Sunday, August 28, 2016

Replay = Love?

I read a tweet yesterday that paraphrasingly said that you make time for the things that matter in your life. I consequently interpreted it as meaning the things you don't choose to spend time on are things you don't care so much about. The original tweet was in regards to people. As someone who is notoriously bad at keeping in contact I found it difficult to agree with it however. I rarely call anyone, but there are very many people I am very fond of. I don't call my parents often, but I keep regular contact with them through other means, like Messenger. But someone like my brother, who I care very deeply for and always enjoy being around, I haven't called for years. I don't even think I called him for his last birthday. If that makes me sound like a terrible person, you might be half-right. I've had friends question my lack of interest, only to have me try to persuade them of my sincere enjoyment of their presence in my life. I know people who call to other people in their lives every day. I'm not saying there is anything wrong or weird about that, but it's just not for me. This is something I've had to become better at (and I have definitely improved!) because the feeling that you're not important to someone who never calls for you is a pretty logical one. Anecdotally it reminds me of my ex who always had a hard time remembering peoples names and then trying to convince said people that he still cared for them - he couldn't even remember the names of his grandparents.

To me it's meant a bit of work with myself. To the people around me who have expressed their desire for me to show more active interest, I've obviously tried to do so. For the people who seem fine with me just checking in every now and then and maybe never (like my dear brother), I've kept things that way. It also made me realize I have the same relationship with things.

Not a picture of my brother

I guess it'd be difficult to try to convince someone of your love for a game (or game series) that you have never even played yourself. Yet that is me and my relationship with the Resident Evil series. There are plenty of games out there that I respect for the quality gaming that they are without actually wanting to or having played much of it myself - games like the Metroid-series or Zelda-series. I've tried a couple of them but the gameplay is overall not something I find very enjoyable. This is not the case with Resident Evil however. I really like everything about those games (up until Code Veronica) yet I have never played any of them.

It's simply always been a series of games I've had someone play for me. I keep telling myself it's because they stress me out and I find them too scary. This is probably the closest I am ever going to get to an explanation as to why I haven't played them. Yet I have played horror games, like System Shock 2 and Dead Space (and Alone in the Dark is on my to-play-list). And I have been in very stressful gaming situations, like raid healing in endgame World of Warcraft. So maybe it's the combination then, or just exactly what Resident Evil makes me feel. That could possibly also explain why I am not such a big fan of RE 4 as everyone else seems to be - it might just be more fun to play than to watch. The only RE game I have tried so far is RE 5 co-op, and I definitely had some fun with that but then it is getting more towards an action game than a horror game at that point.

Resident Evil is a bit of an odd one out however, since most games I really cherish I have played. Surprisingly many of them I also hold in very high regard without having played them for years. Games like Lemmings, Yoshi's Story, Final Fantasy VII or Azure Dreams - all games I would recommend to anyone in a heartbeat but haven't touched for ages. It's not even a question of replayability, I know I would have fun with all four of these. But I have played them and so it's more interesting to try something new than retrace, even if I don't know how much fun the new will be.

In fact there are very few games at all I can say to have replayed (or revisited if you like). FFVII and FFX I've played twice, I've watched the first four (five if you count Zero) Resident Evil being played through multiple times if that counts but otherwise I'd be hard pressed to mention more, even if I'd include games I replayed for a bit but not all the way through. I replayed Yoshi's Story a lot back when that was my first and only game, but since then I've only played the occasional stage with my kid. And can you call it replaying if you've never even beat the game in the first place? I spent a lot of time on games like Snake Rattle n Roll or any given Mario game, but I've never beaten them.

I know plenty of people who do the opposite, in fact my SO is just that kind of person. He can rewatch the same series and movies over and over and replay the same games over and over. Of course I rewatch and replay things as well, but it is rare and far inbetween. Does it mean I love them less and enjoy them less? Maybe! Obviously it is very difficult to measure subjective enjoyment but it doesn't sound too farfetched that someone who chooses to play a game enjoys it more than someone who doesn't.

Or maybe it is not that simple. Maybe I just fill up on my enjoyment meter faster or don't empty it as fast as other people. I'm venturing in to ramble-ground here, but why not - that is what a Sunday evening blogpost is for. For instance I know I seem to have a surprisingly good episodic memory, at least when compared to people around me. I can remember, in quite vivid detail, a whole lot of things that has happened to me all the way from around 5 years old to today (as memory is a very fickle thing I couldn't say much as to the truthfulness of said memories, but they're there anyway). Maybe this also helps me store more memories of a game I've played or movie I've watched and so I feel less inclined to re-do it again? So then it is not about how much you enjoy a game but whether you need or want to replay it to experience that enjoyment again.

