Gamerly Musings

Where failed pitches go to shine.

Month: December, 2013

Musings and Memories of 2013: Learning My Craft

Rather than a strict Game of the Year list, at Gamerly Musings I’ll be writing a series of  articles about the games that were most important to me, personally. The games will be roughly grouped together by themes, qualities, or learning experiences that they shared rather than offering awards based on genre or release platform, which I think works out rather nicely for highlighting some under-appreciated games that would never appear on a “best of 2013” list but deserve special recognition in their own right.

Reviewing and analyzing these three games – one good, one bad, and one somewhere in between – helped to develop my skills as a writer more than any other in 2013. Each of the games are very different, but in my effort to give them the reviews they deserved I grew as a writer. That could be growth in learning new techniques, refining old ones, or finding new perspectives through which to look at the games. Regardless of how it happened, all three of these games helped me learn my craft as a writer in 2013.

Gone Home

goty gone home

By the far the most challenging review I wrote in 2013 was the one I did for Gone Home. I already knew it was going to be something special, the 2012 IGF demo, just the demo, was my game of the year that year after all. And even just from that demo it was revelatory the way it used the environment to infer most of its story outside of Sam’s narrated journal entries. Even the “put back” mechanic, simple as it was, was a stroke of genius in depicting domestic exploration that didn’t devolve into ransacking the place. But most of all, it was Sam’s coming out story that sealed it. Sam’s story felt so true, but was told in such a distinctly game-y way, I still get chills thinking about it.

While playing Gone Home I felt like I was playing something important, a game that would become part of the essential literacy for game critics. The same feeling I got when first playing Bastion or Dark Souls, the feeling that it was a game people would continue to write about for years, dissecting it for every morsel of meaning.

And here I was supposed to review it? To be one of the first voices in that ongoing critical discussion? Yeah, I was a bit intimidated. Read the rest of this entry »

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Musings and Memories of 2013: Learning Humility

Rather than a strict Game of the Year list, at Gamerly Musings I’ll be writing a series of  articles about the games that were most important to me, personally. The games will be roughly grouped together by themes, qualities, or learning experiences that they shared rather than offering awards based on genre or release platform, which I think works out rather nicely for highlighting some under-appreciated games that would never appear on a “best of 2013” list but deserve special recognition in their own right.

The theme of this first post is “learning humility,” highlighting games that caught me off-guard or subverted my expectations in thrilling, surprising, and always humbling ways.

Call of Juarez: Gunslinger

Gunslinger goty

It seems that every year I’m going to be asked to review a game for which I have rock bottom expectations and ends up being one of the highlights of the year. Last year it was I Am Alive, which blew me away with its brutal survival mechanics and story, and this year that pleasant surprise came in the form of Call of Juarez: Gunslinger (which, coincidentally, both I Am Alive and Gunslinger were published by Ubisoft).

I already wrote a glowing review when it came out, so I won’t retread through all the reasons it is such an amazing game here, but even now at the end of the year it sticks out in my mind as easily one of the best gaming experiences I had in 2013. Read the rest of this entry »

Beautiful Machinery – The Structure of Zelda: A Crack Between Worlds

For those who haven’t heard, I am beginning a new column called Beautiful Machinery. It will be a twice monthly series of articles examining the artistry and craft of games through their mechanics. I am doing a little experiment with it though, by trying to gain support and funding for the column through Patreon, a service that lets you, the reader, support creators directly on a per article basis instead of going through a major publication. You can pledge any amount per article, even if it’s only $1, your support will be hugely appreciated. The following article is my first piece for Beautiful Machinery and an example of what to expect from the column, looking at The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds and how its item rental system impacts the game’s structure.

Head over to my Patreon page to learn more about Beautiful Machinery and support my writing to make this column a success.

Ravio2

While it seemed fairly unanimous among my colleagues that the new item structure was a cause for celebration in The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, I was conflicted about the change as I began playing. There was talk of a more open overworld to explore and being able to approach the game’s dungeons in any order. It essentially boiled down to more player freedom and choice, which I am told are inherently good features in a game.

I am not convinced, though. See, to me, the gatekeeping due to item restrictions was always the highlight of a new Zelda game. I’d see some far off ledge that I couldn’t quite reach, and it would fill me with excitement to discover which item I’d eventually find to let me cross to that ledge.

However, the anticipation and delayed gratification is a key part of that formula. If I could instantly hookshot or glide on a leaf over to the ledge, it wouldn’t be as special an area. It would just be another area just like any other that I could walk to. But by delaying my ability to cross over to the ledge it fills the area with a sense of mystery and discovery. Sure there may be a treasure chest filled with a handful of rupees or a heart piece, but the treasure wasn’t the real reward. The real reward was gaining the ability to travel off the beaten path, and in order to travel off of it, there needs to be a beaten path to begin with.

My fear going into A Link Between Worlds was that every area would feel like part of the beaten path, and that no areas would truly feel special or hidden. And for the most part, unfortunately, this was the case. So long as I had bombs, the hammer, and in one place the hookshot, I could explore pretty much the entire overworld right away. And because Zelda games hand out rupees at a rate that should collapse Hyrule’s economy, it was no problem to rent those items as soon as they became available.

There were some item gates though, and these proved to be my favorite parts of exploring the game’s overworld. I needed to collect flippers before I could swim, giving me that satisfying feeling as a previously off-limits area became mundane, and likewise with areas that were sealed off by large boulders and required the titan gloves. The giant bomb that can follow you in Lorule was also a nice touch, sealing off certain areas until you performed an escort mission that served a similar gating purpose by making the areas it unlocked seem more special than simply using a regular bomb.

Read the rest of this entry »