Gaming without your brother

On playing live games, without ends

At dinner with a friend last night, I was asked what games I’ve been playing lately. It forced me to vocalize something I had been bothered by and not wanting to say out loud to anyone – I hadn’t played any of the new games I bought over a month ago. The plan was to become a tumor on the couch and breeze through Rise of the Tomb RaiderUndertaleFallout 4, and a bunch more I purchased but didn’t have the time to play until after my semester ended. Alas – none of that happened.

What happened instead  was I also purchased the Legendary edition of Destiny to try and get back into the game (I gave up on vanilla around level 20, a few missions short of the end of the main storyline of the game) by playing with friends. And get back into the game I did. It’s been the first MMO I’ve been really hooked on (despite trying World of Warcraft and Guild Wars 2). A few days ago I spent all day farming bounties and getting resources for upgrades and a sword. Most of my winter break from school was spent farming levels to get my first character somewhere reasonable for strikes and the first few raids.

So this friend asked me what I’d been playing and I had to say “I’ve been playing nothing but Destiny and Smite.” Smite is a 3rd person MOBA made by Hi-Rez Studios, and is the first MOBA I’ve ever been hooked on. Late last year I succumbed to peer pressure and tried to play a big friendy in-house of DoTA 2 and hated it. My conclusion was DoTA 2 is for smart people, and Smite is for us common folk. Before that encounter, I tried League of Legends a few times in years past and never got into it – going back to it for a few games with friends in my program it’s pace didn’t capture my interest like Smite did, I would assume because of the camera angle.

This is the first time in my life I’ve been stuck in a spiral of live, online games that don’t just end. This is also the first time in my life I’ve had friends I felt comfortable playing games online with. But even so, my all day farm session in Destiny recently was solo, intentionally, and I was so happy for it to be so. I do a lot of solo queueing in Smite because I don’t play a lot of their traditional 5 v 5 map (the rage from sub-par players toward all the rest of us sub-par players is too aggravating for what should just be a game). I finally did join a clan but the few times I’ve been online since joining, anyone that asks to queue together, I just ignore.

This also boils down to deeper considerations like, why do I feel guilty enjoying a game, even if I dump hundreds of hours into it? Why is that bad, when to some, it’s the most cost efficient game I’ve ever purchased? I’m sure part of it goes to being in a game design master’s program. Like all disciplines, you have to be well versed in it to have the most tools at your disposal to create new and/or interesting things within that discipline. I.e. read often and widely to write, watch often and widely to create films, and play often and widely to make games. But here I am, returning to the same killing fields over and over and over again every day.

So in the academic sense, is there a parallel to playing these games incessantly that’s akin to reading deeply? Analyzing texts requires becoming immersed in all the minutiae of the text. Can I claim analyzing the minutiae of the game, which requires playing nothing else? Maybe. If I were really doing that. Smite lends itself to that, as a competitive eSport. It demands to be analyzed to improve or be halfway decent at – if I didn’t learn something deeper about the game 90% of the time I played then I would be getting stomped every game. And I take pride in saying I only get stomped in 50% of the games I play. Ha HA!

Spiraling deeper into this rabbit hole of self-reflection, I also acknowledge that I don’t play games very deeply in general. My introspection is around the level of “why was this enjoyable? What did it do well? What could it improve on?” not “What was the intent behind these systems to inform my player experience?” Throughout my program, I’ve been adamant that I am not a game designer. Mostly because true game design positions are a lot of spreadsheets, testing variable changes in slight directions, and seeing how those effects propagate out through the game. I don’t have the patience for that. Give me a to-do list, and I will become possessed with the notion of getting list completed (again, part of my recent infatuation with Destiny) regardless of what the end product actually is, so long as it actually fits the quality benchmark set forth at the start of the project.

That infatuation also speaks to some my addictive tendencies. Why can’t I enjoy an hour a day of a game and move on to another game? For me, that will be a learned skill at some point. I feel the height of immersion at around the 4th hour. So jumping in for an hour and jumping out just doesn’t seem worth it to me. I definitely play video games for escapism; due to that, immersion is my preferred state of game playing. And that is a state easily achieved when I have an infinite number of checklists, ala Destiny.

