Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The most important games to me from 2014

Episode 5 of five out of ten magazine features an essay by Brendan Keogh about games exactly like Threes. About how these deeply systemic game are hard to talk. Graphics, story, sound, and some elements of gameplay are easy to talk about, but systems are harder. Threes is kinda like Tetris in that new tiles are always entering the board and you have to figure out how to combine them to make more room. In Threes there are things you have control over (how you're going to shift and combine tiles) and things you don't have control over (what tile is coming up next and where it enters). You're given enough knowledge about what tile is coming next and where it can enter that you can make intelligent decisions about what to do.

It's the things that you don't have control over that make the things you do have control over fun and interesting. Threes is a focused example of how random effects, information, and choice mix together to make an amazing gameplay experience.

I reached my pinnacle in this game in October by getting a 3072 tile on my board. I've done it a couple more times since then but I highly doubt I'll ever do better. But I keep playing.

FTL: Faster than Light
FTL came out in 2012, but it received a significant update this year, which is when I really fell for it. FTL is a roguelike, which is an utterly useless descriptor, unless you're familiar with the game Rogue, in which case it still doesn't tell you anything about the game. Roguelikes are games that have a relatively short duration but make up for that by using random generation to create replayability. Roguelikes must have a definite end goal and be hard. Failure must be an reasonably possible outcome.

FTL has you controlling a spaceship and it's crew, racing to alert the Federation of the oncoming rebel threat, like a reverse Star Wars. As you play you'll defeat enemy ships and get scrap and other material which you use to upgrade your ship. FTL asks you to overcome increasingly difficult enemies by figuring out where best to spend your scrap to complement your ships current build and the enemies your facing. Every run through FTL feels different even if you're using the same ship (of which there are 29).

I love Hearthstone. In particular I love Hearthstone Arena. I love it for all the same reasons I love the above two game. Hearthstone Arena asks you to construct a deck out of randomly selected cards that are presented to you three at a time to use against other people who have similarly constructed a deck. Hearthstone arena is great because you don't have to buy the cards to use in it. You don't even have to pay to enter unless you don't have enough gold, which brings me to my second point.

Hearthstone's daily quest system is perfect. You get a quest every day, you can save up to three daily quests, and every day you can reroll one of your quests. If you want to play casually you can reroll quests to try and get quests that can be completed at the same time. If you want to be hardcore and try to get the most coins possible from quests you just reroll your 40 gold quests to try and get 60 gold quests. They challenge you to try new classes but offer you enough flexibility to avoid them if you want.

If the above games are about choice granting you power and control to face randomly generated adversity, then PT is the opposite of that. It's not random. You have no power. PT is the scariest fucking shit I've ever played and it's free if you have a PS4. You're stuck in a hallway with no way to fight what haunts you. You can escape, but you have to figure out how, and it's not easy. PT is like nothing I've ever played before.

Goat of the Year 2014
Escape Goat 2
I know that Goat Simulator got more attention for it's title, wacky gameplay, and satirical bent but I enjoyed this game far more. Platformers are one of my favorite categories of games. Puzzles too. Puzzle platformers tend to fall flat but Escape Goat 2 manages it perfectly. It stays fresh and fun throughout without becoming impossibly obtuse, which is what generally happens with puzzle games. It has charming graphics and sound. It has a goat and a mouse. There's one puzzle that comes to mind that was really just too hard, but I was able to look up a solution fortunately. I don't really have too much to say about this game really. It's just a really solid game that deserves more attention than it got.

Desert Golfing
Desert FUCKING Golfing. Desert Golfing is an incredibly simple game. It doesn't integrate with facebook or twitter. There are no in-app purchases. Contrary to mobile game best practices, it costs $1.99 to download. There's no daily bonus that begs me to log back in.  Its feels like a rebellion against F2P and social gaming. It's the complete opposite of current trends.

You just golf. Place, drag, release. Place, drag, release. Place, drag, release. Next hole.

