Lemmy Kilmister: A Life Immortalized in Games  

lemmy

Last week the music world lost one of its greatest legends. Motorhead frontman Lemmy Kilmister was the living incarnation of rock and roll and an ageless beacon for hard rock fans to rally behind. The old joke was that when the bombs fell, cockroaches and Motorhead would still be standing. He was the man who proudly declared that he wanted his band to make your lawn die if they moved in next door and made music that would send the members of AC/DC scampering for cover with their hands over their ears. In other words, the dude was badass.

The world is way less metal without Lemmy in it and although it was amazing that he lived to be seventy considering his insane lifestyle, I’m genuinely sad that future generations will never see his like. But he has left behind a legacy, not only of awesome music and crazy road stories, but in video games. He famously spent every possible moment of his free time gaming at his favorite bar, was reportedly a big Star Fox fan, and has appeared in and inspired multiple video games over the years. Here are six of Lemmy Kilmister’s contributions to the gaming industry.

Iron Fist

lemmy motorhead game

It’d be wrong not to open with the fact that Lemmy starred in his own old-school beat ‘em up game named after his band. 1992 was an exciting time to be gaming. If you had a Super Nintendo or at least a Sega Genesis, that is. Amiga, maybe not as much. But at the very least they had Motorhead, a game whose endearing title screen approximation of Lemmy’s musical stylings alone justified its existence.

The game itself consisted mostly of Lemmy brutalizing onscreen representations of other musical genres and healing himself with booze, which actually strikes me as a pretty solid tribute to his life and career. After the rock legend’s passing, some enterprising souls took it upon themselves to convert the game to modern PC format and post it online for free for posterity to enjoy.  

And prior to Lemmy’s demise, the Bulgarian Steam-based fantasy RPG Victor Vran was prepping an expansion pack titled “Motorhead Through the Ages” that will introduce elements inspired by the band’s forty year career of demonic imagery and nasty attitude. Expect an announcement soon.

Born to Raise Hell

lemmy killmaster brutal legend

In 2009, Psychonauts mastermind Tim Schafer unleashed upon the world the most metal video game ever created. Brutal Legend took Double Fine’s trademark charm and humor, Jack Black’s manic energy, the sounds of metal, and some of rock’s greatest icons to make the world’s first and only open world action/RTS/racing/heavy metal tribute game. And you’d best believe Lemmy was at the top of the list of contributors.

He shows up on a gigantic motorbike to aid in your quest as a unit in your ever-growing horde of hellscape-dwelling metalhead revolutionaries. In an amusing irony the iconic bass (strung with the webbing of metal spiders, natch) he used to sonically assault audiences for decades actually HEALS in the world of Brutal Legend. Ironic in a way, but somehow fitting. After all, where the harsh sounds of heavy metal offends most people, for us it’s just what the doctor ordered.

(Don’t let ‘Em) Grind You Down

tony hawk pro skater 3 grind

Gamers who popped Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 into their consoles were smashed in the face with Motorhead’s seminal signature hit “Ace of Spades” right off the bat as it was chosen for that game’s intro sequence featuring real live stunts from some of the X Games’ best. The series was always known for having the coolest music of its day, but this one song is arguably what made this entry memorable.

The sheer chaotic energy of that song is what’s made it an instantly recognizable classic in spite of the fact that I’ve never even heard it on the radio. It’s a natural fit for skate punk culture and the experience of hurtling down a ramp, spinning in midair, and grinding across ledges to that kind of song just perfectly encapsulates the feeling that Pro Skater was always trying to capture. Sometimes, you just need the right soundtrack to bring it all together.

Enter Sandman

lemmy guitar hero metallica

If there was ever a game that Lemmy should star in, it was Guitar Hero (is Bass Hero a thing?). The series had its fair share of playable legends at its peak, but it wasn’t until Metallica got their own game and they insisted on bringing their personal hero along that gamers got to rock out as the man himself.

Lemmy (who can be seen jamming with Metallica irl in the appropriately-named documentary Lemmy) was an obvious fit for the game as one of the most iconic metal singers of all time and “Ace of Spades” was also appropriately featured in the original Guitar Hero and again as DLC in the second game. Needless to say, there’d be a gaping hole in this series without Motorhead’s music.

