC’s in this world. Those that feel like cheap money grabs, and those that actually provide a worthy follow up experience using the original game as a foundation. “Undead Nightmare” is possibly the greatest example of the later, and is also just pure heaven for fans of the Western and zombie genres.
Right from the game’s B Movie opening, it’s clear that Rockstar set out to have fun with the idea of a zombie western, and in that pursuit were simply triumphant. There’s always been elements of westerns in the average zombie film, so the way “Undead Nightmare” stylistically fully embraces the concept remains exciting through the entire playthrough, while the already near perfect mechanics of “Red Dead” carry the bulk of the game well. The concept is a stroke of brilliance, but it’s the execution of that idea that makes this so worthwhile.
4. State of Decay
When I first played “State of Decay,” I was expecting a dumbed down “Day Z.” While that holds true in a number of respects, it’s also a dangerous mentality to bring when looking at the game, as it makes it easy to miss so many of the things “Decay” does well.
“State of Decay” gives you a sandbox zombie environment and incorporates a number of strategy and survival elements that serve to enhance and prolong the more simple joy that comes with taking down zombie hordes. In order to fit everything in, many of those more advanced elements are watered down to a fundamental level, which could have been an issue, but it actually serves to enhance the overall flow of the game, as you are never overly burdened by them. The result is a game that makes a considerable effort toward incorporating all the things we associate with the typical zombie apocalypse, but in a way that never wears out its welcome, or deprives us of the essential fun factor.
3. The Walking Dead
Telltale as a company tends to be pretty hit or miss with many of their releases. It’s a track record that led to many being, rightfully, suspicious when they announced they would be adapting the beloved “Walking Dead” franchise into an episodic adventure series.
Thankfully “The Walking Dead” would not only find its way among the studios hits, but is by far their magnum opus. Unlike the show which, though quite good, can often get bogged down by set-piece moments and action scenes, “The Walking Dead” game wisely focused on the human interaction element, and the difficult choices and consequences that human element can often lead to. This puts it more in line with the spirit and plot of the comics, and is one of the greatest examples of storytelling in gaming. Aiming for, and achieving, so much more than we usually expect from a typical zombie game, “The Walking Dead” is an unrivaled emotional experience that just happens to take place in the zombie apocalypse.
The premise (combine the most tactically advance shooter on the market with the zombie genre) of “DayZ” basically guaranteed that it would never catch on with the mass gaming crowd. However. for those that are willing to invest hours and hours dying over and over, while they learn the considerable amount of lessons the game has to offer, this is perhaps the definitive realization of the zombie apocalypse, and all the gritty details that goes with it.
It’s a world where finding a can of beans is the highlight of your day, and the humans left alive are often more dangerous than any zombie. By moving the focus from shooting every zombie on Earth to just surviving and staying smart, “DayZ” stands alone amongst the shambling hordes of similar games, as something that can only be described as an apocalypse simulator. It’s not often that you get a truly unique gaming experience, especially in a pretty over-saturated genre, but “DayZ” is just that, and one of the best mods ever made to boot.
1. Left 4 Dead
“Left 4 Dead’s” place as the definitive zombie video game of all time is not only extremely difficult to argue against, but in some ways is a claim that detracts from the overall significance of its role in this generation.
Yes, the way it places you and three friends right in the thick of the zombie outbreak is the definitive digital representation of nearly everything we’ve wanted in a multiplayer zombie shooter prior to its release, but it pales in comparison to the numerous innovations it has made in the co-op shooter genre that are still being borrowed without shame to this day. There are more games than can be reasonably listed here that borrow from “Left 4 Dead” that are by and large worthy in their own right, but at the same time must bow to the master, and recognize this series as the king of the zombie genre and one of the best, and most influential multiplayer games ever made.
Posted in: Reviews
Tags: all time zombie games, best zombie games, Call of Duty Zombies, DayZ, Dead Rising, Deadlight, greatest zombie games, I MAED A GAM3 W1TH Z0MBIES 1N IT!!!1, left 4 dead, Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare, State of Decay, The Walking Dead, Zombie games, zombie games this generation, zombie gaming
Ryse: Son of Rome Developers Suffer Some Intense Backlash After Controversial Tweet
It takes a lot of combined effort to make a video game happen. I once worked for a video game company doing QA (sorry, can’t say which), and the hours upon hours of work that multiple people in a plethora of different departments had to put in just to make a game that was far from AAA quality is absolutely immense. It’s a fact of the industry you probably have considered before, but believe me when I say that its hard to really grasp the day to day scope of just how much work goes into making a game when you’re actually a part of it.