The difficulty comes and goes. When it's hard you're relieved to get past it. When it's easy, you celebrate the skill you've gained.

Nobody at work understands why I love Desert Golfing.

I'm stuck in Desert Golfing, stage 2303.

UPDATE: I loaded up Desert Golfing right after writing that sentence and beat that stage first try. IT TOOK ME SO MANY TRIES

Other games I really enjoyed but don't really have words for right now:
Mario Kart 8
Shadow of Mordor
Monument Valley
Shovel Knight
The Uncle Who Works for Nintendo

Monday, October 20, 2014

Final Fantasy VI

As Alexa Corriea pointed on out twitter:
I was 8 years old at the time, but I can't for the life of me remember when I actually got the game. I don't remember a lot of things, it turns out. I do, however, remember playing the game quite a bit. To say that Final Fantasy VI is a big part of development as a gamer would be an understatement. It, EarthBound, Chrono Trigger, Secret of Mana, and Illusion of Gaia combined to form a quintet of RPGs that were and are very important to me to this day.

FF6 struck me with it's story and character, filled with twists and turns, a large cast of interesting characters, and brilliant villains. I loved the characters so much that I used to pretend that I was a member of their team, hanging out with them on board the Blackjack or the Falcon. Part of that was because I was a fairly solitary kid. I didn't have very many friends, nor did I hang out with them very much outside of school. It's not that I was a reject, I just didn't try to make friends or try to hang out with them. I was very happy in my world and in the worlds of the games that I played. I suppose I was also pretty publicly a nerd, and I didn't really know how to talk to people, and I had trouble making eye contact, but I was doing alright by it.

I think part of the reason the characters are so strong is because you meet them in the World of Balance, regain them in the World of Ruin and find out how they react to this disaster, and then dive into their past and history in their optional sidequest. I miss sidequests, I think they're really important to developing the game world's story.

My brother and I both played FF6 a lot, even together. We watched each other play and offered tips. We didn't play too many video games together once we got much older. We drifted apart, he got his own room, we stopped playing as many games together. Eventually he'd start misbehaving, doing drugs, causing trouble, and making family life difficult. Things have gotten better but we're still distant and I still reminisce about those old days when we'd play together.

I played Final Fantasy VI over and over all the way up and through junior high, periodically dipping back into the game for nostalgia trips when I felt I needed them. I moved on to other things in high school, when we got a PlayStation 2 and FF9, FFX, and Kingdom Hearts were the RPGs that I played. When art went off to college and wanted to take the SNES with him, I obliged. When he dropped out after a semester and moved back home. A lot of the SNES games didn't come back, particularly the RPGs that I loved, that we had bonded over. When I questioned him about where they had gone, he said that he had loaned them to people and hadn't got them back. I pressed him about getting them back, but he always pushed it off. I not think that he probably sold them. I can only imagine what he did with the money. I've never really talked with him about this. We don't ever talk about that time in our family's life.

I almost always played with Sabin and Edgar in my party. I don't know if it's because they're strong or because I just wanted to see brothers that were distant yet loved each other.

I started playing piano in 5th grade and my former kindergarten teacher was my first instructor. I took lessons all the way through high school. For a brief period I took lessons from a jazz piano instructor. Once while there for a lesson I saw a book of piano music that belonged to one of her students. It was a collection of sheet music for FF6's soundtrack. I asked begged her to ask her student where he got the music and when she found out and told me, I ordered a copy immediately. Once I started college I didn't do a good job of staying in practice. Pretty much the only music I would keep playing was music from my FF6 collection and a collection of songs from across all the Final Fantasy games.

The music of FF6 is very deeply ingrained in me. Sometimes I feel that the way that I can best express emotion is by playing its music on the piano. I've purchased it's soundtrack in various forms and arrangements time and time again. It takes me back in time, helps me remember, reminds me of friends I haven't spoken to in a long time. It takes me back to when I was playing the game growing up. FF6 is so important to me. It's hard to say that my life would be different had it never existed, but as it stands I find it hard to imagine it'd be the same.