I think what I am trying to get at is that eventhough there are many games I really love, and even love to play, I rarely get around to actually playing them. I almost always choose a new, unknown experience over an old, known one. I don't want to think that means I love them any less, but I can't exclude that possibility. When my SO boots up Sonic the Hedgehog for the umpteenth time and I see that smile spread over his face eventhough he's spent so much time with it he knows the game by heart - I can envy that sometimes. In his case it is probably also a nostalgic kick, but not even games that hold great nostalgic value to me seem to give me that same feeling.

I didn't grow up playing games or watching films either, so that might be another factor. I didn't have a TV in my own room until I was 19 and could buy one for my own money. I didn't have a computer until I was around 16 and I owned my first console at 13. That might explain the lack of a real nostalgic kick from most things movie and game related, but I don't think it can explain why I so rarely choose to replay games.

In the end I guess it doesn't matter. I'm not suffering from it and I am sure no one else will either. But it is interesting to ponder your own relationship with games sometimes, the ones you call special and how much time of day you actually end up giving them. I wonder how common it is for people to pick up their old consoles and boot up an oldie but goldie rather than play another match of Overwatch? It makes me think that maybe it is time for me to give good old Settlers 2 a spin again, I haven't played it for far too long.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

First Thoughts on No Man's Sky

No Man's Sky is apparently another good example of how terrible massive hype can be for your product. It's true that few things live up to hype that big (personally I don't think Star Wars VII did either) but I think it was difficult for NMS not to be as hyped as it was. How can you avoid to get peoples mind boggling when you tell them that you've got 18 quintillion procedurally generated planets to play around with in a game that is bigger than the actual universe? Can you really be at fault then when people don't at the same time realize that procedurally generated sort of is the opposite of carefully crafted which in turn might mean not-so-well-thought-out? Spore will forever be the prime example of what happens when someone tries to cram everything into a game without making sure that anything of it is actually fun. We already know minimalistic can be fun - just look at Tetris. Maximalistic seems to be harder to grasp.

Fortunately personally, I wasn't too hyped about NMS. Excited and interested for sure, but I had a feeling already pretty early on that if a truckload of procedurally generated content was all they were going to boast about, it wasn't going to hold up for very long (this doesn't mean I am cleverer than everyone else, just more pessimistic). But like I said, I was interested nonetheless. Partially for the technical feat of it and partially because it still was a game about exploring space. Since Escape Velocity is one of my all-time favorite games and this sounded like a much, much larger 3d version of it, NMS was already early on on my radar to keep track off (I have since also checked out the actual spiritual successor to Escape Velocity, Endless Sky, but that is matters for another post, possibly).

Before I decided to buy it I actually watched a couple of reviews of it. I often do this if I am about to spend more-than-usual amounts of money on a game I am not entirely sure about yet (Pokemon games always have a free pass). The reviewers pretty much confirmed what I thought would be the problem with the game and since my interest to experience it myself was still there I decided to buy it, eventhough reception was somewhat mild. About a week ago I bought it, second hand actually, and have since spent a couple of hours with it. And so far it is pretty much what I expected from it.

A lot of other reviewers have already summed it up pretty well - It's difficult to put your finger on NMS. Is it fun or not? The problem isn't the hype as such - I think it deserves to be hyped for the technical feat that it is. Why everyone seemed to think this would automatically also make NMS awesomely fun to play is beyond me. I think the problem with NMS boils down to the fact that you can be so easily overwhelmed by it. It is huger than huge and no person will ever even come close to discovering all the planets there is. Everyone ever playing probably won't come close to it. One might wonder why you should even bother making a game that big, or maybe why you as a player should even bother going around doing discoveries at all? In almost every other game any area the player can go to has been designed to further the experience of the game - you can't think of NMS that way.

If we get down to the facts of it, gameplay wise I think it has received more scorn than it deserves (mind you I have only tried the ps4 version, I've heard the PC version had some troubles of its own). I heard a lot of complaints about the inventory management and the UI in general, personally I don't think it's that big of a problem. Yes you are required to be pretty spartan in your collecting, in a game that is all about gathering. It seems like an odd design choice and I can agree it would've been nice to at least be able to store items somewhere else than in your very meager exosuit and spaceship storage (although upgradeable). Everything you want and need to craft requires different components and you only really have space to focus on one of them at the time, especially counting in the fact that you need to run around with materials to power up your suit and mining tool as well.

