Playdead's 2010 indie hit LIMBO is one of my favourite games ever. It was one of the only games I ever bought off the XBLA and I bought it based solely on its imagery, as it looked like it would be super atmospheric and mysterious and all that jazz. And naturally, I was very correct. But on top of the impeccable atmosphere and visuals, the game design is what truly stole the show. LIMBO was a masterclass of game design; game design in its purest form. No additional modes, or options or fluff - just a handful of simple mechanics and a linear world to use them in. I adored the game and couldn't wait to see what Playdead did next.
Fast forward seven years, and I have finally played what Playdead did next - INSIDE. On paper it simply looked like LIMBO 1.5 - a side scrolling puzzle platformer where you play as a small child in a mysterious and uncaring world. And whilst that is pretty much what INSIDE is (and that isn't a bad thing), it is also enough of a step up and away from LIMBO for it to be considered as doing more than just retreading old ground.
The set up is about as simple as it can get. You control a young boy who starts out in a forest, and he is either running away from or towards something. You can run, jump, push and pull objects, flip switches and eventually use a device that allows limited control over human-like drones. That last bit sounds like it doesn't really mix well the other abilities you have, but within the context of the game, it makes sense. Just like in LIMBO, the story of INSIDE isn't really about characters or events. In fact there is even less story in INSIDE. At least in LIMBO you were told that you were looking for your sister who was lost (or dead, or you were both dead the whole time and you were finding you way to heaven, or whatever). INSIDE just gives you a direction and tells the rest of its story with its locations, and with its atmosphere.
It's difficult to put into words the feelings that INSIDE's atmosphere and world building evoked in me. The feeling of desolation, alienation, isolation and urgency all hit me more than any other game I've played this year (except for maybe The Last Of Us). It's not like there are jump scares or horrific amounts of blood and gore (although there is the occasional gruesome death); there is just this sense of absolute dread from all of the little details you witness in your three hour play through. From your first steps into the forest being chased by men wearing blank masks, to goose stepping with mindless drones, to fending off hideous under water trolls, everything has a creepy edge to it.
Besides the solid atmosphere, INSIDE also excels at game design. Just like its predecessor, it has zero fat on it. Every single element of the game is used to full effect, and is used in multiple, varying scenarios, testing you in new and creative ways. Visual cues as to how to proceed are executed perfectly, but still allow for you to mess up the first one or two times. So it remains challenging without getting frustrating. Playdead takes each mechanic that LIMBO introduced and cranks it up to to a new level in INSIDE to the point where you think "There is no way they have another way of using this mechanic!". And yet they do, and they use it in a way that isn't repetitive or derivative.
As much as I love Playdead's two games so far, I do hope that they don't do side scrolling puzzle platformer for their third game. There is perfecting a concept, and then there is milking one beyond belief. LIMBO and INSIDE are perfect, and, unless Playdead can make lightning strike a third time, a third puzzle platformer would just start being a detriment to their past titles.
Although to be fair, if any studio could make lightning strike a third time, it's Playdead.
My feelings about Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain have been well documented over the past few weeks/months through a number of posts both on here and on Twitter. This past week, after a particularly brutal bullshit play session, I decided that enough was enough and I gave up on the idea of completing the game. As much as I wanted to complete the story and see the resolution of the characters and the tying up of the remaining dangling plot threads, I'd be buggered before I had to deal with any more of the tedious, nonsensical gameplay or overly verbose exposition.
To put this into context; the reason I so desperately wanted to finish the main story was simply because I have always liked the MGS lore/backstory. Although I think Hideo Kojima's writing is at times terrible, and I wouldn't trust him with a blunt crayon, I do think his creativity and imagination is incredible. The whole reason I loved the first MGS game was because it felt like it existed in a fully realised world with its own history and mythology. This whole idea of an elite group of soldiers and agents, each with their own storied codenames and dark secrets, taking on even more ridiculous enemies and world-destroying villains, was incredible to 11 year old me.
