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Tag Archives: Console Games

 

 

Cold.

 

 

I walk through Yharnam.

I try to filter the disease from the city.

I imagine what this place has been.

Bodies hanged and crucified.

Coffins chained shut.

Statues weeping.

What was Yharnam in its best days?

How did its economy function?

Was there ever joy here?

The city is dense.

The city is decadent.

It is unhinged Baudelairean ecstasy.

Blood. Beasts. Coffins. Ash.

A setting sun.

A dying religion.

A long night.

It’s quiet.

Everyone hides from the hunt.

All locked away:

They mock, weep, laugh like ghosts:

The chemical byproducts of this nightmare.

They torched Old Yharnam to stop the plague.

They let the heretics revel in their obsession.

It still burns.

And the plague accelerates.

Citizens in stages of sickness.

How many families have been torn apart?

How many times has the story of Gascoigne and Viola repeated?

They all blame me.

There is a profound loss in their noises.

I cannot forget the Vicar‘s howl.

I cannot forget how she held her pendant.

I cannot forget the deer-wolf she became in the empty bowels of the Grand Cathedral.

Soft and violent.

Faith has lost here:

A false whisper drowned in an ocean of moans and screams.

Of roars and tears.

Yharnam is being left to die.

To suffocate.

To purge itself.

Yharnam is being allowed to forget.

To be forgotten.

I am a part of its unraveling.

I am the fantasy of its sorrow.

I am the luxury of power.

 

Hair.

 

Yharnam is a rejection of the Open World.

It is the rich failure of Assassin’s Creed and Grand Theft Auto.

It values intricacy.

It values intimacy.

Tight roads. Closed alleys.

A stagnant darkness.

It deconstructs the promise of its origin:

Anor Londo given a world.

It is the hollow dread of Boletaria and Lordran made visceral.

Yharnam and Bloodborne are inseparable.

Intertwined. Fused.

The mechanics of the game are an extension of the city.

The combat is close.

Intimate.

Flourishes and theatrical complexity:

A death ritual.

Yharnam is the seething blood pulsing through the game.

Always present.

Miyazaki‘s Souls are dispossessive.

Slow. Foggy. Stilted. Surreal.

Lynchian.

Broken worlds in passive decay.

They are violently quiet.

The Souls are about being frozen in dream.

About the end of the fairy tale.

Bloodborne is a deconstruction of life, of what it is to be alive.

It is the most literary game Miyazaki has made.

It is the bleak loneliness of Poe.

The biological alienation of Rappaccini’s Daughter.

The aggression of Melville.

The cosmic indifference of Lovecraft.

It is the most human game Miyazaki has made.

It explores our institutions, our bodies, our fear through the loss of form and ego.

It explores the fragility of our perception.

Is the Hunter’s Dream real?

Is it mine?

Or is it the Platonic Dream of The Hunt?

Or is Yharnam the true dream of the hunter?

The barren desire of the killer.

Bloodborne is the humanist response to Arbo’s Wild Hunt:

One mortal hunting the many.

One body stalking the ruins alone.

 

Fantasy.

 

Kafka wrote The Castle near the end of his life.

About a land surveyor attempting to navigate the bureaucracy of a strange village.

The locals don’t understand their own system of governance, but consider it sacred nonetheless.

Each villager the surveyor speaks with has a different myth for what their government is.

There is no consensus.

The novel explores themes of alienation, blind ignorance, and the unquestioned nature of systems of power.

Kafka died of tuberculosis before The Castle was completed.

Eras later and Bloodborne is its conclusion.

It is the expansion of The Castle and Kafka’s illness.

It doesn’t just absorb The Castle’s themes of bureaucracy and institutional power in its examination of the Healing Church.

It is Kafka’s Social alienation. Political alienation. Biological alienation in a new medium.

Bloodborne is Kafka’s end and his final creative act wrapped around Killzone‘s synthetic verticality, filtered through Beksinski‘s quiet, organic abyss.

It is a machinery of themes.

A cohesive, living game.

Its systems, stories, environment inform each other.

There is no space between them.

They are perpetually linked:

The dendrites of Yharnam.

They twist and loom over each other.

Seep into each other.

Miyazaki and his team aren’t game makers.

They are craftsmen.

They have fashioned something thick, linear, vertical, complex, broken.

Something like a person built with poems.

Something like a doll drowned in calligraphy.

 

Something like Pinocchio discovering the horror of being human.

 

 

 

 

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Mountain.

 

 

Christmas. 1990. California.

I was seven.

I spent an entire year asking my parents for a Game Boy.

I didn’t think I’d get one.

Christmas morning and we opened our presents.

And there it was.

I ran out of the room.

I was confused about who bought it. I thought it was my uncle.

I ran into the living room. I tore into the box.

Popped in the batteries. Caressed the system.

I turned it over in my hands. I enjoyed the weight of it.

I enjoyed its thickness. I was in love with its density.

I grabbed the only cart I had: Tetris.

The label was beautiful. The cartridge had a fulfilling proportionality.

It felt more promising and better designed than NES carts had been.

NES game carts were too long and too thick.

There was too much space on them. They had no visual impact.

Their faces were empty.

The Tetris cart was beautiful: Thin. Asymmetrical.

A subtle rectangle.

I slid it into the back.

I turned the system on.

The sound was crisp.

I burned through the options.

I wanted the game.

After a few rounds I thought I understood what it was.

I started at 0 and cleared lines as fast as I could.

The Game Boy was my first portable video game system.

Tetris was my first portable game.

I didn’t understand any of its subtlety.

I didn’t care to seek out its language.

I didn’t see what was so enthralling about its design.

I dropped Tetris.

I chased after Super Mario Land. Kirby’s Dream Land. Ninja Turtles.

I needed environments I could relate to.

I needed an imagined narrative.

Tetris was cold.

It fell away and I moved on.

 

Doughnut.

 

Summer. 1997.

Lebanon and the village is dead.

I gave my cousins my first-gen Game Boy one year earlier.

I now have a Game Boy Pocket.

The electricity is out. The water’s off. The arcade closed.

We revisit Tetris Attack.

It’s the first time I engage with the ‘Tetris’ brand since 1990.

I play through the stages. I enjoy the characters and the dialogue.

Puzzle mode feels more genuine than the original’s ‘B-Type’.

Endless mode is a meditative training ground.

Tetris Attack is Tetris inverted.

The pieces climb up from the bottom.

The cursor can switch two adjacent pieces horizontally.

The game pieces were blocks with symbols on them.

The object isn’t line clears, but matching blocks.

It was a proto-Bejeweled with Yoshi characters.

Tetris Attack was small, but full.

Strategic, but not complicated.

It had the sticky touch of Intelligent Systems.

Tetris Attack wasn’t Tetris.

It released in Japan as Panel de Pon.

Nintendo wanted name recognition in the West.

They wanted the Tetris name. They settled on Tetris Attack.

The Tetris Company cleared it.

And regretted it.

Henk Rogers felt it diluted the brand.

But Tetris Attack was an alternative.

It was a solid, strange experience.

It presented unique tools to rethink the Tetris universe.

Like Majora’s Mask and Zelda: It planted the seeds for the series’ deconstruction.

It brought warmth to the series.

It brought a crooked heart.

 

Hall.

 

Winter. 2015.

I try to consolidate my games.

I look for my Game Boy carts. I find Tetris Attack again.

It holds up. It still has warmth and life in it.

I find Tetris again.

I slide it into my SP.

25 years later and I decide to give it another shot.

I start at level 7.

25 years later and it feels different.

Something clicks and my hands start buzzing.

I begin to see its elegance and the subtleties of its design.

It was never just about line clears.

It was about setups. It was about adapting to flaws.

It was about recovering.

I hear about the AGDQ Tetris run.

