I Won’t Become A Number in the System | Exploring the Ending in Supergiant’s Transistor

I don’t usually write two deep analysis posts in a row, but I’m making an exception. Last week, as I was preparing for my blog post about Bastion and how it creates weighty, impactful choices for its players, I realized something similar about another game from Supergiant, Transistor.

Transistor was the first Supergiant Games title that I played, and I had no idea what I was getting into. I fell in love with its art, music, and mechanics that were unlike anything else I had ever played before. It was what opened the door for me to try Bastion and, later on, Hades.

Like Bastion, Transistor is also about decisions. However, it is not about how or why we choose one thing over another, but instead one’s right to make decisions at all.

As with my previous post, there are big spoilers for the end of Transistor up ahead. I’ll also be referencing some of the endgame elements from Bastion that I used last time, so beware of that as well. As usual, I highly recommend these games and encourage you to play them before coming back, but I’ll explain enough background that you can read this without playing too.

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I’ll See You In The Next One | How Supergiant’s Bastion Creates Choices With Narrative Impact

Video games are driven by decisions. The primary thing that sets video games apart from film or literature is the level of interaction involved, and that interaction comes through making decisions.

These days, there are entire genres of video games dedicated to decision-making, like visual novels. Apart from that, making choices is still a core part of narrative-driven games in other genres.

Bastion

Bastion, the first game developed by Supergiant Games in 2011, is a typical action RPG on the surface. Beneath that, however, is a well-written story that culminates in two very charged decisions at the end of the game. The final scenes of Bastion have stuck with me since I finished the game a few months ago, and today, I’m going to take a closer look at what makes the game’s conclusion work so well.

Since I’m discussing the end of the game, spoilers for Bastion are below! I highly recommend playing the game for yourself first, but if you already have or just aren’t really a gamer, click to read on.

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Afterwords: 7 Spectacular Songs from Video Games

A few years ago, I was just beginning my foray into video game soundtracks. I had just finished my first year of college, and during that time I discovered that while my usual playlist made it difficult for me to focus on my work, instrumental soundtracks had the opposite effect. So I wrote a blog post ranking my favorite songs at the time.

Since then, I’ve expanded my horizons and listened to music from movies, TV series, and even some video games I never played before. Even though I’m not a musician, I find myself picking up on different themes in the soundtracks of my favorite games. I pay attention to the music, and it enhances my experience.

In light of that, I figured it was about time to revisit my list of favorites. I gave myself a few rules this time around:

  1. No music with lyrics. So even though “Paper Boats” from Transistor is one of my favorites, it won’t make the cut. You should still listen to it though.
  2. Only one song per game/franchise/composer. My playlist is much more varied now, and I want that to show through on this list.

On a side note, I did try to list composers in addition to the game’s title! If I didn’t know who composed the exact song, I just listed whoever was credited on Wikipedia.

Without further ado, here are some of my favorite soundtrack songs that keep me going!

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Imagination & Impact | Why The Game Awards Matters

Listen, I’m not here to bash on anyone’s favorite pastime or anything like that, but I have to confess: awards shows have absolutely zero appeal to me.

I can see why they would be interesting. If you’re a film or fashion aficionado, there’s a lot for you to see at say, the Oscars or the Golden Globes. The Tony Awards and the Grammys often feature performances from nominees or the big artists of the year. Beyond that, I think anyone who follows these awards shows would argue that they are meant to celebrate the accomplishments made in a particular industry, whether that be film, television, music, or theatre.

Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great that our culture can come together to celebrate creative projects. In a society that increasingly emphasizes STEM fields at the expense of the arts and humanities, it’s nice to know that there are still people who appreciate things like this.

The struggle I often have – and this is not an original criticism in the slightest – is that these award shows tend to focus on a specific subset of people within a very broad industry. Awards often go to the productions with the biggest budgets, or the actors with the most recognized names, the shows that were hyped up by audiences and critics alike. To be blunt, I couldn’t care less about seeing an actor/actress who makes more money in a year than I will ever make in my life win an award.

That’s the kind of mentality I had when I first started following The Game Awards about a year ago. As the name implies, it is an award show for video games. Aside from being an industry that I care more about and follow more closely, I think there’s something that really sets The Game Awards apart from its more well-known counterparts. Having just watched the 2019 show a few days ago, I thought I’d take a look at what makes The Game Awards work well.

7 TGA

 

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Climbing My Mountain | Thoughts on Celeste

A year ago, in the midst of final exams and papers, I gave myself a few hours off to watch The Game Awards, the Oscars of the video game world (but with less gowns and more t-shirts). I remember that night, huddled on my bed in my dorm room, seeing Celeste win the Best Independent Game and Games for Impact awards. I was intrigued, because the Games for Impact Award generally goes to games focused on emotional storytelling and/or social issues. Not only that, but the developer, Matt Thorson, spoke about mental illness in his acceptance speech. I kept the game in the back of my mind.

5 Celeste 2

Later that month, I was visiting family in North Carolina, and saw that my cousin was playing Celeste. I learned then that Celeste is a platforming game that relies on quick reflexes and precision to make it from one “room” to the next. I really wanted to give it a try, because the music was catchy and the retro graphics were cute, but I’m horrible at platformers. Even Super Mario games with all of their fail-safes are a challenge for me. I had a feeling that Celeste would be a frustrating waste of money for me, so I shelved the idea of ever playing it.