The MGS series had its up and downs for me. Whilst I completely adored MGS' 1 and 3, I completely despised 2 and 4. So when I first heard about The Phantom Pain I had no idea what to think. It sounded like a ridiculous concept at first, and carried on a story from one of the handheld entries into the series which I never played. But then the idea that this game would tie into the original Metal Gear and tie up the entire franchise sounded too good to pass up. So I eventually bought it (when it was on sale, fuck paying full price on something as dicey as an unfinished, Kojima-led, Konami published AAA game) but soon realised that I had made a gargantuan mistake.
Let's be clear on one thing - the core gameplay of MGS V is great. The movement, shooting, stealth and overall feel of controlling Snake/Boss/Larry is near perfect. I have very few complaints about the core gameplay. It is the setup around this core gameplay, and the progression (or lack thereof) that really gets on my wick.
The biggest problem is the switch to open-world, and the complete lack of structure that the story inherits from it. Whilst previous MGS games were short and linear, it also meant that the story was a lot more structured and escalated appropriately when needed. Since MGS V decided to go with the sandbox approach, it means now you just carry out a meandering set of barely connected missions in whatever order you choose. This in itself wouldn't be a massive problem, but the fact that 90% of the missions have the same kind of objective, leads to the game feeling arduous and repetitive much sooner than it should.
This repetitiveness is then what leads to every other issue the game has to feeling much more painful than it actually is. You start to notice how truly bad a lot of the writing is, and the delivery from many of the characters just sucks! Miller is probably the biggest culprit; delivering every other line in his stupid Christian Bale-esque half growl, like he's always just caught up to you after you forgot your bag in the coffee shop. Listening to this complete clown for hours and hours makes me wish he'd lost more than just an arm and a leg.
As big as the game world is, it's meaningless when missions all take place around similar looking outposts and facilities. The structures are always the same, the setup is almost always the same, and it all looks the bloody same! The giant world map does nothing but pad out the games runtime even longer, which is unforgivable. Again, not to keep comparing with previous MGS games but at least the scenery changed in those. The environments changed, some were wackier than others and some were downright dumb, but at least there was variety! Even in MGS 3: Snake Eater you spent 95% of your time in a jungle, but the scenarios, atmospheres and tones changed with each new section.
I'll wrap this up with the final two points that really fucked me off about this game. One is the story, and the absolute mess that it is. I won't go into detail on it since so many others have already done that, and also because I would be lying if I said I totally understood every single facet of it. What gets me the most about the failure of the story is that this game was marketed as the missing link in the MGS saga. It would show the completion of Big Boss' character transformation from the greatest soldier that ever lived, to a maniacal tyrant hell bent on being his own nuclear power. The game doesn't show any of that. And let's be blunt here; in a very real way, this game shows almost nothing of Big Boss or his character development. Moreover, the fact that Big Boss went from being a fairly charismatic action hero, to a near silent protagonist, was also a bad choice. I know this gets somewhat explained in the story, but I still think it was a bad call.
Finally, we have the Skulls unit. The elite group of soldiers that act as semi-boss fights every so often. In a few of the scenarios it is entirely possible just to run away from them, but at other times you have to stand and fight. There are usually four or so skulls, each with very powerful physical attacks, as well as very damaging ranged attacks. And to be short, fuck the Skulls. Their ability to appear out of nowhere, shoot the life out of you, and block every attack you use except for using explosives, is pure bullshit. It is not fun to fight them, the same way it isn't fun fighting the Prometheans in Halo 4. They are frustrating to do battle with. The fact that you can take out three of them, just for the fourth to get in a cheap shot and kill you, and you have to start the fight all over again, is just double-layered bullshit. That was the point I stopped playing. No half-baked summary ending was worth putting myself through more of this garbage.
After I stopped playing I decided to watch a compilation of the cutscenes/story moments that some lunatic had edited together and put onto YouTube. Even after watching all of it, I still had no clue as to what was going on, or why, or when or how. Nothing mattered any more. As far as I was concerned, the MGS series ended with Snake and Meryl riding off into the sunset on a snowmobile.
Whilst I have been disappointed with the way the MGS series has panned out, I see it as a triumphant testament of the potential of video games. Despite Kojima being about as coherent as a half-inflated bouncy castle begging for death, he has shown the world how well games can be used to tell a cinematic story. I am looking forward to seeing what he does next, but I'll keep my expectations low for it to be anything even remotely sensible.
