Revisitation Hours: Mirror’s Edge

You are awful. Not as a person, necessarily, but you are awful at remembering things. And with all the excitement (and years of rumors) surrounding Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, the sequel to a 2008 triple-A release that garnered critical acclaim but not much commercial success, it’s worth going back to see if we all remember the original as well as we think we do.

Let’s lay out the obvious first. The story is, as a Eurogamer review put it, “rambling.” It starts with an interesting seed and then blossoms into, well, kind of a wet seed that someone wrote SUNSHINE on. If that’s your recollection of the plot, then congratulations! You are dead on.

Then there are the shooting sequences. I thought I just tolerated them before. It turns out I pushed myself through it as if Zeus ordered me to push a boulder up a hill. They seemed unending and were the most egregious offenders of the trial and error criticism reviewers threw at it.

But my god the freerunning. If you recall it being only impressive, then your memory is failing you. But of course, how do you stow away the sensation of visceral, primal depth? It’s a hard thing to capture let alone bring back up its accompanying sensations on demand. Many games egg you towards leaning into its motions but few require it of you.

The sequences of the story are fine for the most part. They’ll dip in and out of brilliance as cramped corridors and surprisingly stuffy rooftops do their best to undermine a sense of momentum and flow. There are, in fact, many times when the linear paths—dogmatically following red—inspire genuine glee. It’s just a shame when the equally numerous times you are brought to a halt also stamp out your joy.

Instead, the game’s mechanics truly shine in the time trials. They’re (mostly) little self-contained maps with the goal of getting from point A to point B with checkpoints in between as fast as possible. And strangely enough, they’re most fun precisely because of the trial and error methodology many found fault in with the campaign. (Also the soundtrack is damn good.)

Getting two stars is often easy enough. You futz around for a few minutes, figure out what you shouldn’t do, and whammy you’ve got two stars. Getting three, though, is the kicker because it usually requires you to really dive in deep with the map’s nuances and figure out the best tactics.

The Atrium levels are a good example of this. It’s mostly a multistory vertical shaft that is ostensibly under construction with lots of half built ramps and flapping tarps and structural supports littered about. The first one has you going up to the top, and it’s a bitch. Granted, the second one is also a bitch, but let’s focus up.

You have to steel yourself for making consecutive long jumps at the edge of tiny ledges just three feet wide. And you have to pull up on elevated jumps with your legs tucked in, a maneuver that ruined hundreds of runs for me as I forgot, clipped a rail, and yelled with a rage only the sun could match. You have to keep in mind a dozen techniques and strategies every second or you fall.

It’s just as much about muscle memory as it is dealing with small problems. There are big problems that you just hit reset on, but the small ones force ingenuity and discovery. I had to deal with a botched wall run/clamber/reverse/tuck combo. Never thinking to do so before—let alone in the heat of a run—I tucked up across a gap, landed on a rail, and clamber/reversed over there.

It was a true moment of an unadulterated high. It felt like seeing in another frequency of light except it was deeper. Instead of that Master Builder or Matrix vision Emmet and Neo get, it’s a built-up and ingrained sense. Like instead of reading the scene, I was feeling it. (Perhaps that’s what it feels like being a compiled language versus interpreted.)

That is the great success of Mirror’s Edge. In tight, compact sequences where you switch off from being someone sitting on a couch and holding a controller, you become something far more…base. Like shedding the complications of a medium built for analogous intent, you reduce the game to a beautiful little lump of exultant thought. In that moment, it is pure. And you remember that.

Revisitation Hours: The Last Of Us Remastered

The Last of Us, irrespective of its quality, sits in a weird place. It was a fresh IP from a storied developer, coming to us a full six months after the combined launches of the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One and, subsequently, the perceived start of the next generation. It left many that would have played it lingering on the fiscal vacuum of new consoles and others lamenting another take on the zombie shtick.

