Posts Tagged ‘Gaming’

The Seven Stages of Videogame Remakes

It’s been a topic at the forefront of gaming for the entirety of the last generation and a significant part of the one before. The videogame industry these days is old enough to look back and draw from its past, and in an age where some games of yore are ridiculously difficult to experience with anything approaching legality, re-releases and remakes are as commonplace as they are guaranteed to attract online discontent. In many cases, they also represent a near-guaranteed source of revenue for publishers keen on mining nostalgia, so whether you love them, hate them, or pay them no mind until one of your favourites arrives in the spotlight, they aren’t going anywhere.

I’m not here to defend the practice of re-releasing games in various stages, however. Some of that may happen accidentally as I write, but the topic has been covered to death, including on this very blog years ago. KingK also made a pretty good YouTube video on the subject earlier this year that is worth a watch. No, more interesting to me at this very moment is this idea that the quality and validity of some of these re-releases oftentimes seems to hinge on what labels people are willing to attach to each one. As with most things in life, enjoyment is regularly determined by expectation. So I feel like it’s worthwhile to break down and categorise those labels as I see them defined. Because seven is a poetic number that looks great in post headers, that is how I will attempt to divide them. This is all based on my feelings on the topic – and I can definitely see people disagreeing on the order of the categories – but I’ll try to articulate with examples as best I can.
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Port

Your basic “Take Game A from Platform B and get it to run on Platform C” situation. Nothing more, nothing less. This is regularly seen when a period of platform exclusivity breaks and a title shows up on a competing platform within the same generation, whether that period was motivated by a publishing deal or the game in question was simply developed with one target platform in mind and the ensuing gremlins from the porting process take time to smooth over. Because timed exclusivity within the console space is a rarity nowadays, the platform that is usually either early or late to the party is the PC, but you see more variety of circumstance the lower down you go on the production budget scale. For every big-budget early access title on the Steam/Epic Games storefront, every surprising eleventh-hour Yakuza/Square RPG arrival, there’s a “Nindie” debuting on Switch first, a small ID@Xbox game flying the Microsoft flag straight out of the gate. When these games inevitably cross over to find new homes – grabbing a handy second wave of buzz in the process – they invariably do so without significant gameplay changes or extra content that hasn’t already been added to their initial versions.

The overwhelming majority of PC ports do offer more flexible graphical options due to the open nature of the PC environment (usually related to resolution, frame rate caps/unlocks, and previously unavailable visual effect toggles), just as a huge amount of Switch ports require technical downgrades by very imaginative and talented people in order to run at all (The folks at Bluepoint and Panic Button come to mind). But if that’s all she wrote, you’re looking at a bread-and-butter port between platforms. There are many who hold the untouched port as the most ideal form of game preservation, and many more who don’t see the point of a fresh release of an older game if the developers don’t update anything, but the simple fact remains that basic ports allow more people to play more videogames and they’re an unavoidable part of the landscape.
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Enhanced Port

These next two categories are where things get muddiest for me, but I’m fairly sure I’ve got my head around them. A game qualifies as an enhanced port in my mind if there has been little to no discernible graphical work done under a game’s hood since it’s original release, thereby qualifying it as a straight port if not for one or two clear and significant gameplay changes that have been implemented. Weirdly enough, this opens the door for re-releases to occur on the same platform as their source material, a practice for which the Kingdom Hearts franchise used to be infamous and something the Pokemon main series continues to do to this day. This is definitely a curious semantic pocket of the industry, because while you can theoretically port a game to the platform it’s already on, without any noteworthy enhancements such an endeavour would be literally pointless.

Of course, most of the qualifiers for this category actually do cross over to new platforms, and as you might expect if you’ve invested in any of their recent consoles, Nintendo features heavily among them. Of late the notoriously port-happy current crop of Big N executives have greenlit a veritable catalogue of exports from the tragic Wii U to the hit-making Switch, packing little more than a resolution bump in the visuals department but almost always carrying a smattering of bullet points to set the new version apart. Hyrule Warriors packs new character skins and integrates content from multiple previous versions of the game, New Super Mario Bros U Deluxe and DK Country Tropical Freeze add new characters and abilities, and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe fundamentally changes the flow of gameplay with more granular kart stats and an extra item slot per player (in addition to new characters). Older examples of this include the Gamecube release of Sonic Adventure 2 with an entire multiplayer mode in tow, the transformed controls and gameplay balance of Resident Evil 4‘s Wii edition and the enabling of the mythical “Stop n’ Swap” functionality in the Xbox 360 version of Banjo-Kazooie.