I don't find this a huge problem however, it just means you need to do some careful planning. Make sure you know what you need and go out to collect only those things. So what if you come across a very rare item/material along the way, or something you know you need for some other item? Leave it, mentally map it or just be ok with the fact that you can't pick up everything you see. NMS is a lot about "be ok with it". And not in a "the game is badly designed so deal with it or leave" kind of way but "this is not the game you were looking for, but there is actually an entertaining game here so take it for what it is or leave" kind of way.

One reviewer was annoyed by the fact that every planet seemed littered with artifacts, items and structures left around by other alien creatures. It made it feel like every planet had already been discovered, so what was the point of even going there? This is a simple case where a choice of fun game design trumped over realistic game design (like how even the most realistic of survival games never require you to take a dump). Personally I can't see any fun whatsoever in landing on a planet that is literally just material to collect. Part of what makes a planet interesting is to see if there is intelligent life and if they left something behind. My critique would rather be that it's all very samey, and I will get back to this. So I agree that it gets repetitive, but I disagre that there shouldn't be anything. That would in the end become even more repetitive.

Graphically I also think it has its ups and downs. On the one hand the orange glow of space really bothers me. Is it to make the planets easier to see? Is it just in my part of space? Am I in some sort of orange nebula? I wanted the darkness of space and the orange color just makes it look like I am flying around in carrot soup. I hate it, in fact.

Space apparently also available in pee yellow

On the other hand I've walked for minutes just taking in the scenery. On the first planet I landed on, a comparatively nice planet it turns out, I found a cave system close to my space ship where I just wandered around looking at things, pretending I was actually there. It was very serene, beautiful and definitely fun. Right then and there I did feel like a true explorer, transcending even the feeling I had when first running around in Skyrim, following map markers and being curious about what was around each corner. Here I had an entire planet for myself (basically), massive cave systems, gorges, cliffs, trees, beautiful flowers and weird looking creatures to explore. At that moment I even felt like I didn't need to leave that planet at all. That was a rather important feeling, it turns out.

And it is a truly awesome feeling when you look up at the sky, see a planet or moon far away in the distance, hop into your spaceship, lift off and fly there. Imagine if you could just decide from one moment to the next that you wanted to go to the Moon (and the Moon wasn't just covered in sand, but also other stuff), and then go there. As you slowly rise up from the planet you're leaving, look down and see it all spread out under you - it slowly dawns on your that you just left a planet, it's actually the size of a planet! And you've been there, on a tiny part of it and left a tiny mark on it. There is sooo much more of that planet to explore, so why are you already moving on?

This is a fundamental question in NMS that you should think very carefully about. Unless your first planet turns out to be a pain in the ass, survival-wise, consider spending a lot more time there than the game prompts you to. Getting your spaceship fly-worthy takes less than an hour, unless you wander off like me. But is the grass really greener on the other side? I haven't played NMS long enough myself to verify this, but I have feeling that the more planets you visit, the less fun they become. The more will the procedurally generated fact of the world grate on you and the more anonymous they will become. Oh look another dog-dinosaur looking animal. Another cave system, another set of green flowers. Another block that gives me iron, just like the other block on that other planet that gave me iron. It's comes down to whether you prefer a life of one-night-stands or a few lovers that mattered. Maybe you shouldn't be so quick to move on and take some time to savour where you are.

NMS in a close update?

NMS is a very lonely game. You'll meet other aliens, which don't feel real at all and that you don't care anything about so it can be very daunting that you are basically all alone in that massive game. I think the game would've truly profited from being a multiplayer game, because eventhough Hello Games has said gamers can interact with eachother, this doesn't seem to be true. If it should be something like Eve Online or maybe like the multiplayer in Dark Souls, I don't know. But I would've loved some sort of hub where I could get some interaction from people, yet retain the possibility to fly off to a lonely part of space whenever I felt like it. NMS needs a civilized part, a part of the Universe where there are cities (or at least a city) and not just rocks and grass. This, I think, could make the game truly amazing.