Love Me Like a Reptile

lemmy new super mario bros

It doesn’t matter what kinds of games you like, your experiences have been touched by this man in one way or another. When Nintendo product analyst Dayvv (if that’s your real name) Brooks was called upon to name the new villains in what turned out to be arguably the NES’s greatest game, Super Mario Bros. 3, he turned to his love of music and Lemmy Koopa was born.

In a recent Kotaku interview, Brooks declared the long-standing rumor that the character was named after the singer to be true, saying “This Koopaling struck me as being the kind of character who would do his own thing, no matter what anyone else thought. I think it was those crazy eyes. Lemmy Koopa was in the crew.” Both Lemmys are also noted for their massive balls.

If you’ve ever played through a Mario game, odds are you’ve met Lemmy and now you’ll always remember his namesake too. Damn it, I really want to hear Motorhead score a Super Mario Bros. game now…

Ace of Spades

lemmy video poker rainbow

The most iconic line from Motorhead’s most iconic song reads “You know I’m born to lose/and gambling’s for fools/But that’s the way I like it, baby, I don’t want to live forever”. But if any performer should have lived forever, it was Lemmy Kilmister. No other performer’s live sound and presence is done less justice by mere recordings. It feels appropriate to close this journey through the gaming history of a true legend with the fact that the man died gaming. Even more appropriately, considering the song, it was a video poker machine.

When he wasn’t recording or touring, Lemmy passed his time at the Rainbow Bar and Grill in Los Angeles. The two rock institutions are so intrinsically linked that if you googled “lemmy bar” the Rainbow’s official websites were the first three results. He was known for always sitting at the same machine and when he was diagnosed with cancer (just after his birthday party, fuck you very much) the bar’s owner let him take the game home with him. Days later, he passed away in front of it, gaming up until his final moments.

He wasn’t playing League of Legends or Starcraft, but in terms of sheer hours spent playing video games, this man probably has us all beat in the hardcore gamer department. Seventy years old, an unshakable legacy of timeless music, legions of adoring fans, and immortalized in multiple video games; you can’t say it wasn’t an amazing life. Goodnight, sweet prince of darkness.  You are already dearly missed.

Living in the Database: Log Horizon’s Epic Monologue Captures the Essence of Gamer Culture

loghorizon

With all of the nonsense that surrounds modern gaming, sometimes I start to wonder if this hobby is worth it.  With all of the Metabombing, comment section trolling, political crusading, scandal-gating fanatics polluting the culture, the progressive corporatization shaking our last dimes loose with questionable DLC practices, subscription fees, excessive hype, and general oversaturation sometimes I think “Do I really need all of this in my life at my age?”

An the answer is always “Yes. Yes I do.” But why? We live in the age of Netflix, Spotify, and Hulu and I still trek to the library and order comic books through the mail. I’m not really short on things to entertain me. In fact, I’ve got too many interests to ever indulge in full. Objectively, gaming would be the first to go, if only for the sheer cost of it. There’s clearly something else there even beyond my three-and-a-half decades of history with the industry that binds me to gaming. Yeah, it’s fun, but lots of things are fun with a fraction of the baggage. Why be a gamer at this point?

log horizon kaname japan

I wish, Kaname-chan. I wish.

I was on Crunchyroll watching the second season of Log Horizon -one of an increasing number of anime/manga series that have taken to gaming as a source of inspiration and creativity- the other day and I had the answer laid out for me. I’ve already written about a number of Japanese animated series with similar premises, most notable Sword Art Online, which treat gaming and gamer culture with a kind of respect we simply are not used to in the West. That isn’t to say that otaku are cultural heroes with massive sex appeal in the Land of the Rising Sun either, but even if they are still looked down on by the popular kids at school, the media at least sees the value in targeting them as a legitimate demographic.

Log Horizon takes place inside of a video game.Whereas SAO took a conceptual science fiction approach to explain how people could get trapped in a fantasy MMORPG, this one is contentto let you wonder about the “Apocalypse” that brought them into the gaming world of Elder Tale and focuses instead on the lives and times of the players adjusting to a new state of being, one they are actually better at than “real life”.

For the most part the series focuses less on conceptualization and more on plotting and putting the actual characters in interesting situations and the typical anime tropes of pining for senpai and  kicking perverts in the face, but in the tenth episode of Season 2, at least half of the show is spent in a single monologue unlike anything else I’ve ever seen or heard on television. It’s the kind of inspirational speech that, if given at a massive gaming conference like E3, could incite the geeky masses to overthrow the tyranny of sports and reality shows and remake this world in our own image. Or we would if we weren’t too busy playing games all the time.

