Written by John Edward Betancourt
It was almost a year ago that I took the plunge and downloaded my first MMORPG on my Xbox One by way of Star Trek Online and holy cow, what a difference a year makes. I truly downloaded this game in the hopes of enjoying a casual Star Trek experience to get my Starfleet fix until Star Trek: Discovery arrived on the airwaves and as it turns out, a year later…this game turned out to become so much more for me.
Sure, it was instantly a fun and exciting jaunt through the Star Trek universe, where I was able to warp from system to system and explore strange new worlds and fight the epic space battles that any Trekkie or Trekker has spent a life time dreaming of. But my casual experience quickly came to a close after I first wrote my initial review of the game because something magical happened…this game sucked me in, in ways that I never expected by becoming a powerful personalized experience for the ages.
Because STO goes above and beyond merely putting you in the captain’s chair and allowing you fire phasers and photon torpedoes and kick some stellar butt along the way. It truly immerses you in the heart of this majestic franchise thanks to top notch writing and some incredibly immersive episodes and as you learn that thinking and speaking like a Starfleet Captain allows for you to progress quicker in the game…you find yourself focused on the ideals of the Federation and there’s a strange sense of pride that comes with earning your Captain’s pips and a sense of humility that comes with being promoted to Fleet Admiral.
But in addition to finding one’s self focused on saving and protecting this digital universe, the richness and respect that this game has for every iteration of the franchise, including the 2009 reboot is nothing short of breathtaking. Easter eggs are everywhere this game, and there’s something truly magical about being able to serve alongside legends from this saga or running into a particular place or character or object from one of your favorite episodes.
All of this comes to mind, simply because of the fact that nearly a year after downloading this game…I’ve completed all available episodes and seasons and that gave me pause. Because when all is said and done…this is a dream come true for any hardcore fan. I finally got to command a starship in Starfleet, and play the hero and be a part of the universe I’ve admired through my television screen for as long as I can remember and it’s supremely satisfying to know that more adventures are on their way since Season 13.5 arrives soon and I cannot wait to see what new and exciting stories are waiting on the horizon…
Written by John Edward Betancourt
August is a special time for us football fans. After all, the NFL Preseason gets underway, we get our football fix at last and in a few short weeks, the regular season begins and our team’s quest to hoist the Lombardi Trophy and enjoy the title of Super Bowl Champion begins. But for the hardcore fans of the sport, there’s another important event that also happens this time of year, the annual release of Madden.
This gaming tradition remains a staple for football fans simply because it truly allows for an immersive NFL experience. Sure, some folks see it as nothing more than a pricey roster update; but to so many this game means so much more. Madden as a whole almost represents an escape from the spoils of defeat, a place where fans can right the wrongs that happened on the field and relish in the wonder of the championship that they help guide their favorite team to and the time to bask in the magic of this game has come around once again and let me tell you now, Madden 18 is truly a sight to behold.
For this year’s edition of the game, the folks at EA Sports made use of the revolutionary Frostbite Engine and the results of this investment are utterly breathtaking. At times, it truly feels as though you’re watching the NFL on television with uniforms that pop off the screen and the realism is further enhanced by the little things you see on the screen, such as the divots I noticed on the field that appear later in the game as the players hammer the turf beneath them.
Not to mention, the wonderful commentary system has been further revamped to the point where it is the most dynamic system I’ve ever seen in a sports game. For the first time ever, Brandon Gaudin and Charles Davis say far more than the usual canned responses you’d expect from games such as these, they’re able to speak to real time stats and they reference past week’s events in game as well and adding that kind of enhancement only sucks you into the game further.
Of course, fans of this game expect more than just a wonderful presentation, the gameplay has to wow as well and once again EA Sports has added some wonderful enhancements to the action on the field to make Madden more accessible and more challenging as well. Take for example the three new game modes; Arcade, Simulation and Competitive. The first of that bunch allows for fans who enjoy shootouts and high scoring games to get what they crave while students of the game can receive an authentic NFL experience with Simulation mode and Competitive mode peppers in just enough of a challenge to keep those who love to be pushed, coming back for more.
Plus, there’s the brand-new Targeting system for the passing game as well, which gives the player unprecedented control of where to place the ball when playing quarterback. As an added bonus, for those who have always wanted to play in the NFL, you can vicariously live that dream in Longshot mode, which features Madden’s first ever story mode system wherein you take control of a former college football star’s last shot at playing in the NFL.