The past couple of weeks have been a bit of a mess. With no job to anchor me I have just floated around Mainland Europe until I sort out new employment. In that time I have played a myriad of different games. So rather than doing a dedicated post for each one, I'll just spew my feelings about each in no particular order.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
Fuck this game. I'm only still playing it because I want to see how it ends. The Skull enemies are the least fun enemies to play against since the Prometheans in Halo 4.
Every bullshit death, every stupid cry from Ocelot and every stupid focus on female anatomy in the cutscenes just makes me hate this game more and more.
But I need to finish it.
Super Mario Odyssey
It's alright. I have played bits and pieces of previous Mario's before, but this is the first time I've bought it and sat down to play it properly.
More than the gameplay, the thing that stuck out to me most was the level of polish in the game. Everything looks slick and well presented, it sounds great, and there so far hasn't been any minor oddities that remind you you're playing a video game.
I'll keep at it and see if I get to the point where I'm creaming my pants the same way everyone else is. Assuming of course that it isn't just a massive nostalgia binge that everyone is trying to deny.
I've completed my first in-game week of Stardew Valley and it's been perfectly pleasant so far. Not a lot has actually happened but I can see the potential enormity of this game. I thought it was literally just farming and raising animals, but I've been assured that that's not solely what this game is about.
I'll put more hours in, but it's currently third priority compared to the other giant behemoths I'm playing.
Power Rangers: Legacy Wars
So this game sort of came out of nowhere. It's a mobile fighting game where you have one main fighter and two back up fighters that have special moves to aid in defence/offence. I was a massive Power Rangers fan as a kid, and I've always had massive nostalgia for the series, but it's not like I still watch the series (the 2017 movie was pretty sweet though).
Like any other free to play mobile game it has a bunch of waiting mechanics, as well as loot boxes and in-app purchases. But, that said, the game is still pretty entertaining, and the mechanics hit a nice sweet spot between easy to pick up and hard to master.
However I started feeling my addictive personality getting a bit too much oxygen with this game so I uninstalled it before things go too out of hand.
Thirty five fucking hours. That's my approximate time put into MGSV so far. But by God does it feel longer.
Maybe it's because I suck at most of the missions. Or maybe it's because a lot of the missions feel like they repeat. Or maybe it's because everything feels so generic that there is no real feeling of progression or artistry that there was in the previous games.
Whenever Kaz or Ocelot (I honestly can't tell the two apart over radio) guides you through a mission and says the "target" or the "prisoner" my eyes start to roll involuntarily. It's because me and my eyes know that it's because the dialogue has been made generic in the interests of efficiency. The prisoner or the target will not have their name mentioned and will just be referenced in the most fleeting manner.
The MGS games have never been perfect, and one of the common criticisms of the previous titles was that they always felt short, or always left the player wanting more. MGSV almost feels like Hideo Kojima read these criticisms and went "Oh you want more? I'll give you fuckers so much more you won't ever want to play an MGS game ever again!" Or something to that affect. The gripes I have expressed about MGSV both on here and on Twitter wouldn't normally send me into the nark-osphere, but the fact that this entry into the series is so long, and so repetitive, just highlights all of the flaws whilst diluting any positive aspects.
I'm on episode 25. I have read that there are 50 episodes. So, assuming I don't get worse, or the game doesn't get exponentially more difficult, I should be on track to finish the game with about a 70 hour play time logged.
That is more than the entirety of Breaking Bad's entire run. And at no point during Breaking Bad did I think "Oh my God please just fucking finish already!"
So I finally finished my first The Legend Of Zelda game. Whilst on a plane. In the middle of turbulence. I'm a terrible flyer and I was trying to do anything that would take my mind off the inevitable crash that I knew was about to transpire. But after 55 hours of playing I was happy that the adventure was finally over, and the ending was satisfying enough for me to not throw a hissy fit. Even if I was slightly unpleasantly surprised that there was no post-credits sandbox.