In the end, what am I saying? Mostly nothing. Just rambling my thoughts because I realized recently I missed this site. Ultimately, I know I shouldn’t feel bad about playing whatever I want, even if it’s the same thing day in and day out. I should’t feel guilty about not getting through my Steam/console/mobile backlog, regardless of my student status. Having said that, it’s not a bad thing to consider taking a break from games that offer little novelty and diving into critically acclaimed alternatives, even if it requires forcing myself to do so. If for no other reason, it’ll give me more fodder to come back to this page with.

Do you guys struggle with this phenomenon? What do you attribute it to? I’m genuinely curious to hear your experiences and thoughts on this topic – it’s one I’ve wrestled with a lot the past few months.

Extra Life 2015 Giveaway List!

I should’ve hyped this at least a week ago on this blog, but since I didn’t a) I’ll hype it now and b) this will serve as a dumping ground for ALL of the things I’m giving away tomorrow. There are so many. I will update this as games, skins, and keys are claimed.

I’m streaming at twitch.tv/littlesisgaming for 24 hours starting noon MT 11/21/2015 and giving away ALL THIS STUFF! For donations to my Extra Life page, of course🙂 Deets found under the “How do I get this stuff” heading!

Steam Game Giveaways for Extra Life!

  1. 2 copies of Bastion*
  2. Broken Sword: Director’s Cut
  3. Dear Esther
  4. Dust: An Elysian Tail*
  5. FEZ*
  6. Gone Home*
  7. Hotline Miami*
  8. The Swapper
  9. Organ Trail: Director’s Cut
  10. Splice*
  11. Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP*
  12. Thomas Was Alone*
  13. Waking Mars

Also

The entire Humble Bundle 4. It was awhile ago, but has some of my favorite indie games of all time. The bundle will be 12 games total! The games are: And Yet It Moves, BIT.TRIP RUNNER*, Cave Story+, Cogs*, Crayon Physics Deluxe*, Gratuitous Space Battles, Hammerfight, Jamestown, NightSky, Shank*, Super Meat Boy*, VVVVVV*

*Games I can personally endorse because I love them so much. You should try to get this bundle!

Smite Giveaways

  1. 3 Xing Tian Indomitable skins
  2. 3 Zeus Wrath of Olympus skins
  3. 2 Odin DaimyOdin skins

Paladins Giveaways

3 closed beta keys to the new arena shooter from Hi-Rez, Paladins

How do  I get this awesome stuff!?

Donate any amount to my Extra Life page and be sure to say what game/skin you would prefer to get. Want more than one entry? Donate more than once! Want to be in the running for more than 1 game/skin? Donate more than once and write different donation messages! Supa easy.

I’ll put it in a spreadsheet and every so often, use a random number generator to pick a row and get that person their game or skin!

To get the Humble Bundle 4, donate $10+ and say “Humble Bundle 4” in your donation message to be in the running! I can’t split up the bundle so it’s all or nothin’, baby!

Stream Perks for Donations

Donate $15 or more to my Extra Life fundraising page and you can choose what game I play on stream for at least an hour! Check out all my games here (be sure to click Platform and sort by PC – can’t play console games on stream at the moment). I will also snag NES or SNES ROMs if you donate and want me to play anything retro :)

Guest Post: Old School Gaming Titles to Come to Casinos

Earlier this year, game developer Konami announced that it was shifting its focus. Instead of relying on its top-tier console titles, the company is adapting some of its more popular franchises to the casual casino-gaming and mobile free-to-play school of gaming. The move, while upsetting for some, comes as little surprise. The company had been seeing declining profits in its console gaming division for years despite big name titles like the Metal Gear Solid series.

According to Digital Trends, the first two titles the company is introducing to casinos and pachinko parlors in Japan are the survival-horror franchise Silent Hill and the vampire-slaying platformer series Castlevania. For some gamers, these announcements feel like a slap in the face. Many were looking forward to a now-shelved console sequel to Silent Hill developed in collaboration with Pan’s Labyrinth and Pacific Rim director Guillermo del Toro.