So, as you can see, this year’s edition of Madden is loaded to the gills with treat after treat for every football fan out there and I’m honestly having trouble putting the game down. I simply can’t get enough of the breathtaking graphics and immersive gameplay because this year’s iteration of Madden, is the finest the franchise has ever offered up and I highly encourage anyone who is a fan of the game to pick this one up as soon as they can and if you’ve ever been curious to try it, now would certainly be the perfect time, since Madden 18 is in stores now.
Written by Zeke Perez Jr.
V7 Entertainment’s Old Time Hockey rocketed to the top of my list of most anticipated sports video games of 2017, as I craved a fun, laid-back, arcade style hockey video game like those I played as a kid in the 90s. After taking some time to explore the game, I can say it didn’t disappoint.
Immediately after booting up the game, its humor began to shine through. It’s hard not to chuckle when ‘Yankee Doodle’ is the first song I heard. That tune is joined by other silly music like ‘The Can Can’, ‘The Addams Family Theme Song’, and the vulgar and delightful ‘Old Time Hockey’ by The Donnybrooks. The soundtrack pairs extremely well with the colors and sights, which are very cheesy, very cartoony, and very 70’s (in a good way!).
Diving into an exhibition game, the loading screens told me exactly what I had gotten myself into. The ‘Don’t Be a Clown’ tutorial popped up, claiming that good hockey players show respect for others, but you’re not a good hockey player so ‘play dirty, trash talk and rub it in, get some penalties’. It also stated, not at all tongue-in-cheek, that the Bush Hockey League is ‘not some pansy league like the Steel League whose commissioner is Harry Buttman’. You can tell even before puck drops that this game will be much more violent, hilarious, and nonsensical than your average modern hockey game. Shots fired, NHL and Gary Bettman!
Wild 70’s vibes continue throughout. The old-school TV look permeates the presentation, with vintage fonts and colors resonating on the pause screen, scoreboards, and in-game player identification. Everything else is dripping with nostalgia too, from the tint of the ice to old-style equipment like goals and pads.
Old Time Hockey has a varied control system. For those seeking arcade-style play, it has a selection of control options that are easy to pick up and use, including ‘Retro’, ‘Two Button’ and ‘Beer Mode’, which requires only one hand. After going head-to-head with a friend, I found the variety to be extremely useful. The options add several layers to the game. Some are better than others (Beer Mode, for instance, is a great concept but in practice takes a little getting used to), but the variety allows for individuals to tailor the play-style to what they like best.
The ‘Advanced’ controls play just like those in modern EA Sports NHL games, using the right stick and various buttons for many of the same functions. Many movements and actions, such as dumping the puck and skating backwards, must first be unlocked through a ‘Story Mode’ tutorial to be used, so it does take a few games before you have your full arsenal. Some advanced controls that aren’t seen in EA titles are dedicated buttons for slashing and hooking, as stick violence is warmly welcomed.
Above the slashes and hooks, the best parts of the game are the hits and the fights. Hip checks are to OTH what one-timer goals were to NHL ’94: staples of the game that feel powerful when pulled off. The fights are something else too. Goalie fights, stick fights, ground-and-pound punches after a KO, all out team brawls...everything the 90s-kid version of myself ever wanted when playing hockey games. It’s incredibly satisfying to go through a chain of four or five fights mid-game. Big thanks to OTH for bringing that to life.
Game Modes and Gameplay
OTH is somewhat barebones when it comes to game modes, offering up only ‘Exhibition’ and ‘Story Mode’. The ‘Story Mode’ itself isn’t especially deep either, but it is fun. You take over the Schuylkill Hinto Brews, a struggling mishmash of a team on the verge of failure. Starting out with essentially no stats and with very few controls, it almost feels like you’re Gordon Bombay taking over the hapless District 5 hockey team and trying to turn them into the Ducks that they are deep down inside. And just as Coach Bombay felt, this is frustrating at first but rewarding in the long run.
The story in ‘Story Mode’ is told solely through newspaper headlines, loading screens, and menu text. Aside from that, the games you play are only differentiated from a normal exhibition game by the required and optional tasks you complete in each. You don’t have any say on how to improve the Hinto Brews other than by playing the games. In future iterations, it might be nice to see player trades, team relocations, budgeting, and things of that nature. Nevertheless, the story is hilarious and full of hijinks and great one-liners.