The context is that a large guild has spent weeks on a large-scale raid. But where their real life had become a video game, the game itself has started to become more like real life with no rules or balancing. As a result, the raid bosses suddenly stopped behaving like raid bosses and left their designated areas to team up on the party, making for a bad situation where the party was surviving by the skin of their teeth against a single boss and then wiped out following the arrival of two more. After respawning, the entire guild is miserably considering giving even after having put so much work into the raid. And that’s when their guild leader, William, haunted by memories of the social scorn he endured to be the gamer he is, reminds them of why they are even doing this. Cue inspirational guitar solo.

Abridged somewhat.

Is spending all of your time gaming stupid, impractical, not real, or (to quote Scroobius Pip) absolutely batshit, factually inaccurate, engaged in the inanimate? Maybe. But it’s how we choose to spend our lives and that is, in itself, a beautiful thing. We CHOOSE to wholeheartedly invest ourselves in another person’s art; to so completely immerse ourselves in virtual worlds that we often neglect the “real” one in order to be somebody else someplace else.

And in a society where the vast majority of people invest themselves in the televised love lives of celebrities and grown men getting paid millions to play with balls while seriously considering voting for Donald Trump to occupy the highest station in the free world, fuck you if you tell me that’s wrong. I choose to game not because the media and my social peers are telling me it’s important. I do it for me and only me because I enjoy it. Gaming isn’t just a something to occupy time or argue about or be persecuted for; it can be a powerful declaration of one’s individuality.

And let’s not just accept that the time we spend occupying the databases of servers instead of drinking ourselves sick in bars -or whatever it is we’re supposed to be doing- is time wasted. We learn valuable life lessons well beyond the old “hand-eye-coordination” standard we used to justify it when I was little. We learn never to quit, we learn organization and how to work together as a team, we learn to analyze the details of our surroundings for anything we can use to our advantage, we overcome our fears and our doubts and find out that there is always a way through it you can just change your perspective a little.

I’m different from other people. I see things they don’t see. I do things they don’t understand, and I get results that they struggle to replicate. A lot of these things could be arguably be traced back to a lifetime “wasted” on video games. Or is it just that these are the things that attract me to gaming in the first place? I’ve been gaming my entire life. There’s no way to even separate one from the other.

log horizon william gamer speech

Preach it, brother.

If I was ever considering selling my consoles and investing in sports memorabilia instead or perhaps spending my time falling in line to cheerlead some social parasite’s malformed self-serving political opinions, William’s speech would set me right. I don’t define myself by those standards. I shouldn’t define myself by those standards. I’m a gamer because I choose to game and I choose to game because that’s how I enjoy spending my time. Any objections?

Log Horizon may lack the level of conceptual sophistication of a Sword Art Online, but what it somewhat lacks in originality, it makes up for with heart in scenes like this. I wonder if American television will ever have shows that speak for gamer culture this way after the rampant demonization and marginalization that had been the media status quo for so long. But even if it never happens, we’re still not going anywhere.

Those of us who decide to break left where everyone else stays right and choose to actively participate in the worlds of our escapist entertainment where everybody else is content to just be a passive observer and get more hardcore in an increasingly casual world aren’t doing so because it’s the easy thing to do. We’ve always done it under a hail of double-standard mockery and projected shame and if that never changes, so what?

Even if it gets worse and we’re blamed for the planet’s economic and ecological hardships on top of the violence and social discrimination that’s already scapegoated onto video games (in spite of the fact that these things have decreased exponentially during our generation), we will continue to do what we do if for no other reason than it’s what we ourselves have chosen to do. And that’s what separates gamers from somebody who occasionally plays video games.

When we win, we press on. And when we lose, we try again as many times in as many ways as is necessary until we win and then we press on some more. It may have taken an anime character’s rant to crystallize this concept for me, but I suspect it’s always been there in the back of all of our minds urging us on with stubborn defiance. Like the adventurers in Log Horizon we may be living in a database (at least some of the time), but in its own way, our virtual lives just as vital as anybody’s real lives, if for no other reason than we say so. Thanks, William.