I learn about Tetris: The Grand Master.

Developed by Arika and the series only released in arcades.

I loved what they had achieved in the past: The PS2 version of DoDonPachi Daioujou.

I seek out and download the entire TGM series.

And TGM 3 is dark, fun, and beautiful.

TGM 3 is the Daioujou of the Tetris universe.

Its presentation is clean.

Its music is engaging.

It’s difficult, but it doesn’t push the player away.

It dredges up the will to do better.

TGM 3 presents four modes of play with two different rulesets.

Easy teaches the game.

Sakura is a variation on a previous release: Tetris with Cardcaptor Sakura Eternal Heart.

Master is Tetris with speeds that gradually increase over time.

Shirase is Tetris at blinding speeds coupled with odd challenges.

Classic rule maintains the rotation style of the two prior iterations of TGM.

World rule is a set pushed on Arika by The Tetris Company in order to unify newer Tetris games.

The multiple modes and rulesets give TGM 3 a depth not seen in the arcade puzzle genre.

It gives the player the freedom to decide what sort of game they would like to play.

TGM 3 is difficult and obtuse.

It doesn’t explain itself and it doesn’t care.

It only wants to pull the player in as fast as possible.

The entire game is a boss fight: It seems impossible.

In Shirase, you can’t see the pieces fall.

The higher levels in Master require instinctual reaction times.

But it’s these elements that make the game so enjoyable.

In most fighting games, the curve seems vertical.

Inexperienced players become frustrated and turn away.

Fighting games require study. They require a deconstruction of situational behaviors and habits.

They bloom and open as the player’s mind and technique does.

TGM 3 must be approached the same way. It requires study.

It requires the player to focus both on the game and themselves.

It’s no coincidence that the TGM series and fighting games were both born from the arcades.

They both ask that the player be efficient and aware.

The payoff in fighting games is convincing wins against human opponents.

In TGM 3 the payoff is watching yourself calculate, strategize, and play at speeds you never thought you’d ever be capable of.

In 1990 I had no idea what Tetris was.

I dismissed it for having no heart.

I misunderstood it.

2015 and I realize now how much I’ve missed in the last 25 years.

Sometimes you just need the right kind of eyes.

Sometimes the heart is so big that you only catch a small piece of it.

Ignorance has a slow, enduring momentum.

And time isn’t always enough to kill it.

You need something savage and raw to tear through the filters you’ve tied yourself in.

Tetris Attack. Eight years on: It’s joyful and enduring.

Tetris. 25 years later: I wake up.

 

Tetris The Grand Master 3. 2015: My hands tremble, my teeth rip, and my brain is pummeled into the sun.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Low.

 

 

“Rain woke him, a slow drizzle, his feet tangled in coils of discarded fiberoptics. The arcade’s sea of sound washed over him, receded, returned. Rolling over, he sat up and held his head.

Light from a service hatch at the rear of the arcade showed him broken lengths of damp chipboard and the dripping chassis of a gutted game console. Streamlined Japanese was stenciled across the side of the console in faded pinks and yellows.” – William Gibson, Neuromancer

 

Sub-I:

 

We were in a basement somewhere in Beirut. We were shooting pool.

Mid-90’s summer and there was no air conditioning. Slow fans and fluorescent lights.

The walls were covered in cracks and ripped up, yellowed flyers with pictures of dead men.

‘Martyrs’.

I become bored, I look around for something else to do.

A row of arcade cabinets in the distant corner. I put my cue down. I walk over.

I watch the demo looping bright neon animations.

A puzzle game. A friend comes over.

He watches the demo.

We stare at the flashing pictures of naked Asian women that pop up behind the solved puzzles.

He sits down at one cabinet. He drops in the coins. Tries to play.

He only manages to uncover a woman’s face locked in orgasmic fury.

As he gets up to leave, I lock eyes with one of the dead men hanging above the grimy arcade machine.

He looks determined. He looks ridiculous.

Either nationalism or religion killed him. Electric sex keeps his memory alive.

We step outside into the sticky night. We walk past a bombed out theater.

Lights reflect in the ruin.

It looks ridiculous.

It looks determined.

 

Sub-II:

 

We lived in southern California. 45 minutes outside of LA.

We drove to Vegas once a year for vacation.

90’s Vegas tried to market itself towards families.

Every hotel had massive, expensive arcades my brother and I would bury ourselves in.

A few years ago I went back there with my father for the first time in over a decade.

The arcades died there too: Vegas dropped the family act.

Walking down the strip at sunset, I realize how much I had forgotten about this place in the winter.

I notice how cool the air is, how dark the sky.

Standing at a crosswalk, I hold a cigar to my mouth and look down.

I laugh.

Cards with mostly naked men and women had been cast all over the corner.

I grind my foot into their polished, gutted faces.

So this is what Vegas wants to be now?

Must have lost money betting on the American family.

The 90’s lied to this city the same way it lied to all of us.

I crossed.

I watched the fountain go off in front of the Bellagio.

I felt like a ghost in its towering white light.

I felt like the dead man and his sex machine.

 

Sub-III:

 

 

Someone turned nostalgia into its own virtual world.

I was upset the first time I saw this.

It’s all lifeless.

The player touches everything and experiences nothing.

This isn’t an arcade: It is a funeral pyre.

In a world where digital media is highly consumable, we have forgotten how to act around things of value…

including our memory.

 

III.9: 

 

There was a line around the entire arcade.

Word was out they bought a VR machine.

$20.00 bought you five minutes.

I wait for the line to die down. It takes a few hours.

I walk up to the attendant. Give her the money.

She wraps the giant, plastic headpiece around my eyes.

I am anxious about becoming nauseous.

The game starts.

I look around the room. I am in a warehouse.

Everything is low-poly. Poor framerate.

Things shoot at me and I have no idea what to do.

My five minutes are up. I leave unimpressed.

More than a decade later Oculus Rift gains traction.

Sony announces Project Morpheus.

I download PolyFauna on my phone.

I put on headphones and stand in my living room.

I hold my phone close to my face and turn with it to navigate.

I am in two three-dimensional places at once and this realization shocks and thrills me.

I see a future defined by both cheap and expensive VR.

Bright colors. Dark spaces. Heat. Intimacy. Distance.

Eroticism.

VR’s arcade inheritance.

 

Sub-IV:

 

We were standing by the beach, watching the roaches skitter along the shore.

It was night. Everything was lit up by small shops and looming towers crowding Beirut’s shoreline.

I catch the lights of an enormous tanker parked in the sea.

I daydream about its machinery.

Coffee in hand, I turn to watch the taxis speed by.

A friend of my cousin walks up to us and pulls out his phone.

He asks us if we want to see something funny.

He cycles through the menus. Pulls up a video.

He holds the phone up to our faces.

It’s a video of a naked woman doing illicit things with a lit cigar.

I look up from the video.

I see gutted phones and computers in the window of a repair shop across the street.

I tell my cousin I’ll be right back.

I cross the boulevard.

I watch the guy work by his window.

I notice his limited selection of pirated games and vast quantities of Chinese knockoff consoles.

Lebanon has a strange relationship with technology: Everyone wants it, but only a few understand it.

Years later, the iPhone 4 would sell here for $1400.00 USD.

 

Sub-V:

 

At a bar just outside downtown Madison, WI.

Waiting for a live show to start at a venue down the street.

The bar has one arcade machine and one video poker machine.

I watch the poker demo.

I enjoy the crispness of the cards and their fluid animations.

I enjoy its bright glow.

It reminds me of all the machines in Vegas.

The rows and rows of digital and mechanical vice.

The UI flashes my mind with the basement and its dying porn games.

I never found gambling interesting.

But I enjoy the technology and aesthetics of seductive manipulation.

