Tuesday, November 3

Eyes on the Inside

          A character’s sight and relationship to vision defines their place in Bloodborne’s narrative.  We know that many characters within the narrative are seeking knowledge in the form or eyes or insight, but Bloodborne uses a more subtle language to reveal the truer nature of these characters and their ambitions.  For instance, Gehrman “is obscure, unseen in the dreaming world,” indicating that his motives are hidden, since we can’t see all of him.  Only when the dream begins to collapse at the end of the game does he occupy a single location and can always be seen there.  Or when Eileen is badly injured and lies near death, she says "My eyes grow heavy..."  There are a few different states of vision characters occupy within Bloodborne, and each informs their relationship to the world.

          Characters with unrestricted vision are true in a way others are not.  Very few characters have unadorned eyes, but those that do are honest characters who mean the player no harm.  When Adella, Alfred, and Arianna speak to you with no obstruction to their vision, they speak truthfully and provide assistance.  When there is an inkling of Adella’s jealousy, her eyes wander to Arianna while you speak with her.  Adella's eyes betray her intent.  When Alfred reveals his truer, darker nature, he does so while wearing a helm that covers his eyes.  Another character whose eyes are unadorned is the blind Oeden Chapel Dweller, who is an honest, friendly man the entirety of the game, despite having no sight at all.  An anomaly is Patches the Spider, one we know to be untrustworthy, but has the right number of unadorned eyes for a human.  But Patches is not human.  And for a Spider his eyes are somewhat lacking.  Whatever make him a spider is unclear, but he is untrustworthy because his eyes, and perhaps his form, are not what they should be.

          We also see that characters with restricted vision almost entirely restrict it of their own volition, and this is how we know they are na├»ve and untrustworthy.  Early characters like the Blood Minister who performs our transfusion and Father Gascoigne have their eyes shrouded by bandages, as do Vicar Amelia and the Transformed Man found in the Forbidden Woods.  The bandages imply an attempt at healing, but we know that the symptoms of the beast plague affect the eyes.  Our “beastly idiocy” is counteracted by insight, represented as eyes.  So these characters shut their eyes to the truth, and become beasts for it.  Alfred restricts his sight when he commits his most beast-like act.  In fact, the item description of the Gold Ardeo tells us that Logarius taught “acts of good are not always wise.”  Since his band of executioners wear this helm, it connects a lack of wisdom to a lack of (in)sight.  Similarly, the Bigoted Old Man hides his eyes under his hat and tells you nothing but lies.  One character’s vision is restricted against their will: Annalise’s.  Even though Annalise can’t be killed, she is not fully bound to her position, she is instead placed in an iron mask.  Ignoring its clear literary reference, her punishment is not only losing her lifestyle, and castle, but her vision.  Further, she is kept in a place covered by an illusion.  She cannot see or be seen.  That is the greatest punishment that can be inflicted upon her.

          Other characters restrict their sight in the name of knowledge, thinking human eyes insufficient.  Micholash and the School of Mensis wear cages on their heads to focus their vision and attune themselves to the Great Ones, but their knowledge is fleeting, on the edge of becoming vacuous.  Their experiments result "in the stillbirth of their brains."  We know that Rom is the most advanced scholar of Byrgenwerth, but Rom is Vacuous, empty.  Rom rests within a great lake.  We know that “great volumes of water serve as a bulwark guarding sleep,” which makes sense.  It is difficult to see through water to the dream, water refracts and muddies our vision.  Rom is stuck within the water, a place between dreams, and so she cannot see in either direction.  Her colleagues assume ascension, but we know that her sight cannot penetrate the barriers of her cage.  Another place adrift between dreams is the lecture building, where the students themselves have become like water, and their looks reveal that same vacuous nature.  Their eye sockets are empty.  Master Willem attempt ascension himself, but blocks his own eyes with a blindfold the Choir also wears in reverence of his teachings.  Master Willem was “Disillusioned by the limits of human intellect” and “sought to line his brain with eyes,” but this leaves him a slowly mutating, malformed person lacking the ability to meaningfully communicate.  Even if he is the most learned of NPCs we meet, he is unable to ascend his mind, since we find him unable to even move from his position at Byrgenwerth.

