Thursday, May 4, 2017

Game Reviews: Doom, Firewatch, Never Alone, Zelda: Minish Cap, Batman: The Telltale Series



I can't say I had ever played a Doom game until this one - and I probably wouldn't have played it, if its single-player mode hadn't been so highly recommended by IGN. And the reason IGN recommended it so highly is that the game's campaign is just sheer, dumb fun that is well aware of how absurd it is, and never takes itself too seriously. Set a couple hundred years in the future, you play as an unnamed human protagonist, awakening in a lab on Mars and wearing a super-soldier exo-suit. The reason you're on Mars is that a huge, evil corporation is using Mars as its base to farm natural resources from Hell, and send them back to Earth. (Yep.) Except those Hell-demons have retaliated, obliterating the Martian facility and threatening to burst into our world to destroy the rest of it. (Or something like that. It doesn't matter, it's all just the setup for a bunch of dumb fun.)

The gameplay is basically just running from room to room, blasting demons in the face and collecting various bits and bobs hidden in different areas around each level. That's about as deep as it goes. You upgrade your armor, you upgrade your guns, you become hilariously overpowered over the course of the game, but the basic gameplay loop remains the same. It's dumb, but it's so over-the-top violently dumb that it's legitimately fun! The music is the cheesiest "ass-kicking" metal ever (in a good way),  and the artwork, gruesome though it may be, is impressive. The game is legitimately funny, as well – from the absurd way the corporation treats its employees, to the hysterically violent executions, to the overall self-aware tone. The one downside to the game is that it's a little slow to get into – the single-player mode is about 10 hours long, and the first 2-3 are a little dull. There's also a multiplayer mode, which was utterly forgettable. But who cares? Just play single-player and charge right into the literal depths of hell, chainsawing and shotgunning everything you see :D

Overall: 7/10


A first-person game that is essentially the polar-opposite of Doom, Firewatch is a narrative-driven indie game that's both moving and incredibly tense, especially on your first playthrough. I refuse to spoil the introductory sequence, but the main game sees you playing as a man going through a very rough patch in life, who has just taken a job as a lookout in a remote mountain region to keep watch for any forest fires that may appear (hence the name). Your sole connection in the world is by two-way radio to Delilah, your fellow lookout in a tower just a couple miles from your own. As the (3-5 hour) story slowly unfolds and builds up, you encounter several bizarre, creepy events that ratchet up the tension and mystery of your time in the mountains. There are no guns, no weapons, no fighting of any kind – just you, hiking through the woods, trying to figure out what the hell is going on. And between the incredible storytelling and writing, the beautiful use of natural colors, and the top-notch sound design and voice acting, this game nails most of what it sets out to accomplish.

Overall: 8/10

Never Alone

This game was a collaboration between an indie development studio and a tribe of Native Alaskans called the Iñupiat. Despite being an extremely short game (2-3 hours) with extremely simple platforming, its hook is that you are playing out a story of the tribe's traditional lore, as it's being told (via voice-over) by one of the tribe's elder storytellers.

Here's the game's trailer to get an idea of how it works:

The concept of the game – to merge gameplay with Iñupiat lore – is the best thing about it, creating a unique experience that almost serves as an interactive museum exhibit. The downside is that the game itself is so short and simple that there's not much else going for it. That said, the game does have a co-op mode for two players, where one player controls the little girl and the other controls her fox companion (which is how we played the game). Even with the game's additional DLC story, there's just not much meat on the bones here. But the bones sure are neat!

Overall: 6/10

Zelda: Minish Cap

Originally released in 2003 for the Game Boy Advance, we played it on the Wii U Virtual Console. This is a top-down Zelda adventure (like Link to the Past) as opposed to a fully 3D Zelda game (like Ocarina of Time). But since the GBA was more advanced that the SNES, and since this game came out after Ocarina and Majora, it incorporates improved graphics and several characters and sound design elements from the latter games. The end result is a solid, fun Zelda game with great art direction and relatively streamlined controls. It may not be as epic as an entry like Twilight Princess or Breath of the Wild, but its short-and-sweet nature led me to like it more than Wind Waker or Skyward Sword (two of my least-favorite Zelda games). That said, there's one factor that prevents me from giving this game a 10/10: a fairly large chunk of the gameplay revolves around finding and using "kinstones", small round medallions split in half that must be connected with other characters in the world that have the corresponding halves. I found it to be tedious and dull, much like Wind Waker's sailing or Skyward Sword's motion controls. But given how much I enjoyed the gameplay, art, and sound design, it's a flaw that I'll have an easy time putting up with on future playthroughs!