The running thread beneath it all is to focus the user, to isolate a person without giving them to the space to understand the illusion.

Arcade machines. Virtual Reality. Slot machines. Mobile phones.

My favorite types of mobile games are the ones that capture this illicitness.

Monster Strike. Terra Battle. TNNS. Dice Jockey. Zenonia.

They are inheritors of the arcade as filtered through Vegas.

They are products of and a celebration of vice.

Bright colors. Money. Chance. And the sensuality of being alone with others.

The modern drives as sold through slick, minimal UIs.

The modern drives as the bonfires of the synapse.

 

Pit.

 

“There was a place near an airport, Kowloon, when Hong Kong wasn’t China, but there had been a mistake, a long time ago, and that place, very small, many people, it still belonged to China. So there was no law there. An outlaw place. And more and more people crowded in; they built it up, higher. No rules, just building, just people living. Police wouldn’t go there. Drugs and whores and gambling. But people living, too. Factories, restaurants. A city. No laws.”

—William Gibson, Idoru

 

It is early.

We shamble out of the club.

I am shocked to see the sun.

Red Bull and vodka still coursing through us.

We make our way to the shore.

Beirut is an ugly city in the light of day.

It thrives through the night.

My cousin buys some coffee. He hands me a cup.

I watch the sun hovering just above the mountains.

I wonder about how we’re going to handle the hour-long trek back to the village.

We still had to drop off my cousin’s friends.

They meet up with us.

We walk over to the car and take off.

They both live in the hyper-religious slums of Beirut. Hezbollah territory.

We drop them off and I look around as my cousin says goodbye.

The buildings are close. The streets are narrow.

Sunlight blotted out by a thick, complex spiderweb of black cable.

I think about the infrastructure of access.

I see the faces of martyrs hung up on electrical poles.

I watch a man smoke a cigarette with an AK-47 slung around his back.

This is a place of violence. Of drugs. Of religion. Of money. Of power in the most classical sense.

My uncle once told me that in the city you have to pay for things that should be free for everyone: Access to sunlight and air.

I imagine who might live at the top of all these buildings.

What do they do with all their access?

I look at the cut sky through the dirt on the windshield.

I pull out my phone and check for messages.

Nothing.

I lean my head back. I close my eyes.

I think of Midgar. Of Kowloon. Of Neo-Tokyo.

I think of vice and violence.

And I smile.

And I bask in the mute, dark heat of our hearts.

 

And I drown in the polluted glands of this city.

 

 

 

 

 

 

On The Evolution And Development Of Mech Games.

 

 

RPS.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Supercar.

 

 

One day, they reorganized the last arcade I went to.

I went there every Friday. It was attached to a cinema.

The House of the Dead was my game: I had every high score on the list, even when the gun broke.

This arcade went through phases.

At first, it was driven by families and birthday parties. People thought of it as a ‘cooler’ Chuck E. Cheese’s.

When that business began to die off, they pivoted focus to bringing in bigger, stranger arcade cabinets.

Dance Dance Revolution. Guitar Freaks. MoCap Boxing. Flash Beats.

F355 Challenge.

Anytime one of the new cabinets came in, I dove into them.

I became most proficient in DDR and Flash Beats as secondary games.

I only played F355 Challenge once.

F355 was designed by Yu Suzuki and released in 1999.

It released in different cabinets, but the true nature of the game emerged purest in its largest iteration.

The game had three screens powered by four NAOMI units: one for each screen, one to link them.

The center screen was the windshield, the two outer screens were the side windows.

It had a realistic H-Shifter and three pedals.

It was considered by many to be the most accurate racing simulation possible at that time.

This arcade managed to pull in the large cabinet.

One day, I came in and everything was moved to make space for F355.

The owner made sure it was visible to everyone.

It was intimidating: Large. Complex. Dark.

It took $4.00 each play.

When I decided to jump in, I didn’t know if I would have fun with it or not.

Getting into the cab felt like you were attending some adult cocktail party full of glances and covered mouths.

The cab had curtains to keep other people away.

When it came time to drive, the formality didn’t dissipate.

This was a cold, raw simulation.

It was confusing and awkward.

In a place where you were primed for hot, fast action: F355 felt muted.

It felt empty. It was boring.

I only played F355 one time.

I moved on.

 

Litre.

 

Coming from Yu Suzuki, F355 was a disappointment.

Suzuki proved himself as an auteur of immersive action games throughout his career.

Super Hang-On. Out Run. After Burner. Space Harrier. Virtua Fighter. Shenmue.

F355 possessed none of the excitement his games typically exploded with.

F355 interpreted attention to detail as love.

This trend of equating detail and adoration began with Gran Turismo.

When the first game released in 1998 (one year before F355), the entire gaming community was floored.

It was a sign that we were now on the cusp of significant technologies, that the world had begun to blur.

Gran Turismo was a technological achievement.

Kazunori Yamauchi and Polyphony Digital had made an affordable, pure racing simulation for the home on a piece of standardized hardware.

Gran Turismo was a crowning achievement for the racing genre then.

Gran Turismo was also the end.

Before GT and F355, the genre was dominated by arcade racers.

They mainly used cars and driving as filters of action and momentum.

A few months before GT, EA released Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit.

I played NFSIII for a year.

Hot Pursuit wasn’t about accuracy or simulation, it was about capturing the thrill of slamming on the accelerator.

It was about laughing at the police as you ram them into a guard rail.

It was about the daydreams people have while stuck in traffic or pulled over on the side of the road, glaring at the officer in the rear-view.

NFSIII was about rediscovering that time you rode your bike down the longest hill you had ever seen and wondering whether you trust yourself to hit the brakes at the right time.

It was wild and honest and young: The original face of racing.

The following year saw Namco‘s best entry in the genre: R4: Ridge Racer Type 4.

Where Hot Pursuit was about aggression and fantasy, where GT was about simulation, R4 was about finesse and exploration.

Vehicles in R4 fell under two general classes: Drift or Grip.

It came down to what you, as the player, wanted.

Drift cars were ‘loose’ and allowed you to powerslide with a slight tap to the brake.

Grip cars were tighter and powersliding was done by balancing brake and gas.

R4 was about style.

Everything from the car selection, to the tracks, to the driving, to the UI: It was all about style.

R4 was about Japan and its love of motorsport.

R4 was bosozoku and Kunimitsu Takahashi.

R4 was Keiichi Tsuchiya drifting every turn of the Tsukuba Circuit.

It asked: ‘What would you like to do? Who do you want to be?’ and let the player run free.

 

Metal.

 

This balance between racing games didn’t last.

Gran Turismo’s dominance in the racing genre went unchallenged for its next four iterations.

It wasn’t until Forza Motorsport appeared in 2005 that GT had any real competition in racing simulation.

Need For Speed kept pushing more aggression, especially after Burnout‘s success with its emphasis on heavy, hard crashes.

This led to Criterion being tasked with developing the latest entries into the NFS franchise, making the last few entries the most aggressive in the history of the series.

Ridge Racer became a parody of itself.

What was once a series defined by a Japanese love of motorsport and style is now flailing in a sea of strange experiments and half-finished ideas.

Ridge Racer’s latest entry, Ridge Racer Unbounded, was never even released in Japan.

It is in this environment that Driveclub released.

It is in this toxic mess the racing genre has become that Driveclub tries to reclaim the identity of the middle and the vast expanse of the margins.

Driveclub has not been well-received.

Most gaming media outlets share similar sentiments that Driveclub has no soul or passion or heat.

Driveclub is compared to Gran Turismo, Forza, NFS and is found to come up short.

And I have never seen the media so inept.

Gran Turismo destroyed the diversity of the racing landscape.

Like some hegemonic amoeba, it devoured the imagination.

It devoured subtlety.

To compete, racing games now either had to be pure math or pure rage.