Upon release, folks had issues with glitches and errors. Personally, I ran into a problem where I couldn’t progress through certain story mode objectives because required stats weren’t tracking correctly, leaving me to play the same game over and over until I was fuming and red in the face, thinking that maybe I was doing something wrong. But much credit is owed to the V7 team, who recognized some of the initial flaws with the game and have worked nonstop to issue a slew of patches to ensure everything is running smoothly.
While it is lacking a bit of replay value and some of the zaniness that made NHL Hitz such a fun game to play, Old Time Hockey finds its own lane and establishes itself as a vicious, silly arcade hockey title. This iteration of OTH truly deserves your support, and I can see future versions blossoming from the foundation laid here. It’s available now on PS4, Xbox One, and PC, and is worth the affordable $11.99 asking price, especially if you’ve got some buddies that can help you get a little more value out of exhibition games.
Written by John Edward Betancourt
There's been many a game I've played in my day and for the most part our strong sense of nostalgia has brought back some of my favorites over the years. The entire Mortal Kombat trilogy is on my Xbox, I can enjoy Lucasarts' The Dig thanks to Steam, but some games seem to be lost forever.
One such game that I miss playing because well, the technology is no longer available to play it is one of my all time favorites, the awesome and epic, Star Trek: The Next Generation - 'A Final Unity'. Released in 1995 by Spectrum Holobyte, this game was a celebration of one of the hottest shows on television.
One thing that made this game instantly awesome was the fact that the original cast came aboard to reprise their roles. At the time, this was a huge deal and it made an already promising game that much more enriching. But it goes beyond top notch performances from the cast, the game played out perfectly like an episode of the show complete with (at the time) cutting edge cinematic cut scenes and well, the story was engrossing. It revolved around the hunt for the mysterious Unity Device, created by an ancient race known as the Chodak. This device was something of great power, able to control all of time and space.
So naturally, with a plot like that, the stakes were high in this game, leading to plenty of action and adventure and some impressive space battles, which leads to one of the other enjoyable aspects of the game, the amount of freedom you had to control the Enterprise. You could set up the game to do everything for you, or you could manually set a course, plot your transporter coordinates, hand pick the away team, and take Worf's station in battle.
The only complaint I guess I have about this game, was that you never quite had the chance to explore the ship outside of a video tutorial and that's a shame. It would have been so cool to wander the halls of this majestic ship, but it's not something that will upset you. After all the adventure is either on the bridge or on a planet and that alone is engrossing enough to make you okay with the fact you don't get to poke around Main Engineering. Either way, this is another incredible game from an incredible era and I do hope someone (looking at you, Steam) resurrects it soon.
Written by John Edward Betancourt
I've made it no secret that PC games were a staple of my childhood. They inspired me in so many ways, and today I'd like to talk about a series of games from the incredible Sierra On-line that quite frankly, managed to captivate me by surprise, Police Quest.
This is a game series that I flat out stumbled upon. During a weekend trip to the mall I just happened to see the first game in this series sitting in the sale bin at the computer game store and since the price was right, and the idea of donning a badge and the uniform in order to hunt down a ruthless drug dealer trying to disturb small town life seemed pretty darn intriguing so I picked it up with my lawn mowing money and well...never looked back.
The series saw eight games in total released over the years and it was something of note because well...it was about as accurate an adventure as one could get when it came to police work. This was through and through a total immersion into the life of a peace officer. Every game came with a manual that outlined penal codes and procedure and to advance in the game or complete it, being a gun ho Dirty Harry was simply not the answer. Sure, gunfights happened, but only when there was no other recourse available, it was the investigation that was the key.
Granted, some may not think the idea of giving out speeding tickets or doing paperwork is fun, but I certainly enjoyed it because it was a world I knew nothing about. Granted the later incarnations of the game that revolved around S.W.A.T. became far more action oriented, but the first four games were filled to the brim with sweeping adventures that showed you the seething underbelly of crime and it was a touch refreshing to see an honest everyday police detective as the hero of the story.
However, what still makes me think of this series fondly, is the fact that it held nothing back when it came to murder. Yes earlier versions of the game were quite cartoonish graphics wise, lessening some of the power and effect on the story, but by Police Quest III the graphics were quite advanced for the time and suddenly the gravity and horror of death, and the brutality of murder were front and center for the player and well, I truly appreciated the fact that a gaming company made it a point to not gloss over such matters and the many difficult things that police officers and detectives have to see on a regular basis.