It even got ignored by those in the industry recovering—and even actively enduring—the onslaught of launch titles smeared across a liberal interpretation of a “window.” Speaking with a lot of people and discussing their yearly top 10 lists, The Last of Us was often left off simply because they didn’t play it. It certainly didn’t help that its official launch in North America was the day after the close of last year’s E3.

Yeah, last year’s E3. The Last of Us Remastered has released for the PlayStation 4 barely a year after its original debut on the PlayStation 3. It seems a bit odd to rerelease a game so soon after its first launch (the ending is still considered a spoiler, for cry out loud), perhaps setting a terrible bar for repackaged game collections as quick cash-in opportunities, but precisely because of all the aforementioned reasons a shameful slew of folk skipped it the first time around, this is a fantastic time for this move.

It’s also a fantastic time to come back and see if you remember that game for everything that it was and not something you’d skewed into a rose-tinted wish as you look back. It doesn’t take a lot for psychological biases to take hold, memories reinforcing themselves as highlight both the good and the bad in some sort of grotesquely growing harmonic frequencies. Even after writing so god damn much about the game already, I wanted to see whether I was victim of my own mental sabotage.

Immediately, I’m overcome with the sensation that I’d just never even bothered to notice something so substantial in lieu of talking at length about the game’s narrative, but The Last of Us is so awfully…rich. Specifically in its environments, it’s like a heavy stew of thick and varied flavors that are distinct and bold that it all feels so fantastically cohesive that the individuality is skimmed over.

Coming across repeated elements is such a rarity. While the cities feel oddly alive after nature has reclaimed the man-ravaged land has been littered with concrete monstrosities, it also feels incredibly lived-in because of the universally remarkable cardinality of set dressings. It would have been easy assume that every wall would just be another half vine, half brick texture, but even the serpentine foliage slithers in particular ways.

The Last of Us Remastered

Chairs, dressers, cars, graffiti, signage, and so much more help place you in regional locales and not just within a specific level of the game. And it makes every little interaction between the characters immensely more meaningful because you have this wholly unique visage to stow away in your memory. This especially comes through in the Left Behind DLC that comes packaged with The Last of Us Remastered.

And considering how many people skipped the main game, it’s not surprising that even more never got around to playing this fantastic bit of DLC. It adds colorful literality to a lot of assumptions and oblique references made in the main story between Joel and Ellie, choosing instead to focus on Ellie’s life before she ever met with her eventual protector and companion.

There’s one particular scene where Ellie and her friend Riley come across a Halloween store in a mall. Each aisle of the store is crammed full of things you simply won’t ever see again. There’s no reason for these pumpkin heads and werewolf masks to ever pop up again, and if they did, it would just be out of place. But each one is seemingly placed with purpose and care, as if there was store stocking logic and narrative impetus behind why each item is where it is.

The Last of Us: Left Behind

The interactions are so expertly written, as well. With such a beautiful economy of words that flows stiltedly parallel to the broken world around them, we learn so much about Ellie and why she becomes the person she is when she finally meets Joel. It paints such a succinct and painfully vivid picture of the tragedy of growing up without knowing a world before the Cordyceps outbreak.

Even beyond that, it’s also a heartbreaking depiction. Not necessarily because it’s so overtly sad that these kids never knew a carefree childhood but because it renders their nature as so pure. There really is no room for grey areas in this post-apocalyptic world, so you either land on being a good person or a bad person, though levels of innocence, acceptance, and compliance all still fall on a spectrum. You either kill and take advantage of others or you don’t as even dealing with the dirty underground still doesn’t make you a bad person—just a survivor.

And because of this, what we get from Ellie and Riley is a purity of spirit that comes from a life where there is no time for the dangerously easy and explosive little lies of our own daily lives. Those that come from the world that we know that is full of superficiality and first world problems, they’ve hardened by the time we meet Ellie. But for those born into this world, they are a perpetually open wound. No time to patch up, just time to watch everyone around you bleed out.