Either a game competes in the same arena (Forza) or it rejects everything and creates a new paradigm (NFS).

Ridge Racer tried and failed to find some sort of synthesis and has lost its identity in the process.

There is no longer any proper lens through which Driveclub is accurately interpreted.

There is no longer a language for it.

Driveclub is a classic arcade racer.

It has inherited the best traits of R4, NFSIII, and GT.

Driveclub is about finessing through powerslides, healthy aggression, and maintaining driving lines.

Driveclub is about rediscovering the fun and beauty of driving.

The tracks are stunning and inspiring.

The races are exhilarating and frustrating.

Though Driveclub’s greatest success is that it gives the player the space to approach the game how they would like.

It has shown itself to be more malleable than any other racing game ever made.

It can be a simple simulation or an intricate arcade game.

How the player chooses to drive influences its tone.

Drifting on turns and the sheer force of momentum on straightaways is incredible and fricative.

Drafting, precision cornering, and avoiding collisions are fulfilling in ways that Gran Turismo and Forza never were.

It incorporates objective and points-based elements from Project Gotham Racing so that it isn’t just about winning races.

Driveclub is more than a racing game, it is a driving game.

Its focus isn’t just on competition and winning, it’s about appreciating the art of driving.

Driveclub is like sitting at the Musee d’Orsay in the early morning, drinking coffee, and letting your vision blur the steam and the painting in front of you.

It is a warm experience coalescing and exploring the mastery of the past.

It is a confident game.

It has none of the insecurity with which Gran Turismo protects its cars.

It feels no need to subvert the racing genre by making it more extreme.

While Driveclub is currently suffering from technical issues, it has more than enough potential to become one of the best racing games out right now.

Driveclub is what the gaming community and the racing genre needed: A step back. A reexamination and rediscovery of a love that has slipped further and further into schizophrenia.

I missed the world Driveclub emerged from.

I missed its warmth.

And it feels strange going back now, realizing how much has been forgotten.

But while remembrance can be embarrassing, it is liberating, even if its language has been lost…

 

Even if its value is ignored.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Corner.

 

 

When I first tried to play The Last of Us, my PS3 couldn’t handle it.

I had the 2nd generation fat model and it couldn’t play newer games without blasting the internal fan.

It happened every time I put in Gran Turismo 6 as well.

I was frustrated not only because I couldn’t play the games I had, but this was near the release of Dark Souls II.

I was concerned the fan noise was going to destroy the ambiance the Souls series is known for.

I got rid of it and upgraded to the PS3 Slim.

Dark Souls II released and TLoU: Remastered was announced shortly after for the PS4 at a lower price.

Dark Souls II was a passable game overall, but by far the worst Souls game to date.

My excitement died and I passed my time waiting for The Last of Us: Remastered playing Guilty Gear.

When TLoU:R released, the difference was significant.

While the resolution stayed the same, it now ran at 60 fps instead of 30 and had a striking fidelity.

It was crisp and responsive. It felt different.

After having spent a few months analyzing everything that went wrong with Dark Souls II, The Last of Us was something I needed.

There were things about it that made me uncomfortable: Every person of color in the game is the target of some massive trauma, sometimes at the hands of the main character.

But TLoU was a narrative success.

The story was tight and engaging. The environments were dense.

The greatest success of The Last of Us is that the world both feels abandoned and lived in.

The cities and towns are painted and tragic.

Everywhere you look, there is something to look at: dripping water, a cracked brick, crawling vines, abandoned barriers, collapsed skylines.

The world is full and broken.

The Last of Us is Midgar Revisited.

Everything fits together in a complete, fluid way.

The world transitions into itself: stairs lead to halls leading to rooms with open windows and fire escapes and ledges and streets with more stairs.

If Destiny‘s success is its unique lens of verticality and space, The Last of Us succeeds in layering and texture:

In thickness and density.

 

Rotation.

 

A few weeks ago I applied to join the Bloodborne alpha.

I had no expectation of being accepted, but I felt compelled to try in order to know if this was going to be another disaster.

I completed both Demon’s and Dark Souls, owned DSII (for which I was invited to the beta), and purchased every iteration of Armored Core on the PSP/PS3.

I thought my credentials were solid enough with From Software that I had a better chance than others.

And they accepted me.

And Bloodborne is stunning.

While the lens through which the alpha takes place is limited, there is enough to understand what the game is.

It is not a Souls game.

It borrows elements from the series, but it is its own game mechanically and thematically.

The combat is much more fluid and responsive than any of the Souls games.

Bloodborne emphasizes movement and situational awareness. The combat is thorough and dynamic.

Gone is the dreamy, slow, dissociative quality of Souls interaction.

Bloodborne is more grounded.

The basic enemies remain difficult and have the potential to kill.

And From has maintained the asymmetrical multiplayer they pioneered in Demon’s Souls.

Bloodborne also marks the return of Hidetaka Miyazaki as Director.

After directing both Demon’s and Dark Souls, From removed him from the series and made him President of the company.

This led to Dark Souls II being made without his direction, ensuring the mess that From ended up releasing.

Miyazaki’s hand is so obvious in the design of Bloodborne that it makes Dark Souls II seem even worse.

Like The Last of Us, Bloodborne is a dense game.

It takes place in an enormous, sprawling gothic city (Yharnam) cloaked in a final darkness.

The city is in the midst of a plague that turns citizens into beasts.

Bloodborne, so far, seems like the most nihilistic game Miyazaki has made.

The city is full of death, hatred, anger, lament, emptiness.

Everywhere you turn there are ornate coffins, abandoned carriages, black chasms, tortured monstrosities.

Enemies scream, blaming the player character for their situation. Their voices full of rage and sorrow.

But Bloodborne, so far, seems like the best game Miyazaki has made.

One of the flaws Dark Souls II suffered from was a lack of compelling momentum.

It never makes the player ask or wonder.

There was nothing curious about the game’s world or construction. Everything was obvious and direct.

In Bloodborne, that is never the case.

 

Cascade.

 

Entry – 

 

The city is dark, but everything glistens.

I can see the blood on my clothes. I look up at the sky.

Why is that moon so bright? How did this place fall so far?

I walk toward a large coffin propped up in an alley.

I wonder why it’s chained shut.

 

Entry – 

 

I walk past some crates.

A man in the throes of this illness lunges at me.

He screams that it’s all my fault. He sounds sad and angry and terrified.

I kill him with my scythe.

I pull out my torch and stare at his body to decipher his features.

I wonder what it is he blames me for.

 

Entry

 

Standing on the stairs, I see civilians carrying torches.

It seems they are on some sort of patrol.

I follow them. I cross an abandoned carriage.

A man hiding in the shadows, he rises, and shoots me in the back.

I cut him down and climb the stairs he was sitting on.

I turn left at the top.

There is a half-beast corpse: crucified and burning in the dark.

 

Entry –

 

I walk down a side-path until I hit a locked gate.

A bell rings nearby.

I hear a loud groaning.

Something is trapped, slamming against a door.

I jump into the main road. I see the door shaking on my right.

I see another (larger) burning, crucified body on my left:

This one more beast than man.

 

Entry – 

 

I find a path into a graveyard.

All the trees are barren.

I wonder what season it is.

The moaning is louder now.

Something feels wrong here. I look at the ground.

The shadows are moving, flowing.

I look at the trees and there is stillness.

I trace the moonlight back. I look up at the sky.

There is an enormous spider-like abomination sitting on a tower, looming.

Tentacles from its mouth moving, flowing.

I stare at its hundred dead eyes in shock.

I wonder if this thing was once human as well.

 

Entry – 

 

I find the source of the groaning, the slamming.

A very large figure. He turns around to confront me.

I burn him down with Molotovs.

There is silence.