Either way, this is another series that robbed my mornings or afternoons of anything productive simply because it was classic storytelling through and through and this is another series that has faded from the shelves and the technology does exist to still run it, but sadly not on every single platform that is available out there. So hopefully, there will come a day when the Police Quest series is available to the masses once again, but until then, I shall merely reminisce about these awesome games and maybe peruse the abridged L.A.P.D. manual that came with Police Quest IV...
Written by John Edward Betancourt
Growing up, gaming was a big deal to me, specifically PC gaming. At the time, the best games were only available on a computer since my gaming choices were limited to a PC or a console. Granted, some would likely say the better games were on the consoles, but for me...the best games were the ones that told an incredible story and immersed you completely and I didn't find a game on a console that ever did that for me.
During that era, there were two companies in my opinion, that made computer games that blew you away every single time, Sierra On-Line and LucasArts. Both brought incredible characters and stories to the table with every game that they released, but of all the games that I played back in those days, there is still one that sticks out in my mind as one of the finest ever made, LucasArts' incredible sci-fi adventure, The Dig.
The plot was fairly simple. An asteroid known as Attila is heading toward earth on a collision course, forcing a handful of astronauts to head up to the rock and detonate nukes on its surface to move it into a safe orbit around the planet. But instead of finding solid rock they discover that the asteroid is hollow and filled with technology from another world that transports the landing party to an unknown and deserted place. Now they are stranded on a planet far from home, and their only hope to survive is to investigate the relics of a civilization now gone in the hopes of finding a way to get back to earth.
At the time this was by no means a graphically stunning game, even though it was designed for the PC. In fact the graphics were simply okay but the story made up for any visual flaws because it stood out above everything else. It was epic, sweeping, sad and gentle all at once. Giving the player a glimpse into a world that manages to actually look alien as you sift through the ruins of a species that let technology bring about their demise.
But the engrossing story was only the beginning. Legendary science fiction writer Orson Scott Card handled much of the dialogue and Steven Spielberg himself had a hand in a game that featured vocal work by Robert Patrick and it even managed to add some pretty heavy themes, specifically how we face and handle death. Sadly the game was not a runaway commercial success as some expected it to be, and in my opinion, this is due to the fact it was ahead of its time with an engrossing story that I firmly believe would see incredible success if it were released in this day and age.
Thankfully, this ancient gem is still available to play thanks to the wonder that is Steam, and I absolutely recommend you give it a try. It harkens back to a different era in gaming where risks were taken by developers on a regular basis, the stories were always rich and stunning and the rewards for the players were endless as we were whisked away to incredible places that captivated our imagination and completely took our breath away...
Written by Zeke Perez Jr.
The first sports video game I ever owned was NFL Quarterback Club ’99 for my Nintendo 64. I was blown away by how realistic it was, marveling at seeing the players’ breath in cold weather games and similar small details. At the time, I thought that game marked the pinnacle of video game graphics. Little did I know…
I followed NFL Quarterback Club up with Ken Griffey Jr.’s Slugfest, another instant classic. I logged countless hours on that game; swinging for the fences in the Home Run Derby, creating teams and players, running a franchise through a full season.
Following those two games, I was hooked. I had played plenty of sports games before at friend's houses, everything from Madden ’95 to NBA Jam. But having my very own was different. It felt more personal. I credit much of my intimate knowledge of sports to what I learned from playing games. Play calling, roster management, situational decision-making, you name it. I soaked it all up.
A sports video game of some kind was a perennial wish on my Christmas list. These days, nothing has changed. Each year I find myself adding a couple of the newest sports games to my collection. Here are some of the games, big and small, that I’m most excited to play in 2017.
Old Time Hockey (PS4, Xbox One, Steam)
Ohhhh…. Yeaaahhhh…. Full of bench-clearing brawls, stick fights, and profane humor, this rambunctious hockey title dives into the wild side of the sport.
The graphics and controls of the game throw things back to the arcade style of NHL ’94. The game is centered on the appropriately named Bush League, where the fights, jerseys, and players themselves wind the clock back even further to the hockey world of the ‘70s. Expect to see a lack of helmets, awesome facial hair, silly names, and vintage jerseys.