The folks behind the upcoming Xbox One game “Ryse: Son of Rome” probably figured the same, and thought it might be humorous/insightful to share some fun facts regarding the game’s development through Twitter. One of these fun facts was that the folks at Crytek have purchased over 11,500 dinners for their staff as they made it through “crunch time,” a phrase used to describe a phase of development time when everyone is putting in serious extra hours of work in order to get the game ready for release.
At the time of Tweeting it, Crytek probably thought they’d receive nothing more than a few “Wow, that’s interesting!” comments, or perhaps some bad food puns. What they got, though, was something far worse.
Minutes after the fun fact was tweeted, the developer’s Twitter page exploded with angry statements targeted towards the game developer for making their employees go through crunch time. Specifics remarks included allegations that this would tear apart families, force children into lives of crime, or even make some involved turn to suicide before it was all over. As with most things on Twitter, though, some of these statements are ultimately more serious than others.
Even still though, I feel the overall tone of the majority of these negative comments was completely uncalled for. Yes, crunch time is a tiresome and trying endurance test that inevitably leads to late nights and early mornings, or even just sleeping at work, and yes there have been incidents where crunch time sessions went way, way too far (some of the statements of former EA employees support this), but as miserable as it can get to be a developer or member of a gaming staff during this period, its also genuinely accepted that this is part of their job.
It’s true that going through such an intense work period is sure to put a strain on someone’s mental well-being and personal life, but it’s somewhat immature to act like this is a burden exclusive to the game development industry, or a horror without professional equal. There are people all over the world that have to endure way worse in both their personal and professional lives than having to work serious overtime doing what they love for a more than respectable wage and, while that doesn’t excuse the more extreme cases of overworking employees in any industry, to outright accuse anyone of something so horrific as destroying families just because they did something that is industry standard at this point, is inexcusable, and horrifying once you take in just how many people lashed out against Crytek to such a passionate extent.
Ultimately there are too many unknown factors (including the exact details of this crunch time, and the personal situations of every employee who went through it) to draw a definitive conclusion regarding how warranted these Twitter attacks were. However, just by going off what is known, its safe to say that these attacks were mostly uncalled for, and serve as another unfortunate example of the all too common trend of gamers not being able to maturely raise an issue regarding something occurring in the industry.
Surgeon Simulator 2013’s Biggest Secret Has Been Solved
If you think hard enough you may recall a simpler time when developers put easter eggs into games with a certain snarky superiority fueled by the belief that us mere players would be so caught up in the game itself, we would never ever find them. It was a time when inside jokes could remain as such and, if you actually discovered something out of the ordinary in the game, you were well within your rights to feel that you and you alone had found something truly unique.
With the rise of the internet gaming community though, Easter eggs in games last about as long as the candy that Easter eggs hold in real life does, as gamers with seemingly super power like abilities to find things that shouldn’t have been found have proven that your occasional childhood findings were not quite as unique as you may have hoped. While some major games (the “Arkham Asylum” Easter egg and a the apparently undiscovered secret in “Shadow of the Colossus” spring to mind) do a good job keeping their biggest secrets at bay for a long period of time, eventually all secrets fall prey to those dedicated treasure hunters.
Now you can add another somewhat long running secret to the fallen, as a cryptic message in “Surgeon Simulator 2013” has been solved.
The mystery started after the “Team Fortress 2” update to the game, when it was discovered that upon completing the new surgeries, you were awarded a small statue on your desk that contained a cryptic message on the bottom. Theories ran rampant (many of them involved some sort of Valve related content) but outside of some highly educated guesses, there hasn’t been much actual progress towards figuring out what the whole thing meant.
YouTube user MattShea369 appears to have cracked the code recently, when he discovered an extremely complicated series of steps (detailed in full at the beginning of this video) that lead to the appearance of a new tape on the main menu screen that leads the user to a new outer space level where, upon opening a keypad controlled pod, you are tasked with operating on a gray alien, and replacing one of six probably vital organs whose functions, names, and looks are all very cryptic.
Besides the added challenge of trying to figure out what organs are what and a really cool new environment to play in, the content of the secret itself isn’t exactly life changing, but once again the dedication and intelligence applied to uncovering it has to be acknowledged and appreciated by gamers everywhere. Big kudos then to MattShea369 for proving once again that no gaming secret ever really remains one for long.