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Best of 2018: Top 15 Games

It’s truly fascinating to me to watch the cooldown period after a universally-acknowledged year of videogame greatness. Sometimes the vaunted 2007 gets the wonderful afterparty that was 2008 – with the likes of GTA IV, Metal Gear Solid 4, Fallout 3 and Bioshock – and sometimes 1998 gets the uneventful ’99 hangover. In the age we live in, packed as it is with more games and more types of games than ever before, it’s difficult to argue that any year can be truly bad for releases. That said, 2018 mixed in the kinds of critical and commercial disappointments that might have sunk an older year but only seemed to add a footnote to an annum of tremendously successful standalone titles – especially if you owned a PS4.

This is, of course, my personal favourites list, so games like Red Dead Redemption 2 are absent (for reasons I’ve already touched on). There are fewer indie games on this list than usual, which doesn’t reflect a poor year for smaller-budget games (not even close) so much as it does that sweet spot near the end of a major console life cycle where a number of ambitious projects in development for years all seem to hit at once. There are iterative sequels that perfect a formula, refreshing surprises and a not-insignificant combination of both. Overall it’s a list defined by games I did not expect to fall in love with – either because they were entirely new or because I had not ever properly been grabbed by their respective series. In fact, I’d say I was only confident I would enjoy four out of these fifteen games before I played them – and trust me, that’s an undeniably low conversion rate for me. Yay for the unexpected.

Eligibility for the countdown is simple. Excluding multiplayer-first titles, I need to have played each game for more than five hours or completed its main path – whichever comes first.

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VR BEST OF 2018 DISCLAIMER

This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. If you actually agree with me 100%, that’s odd, but let’s have a beer. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

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15. Unravel Two (XBO)

E3 week was pretty uniquely special this year because for the first time in a long while, I was just as excited to play unexpected games that had just come out as I was about those on the horizon. One of several surprise “out now!” releases during E3 2018 was Unravel Two, a sequel to one of the indie darlings of E3s gone by. While I didn’t hear great things about the first game in terms of mechanics and ended up skipping it entirely, I was extremely happy to find that the sequel picks up the slack in a big way while presenting a world just as visually stunning. The rope physics in this game are the best I’ve ever had the pleasure of finding in a 2D platformer and they are used to great effect for both fluid movement and puzzle solving – the two often going hand in hand – but the kicker is that the entire 5-hour adventure absolutely sings in co-op. I played Unravel Two start to finish with my sister, who rarely plays games, and she was as glued to the screen as I was.

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The Games of Not-2018

2018 felt a little different to me in terms of the way I used my free time on videogames. For whatever reason – be it a less intense schedule of new releases that interested me, weariness of the same old drop-everything-to-play-the-new-thing habits, finally acquiring a decent gaming PC, or a combination of all three – I was somehow more OK with the idea of putting time into older games this year. So I feel like it wouldn’t be a full representation of my 2018 in videogames if I didn’t jot down some quick thoughts on them. I also figured I’d include remasters or re-releases on this page too, just to take some heat off the main list.

I’ve listed the games roughly in the order I played them this year. I’ve also listed either the most prominent initial release version of each game or, where relevant, the version I owned or played back in the day instead. Then on the line underneath I’ve noted the version I played in 2018. Stop looking at me like that, I have to catalogue these things properly.

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Pokemon Crystal Version

GBC Release: 2001
3DS Virtual Console Release: 2018
How much I played: Start to finish including Kanto, 25+ hrs

I was super-vulnerable to this release when it hit the 3DS eShop in late Jan. There wasn’t much else to play and I was about to head off on a coastal family holiday. The rest I wrote down in its own separate post which you can read here.

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Final Fantasy XIII

PS3 Release: 2010
Steam Release: 2014
How much I played: The first ten chapters and some messing around in Chapter 11 makes 30+ hrs

Not gonna even try to hide it – seeing this game run in forced 4K on some YouTube video last year was a huge percentage of the reason the dominoes fell and I finally invested in a gaming laptop. After a discussion with a friend about whether FF XIII really did look better than XV in parts or whether that was just our memory of it, I had to jump back in after a decade and it turns out that, despite a truly, ridiculously awful port job, the game’s astonishing art direction sings in higher resolutions. I did play more than half of the game again, hoping to dive into a proper thousands-of-words retrospective, but the gaming calendar moves fast. Near the end of the year Microsoft gave the XIII trilogy a huge Xbox One X-supported backwards compatibility push, so who knows, maybe Square has more plans for a re-release or something. Either way, I will write that post one day. I will.