The Cost of Failure: Five Harsh Ways Gaming Makes You Pay for Your Mistakes

failure

You know the old saying: you can’t win ‘em all? Gamers tend to take that one pretty hard. Our pride is based around overcoming and achieving so in a way, we measure our worth based on winning. This is a big part of why so many of us are so damn aggressive. You never accomplish anything in a game by sitting around or letting others have their way and this translates somewhat to our worldview.

Video games have taught us some hard lessons over the years. While some may hold our hands with constant auto-saves and instant respawns, most of them take a psychological toll when you fail, for better or worse. Nobody likes to be in respawn time-out or see hours of progress erased, but inevitably if you persevere it will make you a better gamer and that’s what we all should want at the end of the day in games and in life: to get better. These are five of the approaches that games have taken over the years to kick our asses and force us to learn how to win instead of lose.

coin bioshock infinite

They can take our money, but they will never take our freedom!

Busy Unearning

A lot of games have taken to auto-saving after every battle or free respawns so you can die and die again without losing anything. This makes for maximum fat-paced fun and encourages experimentation, but others refuse to reward your lack of focus and take it out of your ass.

In a lot of MMORPG’s the cost of a respawn is financial or worse: they take it right out of your character, banishing your hard-earned experience into the void as if it never happened. Bioshock Infinite augmented the free respawning for babies feature from the first game by liquidating a portion of your currency when you died, quickly draining your hard-won resources and leaving you with almost nothing when you hit a rough patch. It drove me insane.

There are few things nastier than taking what a player has earned and scattering it to the winds. In the MMO-based anime Log Horizon they translated the XP penalty as literal memory loss. Life is literally made of experiences and when you lose them, you lose a piece of yourself. In video games this holds true to an extent. It can take hours to build up money or XP, and it can be lost in seconds like you never earned it at all in a title where every little bit counts hurts.

Harshness Rating: Screw You

dark souls you died

Lot of that going around I hear.

Progress Lost

This is most common punishment in JRPG’s and it’s a classic. Save points. Limiting the player’s ability to save their progress is probably the most fair way of encouraging gamers to think before they act, but it’s still horrible at times. The dungeons of classic Final Fantasy or modern Persona games were often unforgiving places that required supplies and preparation and once you were inside it was all about risk and reward. Back then, fleeing a battle or even the entire dungeon was often the only way to keep your earnings and make progress.

When you only get a save point every hour or so the stakes are a lot higher in everything you do. It combines the massive unpleasantness of losing all of your earned gold, loot, and XP with the added aggravation of erasing that entire stretch of gameplay as if it never happened. Now it’s really hitting you where it hurts. You’ve not only lost assets in-game (including any rare drops that are hard to replicate) but you’ve lost the time in real life it took you to make that progress. As the kids say: shit just got real.

One of the nastiest series of all is Dark Souls where you literally cannot progress your character unless you improve every time you run at an area. You lose all of your XP and currency when you die and if you want to get it back, you have to make it to the spot where you died and collect it, otherwise it vanishes and you’re back at your last save point with nothing to show for your struggles.  It’s like that line from The Simpsons: “Your game shows reward knowledge. Here, we punish ignorance.

Harshness Rating: NOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!

mass effect miranda death

Finally… a scene where…. the camera *cough* isn’t on… my asssss…..

So Long, Old Friend

This one has been gaining some momentum over the last couple of gens: the looming shadow of permadeath. When a character dies, they stay dead and there’s nothing you can do about it. As characters have become more lifelike, this has become increasingly distressing, and it adds a massive shot of tension into any game where it’s possible for a character to permanently die.

Tactical RPG’s use it as a way to discourage sacrificial tactics and make you really earn your victories since the stakes are higher. Is victory even worth it if you lose a beloved character in the process? Story-based horror games are making use of this concept as well with Until Dawn and Heavy Rain threatening permanent death for any character should you make the wrong decisions or slip up at the wrong time.   

We are becoming more and more attached to video game characters by the year and as we do the penalty of permadeath becomes harsher. Whether it’s losing them as a commodity, all of the time and experience points you spent building them up, or simply facing the prospect of playing the rest of the game without their presence, we feel the loss.

The Mass Effect series is arguably the gold standard here, as it’s possible to lose almost anyone and with each character having a deeply involved story, losing them means not only one less party option, but losing a chunk of the story along with them. Make good decisions. The lives of your friends may depend on it.    

