Basti's Scratchpad on the Internet

Posts tagged "games":

22 Nov 2016

Soma

For a long time, I was afraid of picking up Soma, since it came from the developers who did Amnesia. Amnesia was the first game that scared me so thoroughly that I just couldn't bring myself to pick it up again after the first session. I admired it for its amazing world design, interactivity, and story, but it was too scary for me. I don't enjoy being scared.

I was thus of two minds when I heard about Soma: Soma was supposed to be less scary, and SciFi. But still, let me get this out of the way; This game scared me whitless. I had to use an online game guide to warn me of monsters and tell me how to evade them. I was too scared to figure this stuff out by myself, all alone in this creepy, nasty, underwater space station.

But at the same time, this game delivered one of the best stories I have ever seen in a video game. The story left me shaken and thoughtful for days, and the story was what dragged me back into the game even though I was really struggling with the monster sections. Even the delivery through conversations, environmental clues, and audio logs, was truly outstanding. I just love grimy Alien-style SciFi, and this is one of the very few video game stories that could fill more than a paragraph or two in a well-written book. I love it.

Apparently, if you like horror games, this is a very mild one. Boring even, if you can believe my favorite online critics. But believe me, it was right on the edge of what I was able to take. I still can't quite decide whether I would have preferred this game without the monsters, or whether the monsters were a necessary tool for evoking this intense sense of dread on the lonely SciFi ocean floor. Maybe the monsters lent some much-needed life and interactivity to the walk-em-up formula.

At any rate, I thoroughly enjoyed this experience, and can't wait for what this developer will create next. I wholeheartedly recommend this, as one of the best SciFi stories of this year, in any medium. ★★★★★

Tags: games
26 Jun 2016

P⋅O⋅L⋅L⋅E⋅N and Walk 'em ups

I like boring games. I like games that give me time to think. Like flight simulators, truck simulators, history simulators, and (don't call them walking simulators) walk 'em ups. And this weekend, this year's Steam Summer Sale started, and thus it was time to get some gaming done!

First, I played Everybody's Gone to the Rapture, a walk 'em up that got good reviews, and was especially praised for it's story. And it dutifully enraptured me, with its British landscapes, and personal story lines. But somehow it didn't quite connect. Maybe I'm not British enough, and I certainly didn't get all of the story. Still, this is well worth picking up, and visiting a digital Shropshire after just having visited the real one earlier this year was a real treat!

Second, I played P⋅O⋅L⋅L⋅E⋅N. It did not start well: The download took ages, I had to unplug all that fancy flight simulation gear to get it to recognize my controller, and performance was rather lackluster. Oh, and reviews were rather mediocre, too. (Also, here's a free tip for you if you games developers: putting fancy Unicode characters into your game title does not improve SEO).

But, I entirely fell in love with P⋅O⋅L⋅L⋅E⋅N! You arrive on Titan in your dinky near-future space capsule, take a short walk on the surface of the moon, and then explore the local space station. Of course, something went wrong, and the space station is deserted. Oh, and there is something about space bees.

What really worked for me here was the environmental story telling. This is a space station much in the tradition of 2001: A Space Odyssey and Alien. It's that perfect utilitarian and inhumanely sterile work place that human corporation always strive for, and human employees always mess up. The stark industrial bleakness of these space corridors is the perfect backdrop to make those little human irregularities really stand out.

There is no conflict, only light puzzles, and the story is developed only through voice diaries and environmental clutter. But in contrast to Rapture, it all makes sense. The futurist setting, the deep humanity of the people dealing with it. The creepiness of machines without operators. The struggle of the scientists and engineers against the forces of nature and greedy corporations. The nods —nay— genuflections to everything that has ever been great in Scifi. Even that Kubrick ending. I loved every inch of this! ★★★★★

Tags: games
23 Jan 2016

Toren

I've been playing a lot of indie games lately. One of them has not been talked about much: Toren. Toren is a platformer about a girl that has to climb a tower to defeat a dragon and revive her world. This is probably the least polished game I have played in a long time. Animations are janky, controls are imprecise and clunky, and there are loads of little glitches. Yet, I really enjoyed this.

There is something about this world that feels honest to me: As you climb the tower, the child grows from a toddler to an adolescent, and is gradually introduced to more and more mature concepts. I didn't understand much of the iconography of this game, but it felt oddly cathartic to climb this tower of life, and overcome it's challenges.

I particularly liked how death played such an integral role in this story and some of the puzzles. The tower is a monument to a dead people, and yet the story and game mechanics are as much about dying as they are about rebirth and not giving up. This is underlined by the wonderful art style of this game, which contrasts vivid colors with brooding, dark architecture.

At just about two hours, Toren is not a long game. Instead of exploring one particular game mechanic, it mixes it's game up every few minutes. Every sequence looks different and beautiful, and yet it manages to tell a cohesive and effective story. ★★★★☆

Tags: games
12 Apr 2015

Decisions in Pillars of Eternity

Early on in Pillars of Eternity, you are tasked to kill one of two characters: Either you kill King Rethoric, who executed many innocent people, or you kill Rolsc, the leader of the rebellion. This is an interesting moral choice, but it is also profoundly sad that the game presents killing either of them as the only resolution to this conflict.