          But what about you?  What does the player see?  Our vision is constantly changing the more insight we get.  Many changes show us more and more eyes in places where they were not.  But I think what’s more important is to consider how we are seen, how the game sees us.  And the strange thing is, it doesn’t.  No one describes seeing us.  Annalise says “Away from my gaze.”  But that line resembles her situation: a frail semblance of a power and position she no longer holds.  She cannot see you through the blindfold of her mask.  The one real exception is Iosefka.  She says “Once the hunt is over, we can speak face to face, and I can see what you look like.”  Iosefka will never know, since she is killed and replaced by an imposter, who like all others, describes your smell.  Annalise calls you a “Moon-scented hunter,” and Imposter Iosefka notices your infiltration by your “moonlit scents.”  Gascoigne’s daughter says “I don’t know your face, but I know that smell.”  Even the Bigoted Old Man indicates that he “Can’t stand the stench o’ your lying breath.”  The only character who should notice your scent first is the Oeden Chapel Dweller because he’s blind, but he doesn’t because “the incense must’ve masked your scent.”  Arianna notes you have “a queer scent, but one I’m not entirely unfond of.”  We might assume this to be the smell of blood, but she has an alternate to that line which ends “but I’d take it over the stench of blood and beasts any day.”  I think way we are talked about tells us that our look is our own choice, and the way we define ourselves within the game.  When killed by Gascoigne, he remarks “too proud to show your true face, eh?”  We’ve largely taken this to mean he believes our beast, but it’s an interesting topic to consider more deeply.

          What is our true face in Bloodborne?  Is it the bestial face others see when we’re attacked on the streets of Yharnam?  Is it the face we put on our character, then hide under hats and helms?  Or is it the face that stares back at us from the mirror each morning?  Or do we achieve something greater?  We have three choices for the end of our Bloodborne story.  We can keep watch over the dream, never ascending or escaping, stuck in-between like the Vacuous Rom.  We can choose to forget the dream and awake anew, but this is what gives up our sight, as we shut our eyes to all that came before.  Or we can choose to advance, to gain wondrous insight and surpass humanity becoming an infant Great One.  We should take note that our new form possesses no eyes.   What is our place in Bloodborne’s narrative?  It’s our decision.  If we awaken anew, we are accepting the vision of the world we awaken to.  If we hold onto the dream, we keep ourselves in a limbo, with our gained knowledge, but unable to see beyond our prison.  If we push on and are reborn as something new, we’ve given up what we were become something we simply cannot comprehend.  The only character who guides us with unrestricted sight is the Plain Doll.  She suggests we “find our worth in the waking world.”  She could mean the waking world within Yharnam, or she could mean the world where we put down our controller.  The world we really see.  The ending you pick says a lot about you, and how you want to be seen.

Monday, October 5

The Beginner's Guide

          This game hits hard for me. I think it will hit hard for anyone who gets lost in their creativity. I want to sound smart when I talk about it here. There were two spelling mistakes I had to correct in that last sentence. That’s a lie; there was one. The Beginner’s Guide requires very little of you. About 100 minutes. Please play it. I don’t know how good it really is or isn’t. I don’t know how much of it is artistic manipulation and how much is real. All I know is that it made me hopeful, scared, depressed, honest, and confused. The kind of confused that comes from too much perspective, from being able to see to much, from too close and too far away at the same time.

Sunday, October 4

100 Games 2015

Most recent article: Candy Crush Saga

Here is a list of 100 games I will be playing over the next year.  It's... daunting, and not the kind of thing I've ever done before, but it's also very exciting.  I'm going to be posting about each one, giving a general impression, but mostly trying to find the most interesting aspect of the game and talk about that.  If you have suggestions for future games, please let me know, and if you like what you read here, or think I'm missing an important point, speak your mind in comments.  Thanks, and here we go.

