Skip navigation

Tag Archives: Destiny

 

 

Stomach.

 

 

PAX East 2015.

I’m in Boston. I have a cold.

I spend Thursday afternoon dislodging the Hyundai rental from one of the four-foot snowdrifts framing my driveway.

Sweating. No hat. The wind blowing hard off the corn field across the road.

PAX East 2015: I fall into Boston.

I choke on its wind.

Same hotel. Same time of year. A different state:

2014. I am ready to give up on games. Everything feels hollow.

Everything feels bored.

Everything is hype and money.

Exhausted and numb: I find Tim Rogers.

I see Videoball. It pulls me back.

I start writing again for the first time in three years.

I gut my political blog.

I write about video games for the first time ever.

I write my first post about Videoball.

It stays with me. It sticks to me. I think about the game at least once a day for a year.

PAX East 2015 and I only need two days.

The panels are uninteresting.

I am curious about the booths on the show floor.

Friday night I walk with my wife through the park.

She takes pictures of fat, red squirrels.

We work our way to Chinatown.

We try shabu-shabu for the first time. We drink bubble tea.

It’s quiet. The streets are quiet.

The snowbanks glow from neon signs.

Caked in trash.

I think about Saturday. I don’t miss PAX.

I miss Action Button.

I miss Videoball.

 

Joint.

 

Pax East 2015.

I wake up. Shower.

I don’t sleep much. The walls are thin.

Exhausted, I step into the city. Buy some coffee.

I love the city.

I miss Madison. Chicago. LA. Beirut. Paris.

We walk through Chinatown again. We find our way to the convention center.

The foot traffic stops. The security line is two blocks long.

Stuck on a bridge. I stare down into the small pools of broken ice.

I have always had a fear of deep, complex water – A horror of it.

We make it in. We burrow into the display.

There is a muted excitement.

It feels familiar. It feels off.

Bethesda doesn’t make a showing for the first time in three years.

Evolve is buried away from the main entrance. No giant monster to display.

Supergiant is there for the third year in the same booth pushing Transistor.

Alienware brings back the opulent spirit of the late-90’s PC hardware fever.

The manipulative pre-order systems of 2014 are gone.

I see Grey Goo and Dreadnought. Overwatch. Final Fantasy Type-0. Monster Hunter. Elite Dangerous.

I wander into independent games.

I wind through rows of small developers: Frenzied innovation and a consuming boredom.

Iron Galaxy cuts into view.

I find Videoball.

I greet Tim. We talk with joy and excitement.

He introduces me to Michael Kerwin, programmer for Action Button Entertainment.

And I feel like I’m home.

Videoball is still stunning.

I watch it played on an enormous screen.

It has grown in the past year. It has matured.

It feels less like a video game. It feels like a court.

An arena.

An environment.

A world.

 

Knuckle.

 

2014 Videoball felt new. It felt vigorous.

It was a geometry problem stuck in the mind of a squash player.

It was a system brimming with friction and momentum.

2014 Videoball caressed urgency.

Videoball has now learned how to breathe.

This past year the game has evolved in small, intelligent ways.

Touching the ball no longer freezes the player: The player is pushed away.

The punishment is still the inability to move, but now the field is more active.

Nothing stands still.

This rejection system still requires the player to correct trajectory however much they can.

It’s a punishment that still involves the player.

It’s a punishment that involves losing field position.

2015 Videoball has adjusted the timing and features of the three shots.

The level 1 shot can now be used repeatedly with quick button taps.

The (persistent) level 2 shot is able to push the ball in a straight line.

The level 3 (slam) shot feels hot and alive.

Now when the ball is hit with the level 3, it creates a thick, rubber-banding color trail behind it.

Like the light trails from Akira translated into an organic brutalism.

The level 4 blocks actively deconstruct themselves with each hit.

One hit and the block splits into nine squares.

Two hits and the squares spin and disappear.

Tim explained he got this idea from the visual flourishes in Destiny when breaking down items.

The ball and the stages themselves feel more involved.

The ball contorts when manipulated with force like a soccer ball in the feet of Captain Tsubasa.

The stages absorb energy and ripple with soft, Mario 3 curves.

The stages have also become more complex.

Some involve the goals being split in the center.

Other stages are littered with small blocks around the center of the field.

The stages are diverse and shifting. Creative and challenging.

In 2014, Videoball was aesthetically cohesive.

Its visual language was clean and deep.

In 2015, Videoball is whole.

It’s completely awake.

It is a living, breathing world of systems and cues.

A world comprised solely of sunsets and city nights.

A year ago Videoball felt complete.

It inspired me then.

It showed me how much some people still care about games and vision.

2015: That passion hasn’t receded.

Last year, it was Midnight City.

Now it’s Iron Galaxy:

Revitalizing Killer Instinct. Pushing Gunsport. Supporting Videoball.

Showcasing games that pull on the flesh.

Games that rip open sweat and spine.

Videoball has found the right kind of new home.

The right kind of stable.

Videoball is ready to run.

To trample.

It’s powerful. Beautiful. Lean. Heavy. Fast.

In 2014, Videoball was a game I needed:

To see.

To touch.

To digest.

 

2015: Everything and nothing has changed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Construct.

 

 

“We are more free than ever before to look around in all directions; nowhere, do we perceive any limits. We have the advantage of feeling an immense space around us – but also an immense void.” – Nietzsche

 

I look up at the orange sky. I stare at the vapor trails of passing planes. I remember Destiny.