 

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My 8 Favourite Chapters From Octopath Traveler

So I recently beat the final boss of Octopath Traveller, pretty much bang-on two months after launch and with a 90 hour save file to show for it. The game’s alright, I guess.

Lukewarm jokes aside, my deep appreciation for this itch-scratching JRPG gem lies mainly with the things for which it has been widely praised – Its astonishingly unique visuals, its wonderfully dynamic soundtrack, its deeply strategic combat. If people at large seem to have a bone to pick with Octopath, that bone is firmly lodged in the story department.

The game’s atypical approach to story structure – eight individual stories that stay separated from the wider party narrative outside of a handful of short optional skits – may irritate those who weren’t prepared to find such an approach in an RPG that appears so traditional at first glance. But as someone who has played a hell of a lot of JRPGs, I for one welcome the refreshing ability to tell some of the most focused, character-driven tales you can find in any title of Octopath‘s ilk. Bound by a less plentiful budget than is usually afforded to more known Square Enix RPGs, the game’s writers had to employ a simple combination of rudimentary animations, on-point musical cues and tactfully distributed voice acting to sell eight different four-chapter stories despite repeating a very similar contracted three-act structure 32 times.

Sometimes this works better than others, and though factors like the order in which you see them (the game is very open) and your own personal tastes and background will determine which of Octopath‘s story chapters stand out most for you, these are the eight that I enjoyed the most. Spoilers obviously abound, so read on only if you’ve finished the game or don’t plan on playing it any further / at all.

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8. Cyrus Chapter 2

Ah, Cyrus. As one of the later characters I met on my journey, I initially found his idealistic head-in-the-clouds indifference to the feelings of those around him to be a grating character trait, but by the time his introductory chapter is over that same trait has been turned into a joke at his expense and he is suddenly an endearing, not to mention mechanically essential, part of the octo-squad. His second chapter beats his first one onto this list, however, thanks to the way it uses this endearment to maximise the impact of a shockingly macabre turn. In the mining town of Quarrycrest, you get to see the full range of Cyrus’ strictly-academia reactions to everything from light jabs at his obliviousness to demonic blood rituals. If you haven’t done any third chapters by the time you see this one, the ghastly introduction of supernatural body horror into the world’s lore makes for some decently-paced foreshadowing.

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7. Tressa Chapter 2

The other major chapter taking place in Quarrycrest takes on a rather different tone. It sees the wholesome, naive aspiring merchant Tressa attempt to make her fortune by selling shiny gems in a town ultimately under the control of a despot of sorts who believes that very fortune belongs to him by right. It builds to the confrontation with said megalomaniac by first introducing one of Octopath‘s best supporting characters, Ali. A cocky young merchant with an existing bag of tricks and sales techniques, Ali serves initially as a cheeky antagonist and eventually as an ally against the larger evil at hand, in both cases encouraging tremendous growth from Tressa. Though more of his character is developed in later chapters, in Quarrycrest his relentless-yet-principled attitude to the art of selling solidifies him as an indispensable addition to the game’s considerable secondary cast.

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The Whirlwind That Was E3 2018

E3 week is over for another year! The conferences have come and gone, the show floor has closed, the Youtubers and game journos have pieced together their wrap-ups and are now piecing together their minds with some well-earned rest. So it’s time once again for me to pick out the trends of the show and throw forward my own general thoughts on the delirious highs and confusing lows of the 2018 Electronic Entertainment Expo.

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Samurai Spirit Abounds

Every year at E3 there’s always a videogame feature or aesthetic concept that seems to rear its head suspiciously frequently. Examples from past years that come to mind include the neck-snapping animations of 2013, the dog companion focus of 2015 and of course the piracy outbreak of last year. This year pundits were ready for the deluge of “battle royale” mode additions to both existing major franchises and new projects, but aside from the very first game of E3, Battlefield V, that would-be trend was nowhere to be found. Instead, the feudal Japanese period stepped up into the thematic void with considerable style. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, the much-discussed next game from Dark Souls developer From Software, led the charge and evoked imagery from last year’s runaway success Nioh. It was fitting, then, that Nioh 2 also brought the samurai goodness later on in the week. However the decidedly AAA polish of Sucker Punch’s Ghost of Tsushima probably took the greatest share of the conceptual spotlight, presenting an absolutely jaw-dropping interpretation of a painterly Japanese countryside soaked in blood and fire.