The low overhead and high return-on-investment from mobile and casino gaming has many companies traditionally known for their console titles looking to move their business to the “freemium” based model sustained by micro-transactions. And Konami isn’t done with just two titles as it’ll showcase many more of its casino offerings at the Global Gaming Expo this fall. CNN reports that the classic highway-hopping game, Frogger, will make its way to the casino floor. The press release also hints that even more classic properties, including Contra and Dungeons & Dragons, will be unveiled.

“Players have the chance to experience their favorite Frogger features with a real-money casino spin,” said Matt Reback, vice president of marketing at Konami Gaming, Inc. “While the primary game carries modernized character art paired alongside our proven video slot features and math, the game’s mystery Frogger Bonus allows players to relive the classic road and river crossing course in retro-pixelated glory.

The conference will take place at the Sands Expo and Convention Center adjacent to the Venetian Palazzo and is expected to bring more than 25,000 industry professionals to Las Vegas. “Visitors to this year’s G2E will have no doubt about Konami’s unique role in the industry,” said Reback. “We’re leveraging our company’s gaming entertainment legacy, backed by an operational stability and dedication to product quality that engenders confidence in the global gaming market.” The expo takes place from Sept. 29 through Oct. 1.

This news comes hot on the heels of a movement for new regulations to allow traditional skill-based video games to operate alongside the usual games of chance, such as slot machines. CBS Local reports that the proposed requirements for skill-based games would include providing detailed game rules in advance as well as informing players of potential outcomes.

If the latest regulations go through and Konami’s new gamble pays off, you can definitely expect to see more of your favorite titles in the gambling realm. It’s not that far of stretch to even imagine Nintendo trying to take advantage of this lucrative new market.

Written by Blaine Kelton, who can be reached at BLKelton [at] outlook [dot] com. Blaine is a freelance writer with an interest in mobile gaming currently focusing on portability as it relates to control schemes and the remastering of 8- and 16-bit art styles.

I contributed very little to my completion of FEZ

Immediately, that title might seem odd because I really did play the game. I really did get the 64 cube ending. I pushed all the buttons and shifted all the perspectives. What I mean by the title is that most of what I did in the game was informed by the viewers in chat while I was playing on Twitch, telling me what to do. Someone in chat explained to me how to read the tetronimo code throughout the game. Someone in chat googled all of my questions. Together, chat and I googled how to solve the damn waterfall puzzle. It was the most collaboration I think I’ve ever experienced with a video game, and I used to play the MOBA Smite daily. With friends. In person.

After awhile I figured out how to decipher the code on my own and wasn’t so dependent on chat to help me solve the puzzles. At one point, someone asked if I felt like the game was so easy now, since I was able to just breeze through puzzles that I used to have to literally just sit and stare at chat, waiting for the buffer delay so the smarter-than-me viewers could help me. I realized that I didn’t think it felt easier, I just felt like more of a badass. That in turn, surprised me. I usually feel a dose of guilt when I extensively google how to get through a game (I’M SORRY, BRAID. OKAY!? I’M SORRY) and I did the smallest percentage of original work yet puzzling through FEZ. But I felt more satisfied completing that game than I have felt completing any other game in the recent past.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that for the first time in a long time, I felt like this game wasn’t just me being lazy and googling, or not wanting to sit and think to figure something – this game was legitimately hard. In hindsight, I haven’t talked to anyone who has played FEZ who hasn’t googled at least one solution, usually more (that could probably expand to every player because no one figured out the Black Monolith room – the community solved it through collaborative brute force). For the first time, googling solutions was the norm, even for hard cores and fan bois. I was in the norm! There were multiple instances I scoffed at solutions to rooms and said “Right – like anyone could have figured that out . . . yeesh” but I suppose someone did first. But no one else did after that, heh. For whatever anyone thinks or says about Phil Fish and/or Polytron, FEZ is an amazing puzzle game. And even in it’s pixel art, it’s beautiful. A game that requires that kind of depth of thought is something to be admired regardless of your preferences or politics.