That is, until the Epic Games Store gave it away for free this year. Knowing it was considered one of the best games of 2018, I “bought” it and decided to give it a whirl when I was itching for a new game to play.

As I suspected, I sucked at it. In the first chapter (or “level”) alone, I died hundreds of times. I would die hundreds more in the chapters to come. But what really drew me in to Celeste was its story and main character, Madeline. I found myself identifying with Madeline a lot, and in a way, her quest to reach the summit of Celeste Mountain became my quest too.

5 Celeste 5
Madeline begins her quest to reach the summit of Celeste Mountain.

 

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Character figurine with duct tape over his mouth and the text "Don't give up on silent protagonists"

Don’t Give Up On Silent Protagonists

Technology is amazing, right? In early video games, we were lucky if we got a few strings of text to move the plot forward. Today, we’re presented with cutscenes that play like short films, complete with voice acting and animation. This growth has been great for gaming, but the increased use of voice acting has often left one of my favorite tropes in the dust: the silent protagonist.

For those unfamiliar with the term, a silent protagonist is a video game character does not have dialogue. They may interact with other characters through facial expressions, gestures, or “assumed” speech (in other words, there’s a pause in which the protagonist is assumed to have spoken, but they’re not given explicit dialogue). Silent Protagonists are most often seen as player characters. A few examples would be Link from The Legend of Zelda, the player character in the Pokémon series, or Chell from Portal.

As voice acting becomes more common in video games, the silent protagonist is less common. After all, it would seem weird to have everyone else talking except for one individual character!

But I still think there’s a place for the silent protagonists in our video games, if for no other reason than the way they provide a playing experience that other types of protagonists cannot.

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Nintendo Switch with text "Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Dream DLC"

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Dream DLC

If you follow video games at all, it probably won’t surprise you to learn that Super Smash Bros. Ultimate – released barely over two months ago – has become Nintendo’s fastest selling game. The multiplayer fighting game is a hit with hardcore and casual players alike, with its colorful selection of stages, items, and characters setting it apart from the crowd.

Since the original Super Smash Bros. was released in 1999, the character roster has grown from twelve to over seventy different options. Of course, we’re still waiting on the new DLC (“downloadable content”) characters. Nintendo announced that Joker from Persona 5 will be joining the roster in February, but the other newcomers remain a mystery.

I understand the speculation train has long since left the station, and everyone and their cousin has put out a video or article about who they want to see in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. I’m going to do my own anyway. After much deliberation, I’ve compiled a list of five characters I think would be good fits for the SSBU stage – not necessarily ones I think are likely to make it there, but if I were in charge, I’d pick them.

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7 Reasons Why I'm a Fake Gamer

7 Reasons Why I’m A Fake Gamer

I think it’s safe to say that I’ve shared my thoughts on how exclusive geek and gamer culture can be. If you missed everything I’ve said about it in the past, here’s quick summary: I think it’s stupid. Why should we be allowed to set such arbitrary rules about who is and isn’t allowed to enjoy a specific hobby? We’re only hurting ourselves.

Anyway, in the process of writing those many, many blog posts, I had a realization: if the right (or wrong) questions were asked, chances are, I’d be considered a “fake gamer.” Also known as: “Casual” or “noob.” This isn’t something that bothers me (if other people want to make hasty judgments, that’s on them), but I decided to compile a list anyway. You can think of it as my “gamer confessions” in a way, or just a list of reasons why the division between gamer and non-gamer is so ridiculously arbitrary.

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What Makes Someone a Gamer?

About a week ago, my friend Kiara posted this on Twitter, and it got me thinking:

 

Like with almost any label someone can apply to themselves (baker, photographer, reader, etc.), there seems to be some set of criteria for calling yourself a gamer, but no one knows what it is. What separates a gamer from a non-gamer? What’s on that mythical list of requirements? Today, I’d like to answer that question and finally put an end to these discussions.

Before I dive into that though, I want to give a shoutout to the wonderful people in the Geeks Under Grace community! I posed this same question in their Facebook group, and while these thoughts in my post are mine alone, discussing this topic with them helped me process some of my own ideas.

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What’s Wrong With Walkthroughs?

Let’s say you’re planning a road trip across the country. You get your maps out (or use the internet) and follow the highways, looking for cities and other places to stop along the way. Before long, you’ve got the whole route planned out, down to every motel or Airbnb you’ll be staying in.

Does this make the trip any less exciting? Most of us would probably say no. Planning ahead is the prudent thing to do – after all, you don’t want to end up in the middle of nowhere with no place to eat or sleep. Having a GPS or map guide you doesn’t make the trip any less of an adventure.

Video game walkthroughs function similarly to a GPS, except instead of telling you which exit to take, they tell you how to defeat those strange new enemies, which block needs to be pushed to solve the puzzle, and where to find any hidden secret. In other words, they’re a map to guide you on your virtual adventure.

Following the road trip logic, using a walkthrough shouldn’t diminish the sense of adventure or excitement in playing the video game. Yet, for some reason, we gamers seem to think it does, and we look down on any one who would dare look up the solution to a puzzle on YouTube. We call them “casuals” and “fake gamers.”

But why? What makes their way of enjoying video games inferior to ours? What’s so wrong with using a walkthrough?

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