Sunday, September 28, 2014
The road to where I find myself, now, with Don`t Starve has been a long one. In July of 2013, I was down and out because Klei - my beloved Klei, who made action-masterpieces Shank 2 and Mark of the Ninja - had confined their latest game to PCs only.
Alex gifted me a copy of the game on Steam, and lo! My shitty computer, which is used exclusively for blogging and YouTube/GameTrailers videos, could run it!
I tried it out, eminently grateful for Alex`s generosity... and found a game so completely unlike what I expected - nay, wanted - from Klei, that I walked away after a week or so.
But so much of Don`t Starve appealed to me - the art (Klei - natch), the... character of the game. It was so inventive and hinted at so much depth beneath the surface my doomed corpse splattered across, again and again.
I resolved to give it a second shot, when it came to PS4.
|Turns out you can`t ride the beefalo. This is a fan image.|
In January of this year, Chamberlain and I had a brief conversation about Don`t Starve, after it arrived on Sony`s new-gen console. I`d managed to put another five or ten hours into the game, and had come away no more endeared.
"I like it, but it seems to require an investment it doesn't... earn? I guess is the word? I don't really feel rewarded when I survive a few more days or get some cool stuff coming out of my science machine - and so, don't feel compelled to keep playing it.`
The game and its world are ludicrously deep, with so much to learn and so many interlocking mechanics, it's very successfully-roguelike in its barrier to entry. It doesn't hand hold - it doesn't actually seem to want you to enjoy yourself. It's a game one could play for many, many hours if one became involved in it and dedicated themselves to understanding its wild world, but - perhaps simply given the slow-burn of its discoveries and little victories - it doesn't grab me and compel me the way Klei's earlier action titles did.
I want to like it. I even do like it - but I don't love it. Not near the way I love Shank and Mark of the Ninja. But, granted, it's a very apples-and-oranges scenario."
-from the confidential correspondence of David Ferber-
Don`t Starve is oranges compared to anything Klei has made in the past. It addresses a very different audience, it asks very different things of its player, and offers an entirely different experience.
"Experience" is a perfect word to apply to the game. A lot of games - a lot of game executives, a lot of publishers, a lot of developers - talk about the experience players will have with their console or game or franchise, but Don't Starve feels like an experience that very, very few games outside of pen-and-paper, imagination-fueled RPGs could provide.
This past January, when I established that I wasn't in love with the game, I closed by saying
"I still want to love it, but I can't say that I do. My gaming sensibilities may be shallower than I'd like to admit. But I do like it - and perhaps that friendly feeling will draw me back to the wilderness to learn, explore and discover more of it - though I can't say when that'll be.
Maybe when it's on Vita."
-about Don't Starve-
And that last part, my friends, was prescient.
|Butters would flee, come nightfall.|
The Vita is, as suspected, where I could fall in love with Don't Starve - and I have. The fact that I can take it with me anywhere, that I can stretch out in bed with it while Kayla watches How I Met Your Mother, that it's always just a tap of a button away, lowers any sort of barrier to access and ensures the game is always present and ready to rock. That ease of use makes diving back in, making new discoveries all the more enticing, and I find I've now poured more hours into Don't Starve on Vita than any game save Dragon's Crown.
And you know you don't want me to get started on Dragon's Crown.
Perhaps just as important, though, returning to Don't Starve a third time has permitted me to come at the game with my eyes entirely open as to what, precisely, it is. It is incredibly, ridiculously deep, it permits the player a myriad of strategies to ensure their survival, and it is absolutely unforgiving of ignorance of inexperience.
|Willow's Journal, Day 26. My hunger meter is two pixels from total starvation, and night is coming. I have trapped three bunnies, however, and have loaded them in to my crock pot, along with a wooden stick. |
I pray it finishes cooking before I die.
I think I fell in love with Don't Starve after the Treeguard.
I had been playing as Wendy, who is immune to fire damage, will randomly set things on fire when she gets nervous and carries a sweet lighter. Is was a few days before winter and I was involved in setting up my camp - I'd need boards for this and wood for fuel, so I set off to the forest north of my camp and began hacking away at trees.
Then one of the trees got up. It heaved itself up by the roots, and came for me.
I didn't know what to do. I'd never seen this before, or heard of it.
I ran. South, to the grasslands.
Willow's pyromaniacal insight proved helpful - I lit a fire in the middle of the field and fed it until it was wildly out of control. The Treeguard, this lumbering floral T-1000, never stopped coming, and would dumbly step across the fire as I circled and led him into it, again and again.
