Backlog: A Frozen Happy Valentine Edition

Original image courtesy Jessamyn West

Original image courtesy Jessamyn West

Being an expat means missing out on things back home. One of those things as of late has been the nasty winter weather that's gripped the United States most of the winter. Well, it's suddenly pounced on Japan — and while I don't have snow in my neck of the woods (though Tyler sure does!), it is frighteningly cold. It makes for a rather chilly Valentine's Day. All the more reason to hold somebody close!

Well, at least the winter cold means we've all been productive on the gaming front. Nick is experimenting with showing off while he plays, Aaron is fulfilling a prophecy and setting his future self up with problems, while I've finally moved forward from last fall by completing one of its biggest games.

Without any further ado, let's see this week's contributions. — Doug Bonham

Nick

wow; the doge eats strangers; such ninja; wow
wow; the doge eats strangers; such ninja; wow

With my first week of full-time Unity learnin’ behind me, I’m feeling pretty thoroughly amped for what lies ahead of me. It’s a challenging line of work, no question, but it’s such a thrill to be learning again — especially to be learning a craft that’s always been so exciting to me. It had been a long time since I immersed myself in anything resembling modern game development, so I’ll admit I had only a cursory understanding of concepts like normal mapping, meshes, colliders and particle effects. Fortunately, tools like Unity make it suprisingly easy to implement all sorts of modern methods and effects into a game. Its built-in tutorials are a bit lacking, but the community has produced a bunch of wonderful and intuitive lessons and tutorials to get any budding developer up to speed. If you’re interested in learning how to make a game and have a free day to spare, I’d suggest you start with BrackeysMake A Game tutorials on YouTube.

Of course, I don’t want to burn myself out in my first week, so I’ve been making sure to spend my evenings relaxing with a pretty broad swath of games.

First, a short advertisement: Spencer and I recently kicked off a Let’s Play co-op runthrough of Final Fantasy VI, otherwise known as the best Final Fantasy game. Spencer’s never played through a Final Fantasy game but VI has always struck him as the most interesting/least offensive to his western-RPG sensibilities. On the other hand, I’ve finished nearly every single-player Final Fantasy game and have always defended VI as the high point for the franchise, so playing the game again feels just like comin’ home. If you’d like to follow along, we’ll be broadcasting a few times a week over at twitch.tv/whymog. There should be two episodes up by the time you read this. Let us know if you tune in, and feel free to subscribe so you don’t miss the rest!

I finished the first act of Broken Age. What a beautiful, clever, intricate, wonderful experience that was. If you grew up on point-and-click adventure games, you absolutely need to pick this one up — it’s destined to be one of the all-time greats. Tim Schafer’s writing shines through, demonstrating why he’s revered in the industry. Absolutely masterful.

I’m also a few hours further into Bravely Default, a game that manages to alternatively charm and alienate at a pretty regular clip. It’s rare that I long for the endgame in a narratively driven RPG, but there’s only so much creepyoldman I can handle in a game.

With the sequel to 2010’s Castlevania: Lords of Shadow set to release in a few days, I figured it was about time I dusted off my copy of the original and finally gave it a shot. After a couple hours spent slashing werewolves with an extendable cross (videogame logic, y’know?) I’m pretty damn sure I’ll see this game through to its conclusion — even if it appears to be a dizzyingly long quest. Also, how did I miss that Patrick Stewart voices the game’s narrator? Every game should feature Patrick Stewart.

And then there’s Minecraft. Minecraft is a game I don’t bring up much on this site because the wounds from 2010’s Game of the Year talks are still healing for some of the crew. Regardless, I’ve continued to play Minecraft almost weekly since it launched in alpha format, resulting in an absolutely mind-blowing cumulative playtime, no doubt. There’s a really good reason why this game has sold well beyond 30 million copies. If you’ve been holding out or were put off by the game’s absent tutorial, let’s talk. I’ll show you the light.

Finally, in an unexpected turn of events, I’ve taken a liking to Blizzard’s collectible card game (or CCG,) Hearthstone. I’m still frustrated by the game’s obnoxious voice acting — a staple of the Warcraft series, so I guess I should’ve known that murloc gurgles and overly dramatic blood elf warcries come with the territory. Hearthstone succeeds where it counts, though, and that’s in creating a fast-paced, streamlined game of deck-building and combat. For someone like me who always casually enjoyed Magic: The Gathering but preferred to keep it at arm’s length, Hearthstone presents a much more accessible alternative. I’m pretty sure I’ll keep going until I’ve fleshed out the rogue deck at least.

Aaron

As I mentioned in my overview of the PlayStation 4, the system is still too new to engage its owners. It’s been a week since I last played Resogun, which should tell you something.

I’m knee-deep in grad school projects, so gaming has been largely relegated to bursts of an hour here and a half hour there. However, thanks to Portland’s snow storm I was able to dump an entire wasted day into Guacamelee! and co-op in Splinter Cell: Blacklist this past Sunday.

Lately I’ve found it difficult to maintain focus on recent and upcoming releases: I’m aware of new titles, but I can’t motivate myself to buy them because I know it’ll be awhile until I play past the tutorials. Victims of my lethargy are Bravely Default, The Banner Saga and Broken Age.

And even though I’m complaining about buying games I’m unable to play, I funded two Kickstarter games on Wednesday: the realistic medieval RPG Kingdom Come: Deliverance and Final Fantasy Tactics' spiritual successor Unsung Story: Tale of the Guardians. Future Aaron appears to be making commitments assuming a year or two from now that we’ll have more time.

That’s preposterous, but Future Aaron is kind of an asshole.

Doug

Man, credits screens on AAA games are impossibly long these days.

I say that because like an absolute genius, I decided that 11 o’clock on a work night was the best time to begin the final two missions in Grand Theft Auto V.

That might not have been the wisest choice.

I loved the approaches to the final sequences and might go check out how the other methods played out. The best part of GTA V by far is the heist missions. This is a great twist of game design, allowing for some of the more stale mission types to serve the greater purpose of setting up heists, and also for fascinating, multi-faceted major missions. Why settle for one protagonist when you can switch between three different ones? It all serves well to break up the usual grinding flow of a Rockstar open world game. I would love a DLC add-on pack where (hypothetically) a retired Michael just sits around with a cigar and a drink and tells tales of his previous scores, while you get to live them out. That would be fun.

I also enjoyed the resolution for the game’s protagonists. I chose the hard path, because of course I did late on a work night. I appreciated that the characters remained, well, in character throughout the end of the game -- despite working together to cash in The Big One, Michael and Trevor remained on tenuous ground after what had transpired earlier in the game. Maybe it’s just low expectations, but character consistency is quite appreciated around these parts.

The resolution of the game also led to one of the best moments I found in GTA V, a phone call from Franklin to Lamar (that was COMPLETELY optional but at an opportune moment) that gave me all kind of warm fuzzy feelings despite the typically strong language. I would describe it more but for the spoilers, yet it's safe to say it's the kind of moment I want to see more of in games -- earned through characterization throughout the course of the title.

So that’s another game down. Still need to finish off The Last of Us, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, and a few more single-player titles left on my hard drive. Wish me luck; I will need it.