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Live Music, Live Music Everywhere

What do you do when some of your colleagues and competitors are putting forth pristine, pre-curated, glitch-free video presentations? You leverage the unique strengths of the live platform and you leverage them hard. Bethesda, Ubisoft and especially Sony really went in on the idea of live music performances during their 2018 shows. The former even performed an entire song at the top of proceedings courtesy of Andrew W.K. and a live band. Ubisoft’s almost-annual Just Dance series medley was moved to the top of the French giant’s own spectacle, which was odd but arguably a smart move given how previous instances have affected pacing. Sony packed two separate instrumental performances with tonal ties to two of the company’s biggest games, while the entirety of its Dreams footage consisted of adorable/unsettling animated creatures blaring their own musical creations. Your mileage may vary on the value of these interludes but if you ask me they added just the right amount of E3 zaniness. Continue reading

Best of 2017: Top 15 Games

Here we are. Time to count down my favourite videogames from a truly phenomenonal year for the medium (The best in ten years?). There are some games on this list that I would wholeheartedly recommend to anyone even remotely interested, but the real measure of 2017 is the games that don’t make the list because I just didn’t have time to get into them. And no, I don’t just mean games other people liked but didn’t really grab me. I’m talking Horizon Zero Dawn, Cuphead, Yakuza Zero, Steamworld Dig 2, Night in the Woods, Tales of Berseria, Golf Story, Gang Beasts. Games that in any other year I would have been all over. Games I’ve already seen on many other top ten lists across the internet.

Part of this can probably be attributed to my conscious decision not to ignore good games on the 3DS as long as they were coming out. I clocked nearly 200 hours of combined 2017 playtime on my 3DS according to its activity log – mostly on trains and buses – and if it weren’t for the Nintendo Switch overshadowing it on every big site and YouTube channel I would have been shocked that I wasn’t seeing some of these 3DS games on more people’s lists. Of course, the Switch was still a thing, so there are more Switch games on this page than on any other console. The rest of the numbers are made up by some delightfully surprising indie and triple-A games gripping enough to help me temporarily forget about all the other games I could be playing. What an insane year.

A game qualifies for the list if I play it for over five hours or finish it. You’ll see the platform on which I played each game in parentheses next to its title.

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VR BEST OF 2017 DISCLAIMER

This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. If you actually agree with me 100%, that’s strange. Intriguing, but strange. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

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15. ARMS (NS)

Major new IPs from Nintendo are rarer than a PC without Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds installed, so it’s a big deal when one comes along. Following in the spiritual footsteps of 2015’s Splatoon, ARMS is an attempt by Nintendo to refresh what players can expect from a fighting game, in much the same way that Splatoon injected new life into the shooter genre. Taking stylistic cues from Blizzard’s Overwatch in the character design department and infusing these designs with Nintendo wackiness, ARMS is a charming game with deceptive mechanical depth and phenomenonal 1v1 duel multiplayer. Though the rest of its modes are inherently less deep and the game’s single player mode is basic at best, ARMS is my pick for most improved game of the year post-launch, with extra incentives, modes and characters now part of the package. And let’s not forget that theme song, which slots right in alongside Nintendo’s catchiest first-party tunes. ARMS should not be overlooked by anyone buying a Switch.

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Best of 2017: Top 10 Gaming Moments

Now that we’re finally talking about the games of 2017 themselves, it’s time to start asking the question – Is this the best year for videogame releases since 2007? Do we at last have an annum worth blowing past 2011 and taking on the year that gave us Bioshock, Modern Warfare, Mass Effect, Portal and Mario Galaxy? It’s a short question with a long answer, but perhaps so. If it is, then the ease with which I came up with content for this list makes an awful lot of sense. 2017 was a sensational year for gaming moments that encouraged some good old fashioned water cooler chat.

Even compared to previous years’ lists, this one is positively packed with story-related moments, so seriously, proceed with caution. Or don’t proceed at all.

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VR BEST OF 2017 DISCLAIMER

This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. If you actually agree with me 100%, that’s strange. Intriguing, but strange. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

Big videogame spoilers follow!

Seriously!

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10. Simulation – Prey

Oftentimes you’ll need to get through several hours of a game before reaching any big twists, rug pulls or otherwise shocking plot developments, but Prey gives you several inside the first two hours. The fact that they make such an impact is testament to how well Arkane Studios builds up the pretense of one reality before literally and figuratively shattering it with one melee attack to a glass panel. Prey mixes together a visually arresting Hollywood-style title sequence with some unsettlingly clever tutorials ending with a terrifying first encounter with an alien species, then uses a detail-rich apartment environment and a tiny bit of familial drama to turn your attention in one direction before jolting you back the opposite way. This is all rather effective to say the least at leaving you on edge, setting the stage for a claustrophobic journey of fear and intrigue.

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