I wonder why he was trapped here.

I wonder why he was so large.

I walk to the back of the terrace.

I look down into the black abyss.

I look up at the nightmare in the moonlight.

And I know that this place is terrifying…

 

And that this place is beautiful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Legends.

 

 

The first computer we had in our house was a Packard Bell desktop my family bought from Sears.

My brother and I spent a lot of time poking around on it, trying to figure out how to make it fun.

At first, we played a lot of Kidspace: A software suite that came pre-installed.

Kidspace had some cheap, strange games in it:

An odd medical game where you entered a patient’s body and attacked infected cells.

Another game where the player was a paleontologist exploring a barren world of static dinosaurs.

Kidspace was quiet and calm.

We spent a lot of our time there, it was pure in that it didn’t try to market anything.

Kidspace is what turned my brother and I on to PC Gaming.

We later moved on to Megarace.

Megarace grabbed us: It felt fast and dark.

It took place in something resembling a cyberpunk future with biker gangs.

Akira with none of the relevance.

Megarace was obnoxious and entertaining and we stuck with it for a while.

We only stopped playing when we couldn’t ever beat the fifth or so level.

The first ‘real’ PC game my brother and I tried to play was Star Wars: Rebel Assault II.

At the time, neither of us was interested in the Star Wars franchise, but this seemed like a fun, arcade-like rail shooter.

RAII pushed our desktop to its limits.

It ran well enough to play, but it wasn’t a smooth experience and would often crash.

Having played on consoles most of our childhood, we didn’t understand that PC gaming involved constant hardware upgrades.

Around this time, Command & Conquer: Red Alert released and all the kids at school were talking about it.

I had never heard of the RTS genre.

When I started Red Alert, I was disappointed that this wasn’t a first-person game.

That feeling soon faded as I began to enjoy the fulfillment of commanding and developing armies across alternate historical campaigns.

Due to the low hardware requirements, Red Alert ran much better on our desktop than RAII.

Red Alert was a substantial game.

It evolved so much from its predecessor: Command & Conquer.

I still play the original Red Alert today.

Around 1998, we finally upgraded our computer.

We bought a stock HP desktop in which my brother installed a dedicated graphics card.

This is where our love of PC Gaming soared.

We bought Half-Life, downloaded Counter-Strike, and played Unreal Tournament endlessly.

Playing these classic 3D games was formative.

Today, each one has reached mythical status in terms of pioneering design and action.

We understood that there was a lot we missed out on in those early years with our Packard Bell.

There were lineages, lines of thought we couldn’t follow on PC back then.

And when Diablo II released, I had little reference for what it was doing.

 

Careen.

 

The only game I played that was aesthetically similar to Diablo II was Red Alert.

I did have an understanding of different types of RPGs (Action, Tactical, Turn-based, etc.) due to the 90’s boom of JRPGs on console, but I had never played one with the strange, static, isometric camera of Diablo.

I did appreciate not having to always worry about moving the camera around since it locked onto the character.

Red Alert was exhausting about managing the camera.

I loved Diablo II’s dark atmosphere and art style.

The music was some of the best I heard in a PC game.

What struck me about D2 the most was how it felt like an action game, but it wasn’t.

It sat in a strange space where different RPG genres met.

It felt like the sort of game that could only belong on PC, but also seemed translatable to console.

Of course at the time I saw the line between PC and console as non-porous and rigid.

The strange loyalties of children: Being attached to wherever they are.

In the ignorance o f that age, I recall seeing games like Doom and Diablo I on Playstation and getting angry about how they don’t belong there.

This sentiment was stronger with regards to Diablo because Diablo II was exclusive to PC and MacOS.

It never felt as though we would ever see a Diablo II port on console and we still haven’t.

I spent years in D2’s world.

Its action was so immediate and satisfying, it took a long time for the game to grow stale.

It eventually did, but only by virtue of time.

By the time Diablo III released in 2012, the world of PC games had shifted.

The PC gaming market had gone through a difficult period where consoles were setting the tone and creating markets for games, but the PC had begun to ascend as the dominant consoles began to show their age.

Also, the PC platform had begun a shift away from relying solely on large, AAA releases to a more balanced approach between innovative, cheap, independent games and well-known franchises.

Independent titles like Torchlight tried to capture and innovate on Diablo’s established formula in 2009, three years before Diablo III released.

But something always felt off about games like Torchlight and Path of Exile, something about their action felt unsatisfying.

The first time I played Diablo III I realized how much I had missed its solid responsiveness.

It took awhile for me to get used to the new art style and the real money auction house was unnecessary, but overall it still felt like Diablo.

The music was still quiet and deep, the game’s somber tone was left untouched, the enemies were varied and interesting.

However, Diablo III felt like a more universal game than D2, from the beginning Diablo III felt like a game for everyone and anyone.

It walked a very thin line between the casual and core audiences: The beginning of the game felt streamlined and, even on normal difficulty, it was too easy (especially with the introduction of followers).

At the same time, Diablo III boasted a ‘Hardcore’ mode that featured character permadeath.

Over time Blizzard pruned away at the game.

By removing unnecessary, game-breaking features like the auction house and by expanding core elements like the game’s difficulty and loot, Blizzard sincerely focused the game.

When the Reaper of Souls expansion released earlier this year, Diablo III had gone from being a great game diluted by under-developed ideas to an elegant action RPG.

Having become the game it always should have been, it was ready to fulfill its promise of universality.

 

Library.

 

When Blizzard announced that Diablo III would be coming to current-gen consoles in 2013, I remember the vitriol erupting from a portion of the embedded PC community.

They were offended that Blizzard had released this game on PC with a lot of questionable decisions (like the removal of the skill tree) that were only justifiable had Blizzard been trying to streamline the game for console release.

The assumption in the beginning was that like Diablo II, D3 was going to be a PC exclusive.

This sentiment wasn’t due to the PC community not wanting the console community to enjoy PC games, it emerged more out of the environment Diablo III released into.

Late in the console life-cycle, publishers and developers were looking to cash in with quick and cheap console game ports on PC.

Often these ports would be missing what were considered key PC features: thorough graphics options, dedicated servers, universal gamepad support, multi-monitor support.

The PC community was shown little consideration.

The mechanical simplicity of Diablo III was no longer seen as just trying to boost the audience on PC, but rather that Blizzard had developed D3 with the intention of releasing to consoles at some point.

When the last-gen console versions did release in September 2013, the anger had died down and the game was left to be judged on its own merits.

It was well-received critically, but it didn’t garner much discussion.

This seemed like the game’s lowest point: Its original fans felt betrayed and the console fans didn’t pay as much attention to it.

But Blizzard did manage to find a near-perfect balance one year later on the new-gen platforms.

In the year between D3’s last-gen and current-gen release, the game changed.

With the introduction of Reaper of Souls the game was modified down to its core.

It was more polished and more expansive.

While I didn’t play Diablo III on last-gen consoles, I did pick it up on the Playstation 4.

I hadn’t touched Diablo III in over a year and I was surprised at how different the game felt on console.

This wasn’t a matter of one version being better than the other, the two were just different.

On PC, Diablo III feels like a western Action RPG.

It feels like a game about numbers and exploration.

What struck me on console is how much more it feels like an arcade game.

It’s a faster game.

Blizzard implemented a dodge move making the character more mobile, more fluid.

It’s as if the two versions of the game each explores and emphasizes a different face:

The PC version filters the game as a number-crunching, exploratory RPG.

The console version, as a fast, smooth, arcade action game that reminds one of Gauntlet.

It was the inverse of what RAII had represented.

This is a testament to the Diablo series’ malleability.

A testament of its ability to change shape in order to emphasize one of its many successes of identity and mechanics.

A lot of games try to be Diablo, but they only ever succeed at one aspect of it.