He burned and burned, but didn't die. In a last ditch effort, I equipped a luxury axe, its gold blade gleaming, and charged to deliver the killing blow.
The Treeguard lifted its branchy claws, brought them down, and killed me with one swipe.
I respawned at a touch stone far to the north, using my only, precious rout to life after death, and went back to camp. The Treeguard, now satisfied, passively wandered the game world, uninterested in me whenever our paths crossed.
I gave it a wide berth, and eventually succumbed to bee stings.
I soon learned that Treeguards will heave themselves up and come for me, randomly, when I chop down trees. They are the forest's way of telling me to fuck off - but their murderous rage can be soothed by digging deep, finding my inner Boy Scout and planting fir trees near it, as it comes for me. Every pine cone stuck into the earth will make the thing emit a soothed, gutteral purr of sorts, and eventually - if I'm lucky - it will root itself back into the ground, and become dormant.
After a while, though, that wasn't enough. Merely surviving.
The next time a Treeguard showed up, I had barely been surviving in the world for a week. It broke free of the soil and came for me. I went to my pockets to find some pine cones and thought to myself... y'know what? No.
I can take you, you colossal fucker. The kind of hubris that usually serves as one's epitaph in Don't Starve.
I ran back to camp, loaded down with all the logs I'd harvested and ran up to my science machine.
Three bunches of grass, woven together, create a rope. I quickly assembled three.
With one rope, one shard of flint and two twigs, I slapped together a spear. The weakest pure weapon object in the game, it does slightly more damage to enemies than an axe.
With two ropes and eight of the wooden logs I'd gathered, I built a Wood Suit. I'd never made or used one before - wearing any type of clothing on my torso forces me to drop my backpack.
I dropped my backpack. I put on the suit and brandished the spear, and turned to face my enemy.
It took a long time. Baiting the thing into throwing out a swipe of its colossal, thorny claws and dashing in to slash at it. "It's you or me!" Wilson would bleat in his trumpet-voice. We fought on and on and y'know what?
It didn't hit me once.
Check out the durability on that log suit. Not a scratch.
Shortly thereafter, I was killed by pig men.
But that's okay! 'Cause I keep wanting to dive back in. I've been finding myself okay with it when I need some charcoal and accidentally torch an entire forest.
After all, that just means I'll get a lot of charcoal.
In my most recent game, I finally got bees, man. Bees. I tore apart a bunch of hives (protected beneath my log suit and beekeeper's hat) and set up my own bee boxes and with the honey, I was able to make some taffy, some berry jam and honey-glazed ham.
With my newfound respect for the log suit, I traveled to the grasslands and killed my first beefalo. With a razor, I cut the beard from my face and charred up the steaks and assembled them in to my first-ever meat effigy - one of the only player-driven ways to survive after death.
After I made it, I headed north. There's a beast named MacTusk - an anthropomorphic Walrus of Scottish descent - who leads a hunting party that only shows up in Winter, and with MacTusk's tusk, I could create a walking stick that'll let me get around the map much faster.
I didn't find MacTusk. I let myself stay away from camp too long, and I could hear the distant baying of the hounds that would soon be upon me. I needed to get south, to the grasslands, where the hounds would make the foolish mistake of attacking the beefalo herd - but began freezing to death on my way. I stopped to build a fire, and in the time it took to assemble, they killed me.
I respawned at my meat effigy and headed back north to get my stuff.
Then I froze to death.
Friday, September 26, 2014
Bungie has taken steps to address Destiny's loot problem in an upcoming patch. Also, while I'm linking to Kotaku, can I just say that Kotaku's Destiny review was the best, most in-depth, even-handed Destiny review I've seen? I don't often give ups to Kotaku, but Kirk Hamilton's Destiny review is an exhaustive look at what works and what doesn't.
I read it before I wrote mine and it made me not want to write one at all. It'd be like building a sand castle next to a sand-ziggurat.
The news of a loot system that doesn't drive players towards treasure caves (Destiny, it seems, has produced a new gaming term) does spark a little flame of desire to return to the game and shoot more things - I've also heard they're buffing scout rifles, which are my weapon of choice - and I feel like maybe running around Mars or Venus after having spent some time away will allow my heart to grow a bit fonder.
There's this cynical part of me that feels like anyone who could give Destiny 10/10 are - for lack of a better word - "casuals." Definitely the wrong word. I mean...