Built around an enjoyable exhibition mode, Old Time Hockey looks to be the ultimate pick-up-and-play sports title of 2017. For players seeking an even more relaxed style of play, it boasts a “Beer Mode” with a one-handed control scheme, so you can literally play with a controller in one hand and a cold brew in the other. For those who like a little more depth and variety in their sports games, it features a “Story Mode” that’s sure to be hilarious, as you follow a struggling team “in the late 1970s amidst a poor economic climate and during the peak of the disco era in the United States”.
With Old Time Hockey, the folks at V7 Entertainment are bringing back memories of the glory days of couch gaming. It definitely has a little something for everyone. Be sure to look for it in early 2017!
MLB: The Show 17 (PS4)
In recent years, the MLB: The Show franchise has taken the top spot as the best baseball game out there. That looks to remain the case with this year’s title, which is set to combine nostalgia, expansive game modes, and good quality play.
The nostalgia factor is definitely a hook for me this year. Fresh off of his 2016 Hall of Fame induction, the MLB: The Show 17 cover star is none other than “The Kid”, Ken Griffey Jr. Every little leaguer and sandlot player in the ‘90s tried at some point to mimic Griffey’s legendary swing. Every sports gamer in the ‘90s played one of Griffey’s SNES or N64 titles. It’s really nice seeing him back on the cover and as a playable character in the game. The game will also scratch that nostalgic itch with new legendary players, classic ballparks, and a “Retro Mode”, featuring arcade-style presentation and controls.
The Show is well known for its namesake “Road to the Show” game mode, where you start as a created and deeply customizable prospect working your way towards the majors. This includes everything from scout showcase days and the draft to minor league ball. From early previews, it looks as if this year’s iteration of RTTS will add a deeper story and more of an RPG feel in the player’s decision making. The game also looks to build on and polish its “Franchise Mode” and its popular “Diamond Dynasty” mode, in which you collect player cards to build a fantasy team.
The Show returns with what should be a very complete and enjoyable game. Pick it up on March 28th.
Mario Sports Superstars (Nintendo 3DS)
It has always been a blast imagining which citizens of Mushroom Kingdom would excel at which sports based on their size, speed, and other abilities. Nintendo’s Mario sports titles have always been tons of fun because of the ability to play out those dreams. Over the years, we’ve seen Mario and his squad try their hand at everything from golf and tennis to baseball and Olympic events.
2017 brings us a new title with Mario Sports Superstars. The game will feature five sports: baseball, tennis, golf, soccer, and horse racing. While we’ve seen most of these in other games, Mario Sports Superstars will provide expanded play. For example, soccer game Super Mario Strikers was a five-on-five game. The soccer in Superstars will be a full 11-on-11 experience.
In addition to single-player and tournament modes, Superstars will have local and online multiplayer. Available Spring 2017.
Madden 18, NHL 18, NBA 2K18 (PS4, Xbox One)
All three of these series are starting to hit their stride on this generation of consoles. Each game’s engine is pretty solid in terms of physics and controls. Game modes are plentiful and getting continuously fleshed out. Player, stadium, and other visual details are more perfected than they have ever been. Just a few more tweaks and these three games will be just about perfect.
Since all three of these titles drop in the second half of the year, it’s still a bit too early to know exactly which new features and game modes will be added to this year’s editions. Nonetheless, they all make the list of games to look forward to. Stay tuned for full previews of these games later in 2017!
Written by John Edward Betancourt
It's a truly magical moment when you discover a brand new game from a brand new franchise that manages to captivate your imagination and draw you into a brand new world with ease. This is the kind of game that energizes you in such a way that you find yourself searching out every single entry in the franchise to experience the entire series first hand and the game that pulled off such a feat for me was, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare.
After all, this is the game that thrust COD into the spotlight and with good reason. This is a game that was filled with a powerful story set in modern times that managed to more or less provide us with imagery ripped from every day headlines and its gritty approach and unfettered violence instantly drew us in and what's incredible about this particular game is that it has managed to withstand the always difficult test of time. It still sparks conversations, people are happy to discuss what it felt like when they first embarked on this adventure for the first time and plenty of folks, myself included, have replayed this game over and over to enjoy it's incredible story one more time.
Granted, all that praise by no means solidifies the game as perfect, and perhaps the most glaring issue when it comes to Modern Warfare is the fact that this is a game that was in many ways released ahead of its time. It arrived in stores well before the current crop of stunning next generation systems, and other first person shooters subsequently released on the Xbox One and PS4 more or less put MW to complete and utter shame when it comes to graphics. But the classics can never die and thankfully, Activision has decided to join the 'Remastered' trend because bundled with the release of Infinite Warfare, Modern Warfare has finally received the graphical treatment it has deserved from day one and this new iteration of a gaming classic, is nothing short of stunning.