Few games are confident enough about what they are to succeed on different platforms by altering their identity.

With its difficult and complicated trajectory over the past two years, Diablo III has hammered itself back into significance, back into coherence, by embracing its ability to diverge.

Diablo III is like a circus acrobat with a rocky past:

Always seeking to forget about where it came from while contorting itself to entertain as many people as possible.

 

Always reaching out through action while exposing its dense, fluid heart to the world.

 

 

 

 

 

Lattice.

 

 

I never played the original Killzone.

When it released on the PS2 in 2004, its reception was lukewarm.

The first Killzone was highly regarded for its aesthetics, but was derided for a lack of stability (framerate issues, general bugs, broken AI).

I didn’t purchase Killzone 1 because it was a console shooter in the PS2 era, I was unconvinced that this was viable and Killzone’s problems proved it.

Even if Bungie had shown it was possible to create a thriving console FPS on the Xbox with Halo:CE in 2001, Guerilla hadn’t been doing what Bungie had been honing since 1991.

The only console FPS I played in that generation was the last FPS released on PS2 in 2006: Black.

While Black still felt lacking, it worked a lot better than expected.

It had a strong identity, crafted through sound.

Black won ‘Best Art & Sound’ at the Develop Industry Excellence Awards and was nominated for ‘Best Audio’ at the 2006 BAFTA Video Games Awards.

Black didn’t receive much attention in the larger gaming community.

It was the end of both the PS2 and the Xbox. Everyone was waiting for the new console generation to drop.

In the time between Guerilla’s creation in 2000 and Black’s release, Bungie had released two Halo games and Halo 2 both broadened and focused Halo:CE’s premise.

Halo 2 was not only a more fluid experience, but it set the standard for matchmaking on consoles in 2004, two years before Black’s release.

Halo 2 defined the future of console FPSes by proving that online multiplayer can be important to consoles provided the experience is streamlined.

It was also a faster, tighter game than its predecessor.

The lore had taken root and the game’s boundaries were significantly expanded, but it moved the player through varied environments and set-pieces at a quick pace.

When the PS3 released in 2006, the Halo series had cemented itself as the pre-eminent console FPS (exclusive to Xbox).

Nobody discussed Killzone or Black the way they did Halo.

Halo’s tech-spirituality transcended the game.

It was revered.

It wasn’t until Killzone 2 released in 2009, that Sony and Guerrilla found an alternative and an answer.

 

Neck.

 

In the age of searching for ‘The Next Halo’, Killzone 2 was pegged by many to be a ‘Halo Killer’.

It wasn’t.

KZ2 wasn’t a failure by any means, but it wasn’t seen as the instant legend Halo:CE or Halo 2 were.

But Killzone 2 did something that neither Halo nor Call of Duty did: Verticality.

Ever since the creation of the modern first-person shooter with Wolfenstein 3D, the genre has been obsessive about exploring horizontal space.

There are always small deviations in verticality, but the focus is generally about moving across a world, not through it.

Games that decided to explore vertical space more prior to KZ2 are today considered modern classics: Half-Life 2. Crysis. Counter-Strike.

But these were PC shooters and PC games were always conceptually ahead.

Both Halo and Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare tried to integrate a passing glance at vertical space.

The beauty of Halo’s ringworld is that the player can see it looping over them into the horizon.

A simulation of climbing, when the player was doing nothing but moving forward.

CoD4 tackled verticality by emphasizing aerial and long-distance threats like helicopters, gunships, and snipers.

KZ2 though was built around vertical space.

The game never gave the sense that the player was moving across a world.

The environments were dark and closed.

Either the player was moving up, down, or penned in by looming structures tearing at the sky.

Killzone 2 seemed to absorb some of the lessons of PC shooters. It was a grand hybrid of both worlds.

The multiplayer was quick and deep, implementing a leveling system similar to what CoD4 presented, the levels were innovative and interesting, it had a unique visual style to rival Halo’s.

With each successive iteration of the Killzone franchise, Guerrilla focused the series’ obsession with vertical space.

Killzone: Shadow Fall has massive cities that both drill down and bloom up and moving through them is fulfilling in ways other shooters aren’t, not even the Halo series.

 

Satellite.

 

After ending their console exclusivity with Microsoft, Bungie was set free.

The Halo franchise was passed on to 343 Industries while Bungie worked on their ambitious, multi-platform project: Destiny.

No one knew quite what to expect from this game considering the amount of hype it had generated.

We are still in the beginning of a new console generation and the marketing of games has been loud and heavy.

Watch Dogs is the worst example of this: A mediocre GTA-like with little innovation and an enormous marketing budget.

The gaming community wanted Watch Dogs to be better than it was because it was a new-gen game.

At first, Destiny felt like more of the same: Heavy marketing and another future-FPS from the development house that brought us Halo.

But in the beta, it became evident there was more going on.

When it released a month later, the game reaffirmed what the beta had suggested:

Destiny is a study of the history of the FPS genre as a whole.

It is reminiscent of both Doom and Wolfenstein 3D by having the player move across both vast, open spaces and tight corridors.

Its shooting has the crispness of Rage.

The story of the game is woven into the environments the player frequents, expressing a narrative and aesthetic style similar to Half-Life 2 and Halo.

Destiny’s level progression would not exist if not for CoD4’s pioneering multiplayer leveling system.

Its persistent online world and seemless matchmaking on console is owed to the ground Bungie broke with Halo 2.

The clear, aural identity of the weapons reminded me of the amazing things Black had done with sound.

But what stunned me the most is Destiny’s suggestion and seamless incorporation of vertical space.

Many of Destiny’s missions has the player either tunneling down into some alien dungeon or battling upwards towards the sky.

Bungie’s use of vertical space isn’t as ‘full’ as Guerrilla’s in Killzone, but it is different enough that it doesn’t matter.

What Killzone often presents is a stark contrast between tight, claustrophobic environments and wide-open vertical horizons.

Destiny doesn’t really explore that duality.

Even the alien tunnels the player moves through have a stunning amount of vertical space: large structures, high ceilings, etc.

In these locations, Destiny’s use of vertical space is similar to arena shooters like Quake and Unreal Tournament.

However, when the player is out in open terrain, Destiny is often suggestive of Half-Life 2’s City 17 and its relationship to the Combine Citadel.

City 17 is a major hub/transition area and the Citadel can be seen from nearly anywhere in the city, always looming over the player.

In Destiny, Bungie break up the visual monotony of the horizontal by incorporating large, looming structures on all the planets.

On Earth, it’s the Traveler and the enormous, dead spaceships.

On the Moon, it’s giant cliffs and peaks collapsing into huge chasms.

On Venus, it’s the Vex superstructure hovering in the sky.

Part of the reason open-world shooters like Fallout 3 grow stale is because there is little to break-up the visual monotony of the horizon.

There is nothing aspirational.

Many complain that Destiny seems like a very small game, but the lens with which they view the game is inaccurate.

One of the bigger problems of modern games is they never take the time to allow the player to occupy a space.

Either through a rushed narrative or weak action, the game is pushing the player forward without any real presence.

Destiny forces you to explore and re-explore a place over and over again. It asks the player to pay attention to the world.

It’s asking the player to just relax and be in it.

Destiny has dedicated buttons for sitting and dancing.

It never feels rushed.

Like Dark Souls, it has a dignified quiet.

A lot of the talk around Destiny compares it to Borderlands, but that is a disservice to the game.

Borderlands is a simple, boring shooter that uses a loot system and an over-saturated visual style as its hook.

Destiny is contemplative, even more so than Halo.

It is empty and tall. Wide and fragile.

It is a koan wrapped in an epic.

Destiny isn’t really like any other shooter, but it is the entire history of the genre.

Thorough and thoughtful, Destiny is an honest experience, an elegant one.