1.           A Mind Forever Voyaging
2.           A Ride Home
3.           Ace Combat 5
4.           Assassin's Creed: Recollection
5.           Babies Dream of Dead Worlds
6.           Bars of Black and White
7.           Beneath a Steel Sky
8.           The Binding of Isaac
9.           Bloodborne
10.        Brave Fencer Musashi
11.        Bushido Blade
12.        Cabela's Big Game Hunting
13.        Candy Crush Saga
14.        The Castle Doctrine
16.        The Cat and the Coup
17.        Chrono Trigger
18.        Combat
19.        Crusader Kings II
20.        Curtain
21.        The Dark Meadow
22.        Day of the Tentacle
23.        Day Z
24.        Deus Ex
25.        Digital Devil Saga
26.        Dungeon Keeper
27.        Dwarf Fortress
28.        Echochrome
30.        End of Us
31.        Ether One
32.        E.V.O.: Search for Eden
33.        Exploit
34.        Fallen London
35.        Fallout 2
36.        Fate of the World
37.        Grim Fandango
38.        Half-Life 2
40.        Icarus Proudbottom Teaches Typing
41.        Jade Empire
42.        Jet Set Radio Future
43.        King's Field II
44.        Kingdom of Loathing
45.        Kirby Super Star
46.        Knights of the Old Republic
47.        League of Legends
48.        Legend of Grimrock
50.        Lone Survivor
51.        Machinarium
52.        Madden
53.        Mass Effect 3
54.        Monaco: What's Yours is Mine
55.        M.U.L.E.
56.        No One Has to Die
57.        Order and Chaos Duels
58.        Passage
59.        Planescape: Torment
60.        Populous: The Beginning
61.        Procrastination
62.        Quest for Glory
63.        Realm of the Mad God
64.        Rehearsals and Returns
65.        Resident Evil
66.        Risk of Rain
67.        Road Rage
68.        Secret of Mana
69.        Shadowrun
70.        Silent Conversation
71.        The Sims 3
72.        Skies of Arcadia Legends
73.        Song of Saya
74.        Spacechem
75.        Spacewar
76.        Starcraft
77.        Suikoden II
79.        Super Metroid
80.        The Swapper
81.        System Shock 2
82.        Thief II: Deadly Shadows
83.        This War of Mine
84.        To The Moon
85.        Transistor
86.        Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar
87.        Ultima VII: The Black Gate
88.        Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
89.        Uplink
90.        Valiant Hearts: The Great War
91.        Walk or Die
92.        The Walking Dead: Season 2
93.        Way of the Samurai 3
94.        Wing Commander: Privateer
96.        Xenogears
97.        Xevious
98.        Yakuza 3
99.        Yoshi's Island
100.     Zork I: The Great Underground Empire

Candy Crush Saga - Ascribing Amorality to Sugar

          I feel like I know exactly the wrong amount sometimes. When playing Candy Crush Saga, I could feel myself getting angry at their methods, getting angry at the way the game uses fantastic engagement techniques to make you want to spend just a few bucks to complete a level. I don’t like feeling like I’m being extorted, but I also feel like I’m not fully appreciating how good the design of Candy Crush is.
          Candy Crush is staggeringly popular, and brings in around a million dollars a day. I can see why. It uses tons of tricks and subtle pushes to make you want to keep playing. And when you were only a couple of moves from beating a level, it helpfully offers you the ability to purchase a few more. There are colours and sounds reminiscent of most Match-3 games, but there’re also elements that play on your competitive nature. When you beat almost any level, you’ll get a popup telling you about a player you just beat. Whether you pulled ahead of them in terms of level completion or you bested their score, the game congratulates you and makes you want to beat more people. It also doesn’t tell you how you rank really reflects on the world of the game. I know that I beat King52143578764 on this level, and that now I’m ranked #2, but I also know that I’m not #2 in the world. At best, I’m #2 out of all ten people playing on this partitioned area.
          But it works. There’s a part of me that gets excited when I think of being one of the best scores on that level, when I think about being a goal other players aspire to. It’s ridiculous, and constantly changing. I know other people passed me while I was playing, and I know some of them beat my scores after I’d gone by. But I wasn’t shown that. I’m only shown my successes, except when my failures can be a revenue source.
          I don’t hate games that want to make money. I buy games at full price all the time because I want the creators to be paid for their work and I want to support projects that interest me. But Candy Crush feels undeserving. It asks of me my time and money, but doesn’t seek to really give anything back.
          The first time I failed a level, I automatically dove back in, because I wanted to beat it. That feeling was stronger than I wanted, but that’s what the game does. Anyway, when I tried the second time, everything fell into place. I won with a bunch of moves left, beat the goal score about five to six times over, and had tons of lights and sounds and points flash on the screen. This is where I felt most in the middle on my understanding. I felt like I was being tricked, like the game made my return great to solidify my sense of accomplishment, rather than providing me with the challenge I wanted, to make me feel like I should always win. But at the same time, that style doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. Shouldn’t Candy Crush just make me feel like I could win if only I purchased a couple more turns? This was an early level, so maybe the game curves into that, but the truth is, I only have a half-understanding of this strategy.