The Last of Us Remastered

If not for the richness of the palette supporting The Last of Us and Left Behind, none of this would have the stickiness it has. Our brains are like ships looking for a dock, looking for something to anchor to in the storm of the everyday blur of just living. With the delectably unique and flavorful sets of the game, we find our port. We come bearing potent words painted across an infected, heartbreaking, hopeful, and sometimes inspiring canvas.

Reblogged 4 years ago from

Matty Collector’s March sale is maddeningly huge, starts in 48 hours

As if to make up for January, Matty Collector’s March sale is pretty massive. The sale (which starts at noon EST on Monday) includes two “firsts” in form of the ’90s hook-handed Aquaman (the first of the defunct Club Infinite Earth figures) and the Total Heroes Green Lantern pack (the first “deluxe” Total Heroes pack) as well as a new Masters figure and a whole bunch of returning product.

The sale notably includes the formerly Club Eternia-exclusive Fang Man, marking what I believe is the first opportunity for the rest of us (who Matty Collector has occasionally treated like C.H.U.D.s or, at best, mole men) to pick up this figure and I’ll definitely be excited to do so… if he doesn’t rather predictably sell out during the Early Access window.

New Adventures He-Man is also having a second go, which is great because March’s new Masters figure is none other than He-Man New Adventures companion Hydron! Hydron was first shown at SDCC and, as a New Adventures fan (yes, we exist), I’m happy to see that he’ll be joining the line. He’ll look great posed across from Slush Head. They’ll be available for US$27 each during the sale, assuming Fang Man will be available at all to normal buyers.

“Hook hand” Aquaman was one of the bizarre character shifts of the ’90s, a decade which also saw Spider-Man replaced by a clone and Batman by a murderous psychopath (whereas Green Lantern Hal Jordan BECAME a murderous psychopath following a run-in with Parallax), because, well, edgy! (Oh, plus Superman “died”.) While the change was somewhat goofy (and the follow-ups even goofier), it was immortalized through an appearance in one of the best comic-based cartoons of all time and a starring role in one of the worst comic-based video games of all time. Love it or hate it, we remember it. Partly because it’s burned into our minds. He’ll be available for US$23 during the sale.

The Total Heroes line has more or less replaced the DCU line at retail (at least in terms of shelf space, since it will never fill the space in our hearts). Although the retail configurations are ostentatiously geared towards a younger audience, Matty Collector’s deluxe sets — which feature interchangeable parts and a good number of accessories — are aimed more at collectors. The first of these sets is a Green Lantern pack featuring the choice of three different Green Lantern heads (John Stewart, Tomar-Re, and Green Man) as well as a good number of energy constructs. The set might be twice the price of the basic figures seen at retail, but this one is well-worth it. The set will be available for US$20 during the sale, although I expect many will instead be looking forward to that Batman Beyond pack.

Also up for sale will be the ENTIRE Watchmen line-up. If you missed one or all of them, it’s a pretty good opportunity to nab them (especially since you’ll have saved on shipping by buying all now as opposed to buying as they came out). They’ll be available for US$25 apiece. The final item is a DC Universe Red Hood (originally released last year) who will be on sale for US$20

[ Order at Matty Collector or complain here when Fang Man is sold out ]

Read more…

Reblogged 4 years ago from

Ten Thousand People Or Ten Thousand Hours

And not 10,000 days. I’ve listened to enough of that since moving away from my Tool-obsessed college roommate. (Also, not about Macklemore.) This is about open development. You’re probably familiar with the concept by now. It’s where as a developer makes a game, they ask for feedback at every step of the way from their fans—and sometimes not fans.

It’s something mostly popularized by Kickstarter, though it’s simply another step along the way to the logical extreme where everyone makes the exact game they want and sell it to themselves. Before facilitated communications over Internet tubes, game makers just cranked out another game that incorporated the word-of-mouth feedback they got. Then they started doing betas, and now we’re at the point where players have managed to inject their input from beginning to end.