An experience that, with the right kind of eyes, nearly anyone can rejoice in and grow from.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Scrape.

 

 

In the arcade dark, desperation blazed.

Late 90’s: Everyone knew the trade was dead, that arcades were unsustainable.

That didn’t stop new ones from opening.

Like the euphoric hallucinations of a dying hermit, the hardware was twisting.

It became about size, flash, otherness, heat.

Some cabs grew large, some lit up like Vegas, some flowed with murals.

Arcades became desolate cities, the hardware became the graff and the alleys.

Before this, my passion had settled in the rapid flows of STGs.

As the death knell grew louder, STG cabs stood unchanged.

Smooth and fluid, they understood themselves better than other games.

They were simple to understand, beautiful to look at, exciting to engage with.

Their fundamental design was perfect and exhilarating.

For almost a decade, STGs colored the base of my arcade experience.

As the late 90’s began, as stranger and  more surreal cabs manifested, I celebrated the end by expanding.

I understood what the other genres were. I waded in their ideas enough.

Light gun games, fighting games, racing games, puzzle games.

Arcades gave us multi-game literacy.

Shuffling through the exposed subconscious of the era, I came across a new kind of fighting game.

I messed around with Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat II. I was terrible.

But in this time and place, I had lost the self-consciousness that had driven me away from the fighting genre.

Marvel vs. Capcom was strange, brash, and flashy.

It did not care what you thought about it or yourself.

It had something to say and it celebrated the end like a lone tank crew charging down an enemy battalion.

 

Share.

 

Marvel vs. Capcom was not the first crossover title to combine the two universes.

Capcom released two games prior: X-Men vs Street Fighter (1996) and Marvel Super Heroes vs. Street Fighter (1997).

None of the arcades I went to had either, making MvC the first crossover fighting game I was exposed to.

MvC1 released in two variations: a large screen format and the standard cab format.

The local arcade had the large cab which lit up like white phosphorous in the dark.

The first thing you notice about MvC is how much it flashes.

How bright it burns.

The colors are simple and bold, searing.

The levels are dynamic and had more verticality than I was used to in a fighting game.

It was a fireworks show lighting up the heart of a dying industry.

When I got a chance to engage with it, I had no understanding of tiers.

With fighting games I had always assumed that the developers gave all the characters asymmetric, but equivalent tools.

I chose my team based on looks.

Strider/Jin.

The assists were chosen at random (sort of).

MvC is a physical game.

The characters have real weight and density, they have honest friction.

The physicality of the game reminded me of SFII.

Its speed and difficulty of Strikers 1945.

While I found some success in the single-player campaign, I failed competitively.

Looking back, I just didn’t know enough about fighting games.

I enjoyed my time in that world.

I enjoyed the end of that time.

 

Deus.

 

Marvel vs. Capcom 2 was released two years later.

One of the most anticipated releases in the arcade world.

The large cab was enormous, with a screen that swallowed everyone’s field of vision.

The graphics were improved and the character roster had expanded to levels never before seen in the genre.

With the breadth of character choice, Capcom also expanded from a tag-team fighting system to a full trio.

MvC2 was more explosive, faster, more chaotic than its predecessor.

It suffered for this.

I still had no idea about fighting games so I ended up sticking with my MvC1 team: Strider/Jin.

I put Jill Valentine in the third slot. I loved Resident Evil.

Something was off for me the second my first match started.

Something was lost.

While the art and levels honed the original’s bold, bright aesthetic, it lost its physicality.

The characters felt lighter, faster, less fricative.

This made MvC2 a better game to watch than 1, but not as necessary to play.

It was a social game before the era of mobile internet.

It was a prophecy.

It was a game you stood around and discussed in awe of what you were seeing.

The initial shock value of the game was high. With 56 characters to choose, it seemed like a game of true expression.

Over time, it became evident that along with Capcom not honing the movement, they hadn’t really taken the time to balance it.

In going for a faster game, a more chaotic game, Capcom had only made a handful of teams viable at high-level play.

MvC1 had been broken as well, but proportionally the player had more, real options with less than half the selection of 2 (22 characters).

MvC2 was bright and empty, like the place it was born into.

 

Era.

 

Marvel vs. Capcom 3 wouldn’t come out for another 11 years.

Capcom lost the Marvel license after MvC2.

By the time MvC3 released, the arcades were gone.

Many of the last remaining, best known arcades in the U.S. had either closed or were on the verge of closing.

MvC3 had no understanding of the time that had spawned its predecessors.

MvC3 was more ‘floaty’ than either of the first two games.

There was even less friction, less density than MvC2.

It also lost a lot of the brightness, a lot of the flash.

The art style was altered, creating a dark, murky, muted world.

This was Marvel vs. Capcom for the home generation.

In spite of its poor physics and boring style, Capcom did mange to improve in a few areas.

MvC3 produced more viable teams.

The game doesn’t just boil down to variations on the same team at high-level play.

Almost every year since its release, the meta-game has changed.

This made it even more watchable than MvC2.

Capcom understood the social draw of MvC2 and honed it further.

MvC3 is a fighting game that generates an enormous amount of discussion and collaboration.

It is often touted as being ‘fun to watch’ by the fighting game community even for those who don’t play it.

While the first two games in the MvC series were about chaos and explosiveness, MvC3 was about experimentation.

In the arcades, a person didn’t have the time or money to poke around inside a game.

Either someone was going to challenge you or someone was waiting for you to finish.

There was always a sense of urgency: You had to be able to develop and pick up technique in repeated bursts of play and in carefully watching the competition.

By turning away from the urgency of its arcade roots (there is no Marvel vs. Capcom 3 arcade cabinet for instance), by increasing the viable options available to the player, Capcom transitioned a series which grew out of the brash, colorful dreams of a dying market to a darker, colder era more geared towards experimentation, technicality, and discussion.

I miss the flash and physicality of MvC1.

I miss the chaos and breadth of MvC2.

But in making MvC3 more social and more open to experimentation, Capcom pivoted the game for a new market.

While the changes may have left MvC3 with a less satisfying aesthetic experience overall, the series has adapted and will survive in a new era instead of going down with the place and the time that birthed it.

 

Italy.

 

Watching STGs struggle outside of arcades has been painful.

With all their elegant design and beauty, to see them collapse cuts deep.

Fighting games tend to be slow to adapt: 11 years between MvC2 and 3. 12 years between Street Fighter III and IV.

But they are able to change and yet carry on the seeds of arcade tradition into new futures and technologies.

The collaborative and competitive nature of fighting games is what made the communities around them strong enough to survive the collapse.

Strong enough to celebrate the beginning and the end without weeping at the ruins.

Something has been lost.

That can’t be denied.

The death of the arcade was tragic and infuriating.

It was a slow decline, like watching someone you love whither away from some terminal illness.

But rather than mourn the loss, MvC embraced it.

The series celebrated what was and what was to come.

The FGC did the same:

Not always with grace, but with an endurance that can only come from profound loss and the enigmatic, joyous love of competition.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nocturnal.

 

 

Demon’s Souls defined the PS3 for me.

In 2009, it was becoming evident that the Playstation 3 had lost the ‘console wars’. Microsoft had the better digital store, better online play, better versions of cross-platform releases, and better exclusives.

Demon’s Souls brought something serious and innovative to the PS3.

It was explosive.

Demon’s Souls sold out everywhere shortly after release. The game tapped into a part of the collective gaming mind that was under-served.

Many often cite Call of Duty as having ruined games today.

After CoD became a phenomenon with Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare in 2007, many other game publishers and developers tried to follow suit by making linear, cinematic games with enormous budgets, little single player challenge, and customizable multiplayer.

What Demon’s Souls did was the exact opposite.

The game presented an alternative that had been forgotten.