Games are barren. They wrap space around emptiness and call it ‘World.’

Mario is desolate: Why is the Kingdom so empty? Where did everyone go? Whose footsteps wrap around the mountains?

Where were they going? And why did they leave?

Games suggest so much more than they are, but the space always cracks and no amount of environmental density can cover the silent, screaming vacuum behind their blind walls.

There are those that celebrate this wasteland: the Souls series, but their understanding never lasts.

Art emerges from the medium and implies texture and flesh. Warmth and dirt. But this is never translatable.

The system loses the context and renders an approximation of an open heart: trash tumbling in the light of a cold wind.

A problem of translation of place.

In Dark Souls, the player enters a painting: The Painted World of Ariamis. The painting hangs in a large cathedral in the middle of the domain of dead Gods.

The painted world was more tangible than the game’s reality. It distilled the lingering misery, focused it.

Warmth made of glass.

I look up at the orange sky. I stare at the vapor trails of passing planes. I wonder about the people. I wonder about their fear.

Games are barren. They wrap space around emptiness and call it ‘World.’

And what of the actual World?

It is also wrapped in an incomprehensible emptiness.

Is all our art and culture just a means to focus our anxieties of the void? To manufacture space and meaning?

To focus our misery?

The world as an engine of art and anxiety.

I played Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare one year after being stuck in a war zone.

The ‘attack helicopter’ killstreak gave me nightmares.

Games are somewhere between our subjective real and waking dream.

They have an influence of vision, they manufacture questions of perception and alter the gaze.

I lay down on the grass. I watch the light drip through the shaking silhouette of leaves. I think of Crysis.

The bigger a game tries to pretend to be, the less interesting it is.

The bigger a game tries to be, the more brittle the walls and the vacuum becomes intolerable and loud.

Open-world games try to keep their promise. Worlds where the player can mold their own narrative: An assumed simulation of living.

But this world itself is not open, none of us can go where we want.

We are stuck with our anxieties, our hate, our love, our need.

We are rooted and our imagination is crumbling.

What made FFVII so successful is that it understood the minute scale on which a world operates. It understood the sequence of place and the fragility of people.

And similar to Baudelaire’s The Flowers of Evil, every character was colored by the tragedy of existing in that world.

Square never captured that feeling again. No one has.

In college, I would experiment with noise. I listened to a lot of Merzbow, Bomb 20, and MITB.

Other genres of music, when pushed to their natural ends, often failed to capture the absurd notion of creating meaning in a life of constant fear and a notion of the inevitable end of all things.

Eazy-E almost got it.

He wrangled his own understanding out of the bowels of cosmic indifference and died.

 

Bearing.

 

“Why do you like games so much?”

We were sitting at a Mediterranean cafe downtown. The light was dim. There was a lot of noise.

It was raining outside. We were drinking mint tea.

I looked at her.

I shrug.

I didn’t have a good answer. I still don’t.

And I don’t think anyone does.

I barrel through the darkness. I listen to Chipzel. I feel remorse.

Her music emerges from the ancient dead. It isn’t about reminiscing, it’s about digging through potential.

Games are barren. They wrap their creators’ hands in dust and bone and call it love.

An existential war between iterations of conflict and empty memorial: This is the current state of things.

“Why do you like games so much?”

Maybe because I like the promise of their parts: Games as reverse-Gestalt objects.

The parts are more than the whole.

Engines of art, music, philosophy, narratives, experience. Everything that emerges from that space is more exhilarating than the space itself.

Factories.

I sit on a hill. I stare through the heart of the city. I watch the sunset. I listen.

How many times has the world cracked open to bear itself to the distant, dying stars?

How many times have we accepted the mess we are and the mess we are in?

Are games attractive because they give us a controlled space to act? But the finality is there and the player is actively driving that world to its own end.

No matter where we go, we devour worlds and drink space.

Always running from ourselves and into each other.

I was watching G4. It was a live broadcast of E3. They asked for viewer feedback about a game with ‘choice.’

They aired the response of a stereotype.

An obese, white male discussing how he always makes the ‘moral’ choices. That mattered to him.

He wanted to be the classic hero.

I felt sorry for him. I felt sorry for how much pain he must be in to imagine that his choices and his feedback mattered.

The greatest fraud: That the worlds of games care about what we think or feel.

It’s all fish eyes and limbs. Gasping and clawing. Remembrance and money.

 

Dancing.

 

We made MMOs because we couldn’t handle the end.

We decided we needed persistence. We needed more time in the wasteland between dream and abyss.

A wasteland with no virtual end: A depraved mimicry of our reflections.

I look up at the sun. I remember the canvas, the page, the brick, breathing, waking.

Games are barren. They are made and call themselves ‘World.’

And we run into them with a love and expectation that is always broken.

Why do you like games so much?

I stayed up all night and read ‘I, The Divine‘ once.

A novel written by a man from the perspective of a Lebanese woman trying to write her life story.

A novel of first chapters.

Where do our lives begin?

I walked to the lake at 4 am. I sat by the shore.

It was snowing. I lit a cigar.

I stared into the black.

And I accepted in that moment, there was no one to embrace.

And I accepted, once and for all, that I have no answers.

 

I am become boredom, the cancer of worlds.

 

“…It can only persist…as long as it’s possible to pretend that the destructive forces that humans create are limited, that the world is an infinite resource, and that the world is an infinite garbage can.” – Noam Chomsky

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.