Looking back, I have a feeling TLOZ: Breath Of The Wild (BOTW) will not leave as lasting an impression as I thought it might. Considering I was willing to buy my first Nintendo console solely based on the trailers for BOTW, my opinion of it has definitely muddied somewhat. That isn't to say it's a bad game. It's a great game with plenty of great ideas, interesting challenges and gorgeous scenery. But there was definitely something missing from it, although what that "it" is, I'm not entirely sure of.
I knew something was up when I had to take a break from my constant playing of the game. After playing the game fairly steadily from April to June, I then took a month off as I was travelling South East Asia (snort). Once I arrived back home at the end of the month, I had zero urge to play BOTW. No urge to complete any of the side missions, or explore more of the map or finish the main quest to destroy Ganon. I think after having already completed the four boss dungeons, finding all but one of the hidden memories and finding (but not quite yet receiving) the Master Sword, I had a feeling of "yeah, this is close enough, no need to carry on." I didn't think that the game could throw any surprises at me at this point. I would get the Master Sword, face Ganon, save the princess and that would be it. And I was correct, naturally.
In a sandbox-esque game like BOTW you really do need interesting side missions/quests/activities to keep the player from turning off the console and going back to Rocket League. That is something I think BOTW sorely lacks. The NPC's don't do enough to differentiate from one another, and all of their side quests feel so token and lacking in stakes that they're not worth bothering with. If you compared it to some of the side missions in Skyrim, some of which are more interesting than the main quest itself, the side missions in BOTW just fall so, so, so short.
BOTW was a bold, new direction for the Zelda series, and naturally on a first major attempt at something new, not everything is going to be perfect. Nintendo has already confirmed that they're going to be sticking to the sandbox formula for future Zelda games (or at the very least the next one), so hopefully they will be working on fine tuning and improving the areas where BOTW fell short.
Again, I enjoyed the game immensely, so don't look at this post as some kind of ignorant hate speech. I'm still trying to get through MGS V at the moment, and believe me, I would much rather be starting BOTW for the first time again than going through this overly-verbose nonsense.
Yeah I know, second crappy title in a row but considering the subject matter, I don't have much choice.
I've been playing a bit more of MGS V: The Phantom Pain and I find it to be a completely perplexing game. Not in terms of the gameplay (stay low to win, run around like a dunce to lose), but in terms of the story, presentation and positioning. I get that it isn't really meant to be a direct sequel to any of the home console titles. You still play as Big Boss from MGS 3: Snake Eater, but the gameplay is different, the genre is (arguably) different, the presentation is different, the voice actors are different and the overall setup and feeling of the whole game is different.
That in itself isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it just leaves me with a weird and slightly uncomfortable feeling. Big Boss is a completely different character now. He barely talks (in the 10 or so first hours that I've played that is), and he feels a lot more passive than in Snake Eater. Obviously he's a soldier and he takes orders, but at least before he would make a comment about his orders or give some kind of insight. Now Ocelot or Miller tells you to fuck off back to Afghanistan and Big Boss just does it without saying a word.
It's not just Big Boss, but every character so far that would have been recognisable from Snake Eater. Ocelot looks, sounds and acts completely differently, Major Zero is now an unseen antagonist and the rest of the cast from Snake Eater is nowhere to be seen. And I know this is all probably explained in the handheld entries, or may be explained later in the game, but at this point in time I've got zero context for what is going on.
Whilst I am preferring the gameplay, as well as the gameplay to cutscene ratio, over MGS 4, I can't help but feel that MGS 4 engaged me more, simply by being more linear. With MGS 4, you moved locations, fought different enemies, had to switch up your gameplay style slightly depending on the objective. MGS V meanwhile has me attacking and extracting the same prisoners from the same looking outposts, from the same Afghanistan desert setting using the same goddamned balloon. I'm sure things will probably change later on (based on footage I've previously seen) but it's taking way too long to get there, and the repetition of the current missions is destroying my interest to see the later sections.
Hideo Kojima is a unique and talended game director, without question. But at this point in time I feel like MGS V has been a massive mis-step. In my mind it doesn't capture the essence of the Metal Gear Solid series. If it was presented as a completely new IP I'd probably think better of it. But having it attached to the MGS series just puts it up against too many of my long held expectations, that it is unlikely to leave a lasting, positive impression.