Every frame, every level, every moment of this game is jaw droppingly gorgeous with scenery so crisp and clear that one often finds themselves stopping in the middle of combat to simply take it all in, but while one might expect that new shine to dull when you come to realize that the game's structure and design when it comes to its levels are identical to its predecessor, there's a special treat waiting for everyone by way of the fact that this new and improved Modern Warfare has taken full advantage of the new graphics available to it, by adding more realism than one might expect and well...it's actually a gorier and far more realistic game when it comes to the violence it presents.
Yes, believe it or not, Modern Warfare has managed to up the violence quotient by adding brain matter into its head shots and sometimes you'll even watch your fellow soldiers suffer from their wounds before they die and while those decisions may seem a touch sadistic, it's all part of the experience. This is a game that wanted to present 21st Century Warfare in brutal and realistic fashion and this new version of it, accomplishes just that. Either way, while it may seem familiar and repetitive at times due to the fact that we have been here before, Modern Warfare Remastered is still a tale to marvel at, and one that reminds us just how incredible an experience a video game can be when the story is the focus over anything else and it was an absolute blast to revisit this world one more time.
Written by John Edward Betancourt
It's an interesting and tumultuous time for the Call of Duty franchise. This beloved saga, one that inspires people to line up in droves for hours on end at midnight release parties to take home the latest and greatest adventure in the series, is taking some serious heat from the fans this year, and all of it seems to be directed at the latest entry in the series, Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare.
The disdain for this particular story started off earlier in the year with the release trailer receiving a ridiculous amount of dislikes on YouTube (3,400,689 dislikes to date) and that 'dislike' translated into disappointing sales numbers out of the gate, which left me, a long time fan of the franchise wondering...was the game worth my time or not?
Which meant the only way to find out for certain was to pick up the game and give it a try and well, when all is said and done, I don't understand the ire that this game received because holy cow...this is one impressive ride. For starters, while all the familiar tropes and designs of the COD franchise are present, in many ways this doesn't feel like a COD game in the slightest. Much of that can be attributed to the vastly different storyline present in this game, one set far in the future where mankind has colonized other worlds and those other worlds now view Earth as the enemy. It's a story that feels like classic science fiction come to life and it's one that instantly draws you in.
But perhaps what I appreciated most about the story, is the fact that in many ways this game pays tribute to some of the classics that come before it and every single time my character stepped into the cockpit of his fighter before being sent out into space, I was instantly reminded of Wing Commander IV: The Price of Freedom and that sense of nostalgia adds an extra layer to an already incredible gaming experience.
Speaking of that experience, let's take a moment and talk about the graphics in this game as well because holy cow...they're absolutely breathtaking. There were literally moments that I found myself just standing there while the action or plot unfolded around me to simply gaze at the red spot of Jupiter or the rings of Saturn because the graphics are simply that good and there's a real thrill in being able to duke it out for the future of humanity on these alien worlds and combat is where the everyday COD fan will find their fix because all the familiar fun and controls the series makes use of are found here, making the game accessible to gamers of all skill levels.
But, when you take into consideration the stunning plot, top notch acting and wonderful graphics, one still has to wonder why the hardcore fans of this franchise seemingly wrote this game off in their minds and well...after digging into the interwebs the consistent theme I discovered was that this game being set in the future seemed to irritate the fans. So one has to wonder if the next COD will be set in present day since hey, sales/money do talk and the fans did send a message when it comes to this release. But in the meantime, I know I'm going to enjoy this little slice of science fiction, one filled with dystopia where mankind's conflicts continue because this really is one incredible game and I hope others give it a chance and discover its wonder as well.
Written by Scott Murray
I’ve always been fascinated with what I’ll call “behind the scenes.” Whether it’s stagecraft in live theatre, making-of techniques in films, (cinematography, lighting, and sound design, etc.) or creating convincing immersion in video games through artificial intelligence or world-building, I’ve always felt a drive to determine just how my favorite forms of entertainment are made. In some films or video games, depending on my mood and how successfully I’ve been drawn in, I’m always analyzing in the back of my mind just how things are done. Sometimes, as when I watched the 1930 film All Quiet on the Western Front last month, this exercise is fun and entertaining. I found myself trying to determine the details of their sets since, after all, there was no CGI in 1930. Often I would guess that only the nearest ten feet or so would be actual set, with the rest of what I could see simply a backdrop, painted to give perspective. This was probably a symptom of my theatre experience giving me a bias though, and I was frequently surprised; often something would happen in what I had believed to be a static backdrop, both proving me wrong and leaving me pondering just how big their set actually was. Whether in film or on stage, I find this sort of guessing game to be quite delightful, adding an extra element of fun and awe to the experience. It helps that I am able to shift my focus from moment to moment, becoming either a critical analyst or an acquiescent observer as desired. Unfortunately, in video games, the effect of these revelations is rather more severe.