          Candy Crush is worth my time in the same way a McDonalds burger is worth my appetite. It will sate, but I’m probably going to look on it as a waste. I spent hours and hours of my life playing Bejeweled some time ago, and even in hindsight I don’t think that time was wasted. Bejeweled was a great way to relax, like meditating. Candy Crush’s sounds and visuals are a little too harsh to provide the same. I don’t want to play it, but I should learn from it, because it’s hooked its audience like few drugs can.

Saturday, October 3

El-Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron - Solum Visio

          El-Shaddai is a hack and slash 3D and side-scrolling platformer with very simple gameplay.  There are 3 weapons you can switch between or steal from enemies that have various movesets and affinities, and a variety of interesting boss encounters that use the simple mechanics well.  The game doesn’t sell itself on any of that.  It’s all about the visual design and narrative concept.
          Some angels have gone rogue, fleeing to earth and creating a pocket dimension to hide from God, rock and roll all night, and party ev-er-y day.  God’s all Old Testament about this and threatens to send another flood, but our protagonist Enoch volunteers to round up the angels if God will spare the Earth.
          Also, Earth has become the cover of a Yes album.  And Tron.  And  several other aesthetics that can be represented in high-contrast colour palettes.
          El-Shaddai is about as style-over-substance as I’ve ever seen a game be.  It’s got solid design where the design is, like eschewing a health bar (or any UI) for the amount of armour your character or target wears.  New elements to the combat are introduced far apart to make them easy to play around with and understand, but I don’t think it’s actually necessary.  The gameplay is simple and the additions minor enough that its learning curve is more of a gentle bump.
          I like the visuals.  The colourful environments don’t pull focus from the play, keep a consistent aesthetic for any given area, and do change to represent the power of the beings you’re up against.  I would almost expect the game to be a Soulsian difficulty wall, but even the more elaborate boss fights don’t give you a deep verb set. Enoch just doesn’t have enough moves to develop or master.
          I like the actual story design less.  It feels really pushed to the side, many times told in short clips between levels, rather than through the aforementioned visuals.  We get glimpses of what the angels have brought to the humans, like a futuristic city or fertile mountains, but they interact with the player in very minor ways, or not at all.  I also don’t need a narrator to tell me how half-angel nephilim eating one another works.  I can be shown that, super easily.  I get to see it happen, but I don’t get to draw my own conclusions. 
          And this game would be even better, weirdly, if the story was more open to interpretation.  Because characters are constantly talking about it around me while I do some uninspired, finicky platforming, I don’t get invested in the story.  I don’t have to engage mentally.
          Maybe that’s the most damning thing about El-Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron, that it asks nothing of me.  There are no puzzles, the hack-and-slashing is easy button mashing, and the platforming  is rectangles hanging in the void.  The games sells itself on visuals and concept, but doesn’t back it up with engagement, which some people consider the core goal of game design.  It might be worth playing for the visuals and occasional silliness, but it doesn’t have enough fullness to be worth your time.