I've no doubt there are people out there who buy one game a year. If that. Those people exist - in fact, they probably outnumber "gamers" like you and I by an order of magnitude - and when they get a game, it's all they play. They will play the crap out of that one game all year and beyond, and love it to bits, and can't say that it's not as good as such-and-such a game in such-and-such a way because they've only played four or five games, total, for the PS3, and have no frame of reference.
What I'm saying is, in a vacuum - with no contemporaries to compare it to - Destiny could easily be considered a masterwork, and a spectacular way to spend a year with a controller.
'Course you could say the same about True Crime: Streets of L.A, but let's not get off the rails, here.
I can't see Destiny that way. I wander the distressingly-confined wastes of Mars and find myself remembering the plains of Sarutabaruta in Final Fantasy XI, discovering caves that seemed to go on for an eternity and held untold horrors to fear, fight and overcome.
I still remember, this one time, I - a young Elvaan Samurai - was in a party with a few other low-level players, and our group accidentally pulled two or three too many monsters in those caves. I shouted a command for the squishy casters to flee to the zone exit as the hulking Galka warrior and I caught the monsters' aggro and held them at bay, buying time for their escape. I told him to run for it, and he said the same to me. Together, we held the creatures back long enough for our friends to make it out - and died.
When you died in Final Fantasy XI, at the time, it cost you like 60% of a level's worth of experience points - not to be taken lightly - but we were heroes to those three casters we'd saved. Moments like that hold the beauty of multiplayer.
I never had experienced anything that was emotionally similar in Destiny.
I wander Destiny's silently-shared word and think of the thrilling spectacles one would get caught up in in the similarly-mute Grand Theft Auto Online. I'd think of days on end spent, as a Rogue, shrouded by stealth on the little hill that overlooks the town of Crossroads in the Barrens in World of Warcraft, harrying that small town to the ends of the earth, earning a reputation as an assassin the Horde prayed would never hit the level cap
I can't play Destiny in a vacuum where those exquisitely meaningful shared worlds don't exist. They exist, for me. I lived them, and Destiny's shared world pales in comparison.
That phrase - "shared world" - is how Bungie themselves chose to define Destiny. A "shared-world shooter," to be accurate - to distance the game from a dyed-in-the-wool massively-multiplayer game, I suppose - and the game's reduction of that otherwise-familiar concept ends up providing something far less absorbing, for the trouble.
Every location in Destiny is "instanced," if you're familiar with the term. An "instance" is a part of a game world, usually closed off - a cave, a dungeon - that can be inhabited by a limited number of players. As I go wandering the ruins of Old Earth Russia, for example, I'm in one of a thousand instances of that environment, and each of those instances is (randomly? I don't know) populated by a few other players who also happen to have chosen to go to Old Earth Russia.
If there's a player who spends all their time in the plane graveyard of Russia - a player who stands atop the tail fin of an ancient, downed jumbo jet, picking off distant Fallen with a sniper's eye, only descending to collect more ammo before climbing back up there, that wacky character - I'll never know him.
I'll stroll through the graveyard today, and perhaps see him. The next time I go to Russia, I'll be in another instance - and another, and another. I won't get to know player-personalities like him because they live in a thousand different versions of this world, slipping in and out of my reality like ghosts.
Instead, Destiny will forever be a... colourless porridge of a million different players I'll meet once, and then never again - and no true "culture" will ever emerge. If one does, it will be the product of a slow osmosis of temperament between five million people - not driven by unique, powerful personalities who truly share your world.
They're only visiting.
That troubling, miasmic, disconnected sense of place may only be true for... well shit, I'll say it - more "casual" Destiny players, like me - which I feel is an excellent word for it.
Destiny's base is built on souls who play with their friends and have standing fireteams they can always join. This is, I feel, how the game was meant to be played - and such relationships require a commitment that I simply cannot offer the game. I can't know that tonight at 19:00 EST, I'll definitely be available for the Queen's Wrath strike, and given that the game stubbornly refuses to provide matchmaking for anything beyond the vanilla dungeons, I will never get to experience it.
The folks who will are the folks who're prepared to pour their everything into Destiny - the folks who buy one game a year. I envy them that.
Thursday, September 25, 2014
Now, here's the interesting part:
"A child with an odd ability stuck in a strange land. A dangerous natural environment inhabited by a strange civilization. Vane is an open-world adventure game based on mystery and exploration.
Vane is a single-player game being developed by a few ex-members of The Last Guardian team. The game focuses on unraveling the mysteries of an unknown land via exploration, puzzle-solving and other features yet to be revealed, in an atmospheric and powerful setting.
• Platforms: PC first, others TBA
• Release: when it's done."