Overall: 9/10

Batman: The Telltale Series

This game follows Telltale's established formula of focusing on story and dialogue, and giving players the option to heavily influence how the branching storylines play out, with a smattering of action and puzzle-solving in between story beats. And like many Telltale games, the story is incredibly well-written, require the player to play as both Bruce Wayne and Batman, and to approach situations differently depending on which side of the character you're playing as and what kind of attitudes and approaches you want him to take. Not only is it superbly written and voice-acted (with plenty of interesting twists on traditional Batman lore), but the gameplay is simple enough that my dad can play and enjoy the game, and he doesn't do much gaming at all.

Alas, this game suffers from the same problem that LITERALLY ALL Telltale games suffer from: so many glitches and bugs that you have to wonder if they've ever even heard of the phrase "quality assurance". Sometimes the sound cuts out for no reason. Sometimes the animations go wonky and Bruce's neck is stuck facing the wrong direction, leaving him looking like the girl from The Exorcist. Sometimes the framerate/performance stutters at just the wrong moment. Sometimes the game takes several minutes to load. Sometimes the main menu crashes completely. WHAT THE HELL, TELLTALE? For crying out loud, if you really want to be a AAA-caliber game development studio, you guys have GOT to start getting this shit figured out at some point. There really are no excuses. If the game had been on par with Rocksteady's Arkham series in terms of technical performance and graphical quality, this game would VERY EASILY have been a 10/10.

Overall: 9/10

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

It's Not A Privilege

This article from Jezebel has its share of problems, but overall it does a fairly decent job of trying to give feminists a less-myopic view of masculinity.

There are still a few issues with it: first and foremost, the article is still frames the problem as being an issue of 'patriarchy' - a framework that feminists love, but is an immensely inadequate and inaccurate description of the problem. For another, all it takes is a quick glance at the comments section to see how quickly feminist eyes glaze over when men try to express the idea that we feel pain in our lives too.

It's a fact you may not be comfortable with, but that myopic view of masculinity and its resulting lack of empathy toward men is reason #1 the Men's Rights Movement exists at all: it fills that empathy gap. (A gap which, by the way, also contributed heavily to Donald Trump's election win.)

Liberals should be ashamed of ourselves for lacking the courage to hear and grapple with these issues, and for trying to boil complex gender issues down to cute little one-sided bumper-sticker slogans about "patriarchy" and "privilege" and "mansplaining" instead.
"Would I be able to write this if I was not later socialized to discuss my pain and anger nonviolently rather than lashing out? Even men who have been able to distance themselves from the "privilege" of masculinity are unable to write about their dehumanization under it because as the "dominant oppressor" [quote marks mine], often their words are misconstrued as a shirking of responsibility for their actions or "taking away" from the suffering of women. The irony is that without someone exposing the pathological suffering of males due to "patriarchal" [quote marks mine] socialization, it will continue to be evil men versus victimized women and no one will attain an equal humanity."
One commenter:
"Keep trying. Just keep trying. Men are not the enemy and toxic masculinity is the enemy. You can hate, fear, and distain[SIC] toxic masculinity without feeling that way about men."
Sound familiar?

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Escape Room Success!

A few weekends ago, my dad wanted to celebrate his birthday by having all five of us (parents/sister/Steph/me) take a crack at solving an "escape room" puzzle at The Escape here in OKC. My dad picked the most challenging room they had: a scenario which depicts players are "British secret agents" figuring out clues to a spy mystery, and which has only a 15% success rate. But we beat it, with four minutes to spare :D

Monday, April 10, 2017

The epitome of "fem-splaining".

Last October, posted an article by a blogger named Lisa O'Neill entitled "Dear Men Who Wish To Be Allies To Women". This article is basically a short-hand "greatest hits" compilation of every spit-take-inducingly asinine and cluelessly hateful thing the modern feminist movement has to say about gender.