It is, quite frankly, a poisonous practice. Perhaps an extension of the equally horrific “the customer is always right” mantra, but it’s something that needs to end nonetheless. John Walker over at Rock, Paper, Shotgun (temporarily and brilliantly Candy, Saga, Crushgun) wrote something yesterday about it and absolutely nailed it. How do people know what they want if they don’t know there are things beyond what they already know?


Open development homogenizes and averages deviations from the norm, but creativity thrives on those little spikes on the graph, those outliers from the middle of the bell curve. Once you filter one person’s vision through enough feedback, it’ll all come back out the same. Like how if you took into account a hundred people’s tastes at a one-pizza pizza party, you’d end up with gluten-free toast. But once people give money to the process (Kickstarter, Early Access, etc.), they feel entitled to own part of the creation. As Walker astutely puts it: “NO. NO NO NO. You’re a wallet, and that’s it.”

There’s a different idea, though, that I think contributes to the problem of this open development plague. Are you familiar with Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers: The Story of Success? It’s a fairly popular book, but the main thing people took away from it was his 10,000-hour rule. It can be summed up in the idea that it takes 10,000 hours of doing something to get good at it.

That may or may not be totally true, but it certainly is skewed towards being right. The number one tip for writers is to just keep writing. Michael Jordan didn’t make varsity at his first high school basketball tryout, but he practiced notoriously hard to earn the title of His Airness and a stupidly successful line of hoop-centric footwear. How do you get to [insert prestigious competition]? Practice.

Carnegie Hall

Part of game development is producing things, sure. I mean, you’re not going to make a game without some skill in programming or making art or at least figuring out how to use Google to hodgepodge together the Internet’s combined knowledge in the field, but in the realm of creativity—simply ginning up ideas—doesn’t take any special skill.

In the startup community, ideas are feared. Ideas are worthless. Execution is where the value is at, and that holds up in actually any industry. But execution is not just turnout out concept art or 3D graphics libraries. It includes turning those ideas from nebulous, hazy blobs of imprecise desires into concrete, discrete chunks that can be put into words. No more hand gestures; they need to be put down on paper.

And that’s where the 10,000 hours come in. The ability to transmogrify an impulse or feeling into something actionable comes with practice. Think about Broken Age. Tim Schafer said that in documenting the development of the game, he hoped to show that it doesn’t take anyone special to come up with ideas; it just takes work. He isn’t some genius at coming up with stories. He’s just a guy with a bunch of notebooks full of rejected ideas and a few good ones.

Tim Schafer and Cookie Monster

Of course, he also proved along the way that game development is a lot harder than anyone suspects/knows/is willing to admit, but hey, surprises are part of life. But the takeaway is that he just worked his way into being able to turn those fleeting bits of “hey, it would be cool if…” and “oh man, I would love it if…” into a brilliant little adventure game.

But all those people giving feedback during open development don’t have the same practice. 10,000 people with a single hour’s worth of expressing concepts in terms of gameplay and mechanics is not the same as someone who has 10,000 hours under his belt already. It’s not that these people don’t have great ideas—some of them actually do, though admittedly most of them have nothing better to say beyond “this is good” or “this is bad”—but they just don’t understand how to turn those ideas into a game, let alone make it part of one that is already under another vision.

In the opening blurb to Walker’s piece on RPS, he says that everyone thinks they’re right, and everyone else is wrong. Part of the 10,000 hours of learning is also figuring out that such a simplistic dichotomy is, like, super duper wrong. You learn how to collaborate and incorporate things that are beyond your base instincts. What’s that they say about good artists and stealing?

Never Sorry

You figure out how to mold an idea into something usable. You learn how to blend your past knowledge into this new experience. You learn how to cut away what works and what doesn’t. But that doesn’t happen right away. All those people sending emails and posting comments and dumping their stream of consciousness into a Twitch chat—those 10,000 people—don’t know how to do all that. They don’t understand the alchemy of turning ideas into gold. They don’t have the experience of putting in the work.

They don’t have the 10,000 hours.

Reblogged 5 years ago from