That my sound like massive bias - and it is - but then again, everyone's biased in some shape or form.
Only after starting writing this entry did I realise that the title of it isn't as clever as I initially thought. I was trying to say that MGS V is full of nonsense, but "Phantom Nonsense" implies that there is very little nonsense and that everything actually totally makes sense. And maybe MGS V will make sense by the time I'm through with it, but four hours in it definitely does not.
To be honest, I don't think any game was going to be looked upon favourably considering the last title I played was The Last Of Us. But MGS V seems to have particularly rustled my jimmies for some reason. It's probably because of the intro, as it is the exact opposite of the intro to TLOU. Where as TLOU starts slow, with tension building constantly but clearly so you know what is going, MGS V starts with a gore fest and a million names and organisations being thrown at you within the first 30 seconds. People disappear, reappear, act like ghosts, but then get affected by regular weapons, attack you, attack others and then you escape on horseback whilst a whale made of fire eats a helicopter.
I get that the MGS series has always dabbled in being slightly out there, in the same way the sky kind of dabbles in being a bit blue sometimes, but even for MGS this intro felt like too much. And it didn't get better as the game went on. The game is called MGS V(5) but it's clear that this game is not meant to be played directly after MGS 4: Pony Guns or whatever it was called. To fully understand what is going on you probably need to have played Peace Walker as well as Ground Zeroes, the paid demo. I have played the latter (because I got it for free, fuck paying for a demo) and I still had no clue what was going on. There is a certain appeal in being caught up in a grander story that is bigger than you, but there is a limit, and MGS V is getting precariously close to breaching that limit.
That isn't to say that MGS V is a bad game. I'm enjoying the gameplay so far, and the game has been out long enough that I've already seen plenty of screenshots and clips of some of the cool things you get to do later on. But I just thought it was an interesting comparison to make between two different games. One being a new IP with no backstory to provide exposition for, and the other being the latest (and most likely last) in a long lineage of classic titles with a story so ridiculous it makes the Fast & Furious franchise look restrained and down to Earth.
Being 27 and miserable, I thought the days of me being absolutely immersed in a game to the point of playing it until 3am were over. And I was right - until I started playing The Last Of Us: Remastered (TLOU).
Just to provide some context, I normally play games waaaaaaaaaaaay after they have already come and gone from the front pages of all of the digital stores. Partially due to a lack of focus on my part but also because I simply cannot afford getting every brand new game that gets released. But I saw TLOU available on the PSN Store for a criminally small amount of money and I'd heard good things about it. Although I took the good things I'd heard about it with collosal amounts of salt as I hadn't enjoyed Naughty Dog's other massive success; the Uncharted series. A mix of not really liking the characters as well as having zero interest in the gameplay that was "heavily inspired" by a bunch of other franchises left me feeling lukewarm about the game as a whole.
That wasn't the case with TLOU. From the start it grabbed me. The presentation of the struggle in the prologue to the initial gun fights awakened a fun feeling I hadn't experienced in a single player campaign in quite some time. All I could think was "Oh shit, I'm going to have some really late nights now." And I did. The classic yearning to just get through one more area or see one more bit of progression of the story led to my eyeballs being very unhappy with me.
There are a million things that I could gush about with this game, but they've all been thoroughly gushed over already. I just want to talk about one or two aspects that really caught attention.
Firstly; the feeling in combat. Now a lot was made about the firefights in the game during the marketing campaign and interviews leading up to launch, but I always thought that was just empty developer speak. Just something to convince players that the game wasn't the same old third person cover shooter that had been made a million times already. But oh my God, were those firefights brutal!
The feeling of ferocity that game puts into the guns and projectiles, and even the melee weapons, is incredible. You don't just sneak up on someone and choke them, you really fuck them up! And when you get shot you actually think "Oh balls! I've been shot!", instead of the usual "Lets see how much of this I can tank before I have to take cover again." The game instills a feeling of desperation and savagery that very few other games can match. It makes every firefight feel like it's potentially your last, and makes you feel like you need to make use of every tool available to you. It's basically Die Hard but in the post apocalypse.