It got me thinking. In the real world, I would not consider killing to be an option, ever. But in the game, you have to play by the game's rules. And furthermore, you can't just walk away and have the two characters duke it out amongst themselves: The whole game is built around the player, and without the player's interaction, the game world doesn't evolve.

Thus, this conflict won't resolve itself, and the player is forced to kill. I wish there were a diplomatic option, or a way of fixing the underlying problem so the two characters are not at odds any more. I fear how these choices in video games might influence our perceptions of everyday choices, and crave for video games that offer interesting choices that do not revolve around murder.

From what I hear, Planescape Torment did offer such choices. As did many of my favorite games of all times.

Tags: games
29 Mar 2009

Mirrors Edge

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Ich habe am Wochenende, wie in Twitter schon verkündet, Mirror’s Edge (durch-) gespielt. Ganz kurz: Mirror’s Edge ist ein Videospiel für PC/XBOX360/PS3, im Endeffekt ein Platformer aus der Ego-Perspektive, zwar mit der Möglichkeit, Waffen aufzunehmen, aber mit dem klaren Fokus auf Rennen, genauer: Parkours, dem modernen Hindernislauf, hier mit dem Extratwist: auf Hochhausdächern.

Es wurde schon viel gesagt über dieses Spiel. Müde Story, schlechte Charactermodelle, schlechte Shooter-Elemente, unübersichtliche Atmosphäre, kurze Spieldauer, um nur einige der üblichen Kritikpunkte zu nennen.

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Ich sage: Alles Popauswurf. Was Mirror’s Edge versucht, ist die Direktheit und Intimität der Egoperspektive mit dem Flow und der Geschwindigkeit eines modernen Platformers zu verbinden. Faith, der Hauptcharakter ist eine kleine “Eurasierin” (Zitat der Entwickler), deren Eltern in einem Widerstandskampf… Bla, bla, bla. Es geht um Flow, es geht darum, mit blitzschnellen Reflexen und akrobatischem Geschick einen Weg über die Dächer einer Großstadt zu finden. Es geht darum, nicht stehen zu bleiben, nicht zu zögern. Es geht um Geschwindigkeit und Freiheit, über Straßenschluchten zu springen, zwischen Klimaanlagen und Baugerüsten zu sprinten und immer schneller, immer weiter, den Großstadtlärm hinter sich zu lassen. Nur begleitet von Faiths immer wieder ins Bild ragenden Armen und Beinen, ihrem schnellen Atem, dem Rhythmus ihrer Schritte. Und ja, man stirbt häufig, wenn man sich bei einem Sprung verschätzt oder es doch nicht schafft, den Jägern zu entkommen. Aber um so größer ist die Befriedigung einen komplizierten Run endlich zu schaffen und mit einem perfekten Sprung über eine Häuserschlucht die Polizei hinter sich zu lassen.

Mirror’s Edge perfektioniert den Flow, das Gefühl der Freiheit und der Geschwindigkeit. Klar, dass da die Ego-Shooter-Mechanik auf der Strecke bleibt, aber Faith ist auch keine Kämpferin, sondern selbsterklärter Runner. Sicher, die Story ist ein wenig lahm, aber wir reden hier über ein Computerspiel: Die Story hat allein das Ziel, die einzelnen Schauplätze miteinander zu verbinden, und das gelingt ihr. Charakterentwicklung kennt das Spiel nicht, allein der Spieler wird besser. Und auch das ist gut so, denn in den späteren Leveln ist der Schwierigkeitsgrad nicht von schlechten Eltern. Aber Checkpoints sind häufig und fair verteilt, so dass dies selten ein Problem wird.

Ach ja, und der Sound ist genial, selten habe ich mich so sehr in eine Spielfigur hineinversetzt gefühlt wie in Faith. Und die Grafik… Ich könnte hier viel schreiben; Ich glaube schlicht, dass die aktuelle Konsolengeneration im Grunde ein Niveau erreicht hat, auf dem weitere Verbesserungen keine große Rolle mehr spielen. Mirror’s Edge, mit seiner gleißend-Weiß-plus-Farbe Ästhetik zeigt hier eine Welt, wie man sie noch nie gesehen hat, in der Farbe nicht nur als Stilmittel, sondern auch als Wegweiser und tatsächlich Spielhilfe eingesetzt wird: Rot ist, wo es weiter geht. Diese Ästhetik ist schwer in Worte zu fassen und gibt dem Ganzen eine ganz eigene Freiheit, im starken Kontrast zum “realistisch”-Grau-Braun, dem sich so viele andere Spiele verschrieben haben.

Und was bleibt unterm Strich? Ich sage: Das Spiel ist es Wert. Es mag seine Mängel haben, aber allein der Mut, einmal etwas Neues zu machen und nicht dem Einheitsbrei ins Land der Realo-Shooter und der digitalen Nebenjobs zu folgen ist der Beachtung Wert. Einmal nicht schießen zu müssen und stumpfen Missionen zu folgen, sondern in einem Spiel Freiheit zu finden, dass ist eine außergewöhnliche Erfahrung. Wer als Spieler etwas Erfrischung sucht, sollte es probieren. Ich finds geil!

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Tags: games
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