And I suppose to wrap up the sap, it really hit me at the end of this game that Twitch is all about community. Streamers are nothing without their chat and I had read that before but after this experience it became even more abundantly clear to me. And the people in chat don’t want to one up you or be annoying – they want to help. They want to work together with someone to play a game, together. The more I stream the more I learn. The more I stream, the more I want to learn. FEZ was a blast, but I doubt it wouldn’t’ve been quite as fun without the crowd.

How do stealth games sneak in to my life?

Yesterday I was torn between streaming Monaco or Mark of the Ninja. In the end, technical reasons forced me to roll with Mark of the Ninja and I thought “hey, you know what? This is great. I saw this game in person at PAX 2012 in the Indie 10, and I thought it looked rad, and now I am finally allowing myself to play it. This is gonna be great; let’s do this!” Can you read all the fake pep? Can you decipher my lies better than I can myself? Here’s the thing – I know I hate stealth. I have always hated stealth. And I knew Mark of the Ninja has gotten oodles of praise for it’s comprehensive and impressive implementation of a great stealth system. So how was this really going to go, huh? COME ON, LAURIE. BE HONEST WITH YOURSELF.

Sure enough, I lacked all patience. I would spawn and run blindly at obstacles and difficult enemies over and over and over until I would throw my hands up and say “I must be doing it wrong! I must need to Google it!” then I would try to speed-Google a solution, on-stream, on my phone, realize I can’t because there are no level names visible when I pause the game and I have no idea where I am, then go back and due to the very brief rest I gave my mind and muscle memory, I would be able to get through to the next checkpoint without dying. Sure the assassinations were so deeply, profoundly satisfying (top notch animations and sound effects, fo’ sho’) but all the in between of trying to sneak up to someone to kill them, etc – no thanks.

Photo from Cinemablend
Photo from Cinemablend

I knew this when I played The Last of Us only until Joel and Ellie got to the town with the crazy guy and I had to stealth through the graveyard and the houses to the bus yard at the school and I died so many times I stopped playing until I got the game again, remastered, with my new PS4 at the end of last year. I don’t have the patience for stealth, which is indicative of the very little patience I have for most things in my life. And yet. Here I was. Again. And the “why” finally dawned on me after I slogged through a (to be honest) mediocre stream of the entirety of Mark of the Ninja.

I am deeply impressed by stealth game mechanics and systems. There is honestly so much technical precision that goes in to very well made stealth games, it’s remarkable. The genre itself hones so closely down on level design and character/NPC interactions, I think I subconciously want to observe it all but subsequently hate it all the way through. Even when I was at the peak of frustration with Mark of the Ninja I said out loud “But I mean . . . I still want to finish it.” And despite my lack of skill or interest in games like Bloodborne or Dark Souls, I believe the entire genre of stealth is at it’s best when it’s most punishing. Unlike the pandering flip-flopping of Assassin’s CreedMark of the Ninja does not allow multiple play types. Sure there are multiple paths and different strategies to implement your stealth throughout rooms during a level but at the end of every experience, you had to be the ninja. You never really have to be an assassin with Ubisoft.

I’m ecstatic to never play Mark of the Ninja ever again. I’m also ecstatic to recommend it to every stealth game lover I know. I’m also ecstatic that I got to experience a quintessential stealth experience in a polished, satisfying, beautiful indie game. Now please, critically acclaimed stealth games – never sneak your way into my life again.

I need your input!

One week down! And in a week of streaming, I’ve had an amazing blast (albeit not the most consistent schedule but it’ll get better) and I’m just looking to move onward and upward!

The first improvement idea I’ve had bouncing around my brain is doing some older games, not just because they’re most easily accessible but also because I love the ones I’ve already played and there are some old ones I never finished playing (for shame). So here’s where the brain trust (you guys) come in: is a stream day dedicated to Flashback Friday/Throwback Thursday too hackneyed? Do you imagine people would be okay with getting through an old game only one day a week at a time? Does that sound like something you guys would be interested in? Fill out the poll and let me know!

If you have ideas, more thoughts, or more suggestions on stream improvements, I’m BEGGING you to leave a comment or tweet at me or email me! Thanks, friends!