The second aspect I want to gush about that I think sets TLOU apart from most other games is the delivery of the personalities of the protagonists, as well as the story as a whole. The game uses cutscenes, just as many others do, but it also makes use of gameplay and in-game dialogue to get across what our protagonists are like. The off hand comments both characters make as you progress through an area, or look at certain objects gives us great insight into their thoughts and desires.
And one other thing that TLOU does well with the story that a lot of other story focused games fail to do is to keep things clear. At all times you know what is happening, what the character motivations and goals are and why they are doing what they are doing. There are so many games that have a good story going only for events to take a sudden left turn, or for a character to do something completely out of the blue that makes no sense, and it derails the entire experience. Joel and Ellie always stay in character, say the kinds of things they would say and perform actions that their characters would make. They feel like complete and fully realised individuals.
Long story short, I loved this game and it is easily one of my favourite single player experiences. Ever.
Soooooooooooooooooooo I'm doing something a little different this week. I tried my hand at recording a relatively short podcast. As I have probably mentioned in previous blog entries, there is a vast spectrum of things I want to do. I would list them all but it would be quicker for me to simply say I just want to create things.
Having finished DIMB (for the most part) I had some time to think about what I wanted to do next. I definitely want to make another game as my "main" project. But considering DIMB took me something like two years to finish, I'd like to have some intermediate medium that I can contribute to on a more regular basis.
Podcasting seemed like a good place to start. I didn't want to kid myself and say I'd be able to write out, film and edit a video every week, because I won't. Podcasting on the other hand doesn't require as much of a commitment. That isn't to say it's easy, or can be done in a trivial way. Podcasting has challenges of its own and still requires a commitment if you're going to do it regularly.
So I want to try and do a podcast once a week. Topics are planned to range between game development, gaming news, the industry, and game reviews/discussion. For this weeks test podcast, I talked a bit about developing DIMB, the game To The Moon and a bit about the Nintendo Switch.
Listen to Game Ramble #1 here: https://soundcloud.com/danny-colclough-253740304/game-ramble-podcast-1-29012017
Written text cannot begin to describe the enormity of my failure to keep this website updated. With changing jobs, companies and priorities, it tends to happen. BUT! I have an update, and I want to talk about it.
Back in April I finished the bulk of the gameplay of DIMB. The challenge levels themselves plus the Boss fight plus the in between break rooms were all done. All that was left to do was the intro to the game and the ending. Both took longer to write and confirm than I would have liked. But it turned out that finding time to implement them properly would be an even bigger challenge.
Once I moved from the UK to Spain in June, my time became even more scant. The first two months at the new job I was assisting production of a large mobile game. After the first two months, I started leading production of this large mobile game. I had no life. No time. No energy. I had nothing, as everything I had was being put into my job and this massive mobile game. Eventually, after a particularly dreadful bout of flu, I decided to resign with a heavy heart. Whilst I love the team I worked with, and love the game they will eventually ship, the working situation simply wasn't for me.
In October I started a new job, which is the one I am currently at. I'm still in Spain, and whilst this new position isn't as high pressure as the previous one, it does come with it's own set of difficulties. However, it has afforded me the time to finally finish DIMB.
In truth, there were only a handful of minor issues to fix and things to implement for me to actually call the game complete. This handful of things to do took two days of full time work to resolve. And that's it, the game is done (in my eyes). There are some remaining problems which I will list below, but the game itself can be played from start to finish with no major issues.
At some point you have to call it a day on whatever it is you're working on. Waiting for it to be perfect will cost you more than releasing it with some flaws. And for perfectionists, releasing it when it is perfect is a day that will never come. I know the shortcomings of this game. But it doesn't matter to me. This is a game I designed, programmed and released. This is the starting point for the next game, and the game after that, and the game after that.
DIMB isn't a game that will set the world on fire. It was never meant to be that. It was a test for myself. "Can I start making a game, and finish it for once?" Many people start making games, but very, very few ever finish them. I didn't want to keep on being one of those people. I have finished making a game, and it's available to play now at GameJolt!
The most important thing for me is that now, if I'm ever at some lacklustre gaming event, and I have a tag around my neck that says "Danny Colclough, Game Designer" and someone asks the question "So what have you made?"
I finally have an answer.