Harshness Rating: Buckets of Tears

sonic game over

Admit it, old schoolers: you’re hearing the music right now.

It’s Game Over, Man

Ah, the old school standard. You’ve got a long stretch of challenges laid out before you and a limited amount of lives at best to get it done. When you run out of lives and/or continues, you start all over again. It’s the brutal tried and true method that defined video games for the first two decades when arcades dominated the industry landscape. Consoles followed suit and delivered enduring challenges like Mega Man, Battletoads, and Sonic the Hedgehog.

Back then this was simply how it was so it’s only in hindsight that we realize how goddamn maddening it is to have to start back at square one. It made a lot of sense for an industry dominated by coin-op machines to be unforgiving because more challenge = more quarters = more profit. And with save files not really becoming standard operating procedure until the 90’s it made sense that console games utilized a similar “better luck next time” do-or-die structure for most of their formative years.

Now that we’re all spoiled with checkpoints and anytime saves it’s almost unheard of to wipe out a player’s progress upon dying with the dreaded “Game Over” screen. At worst you repeat a level from the beginning or go back to your last save point. And we’re still pissed about it. Even extremely challenging retro-styles games like Hotline Miami let you take as many runs at a level as you need. There’s just no real market for those kinds of games anymore, but there is at least one holdout that comes to mind.

The Way of the Samurai series drops you into feudal Japan with but one life to live and many possibilities to make your mark on the world, but as the ancient quote says “the way of the samurai is found in death”. If you die, your save file is wiped and you have to start another game from the beginning. And if that’s still not hardcore enough for you, there’s an option to eliminate health bars and make every strike a deathblow. The prospect of a true Game Over is what made gaming so intense in its formative years and I hope at least some piece of that can be carried forward to infuriate future generations.

Harshness Rating: So Many Broken Controllers

persona 4 bad ending

Translation: you are a bad gamer and you should feel bad.

Player, You Have Failed This Game

This is possibly the most dreaded consequence in all of gamedom: the prospect of failing at your appointed task and not finding out until it’s too late, having poured hours into a game and its story. Normally, it’s fairly easy to avoid if you’re a veteran gamer, but having it happen can literally ruin an otherwise glorious experience or at least give a great game a horribly underwhelming finish.

The first game I remember utilizing this was the original Prince of Persia in 1989, where you were tasked with rescuing a princess and given a short time to do it. A literal clock was ticking and if you weren’t fast enough to beat the baddies, avoid the traps, and navigate the levels that was it. The game was hard enough as it was, but the time limit made it seem murderous to somebody like me who routinely gets lost exploring. Doing everything right but still failing and having to start all over was just a bad feeling, but it would get worse in later years as games got longer and the stories more involved.

Games like Ogre Battle set the standard for failing while succeeding in the 90’s with the introduction of multiple endings. In that amazing tactical RPG you not only had to overcome insane military challenges in no-save battles that often lasted for hours each, but you had to abide by extremely strict restrictions (for example, no attacking lower level units) or lose your reputation. If you beat this monumental challenge with a low reputation, you received terrible endings as a reward for your countless hours and wars of attrition. Wing Commander punished failure to complete mission objectives by putting the results of war effort as a whole on your shoulders. If you coasted through the game or just couldn’t get it done, you had a crap ending awaiting you.

In later years, games like Shenmue and Persona 4 would punish you with lame endings if you didn’t meet their occasionally hazy standards. In most games with multiple endings, you almost have to deliberately be a tool to get the bad ending. In Persona 4 you’re almost always under threat of a game over if you don’t take care of business in a timely manner, but when it comes down to the end game, it was extremely easy to get an unsatisfying ending to what was otherwise an incredible story. Heavy Rain sets the gold standard by leaving the murder of a child as punishment for failing to get it together hanging over your head, making the stakes of the story very personal while making it clear that it will carry through with the threat. It’s fair, but still extremely nasty.

We’ve learned over the years to keep as many saves as possible as a safeguard against exactly this sort of thing, but it’s a lesson a lot of us learned the hard way. If you’ve ever poured dozens of hours into a game and gotten tricked into a shit ending with the only option to rectify it being going through the whole thing again it not only sucks, it will literally change the way you approach video games from there on out. Once it happens to you, you will always prepare for the worst with that experience in mind and even seek spoilers online to stop it from happening ever again.

Harsh as they are, game overs are expected in certain kinds of games and character deaths add gravitas to the proceedings while lost progress and earnings are necessary for the sake of challenging the player to do better. But having you miserably fail the game after playing through the entire thing? The only punishment more hardcore would be a game that bricks your whole system. Oh God, I hope I didn’t just give them an idea…

Harshness Rating: Antidepressant Prescription Incoming

Five Ways Umaru-chan is the Ultimate Gamer

As we wind down the home stretch of 2015, it’s a good time to look back on what a great damn year it’s been for geeks and gamers. Fallout 4, The Witcher 3, new Star Wars next week, Undertale, two great Marvel Netflix series, another year of Gamemoir; good times all around. And as always, Japan was ahead of the nerd curve and delivered yet another hit anime celebrating and mocking gamer culture with Himouto! Umaru-chan.

The show is based on a manga about the most popular girl at her high school. Umaru is beautiful, athletic, elegant, academic, loved and admired by all who know her. She literally sparkles. But she’s got a dirty little secret. The word “himouto” denotes a woman who behaves perfectly in public, but turns into a total slob at home. Umaru is a level S otaku, and as soon as she’s out of the public eye she reverts to a bratty, selfish chibi imp who can’t be parted from her hamster hoodie and devotes herself entirely to video games, manga, and the quest for the perfect junk food combination.

The show has captured the heart of the internet with its protagonist’s exaggerated (yet totally relatable) depiction of nerd insanity and it’s another feather in the cap of Japanese pop culture’s increasingly prevalent use of gamer culture. These are five reasons why Umaru-chan’s depiction of the life of a hardcore gamer is on point.

Split Personalityumaru comparison

It’s the central premise of the show that Umaru is a different person in public than she is at home. Only her long-suffering brother knows her dark secret. In the show as soon as she steps over the threshold to her apartment, her beautiful, elegant, sparkling self physically shrinks into the proper woman-child she is on the inside as she pulls out her nerd gear and she immediately begins plotting to spend every minute lazing about, eating crap, and gaming at all costs. Umaru avoids having friends over and when they do show up, they don’t even recognize her in that state, mistaking her for a little sister.

Considering that in Japan otaku culture has been relatively accepted for decades and this is still something people feel the need to conceal even there, you can imagine why American gamers have latched onto this show as quickly as they have. It wasn’t so long ago I was playing my DS in the breakroom at work listening to the meatheads a few tables over talk shit about me “watching cartoons” or “playing Pokemon or some shit” (it was Final Fantasy IV, noobs!). Maybe if they took up a hobby they’d have better things to do than comment on what everybody else does on their own time.

Point is, there is a weird shame associated with gaming in public. As if you’re doing something wrong by having a hobby that isn’t obsessing over which rich people are dating each other. Could somebody be the most popular person at school and be a proud hardcore gamer? Why the hell not? Umaru’s desire to maintain her lovable public facade while secretly indulging the unstated shame of her otaku leanings is the comedic hinge that makes this show swing.       

umaru umr fighting tournamentArcade Dweller

When I think of my formative years, I think of one place: the arcade. Back in the day, the best quality games were only available for a quarter a play as PC’s and consoles couldn’t achieve the same level of graphics and gameplay until around the PlayStation/N64 era. But more than that, the arcade was a place where gamers could gather and socialize. The smell of popcorn and quarters mixed with the cacophony of dozens of gaming machines with the volume cranked and crowd cheering Street Fighter II combatants and the feel of the coin return slots as the quarterless desperately searched each one for the possibility of just one more game. That was the ‘90s for me.

Arcades aren’t really a thing anymore in modern America, but Japan still holds it down, and it’s Umaru’s home away from home. Naturally, she can’t be recognized in public so she wears a masked disguise and goes by the name UMR. Why UMR? Because in the old days if you got a high score in an arcade game, you got the honor of entering your initials (or a 3 letter curse word of your choice) for all to see.

UMR is the scourge of the arcade, making the owners shake in their boots as she masters and exploits the infamous rip-off claw game and leaves with an armful of loot. She also befriends her excessively ambitious and energetic school rival after narrowly “beating” her in a local fighting game tournament, making her social enemy at school her secret gamer friend. Daaaawwww.