I live with a computer science grad student and often, whatever we may be playing, we’ll discuss how things are done: weapon stats, environment design, Artificial Intelligence, pathfinding and behavior trees, and other parts of the experience. While these often provide fun insights (even if they’re only guesses) my discovery of them, especially AI behavior, can take me out of the experience. For example: I no longer see NPCs as a people, but think of them as machines: analyzing their pathfinding for patterns or exploitable behaviors. I no longer guide my character (or better yet, myself) through a living world full of thinking, feeling, beings, but become a rat in a lab, pushing the right levers at the right times to achieve the optimal result.
At its base, of course, this is what all gaming is: input the correct commands in the correct sequence and timing and you achieve whatever constitutes “success.” But a game’s real appeal is in its ability to immerse you; to make you forget that you’re operating levers and instead make you feel like you are truly in another world. Seeing and deciphering the underlying rules and systems which make up that world make it feel less real and reveal its nature as a predictable machine, making you feel less like an actor in the world and more like a person sitting on a couch pushing buttons. For one of the main purposes of a game to be subverted or damaged in such a way can certainly remove all the fun. I find this problem most affecting in horror games, when the strange and terrifying forces which pursue and haunt me become only machines, and the terrifying environment itself becomes only an elaborate carnival ride, its monsters reacting to particular stimuli as I progress down my predetermined path. I know now that the monster that jumps out at me doesn’t appear because it’s been tracking me or because it has stumbled across me, but because the puzzle I just solved, the door I just opened, or the light I just turned on flipped a switch somewhere in the game’s code and made it spawn and begin the hunt. It’s no longer a specter of imminent doom and suffering, but simply a consequence of a machine. It hurts too when pathfinding is at all predictable; when I can see all the if/then conditionals as plain as day, like the monster itself is branded with chunks of its code like warning labels or user guides: If a noise happens go here, if a light is present go here, if the player exceeds a certain speed move towards them. It removes all the fright. After all, ghosts aren’t so bad once you figure out the trick behind them.
On the one hand, deciphering the underlying systems satisfies my deep craving for behind the scenes knowledge, so it’s not all bad. Some of my favorite moments are when I’ve figured out just how a developer has managed a particularly impressive behavior or aspect of the game, or even when I was just discussing the scope of a problem and its possible solutions with my roommate. These discoveries are gratifying on an intellectual level, and, to a point, enrich my gaming experience by broadening my understanding. On the other hand, such glimpses into the game’s inner workings may irreparably spoil the experience of playing the game.
It’s sort of like growing up: when I go to Disneyland I know, somewhere in the back of my mind, that I’m not looking at Mickey Mouse, but a man in a Mickey Mouse suit. But that doesn’t stop me from voluntarily buying into the world and suspending my disbelief so that I can enjoy the experience. With video games, however, I have trouble with this voluntary shift of focus. Once the façade is broken I cannot reassemble it; like the Wizard of Oz my game cannot simply pull the curtain and resume the illusion, but must now be laid bare with all its little ingenuities and imperfections visible to the world and plain to see. Perhaps this is simply a problem with my own mind; I have no trouble switching perspective at will where films or theatre are concerned, after all. Or maybe it’s in the nature of the medium: even when I’m enjoying a film as intended I am still an outsider observing the story externally. Whereas when games are working as intended I am inside them, an actor within the world, both given form and constrained by it, and I must remove myself from the experience in order to inspect it the same way I do a film. But removing myself from the experience leaves me bereft as a player: no longer inhabiting my character and losing the immersion which is key to the gaming experience.
This all raises a broader question: when is learning and discovery a direct impediment to happiness? And is it worth it? Is it enough to seek knowledge for knowledge sake, however satisfying it might be? Or should there be a practical and immediate benefit in order to make your newfound understanding worth the loss of your blissful ignorance?