Dust: An Elysian Tail made me feel good about nostalgia

When I was planning what to play on my 3rd day of full-time Twitch streaming, I was at a loss. I had decided to start two days earlier with Middle-earth: Shadows of Mordor but after lackluster intro content (including tutorials) and visuals that disappoint for just having come out in 2015, I wasn’t engaged and excited to play the game, and therefore put out fairly poor stream.

The next day, I decided to finally give The Banner Saga a shot and while the visuals and music and emotion of the game were portrayed excellently, it just didn’t seem like the type of game that would give a good stream experience and I wasn’t particularly excited to continue playing it. Did I mention that I am also just abhorrently bad at tactics games and brought my usual talent to The Banner Saga? Yeah.

So there I was, needing something to really pep up the “Past Broadcasts” on my channel. And then I stumbled over Dust: An Elysian Tail in my Steam library. It was in my wheelhouse – platformer, button masher, indie, great art, jammin’ tunes. This was my time to shine.

And bless Dust‘s heart, it totally worked! I had a blast playing the game during the past 3 streams and finishing it up last night. I might stream it a 4th time to wrap up the 117%. Which is actually a perfect segue to the nostalgia-laced trip it was in this final stream. SPOILERS ABOUT THE SECRET FRIEND COLLECTIBLES AHEAD (no main story line spoilers) (oh and 117% was the full completion percentage of Spyro so . . . nostalgia).

A kind Twitch passerby stopped to watch the stream and while we were chatting back and forth about the game, which he loves to death, we were talking about all of the extra “secret friends” you can get by unlocking special chests throughout the different regions. I had already collected Super Meat Boy, Howard the Duck*, and the main male character of Spelunky. He was super in to helping me find the rest of the secret friends before I called it quits on the game (I’m not generally in to collecting achievements or completion percentages for Steam games and I was playing on Steam) so I beat the story mode and then together (via chat) we started going through the game to unlock all the secret friends.

The first secret friend the Twitch chat lead me to was Bandage Girl, also from Super Meat Boy. When I unlocked Super Meat Boy himself, I was tickled pink. It was an obviously frivolous addition to the game, but at the same time, it was the perfect level of non-committal to making the game different in anyway. And it wasn’t a super dose of nostalgia. If anything, I read the secret friends in the game as nods to great indie games of our generation.

I got some others, including the female Spelunky character which made me smile wide, but I also kept thinking about the beginning of the game. The first time you hack down a wall a “Mysterious Wall Chicken” pops out, which when eaten grants back 80 health. The first time that happened I also laughed out loud because come on – Castlevania! Why the hell was cooked poultry popping out of the walls in that game? No one knows, and Dust made me laugh about it.

Later in the night I got to a secret room and I couldn’t quit tell for the first few jumps what this room was hailing to until I realized that the music and particle effects were only moving when I moved. I was about to unlock Tim from Braid. Perfect. What a masterful game to quote in a game that might not be on par with Braid but one that perhaps acknowledges it and doesn’t feel bad for falling short. Later there was an area that populated isometric-view blocks as you ran forward. Bastion. And the final secret friend I unlocked was in a pixel area with three brain-busting puzzles to get through. Fez. The whole time my smile was growing as I was shaking my head. This is the way homage is intended to be. A slight tip of the hat, a comfortable acknowledgement of past greatness, and a shrug at the naysayers who don’t like what they’re playing as much as what they played before. This was perhaps the first game I had played that didn’t feel like it was pandering but was instead honoring. And that is 100% the nostalgia I can get behind.

While the story had some facepalm moments and the voice acting was a bit try-hard at times, the gameplay, the art, the BluePrint system, and the music all made this some of the most enjoyable 14 hours I’ve dumped into an indie arcade in my life. If I play a game that has some Dust easter eggs in the future, I’ll tip my hat, smile, and remember fondly what came before.

*I googled this to make sure I was saying the right thing because I don’t know my Marvel lore and don’t know anything about Howard the Duck, but lo and behold this was actually someone named Hyperduck? Which makes more sense when they both become Daft Punk. . . But anyway, I’m going to keep calling him Howard the Duck because I don’t know who Hyperduck is either. Sorry.