I haven't visited overly many planets myself so far, maybe five. And eventhough they visually look fairly different they play out almost identically. Some might be more difficult to play on because of environmental issues, but there are almost the exact same things to do. The soup might be mixed differently but it has the same ingredients. Because of this you are just as likely to find something exciting around the corner as on a planet 100 lightyears away, for better or worse. If you jump from planet to planet hoping the game will offer more, that is when you will be sorely disappointed. If you go on a treck to find the fun the first couple of planets couldn't fulfill, you'll have a bad time. The game offers you basically everything it has straight from the get-go and I don't think that has to be a bad thing, it's just unconventional and takes some getting used to. Like mentioned, it might make you wonder why even bother with 18 quintillion planets in that case, but they're just there. They don't make the game better or worse, there's just more of it.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Star Trek: Beyond *Review* Spoilers!

When people ask me what TV-series I like I often start by saying "Star Trek". Sometimes I get a bit more precise and say that I like all of them a lot, but Voyager is probably my favorite because that is the first one I got really in to. Overall however I would have a hard time comparing them, eventhough I have been known to do so in the past, as I feel they are all very well done, worthwhile and bring their own ideas to the Star Trek Universe.

Of course I am also a big fan of most of the Star Trek movies. Yet again I would have a hard time picking a favorite - I am one of the few people who thinks the first Star Trek movie is brilliant (when it was revealed that V'Ger was actually the Voyager space probe I was completely amazed, it gave me a complete new sense of what kind of story telling sci-fi was capable of), I belong to one of many who thinks Star Trek: First Contact is one of the best sci-fi movies ever and I almost cried of joy (because the scene was so awesome, not because it wasn't sad as hell) when I watched the opening scenes of JJ Abrams Star Trek reboot (coincidentally all these three are the first of their lines). I was less enthusiastic about Star Trek Nemesis and to be honest I don't consider Wrath of Khan all that entertaining - there, I said it. It was a while ago since I watched Star Trek 3-6 so I get them all a bit confused and jumbled in my head, but my overall memory is still one of getting the Star Trek feeling from them. So they're not all great movies, but at least you've got the characters and the Star Trek core still feels present in all of them. Until now.

This week I went and saw Star Trek: Beyond and I don't want to say it's a bad movie, although I think deep down that is really what I think about it, but what is almost worse than that - it didn't really feel like a Star Trek movie. It completely failed to give me any Star Trek feeling, and I was almost angry when I left the cinema. A lot about the Star Trek universe can be silly and goofy (more about that shortly) but this movie just ended up feeling plain stupid to me.

It didn't start out well with the opening scene. As I watched it unfold I remember my thoughts being "oh sweet mercy, I hope this isn't setting the mood for the rest of the movie because I don't know what I even just witnessed". That scene was just ridiculous from beginning to end. I realize, and even thought about it as I saw it, that they tried to envoke the idea of the comic Star Trek, the Star Trek that gave us The Trouble With Tribbles (one of the best original ST episodes) but it fell so flat it was like when someone tries to be funny and you just end up feeling ashamed for them. That scene definitely had me worried for the rest of the movie.

If you haven't seen the Tribbles, you've missed out.

And unfortunately it just never got any better. Scene after scene I just ended up sitting there thinking "that's not a thing!" or "are they doing this, for real?" in exactly that ashamed-for-them kind of feeling. We're talking sci-fi here! I'm pretty damn lenient about what I allow in terms of imagination, but that doesn't mean it's ok to make scenes that just end up being completely laughable. Let me mention a couple of scenes that really grated on me and that felt like they had given them absolutely no time for thought, they were just shoved in for effect (if you think I have misinterpreted any of these scenes, feel free to explain them to me!);

