Sunday, November 29, 2015
Tuesday, November 24, 2015
In modern English the word "facsimile" is synonymous with "fax," or "copy," but the origin of the word comes from Latin. "Fac," is the imperative of "facere" (to make), and "simile," means "similar" in English. So, what does any of this have to do with video games? Well...I can think of a couple of relevent examples.
Tuesday, November 17, 2015
It's my understanding that the word "soma" means "body" in Greek, and in Hinduism is a drink that grants immortality. In a vague sense both meanings suit the themes of SOMA, the game, quite well. Consciousness transfer via duplication has been explored in entertainment media numerous times before. The video game The Swapper, the table-top RPG Eclipse Phase, a bunch of novels by Peter Watts, and movies like The Prestige or The 6th Day (staring none other than Arnold Schwarzenegger) are the closest examples I can think of to SOMA in terms of how they approach the concept. Unlike any of those works though SOMA really plays up the existential dread such that by the time I had finished the game I felt very troubled.
In an attempt to try and ease my mind I visited forums, read wiki entries, and watched a few LP videos, but I still wasn't able to internalize what Frictional was getting at with their newest game. Eventually I stumbled upon Markiplier's "Lets Play" of SOMA and it was through his end-game commentary that I could contextualize things in a way I could wrap my head around. I know...kind of surprising that this pink-haired Youtuber with an over-the-top personality would have any meaningful insight, but what can I say aside from don't let appearances deceive you. He's actually quite observant and quick-witted when he wants to be. In essence his take on SOMA, and the reason its story is so engaging is the central theme of altruism versus selfishness. If you have children or work in education, medicine or a similar field then you probably realize that a lot of what you do has little to no personal consequence, but oftentimes is immensely impactful to others. SOMA takes this aspect of life and amplifies it to the uttermost extreme.
It's poignant stuff, universal to the human condition, and rarely seen when it comes to video game writing. For better or worse though SOMA is a video game which means there's more to it than just the story.
The actual gameplay is mostly light puzzle solving mixed with monster evasion. Exploration isn't even a major component since the only reason to stray off the established path is to get little side snippets of the story. As far as puzzles go some are more interesting than others, but basically they're fine. Monster encounters, on the other hand, are a much more mixed bag. The aquatic threats feel well implemented and are genuinely terrifying experiences, but the more humanoid dangers (particularly the "proxies") are far more annoying than scary. I think, in part, this discrepancy in quality has to do with the game's lengthy development cycle (it took over five years to make SOMA). As old gameplay footage show (here and here) early versions of the game were considerably different than what we got. Unlike say Bioshock Infinite though the final product is considerably better than what the demo gameplay implied. That said, it feels like some of the less well refined legacy assets seeped into the release version of game. Still, I'm inclined to be an optimist in that it could have easily been far worse than what we got.
The developers at Frictional wisely avoided the it-was-all-just-a-dream ending plot twist (or similarly a final image of the Earth showing that it was fine all along). I'm also glad there's no karma tracker decreeing whether or not the player's conduct throughout the game should grant them a place in the Nirvana/Heaven of the ARK or force them to remain in the Purgatory/Underworld of Pathos-II. The fact that player decisions don't alter the game (aside from a few lines of dialogue) might bother some people, but I though it was appropriate given the underlying themes of SOMA. It's also interesting to see the variety of (and in some cases extreme) opinions people have towards characters like Simon, Catherine and the WAU. That there can be so many supportable viewpoints, is a testament to the quality of the storytelling. Hands down, this is the best horror game of the year and probably deserves any "Best Story of 2015" awards it wins as well. Whether or not it should be nominated for game of the year though depends on how much value you place on gameplay.
|The ARK is suppose to symbolize hope,|
but to me it felt like a gravestone
marking the final resting place of humanity
Launching the ARK will provide all those in it with a life of tranquil bliss among the stars for a millennium or more while all those who made it possible gain nothing for their efforts...yet it comes to pass anyway.
|It took me awhile to realize that the CURIE|
was a semi-submersible similar to the real
life oceanography research ship RP FLIP
|A paramedic's decisions might not have any |
personal repercussions, but for others it
could be the difference between life and death
Tuesday, November 10, 2015
It might seem like an odd choice at first but, simply put, this is the best Final Fantasy film adaptation ever made. Much better than Spirits Within, Asgard has all the science fantasy trappings of pretty much any of the settings found in Final Fantasy 6 onward. What's more, the back story is all there in the now millennium old Norse texts, particularly "The Edda." Along with all those ancient tomes, over a half century of Marvel comics have been published on the character. In essence, The Thor films have their own extensive mythology, as well as recent history, making for fertile ground to tell an epic tale. Final Fantasy settings, by contrast, tend to feel a bit shallow when it comes to in-fiction history because with each new iteration the world-building has to be done from scratch.
When it comes to enemies, we've seen our share of Jotnar and Dark Elves in the film, but little in the way of Dwarfs, Light Elves or the Dead. There are lots of potential foes that have yet to be debuted because of the limitations of the film medium. Plus more time could be spent on fleshing out villains like Malekith. According to actors and the director, a large portion of Thor: The Dark World was cut in post-production because of time constraints and a desire from the studio to change the pacing and tone of the the film. Part of me wonders if the director's original vision was better suited to a video game.
Perhaps best of all though is that fact that Thor doesn't feature any of the J-Pop garbage or Harajuku fashion trends that seem to have consumed the double digit sequels of Final Fantasy. I'm not saying Thor doesn't have it's own brand of craziness, but at least the women of Asgard are wearing clothes that could be considered functional for leisure, battle or other day-to-day activities.
Tuesday, November 3, 2015
|Let me guess...from left to right:|
Griffon, Atlas, Locust and a Catapult?
If you're not familiar with the history of the Battletech franchise, it's basically a collection of board games and paperback novels, as well as video games running the gambit from RPG and RTS to more recently mech piloting sims. At the core of all of it though is a three decade old hex grid war game designed for mech on mech combat. The system is quite detailed and requires a lot of bookkeeping for each mech in addition to a hefty amount of dice rolling. Just to give you an example, firing off a rack of missiles at a target necessitates a to-hit roll, and assuming that is successful, another roll to determine the number of missiles that actually do damage. After that individual hit location rolls for each missile have to be calculated by comparing roll results to the proper table depending on the target's facing (front, back, left side, etc.). In total you're looking at anywhere from one to twenty-four dice rolls (on top of multiple charts and stat sheets for consultation) just to determine the effect of one weapon system. Keep in mind a large mech might have a half-dozen of these or more. Obviously, all this gets increasingly unwieldy the more and bigger the mechs are up to the point that the entire thing collapses under it's own weight when the numbers of units reach into the double digits. Of course a video could streamline all this, moving most of the number crunching under the hood, so to speak. However, there are some fundamental issues with the Battletech ruleset that really need to be addressed in order to make the game enjoyable in the 21st century.
|The Whiff Factor is bound |
to lead to a lot of player
|For better or worse, Battletech has kept |
backward compatibility with all
earlier versions of the game despite
its long history