A few choice quotes:
It is not women’s responsibility to educate you. Teach yourself about sexism and misogyny and about how to recreate our culture to eliminate them. Just as it is white people’s responsibility to educate themselves and figure out how to dismantle the racist culture we made, you men, the beneficiaries of our patriarchal culture, need to figure out how to undo your sexist and misogynistic ideas, belief systems, and behaviors. You need to figure out how to change internally and externally so that we live in a culture that truly values and supports women.
"Just because I'm an activist doesn't mean I should have to put any effort into making people aware of the issue I'm focusing on! You men need to learn to hate yourselves without us having to teach you how to hate yourselves!"
Check in with the women in your life before you ask them to provide emotional support; make sure they have the time, energy, and resources to offer it. Make sure you have their permission. Notice the amount of space you take up in a conversation.
Meanwhile, when the shoe's on the other gender:

Think about the space you take up. In conversations. In board rooms. At public events. On conference panels. Walking down the street. Think about your proximity to women. Ask yourself whether you are giving them enough space: to talk, to move, to exist. This is especially true if you encounter a woman alone.
Wow – I thought complaints about "manspreading" were stupid back when they were trashing us for taking up a couple extra inches on a bus, and now they're telling us we need to cede entire sidewalks to women. That escalated quickly.
Commit to exclusively reading work by women — from all different countries, with different backgrounds and identities — for a week, a month, a year or more.
"Asking for simple common courtesy", indeed.
This is really important — have conversations with your male friends, colleagues, and neighbors about sexism and misogyny. Instigate the difficult conversations. Ask hard questions of yourselves and one another.
*sees neighbor checking mailbox*

"Hi there neighbor! So have you apologized to your wife for being male today? It's every man's duty to help dismantle the patriarchy, okily-dokily?"

"Fuck off, Bob."
No means no, period. You have no right to a woman’s body, time, energy, attention, respect, and so on.
"However, as I've clearly indicated in this article, we women are ABSOLUTELY ENTITLED to ONE-HUNDRED PERCENT of EVERY man's time, energy, attention, and respect. Because gender equality!"
Similarly, women are allowed to have our own perspectives (and to articulate them in the ways we choose), and just because a woman disagrees with you does not mean that she doesn’t understand the complexities of the situation and needs an explanation.
"So let me continue explaining to you men why you're all ignorant and clueless on every single issue regarding gender...."
Doing this work doesn’t make you a hero, but it does make you a better human. All of us should be feminists because being a feminist means you believe women are equal and should be treated as such. You are doing the right thing. But you don’t deserve accolades or applause, just like a father doesn’t deserve these for changing his child’s diaper. You do get the reward of being a woke man, a man who is moving through the world with integrity.
This one always blows my mind.

Take note, "feminist men": no matter how much you self-flagellate and prostrate yourselves before people like this, they will never, ever, ever say it's enough. Having integrity demands an appreciation of egalitarianism, across not only gender but also race, orientation, and ability – but it also demands that you stand up to self-absorbed, condescending, sexist bullies and misandrists like Lisa O'Neill.

That article led to this exchange:

Admittedly, I was shooting from the hip in the beginning – but I'm actually very okay with how that thread turned out.

"Star Wars Sex Quotes"

Shamelessly stolen from threads on Facebook/Reddit, for your juvenile amusement:

• "Myself, the boy, two droids....and no questions asked."

• "Get in there you big furry oaf! I don’t care what you smell!"

• "You came in that thing? You're braver that I thought."

• "Luke, at that speed do you think you'll be able to pull out in time?"

• "Get clear Wedge, you can't do anymore good back there."

• "Governor Tarkin, I should've expected to find you holding Vader’s leash. I recognized your foul stench when I was brought on board."

• "I don't know. Mesa day startin pretty okee-day with a brisky morning munchy, then BOOM! Gettin very scared and grabbin that Jedi and POW! Mesa here! Mesa gettin' very very scared!"

• "I look forward to completing your training. In time you will call me master."

• "It's a trap!"

• "You're letting her keep it? Would you like to know the probability of her using it against you? It's high. It's VERY high."

• "Look at the size of that thing!"

• "Mind tricks don't work on me. Only money. No money, no parts, no deal!"

• "Obi-Wan never told you what happened to your father...."

• "Judge me by my size do you?"

• "Obi-Wan has taught you well!"

• "Negative it didn't go in. It just impacted in the surface."

• "Aren't you a little short for a storm trooper?"

• "And I thought they smelled bad on the outside..."

• "It came from....behind!"

• "This is getting out of hand. Now there are two of them!"

• "Great, kid! Don't get cocky!"

• "In to the garbage chute, Fly Boy!"

• "He doesn't like you. I don't like you either!"

• *Tusken raider noises*