  • When they jump from the ship, they make it look like they slide down and jump forward to escape the ship tumbling over. How is that even remotely possible considering the size of the Enterprise? Even if they were jumping in any direction they would've been smashed by the impact of being so close to something so damn huge. THEY ARE SLIDING DOWN A STARSHIP DAMN IT! IT'S HUGE! You just can't outjump that.
  • Not a scene per se, but the villain... where do I even get started. When his motivation for all his evilness was revealed at the end I just sighed, it was so silly. I'm not saying people haven't done worse things for less, but in the movie world that makes for a very boring villain. And it was. And he says things like "I've spent lifetimes looking for this thing" whereas Bones (or someone) says that the crew from USS Franklin must be 100 years by now. Hardly what I'd call "lifetimes" and besides, did he do all the searching from that planet in the  nebula? Was he hoping the doomsday weapon would just wander into his hands by waiting around? The fact that it actually does just proves the lazy writing.
  • Speaking of the doomsday weapon... they make it out to be so horrible, but using it seems way too difficult for it to be truly dangerous. Why does he have to spread it in the airways? Is it so that it acts faster? Because what would happen if it acts too slow? It just disappears? Or was Krall worried they'd find a way to counteract the effect? In either case, the weapon never ends up being anywhere near menacing enough to warrant all the kerfuffle and dread they're trying to make us feel about it.
  • In the first half of the movie they make it seem like the nebula is some ways off Yorktown (the name of which made me realize how horribly America-centric Star Trek can be, considering it's supposed to take place in a vast Universe full of species), yet when Krall launches his attack it looks like the nebula is just around the corner. If it is, then how is it possible that it has not been charted yet? Don't give me bull about how difficult it is to traverse, I find it unbelievable that they would choose to build such an important structure so close to a nebula that is completely uncharted.
  • As we're talking about bad decisions, why would you choose to send your best starship and crew into said nebula just because some alien you've apparently never even encountered before (assuming since they don't have their language on record) says they're in trouble in there? If that is how you go about things then you will not be a strong force to reckon with for very long - just look at what happens, which is exactly my point.
  • The exploding swarm, just... wtf. I'll admit the scene was somewhat cool, for about three seconds. But then I just couldn't understand why the heck they were exploding? I can understand that they'd be rendered useless, but does that make them explode? If they had explained it by saying something along the lines of "if they're rendered useless/cut off from the command centre they will self-destruct" then maybe (like they do in the anime Heavy Object), but we get nothing like that. To me this is like those scenes of vehicles exploding just for bumping into a tree.
  • Why is Jaylah saving Scotty? It seems like a very risky thing to do on a planet where everyone is against everyone and she is all alone. She doesn't even know he has any worthwhile skill or that he is human until after she has saved him.
  • Why is the fast-drying trap-goo breaking immediately when Jaylah knocks at it, but it can withstand gunfire/laserfire from the enemies?
  • The scene where Kirk drives around on the motorbike was just /faceplam. They choose the rockiest damn planet in the universe and think having him motorbiking around is going to look plausible? It would've been so easy to make that scene look less stupid, just make it less rocky!

I could probably go on all day, and some of these are just minor things I would normally not even care about. I'm usually not someone who gets all worked up about minor inconsistencies or bad scenes, but when basically every scenes is like this it just racks up and gets impossible not to notice or care about.

My face during the opening scene.

Worst of all though was all the squandering of characters this movie does. I didn't feel like a single character got any good screen time, not even the ones that actually had quite a lot of it, like Kirk and Scotty (weird that Pegg would give himself so much screen time btw). They're just there, delivering lines. None of the character development from the first two movies whatsoever. Most just feel underused, like Bones and Spock who don't get anything worthwhile to do. I had to think to remember what Sulu got up to in this movie. Some are there but are just not explained, like Manas. Who is he? What is he doing there? What the heck was he good for in the movie because he accomplishes nothing and could've basically been replaced by a big rock and it wouldn't have changed anything. Jaylah was alright though.

The movie almost had me intrigued for the first half, even with all the stupidity that was going on. I was almost ready to forgive it when they discovered Franklin and I felt like it might at least have a story-line that wraps up in a cool way. But no. In the end it was just one dumb scene after the next. Kralls line of reasoning could've made sense if they had given it more development, more time to sink-in, like they did with Khans (admittedly Khan has the benefit of being part of the series where he gets more explanation, I think this is needed for this kind of character that Krall in a way is trying to be). I never got the feeling that anything the characters did mattered, I only cared for them at all because they belonged to the universe I love so much. They don't say or do anything that comes off as funny or clever or even thought-through.

I'm sad too Elba...

Unlike the first movie (of this reboot trilogy), this movie completely failed in making me worry for the future of the Federation since I did not worry about Yorktown. The whole idea that the entirety of the Federation would be at risk because what happens at Yorktown was so badly explained that it never seemed like a real danger. It failed in making me awe for the villain like I did Cumberbatches Khan. Not because Elba lacks the charisma or potential, far from. I think he could've made a brilliant villain with better writing. It just makes me angrier knowing what Elba could've done with a better character. It failed in making me weep for the characters like the opening scene of the first movie. It failed in making me feel anything but disappointment, and probably the most disappointed I've ever been with a Star Trek movie exactly because the first two were so good. But even the less good movies of the past have been entertaining to watch, I have never regretted seeing any of them and would rewatch them anytime. This one, not so much.