Demon’s Souls was the antithesis to what CoD had accomplished: A third-person, dark fantasy game set in a world with a medieval European aesthetic. Little was explained to the player.

Everything from the plot to the leveling system to the global mechanics were left for the player to decipher. There was no exposition here, it expected you to puzzle everything out.

After playing DS for a while, I said to my brother, “Its like playing Dragon Warrior on Saturday afternoons as a kid.”, it captured that lack of noise, the volume of space, and the confusion of trying to figure out what an ‘RPG’ was.

DS was the first game in a long while to not treat the player like an idiot.

By all accounts, Demon’s Souls should not have been successful in a post-CoD market and if not for its asymmetrical multiplayer, I don’t believe it would have been noticed to the same extent.

For a little over a decade the developers of Demon’s Souls, From Software, mainly worked on polishing their flagship Armored Core series which only ever achieved a niche gaming audience.

Prior to Demon’s Souls, From Software also released King’s Field, often considered a spiritual predecessor to DS, which also never really captured a large gaming audience.

Demon’s Souls was arguably From Software’s first big success. A success achieved by filling the void left by Call of Duty.

DS is a game about dread. The player is never at peace with the quiet, at any point nearly any enemy could kill you.

The game expected you to just barely get by. The little help you were granted came in the form of small messages written on the ground left by other players. This was the most substantial interaction you had, this was one of the few and only ways players could communicate.

The writing only amplified the dread and loneliness of the world, the feeling of having just missed someone repeatedly was jarring.

DS also allowed you to view how other players in the area had died. It allowed you to witness their final moments, their final acts.

Demon’s Souls was a love letter to loss, forever being lost.

 

Other.

 

When my mother bought Dragon Warrior for me, she had to coach me through it as I had no conception of how to play that game. I had come off of Mario and Duck Hunt and I had no reference for what Dragon Warrior was.

I didn’t understand how to save, I inevitably replayed the first few hours over and over again. I would ask my grandmother for help when my mother was at work, but she didn’t know English.

I read an interview once with Hidetaka Miyazaki, creator of the Souls series, where he explained the influence behind Demon’s Souls.

As a child, he had attempted to read English fairy tales to the best of his ability. However, he was never able to understand everything that occurred and was forced to imagine what happened in the gaps of his understanding.

This experience was the fuel that drove the broken, dark fantasy narrative of Demon’s Souls.

He was forcing players to confront and explore the emptiness of understanding.

When Dark Souls released in 2011, it wasn’t as much a shock to the gaming landscape as Demon’s Souls was. At that point, the medium had two years to digest what Demon’s presented.

What Dark Souls did was hone further everything presented in Demon’s Souls: A larger environment, more weapons, more subtlety, a stronger plot, more NPCs, more interconnectedness.

Where Demon’s Souls was an exploration of dread, Dark Souls was an exploration of tragedy, morality, and sanity. It was an archaeology of what makes us human.

In Dark Souls, the world is progressing through its own Götterdämmerung. The power of the Gods is waning and because of this no one can die, they are constantly reborn as ‘hollow’ (undead). The more hollow one becomes, the more they lose all sense of self.

The end of Dark Souls presents a question to the player: Do you sacrifice yourself and prolong the rule of the Gods? Or do you turn your back and begin the age of darkness (the rule of man)?

The road to this final question is paved with tragedy: The killing of Sif, the story of Knight Artorias, the treachery and madness of Seath, the self-isolation of Priscilla, the downfall of Solaire.

Dark Souls isn’t just an archaeology of place, it is an archaeology of the self. Just as the player digs into the world of Lordran, Lordran forces the player to delve into the heart of the self.

Like Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls is a quiet game set in an enormous world where anything can kill. The developer evened the odds by having more weapons and armor available to the player.

I often tell people that Dark Souls is the simpler game when compared to Demon’s Souls, but only because it presents things more cleanly while maintaining the narrative and mechanical darkness that made Demon’s Souls so enthralling.

Dark Souls is a literary epic that has been ripped apart. The player mainly gathers information while sifting through the world.

The short object descriptions are a fundamental part of the narrative: The more items you manage to find, the more of the story you understand.

Many often complain that the combat and movement in the Souls’ series is unsatisfying. The character movements are floppy and slow, but this only adds to the feeling of being dispossessed and lost in some decaying surreal spectacle: A lack of coordination.

Dark Souls was a proper evolution, everything that made Demon’s Souls great was expanded.

In Dark Souls II there is only back-tracking and contraction.

 

Young.

 

I spent two years playing Dark Souls, the game was that important.

Sometimes I would simply exist in the world without doing anything, just watching the clouds.

As the release date for Dark Souls II neared, I became excited. Dark Souls meant something to me.

From the second I put DSII in, everything felt off.

The character was quicker than in DSI, the game began with one of the most awful, poorly integrated tutorials I had ever experienced, and there was more plot exposition: exactly what I had feared.

There was controversy during Dark Souls II’s development. Miyazaki was moved to work on other projects in From, and the series was handed over to Tomohiro Shibuya and Yui Tanimura.

The controversy mainly had to do with comments made from the Dark Souls II dev team about how to make the game more understandable and easier in order to increase accessibility.

These comments then set-off a chain reaction of anxiety from embedded Dark Souls fans. They became concerned that everything that made Dark Souls and Demon’s Souls grand and unique were going to be gutted.

The broken narrative of the first two Souls games is poetry. Poetry is a broken narrative of an experience or a thought. No one asks poets to make their poetry more understandable, I couldn’t see why anyone wanted to do that with a series that had proven itself twice.

In the first 30 minutes of playing, I could tell that Dark Souls II was not going to be as engrossing or as challenging, narratively or mechanically.

After managing to burn through the first five bosses, I had to take a break and think about what happened.

The item descriptions had become twice as long. The world was not layered at all, the different locations didn’t fit together in any compelling way, and the enemies were unbalanced.

One of Dark Souls II’s major problems is the difficulty does not scale properly. One minute the player will have control of an area only to be hit with a very difficult enemy type out of nowhere.

Dark Souls’ genius was that it was a constant uphill battle, but the challenge never felt ‘vertical’, it never threw up barriers out of nowhere, the difficulty ramped up meticulously: DSII had none of that subtlety.

The battle with the Ruin Sentinels was a poorly conceived pyramid scheme of fun.

This lack of subtlety in Dark Souls II’s design would not have been an issue had they allowed the player to grind for experience in the same manner as the previous two iterations. Now, the player could no longer go to areas with respawning, high-experience enemies and grind, after a certain amount of time, the enemies stop coming back, and when that happens not only is it frustrating for the player, but the area feels barren and boring.

Couple this ‘wasteland’ mechanic with the ability to travel between checkpoints outright at will, and you have a game that asks so much less of the player than its predecessors while hollowing out its own world.

It’s almost as if Dark Souls II deeply misunderstands everything that made the first two Souls games relevant. It is by far the worst entry in the series.

This is not to say that Dark Souls II itself is a bad game, it isn’t, it just isn’t the game it could have been.

Dark Souls II is a cheap experience that only tries to grasp at the mechanical and narrative shadows cast by its siblings.

What defined Demon’s Souls was its exploration of dread and triumph.

What defined Dark Souls was its exploration of tragedy and loss.

What defines Dark Souls II is cheapness and a failed attempt at ease.

From Software should not be proud of Dark Souls II, regardless of sales. Dark Souls II’s inevitable financial success will only be based on the high quality of its predecessors, not on its own merits. It offers nothing to the series while taking so much away.

From can do better than this and until we begin to see what the next installment in the Souls series holds, Dark Souls I is still the pinnacle of what they can accomplish.

 

Vivisect.

 

Demon’s Souls:

 

Dark Souls:

 

Dark Souls II: