Blizzard welcomes Nick home to the haunted hovels of Tristram nearly twenty years after I first played Diablo. Even if it’s not exactly how we remember it, he hopes other developers decide to dust off their beloved classics in the same spirit.Read More
Much like siblings who have divergent tastes, but still share their mom's nose and dad's hair, the two Forza racing games have as many differences as they have points in common. But the best point? Both are fun for their own reasons.Read More
The hours grow later and later every evening I spend in front of a couple glowing screens wearing gigantic headphones, quietly sipping a beer and playing a round of Overwatch or running a dungeon in World of Warcraft. Invariably I'll finish a round or a dungeon, and a voice in chat will ask me a question. "Don't you have time for one more?"
Realistically, I don't; there's no small number of things I should probably be doing, not the least of which would be going to bed at a reasonable hour. But there's an old, comfy couch in the corner of my much older office. It’d be so easy just to curl up there instead of driving the few miles home.
"Yeah, alright. One more. But after that, I really should head out."
I haven't crashed out in my office just yet. But it seems inevitable.
The land of milk, honey and bandwidth
My life in Seattle, from 2008 through 2014, wasn’t perfect. But what it lacked in career advancement and personal growth, it made up for in social wealth. I’m blessed to have many friends in the Pacific Northwest, from my tightly bonded inner circle to the hard-partying associates I met through PAX and the LAN party scene.
Games played no small role in forming these friendships. Much of my inner circle met through World of Warcraft, and when the Wrath of the Lich King expansion released we formed a 10-man raid group, slaying dragons in the evenings before going out for a round of beers. My PAX friends, meanwhile, play games as a matter of course, and I’ve spent no small number of evenings drunkenly shouting over rounds of Team Fortress 2, Battlefield 4, and even Freelancer.
Maybe you could call it a shared culture, or perhaps it was just a mutual hobby; ultimately, the definition doesn’t matter. Games were the medium that bound us together, that brought joy to my low times and catalyzed exciting moments. Minor quibbles aside, I can say pretty confidently that I have no true regrets about that time of my life.
No sham fight
Devotees may recall the post that announced the hibernation of Silicon Sasquatch. Our circumstances had all changed quite a bit: Aaron and Doug were preparing for domestic bliss, Nick and Tyler were pursuing their career dreams. I, meanwhile, returned to my hometown, moved back into my childhood home, and enrolled yet again at the college from which I received an associate’s degree some eight years earlier.
For all my purpose, ambition and intent, it was hard not to view the move as a regression. I spent my time between classes in the campus coffeeshop, squeezing in the occasional game whenever I could, occasionally speaking sheepishly into a headset microphone in a corner of the student center. It felt awkward, exposed, a sort of nomadic necessity brought on by my circumstances.
Those I’m closest with are still down in the city, still “Outside” from the Alaskan perspective. This isn’t to say that I’m totally isolated here, but there is a persistent feeling of disconnect. As much as I love my parents and enjoy their company, only rarely can I discuss games with them or share bits of internet humor without receiving a perplexed stare.
Things aren’t much better among my generation. Many of my friends here don’t play video games at all, and while I have some fun with those who do, there was definitely a divergence following the move of some of us to the Lower 48. Voice chat and headsets are more or less regarded as anathema by the Alaskans for reasons that are murky to me. And only rarely do our preferred games overlap; they tend to favor sandbox and strategic games, while I lean toward first-person shooters.
But I can always log in and play with my friends in Seattle — in theory, at least.
Life in the Second World
One can reasonably assume that internet connections in rural Alaska aren’t much good, but the fact is that the infrastructure isn’t consistent even on the grid. In Fairbanks (which is, I must note, the second-largest city in the state) the major broadband providers — one each for DSL and cable, respectively — refuse to build out to many neighborhoods. My parents signed up on a DSL waiting list 18 years ago; only last year were they told, unequivocally, that they would never stop waiting.
Our home connection is microwave-based, an antenna pointed at our ISP’s offices downtown. It’s not great; actually, if I’m being honest, it’s godawful by Seattle standards. The antenna can pull 2 megabits tops, just barely enough for video streaming, to the tune of $65 per month. The link is subject to climatological whims, too, and a windy or rainy day can see our connection ratchet down to dial-up speeds. The one non-gripe I can offer about the setup is that it’s got unlimited bandwidth — which is more than I can say for the pricy cellular connections used by no small number of locals.
Neither of these wireless solutions is particularly good for playing online games. The connection has too much latency or not enough consistency, and in either case the upstream is weedy enough that voice chat is right out — on the best days, I can speak in two or three word bursts, but any longer and I find myself disconnected from game and voice chat servers alike. It’s like the dial-up era, except with the occasional episode of Daredevil that’s a bit fuzzy around the edges.
But there is an option available to me that I didn’t have when I first returned, and it’s become more and more appealing as time has gone on.
The benefits of academia
Constitution Hall is a musty little building a bit over 60 years old. Constructed as the campus student center, the Hall doesn’t attract much attention, nestled as it is between a few pieces of brutalist architecture and its relatively modern replacement. It’s now better known for housing the corporate-run campus bookstore, a fairly dreary reputation considering it once hosted the drafting of the Alaska state constitution. Constitution Hall is also the ancestral home of my school’s student newspaper, of which I am presently the editor.
Coming from a string of office drone jobs where I was posted to an open table, a cubicle, or in some cases nowhere at all, having an office provides some of the most outlandish luxury I’ve ever experienced. Despite my tendency toward the social, a private workspace is just magical — a place where I can retreat, take care of whatever I need to, spend time out of the flow of my numerous competing demands. I have a set of cheap but mostly sturdy desks, a comfy couch, and a private fridge. The office came with an iMac, but I have it rigged up to use my (increasingly threadbare) gaming laptop in its place.
There's also an ethernet port with direct access to the campus network.
The university has dedicated fiber lines lashing it to the outside world. Though these are intended to ensure the steady and continual flow of data from and to the school’s supercomputers, satellite dishes and research projects, they provide a side benefit to nerdy liberal arts majors who have paid the requisite fees to the IT department (like yours truly).
The weedy, expensive pipes of Alaskan commercial ISPs simply cannot compare to the juggernaut that is the campus network. On a clear day it’ll pull a gigabit, but the speeds are consistently well above 500 megabits, all lag-free. Forget struggling to use voice chat; the ethernet port in my office can handle voice chat, music streaming, and games all in parallel — while my other laptop drags heavy data down over a VPN on the same connection.
Prior to now, I hadn’t really thought to quantify how much a reliable internet connection factors into my comfort in a place. But combined with the amenities of the space, my office has become extremely comfortable, perhaps even my favorite place to be. And where I had been reluctant to play games early after my return, I find myself now emboldened. Perhaps a little too emboldened.
The release of the latest WoW expansion has had no small impact on the Sasquatch crew these days — recall Nick and Aaron’s relapses — and I won’t deny that it’s a factor in my present circumstances. But it wasn’t the only factor by any means. Overwatch, StarCraft 2, League of Legends, or even just downloads of game installs or updates; provided even one member of my Seattle crew is online, any game will work as an excuse.
The weight of the option is greater than I expected, and its logical loops become all the easier to justify. Previously, I lugged my heavy gaming laptop with me to campus every day, but now, it’s basically installed there. Prime game time in Seattle has become undesirable for homework. Skipping the short walk to the campus pub saves money and reduces the odds that I’ll end up dating somebody. Packing up to play with local friends seems more troublesome than simply playing with distant friends online.
And why not? That rough-hewn little laptop has become the central conduit of my social life, the means by which I maintain my tie to those for whom I care. With a sturdy connection and a headset, I can live the illusion that nothing ever changed, that I never left in the first place. It’s a lifeline I didn’t have upon my arrival, but one that feels necessary, perhaps even desperate, as I remain later and later just to chatter and laugh with my closest friends.
A couple beers in, weighing the trip to my bed is no small decision. Staying in the office feels more like being home than… well, going home.
The facts of the matter
I miss guiltless idleness. Whenever I sink in, spend a few hours clearing dungeons or pushing payloads, I can think of several other uses of my time that would be more productive. Though it’s often lost on new students, as a returning one I find that life in academia is much busier than that outside; having multiple classes to worry about in addition to work takes up more of my attention and effort than anything else I’ve done to date.
Despite the risk, none of my many responsibilities have been absorbed yet by this growing timesink. But the combined drain is causing me to fray a bit around the edges. There aren’t enough hours in the day to handle my entire school to-do list, and my editorial duties at the newspaper, and keep up with the rest of Hero Squad, and play rounds of competitive Overwatch with my younger brother. To make matters worse, Battlefield 1 just came out. Sleeping on the office couch is a matter of “when,” not one of “if.”
These are my last two semesters; I graduate this spring with my bachelor’s in Journalism. Though my intent was to simply move back to Seattle, the truth is that I need to go wherever I can find the best opportunity, the most promising potential career. But what I’m looking forward to most, in the short term, is the opportunity to spend some time doing nothing. I’ll relish a few days of booze, games, and friends, before setting off on the next great adventure.
And wherever that adventure takes me, odds are good I’ll stay tethered to a decent internet connection. I don’t want to go without ever again.
Sometimes it's difficult to justify spending our free time critiquing and analyzing a medium that's propped up by a deeply flawed industry. But in a sense, that's why it's important that we speak up.Read More
Eight years ago, Nick and Aaron came up with the idea for Silicon Sasquatch while grinding through World of Warcraft. In 2016, they both decided to start playing again. Should you be worried? Nah. But maybe. But nah.Read More
Anyone who’s been around games for a long enough time inevitably starts to take some things for granted. We develop assumptions, like:
- Games should be fun
- You will get better at a game the more you play
- The most fun games are the ones you’re good at
These postulates help us establish a framework for understanding the concept of play and define the boundaries of what’s possible. For players, creators and (especially) critics of games, viewing games through the lens of our own assumptions allows us to develop associations and pass judgment much more quickly. And when there are thousands of games coming out every year, it’s not just an efficiency gain for an enthusiast -- it’s a means for survival.
I encourage you to throw all of that away.
Think of a cartographer exploring an undiscovered island. As they draw and revise their map on subsequent surveys, their blurry outlines are traced and rerouted into rigid, precise outcroppings and topographical strata.
With each revision, the way the cartographer perceives that land is subtly altered. They grow more confident in the diligence and consistency in their map, and so they begin to take more things for granted on their eighth or ninth survey of the coastline. They move with purpose and confidence. They become so familiar with the terrain that they live out the rest of their days on that island, never once noticing the massive webbed feet extending from the tortoise’s body that their map so diligently rendered.
Last weekend, while I was at XOXO, I played a few tabletop games for the first time. One of them is called The Resistance, which hinges on deducing and interpreting social cues to identify who the traitors are -- or, as a traitor, to successfully sabotage the plans of the resistance team. I had a lot of fun playing a few rounds with a rotating crew of players.
I also learned something: I’m absolutely terrible at social deduction games.
When I was younger, this would have been infuriating. I was the kid you’d invite over to help you get through Dr. Wily’s castle or set up the best materia configuration for taking down Emerald Weapon. When it came to video games, I always found a way to win.
Last weekend, I realized I’m starting from square one with a different style of game. I don’t have decades of experience to draw upon; I don’t have a framework for categorizing types of games or labeling mechanics. I’m learning everything as I go, and each round is a chance to try something completely different and see what happens. What happens if I tell the truth to the whole table about my role? If I lie? What if I loudly pronounce someone to be a traitor, even when I have no inkling of their true allegiance? Each game is a litmus test -- a fresh canvas for Pollock-esque input and surprising output. It’s a powerful reminder of the joy that comes with learning.
My map is crude and incomplete. I can see with clear eyes.
No process—even a process six years in the making—is perfect. And while our collaborative list of the top ten games each year is the result of an equal effort from each of us, there are also bound to be casualties of the debate. That's where Honorable Mentions come in, serving as a sort of Home for Wayward and Misunderstood Games. Today, we'll take a look at Spencer's list of favorite games that didn't make the cut.
South Park: The Stick of Truth
Obsidian Entertainment | March 4, 2014 | Windows, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
South Park: The Stick of Truth was trapped in development hell for a couple years of its existence, as developers Obsidian Entertainment encountered budget shortfalls and original publisher THQ floundered and died. Thankfully, it finally saw release this year.
As a game, it's a bit simplistic -- a turn-based RPG in the vein of Super Mario RPG, or the earlier part of Penny Arcade's Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness series. However, for fans of South Park on television, there's nothing better. While previous game adaptations of the property have been pretty bad, The Stick of Truth plays out like an extended-length episode of the show -- it looks identical to its old-media counterpart, and the story was written and voiced by show creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone. The result is raunchy, stupid, and laugh-out-loud funny, as jokes are made at the expense of, well, just about everything the show has ever mocked.
Basically, if your brain is damaged like mine and as a result you still genuinely enjoy South Park, play this game.
Octodad: Dadliest Catch
Young Horses, Inc. | January 30, 2014 | Windows, Linux, OS X, PlayStation 4
Octodad: Dadliest Catch is probably the best game I've ever played about being an octopus pretending to be a man, attempting to avoid detection by the public as he takes his family out for their weekend chores.
That might be a bit on the nose, but only because it doesn't really have any parallel that comes to mind. Some term it "High In Public Simulator," and that might be the closest anyone has gotten to classifying Octodad.
Much like my other honorable mentions, Octodadis very, very silly. But rather than replicating established comedy, or being completely slapstick, the absurdity is what drives the humor. The act of an octopus, trying to make it in a saccharine, mildly unsettling version of the 1950s is crazy in its own right -- layer on the delightful frustration of trying to maneuver using tentacles for arms, and Octodad will have you muttering "what?" before giggling quietly to yourself.
Coffee Stain Studios | April 1, 2014 | Windows, Linux, OS X, Android, iOS, Xbox One
Goat Simulator is bewilderingly, unapologetically stupid. Bugs are touted as a feature of the game, the physics engine is entirely out of whack, and to top it off, you're literally running around as a goat.
So why is it so fun?
The closest I can really get to rationalizing it is that Goat Simulator is the gaming equivalent of Jackass. It's pure slapstick, and honestly, that's sometimes funnier than it has any business being. Actually, it's routinely funnier than it has any business being. Even in the few minutes I spent taking a screenshot for this article, I found myself snickering as my goat was dragged, by his tongue, along the tracks of a roller coaster (pictured above). There's no good reason for that to be funny, it just is.
With the recently-released free DLC Goat MMO Simulator, you can even make fun of your World of Warcraft-playing friends while you lick your way through a crowd of bystanders. If that's your jam, anyway. It sure is mine.
Too DX | November 6, 2014 | Wii U
In a similar vein to Sportsfriends,Sportsball is ridiculous fun with a competitive feel, intended for four-person local multiplayer. Old-school, couch-bound giddiness is what both aspire to, with downright magical results.
Beyond that, though, the similarities cease. Sportsball is part Joust, part basketball, with a dash of Friday Night Lights thrown in for good measure. Four birds enter, and, well, all hell breaks loose from there. And in case you have a fifth player awaiting their turn, they can use the microphone on the Wii U GamePad to provide live commentary.
Yes, it's every bit as weird as it sounds. Enjoy.
Tyler's list of honorable mentions pays tribute to two very clever and lesser-known games while also recognizing a polished, sprawling epic that has the potential to shape the course of game design for this new generation.Read More