Strapping on Her Old Schoolumaru famicon

Any real deal gamer feels the siren song of old school nostalgia from time to time. It doesn’t feel like all that much time has passed since I was marveling at how amazing 16-bit graphics looked, but when I compare them to modern games it feels like I must have been cryogenically frozen for a hundred years. Did we really see that massive an improvement in a mere two decades?

Anyways, as amazing as games look right now (and as crappy-looking as those same games will seem ten years from now) there’s an undeniable charm to the classic ‘80s/‘90s titles minimalistic graphics and music. In one great scene, Umaru pulls out her Famicon and challenges her brother and friend to The Game of Life. The hell? Yeah, they used to make digitized versions of popular board games back then. All of the family fun, none of the cleanup.

You know you’re hardcore when you’re unironically playing an ‘80’s adaptation of a goddamn board game. That’s something so awesome, it would never even have occurred to me. At this point, any gamer not only has to respect this character, they need to worship her. And as young as she is, Umaru’s no nostalgia tourist, either. She knows the secret to 8-bit console cartridge repair passed down through the generations: if it doesn’t work, just blow in the bottom. Magic!  

umaru bath castle dsNo Time to Waste

Another nerdtacular moment came when Umaru took a bath while playing her DS wrapped in a plastic baggie, declaring that as a gamer she can’t let a second go to waste. And good god is she right. I’m a little disturbed that my first thought was “why didn’t I ever think of that?” With so many games coming out on all consoles all the time, it’s become impossible to keep up. What I wouldn’t give to have the kind of free time I did when I was that age.

Every weekly PSN sale tempts me and adds to my backlog of unplayed games as I pour dozens of hours into Fallout 4 and ponder how I am ever going to do anything else again while my DVR approaches full capacity. Must. Play. More. Games. But where to find the time? Should I divorce my wife? Disown my son? Sell my house and quit my job? All I really need is an electrical outlet, wi-fi, my PS4, and my portable projector. Everything else is just taking away from valuable gaming time, right?

It’s hard not to love the image of Umaru sleeping with her PSP clutched to her chest too. My son does this sometimes with his iPad on weekends when we let him stay up. He literally plays until he passes out. Is it healthy? Probably not, but if you can’t relate then you ain’t hardcore enough.

Dem Opening Creditsumaru pokemon opening

Himouto! Umaru-chan sets the tone right off the bat with its audial and visual depiction of its namesake’s insane lifestyle of choice. It’s a frantic mixture of gaming sights and sounds, homages, and general goofiness involving armies of hamsters (Umaru’s spirit animal, pet, and costume of choice), frenzied J-pop vocals, an all-protagonist dance party (maracas are involved), and of course a brief soft melodic interlude to show off her sweet and suave public persona before her starry-eyed chibi otakuism crashes back in.    

You won’t see a lot of shows or hear a lot of songs that incorporate the sound of Mario dying and you’ve got to love the Pokemon, Mario Kart, and Monster Hunter visuals. The lyrics are pretty much the character’s thoughts singing the praises of doing nothing, eating junk, having video games for friends, and acting like a brat in lieu of telling her brother she loves him.

I’m loving all of the gamer-baiting anime is doing these days. We may be legion, but as far as American media is concerned it’s the legion of the damned so we don’t get a lot of play outside of our own circles. A TV show where an argument between sister and brother is stylized as Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney? Yes please. All hail the animated queen of gamers. Long may she reign.  

Have We Seen the Horrible Future of Game Reviews?

Expressing opinions has always been a risky business, but it’s still a profitable business nonetheless. In the good old days, we had a limited number of publications who paid professional critics to review the latest thing and presumably help readers decide for themselves whether or not any given film/book/restaurant/etc. was worth their time and money. It was cute.

Welcome to the digital age. Now we are dealing with the infinite virtual real estate of cyberspace and its countless opinions and earning capabilities and an endless audience of anonymous people poised to vent their hate upon each other. And now we have Metacritic, ready and willing to deliver all of the reviews for all of the things to you on a single page. It’s a new world, baby. So why is it that all of this now means less than ever? Is it even possible to ascribe credibility to any given review when everybody with a keyboard or a cell phone is desperately posting and reposting every thought that enters their head across the net in an attempt to your attention by any means necessary?

rihanna chris riotta tweet shit happens

The author’s official response. Seriously.

What brought on this round of steady thinkin’ wasn’t Gamergate (thank god) or any other movement out to change the world (or at least the parts of it that matter the least), but a recent accidental leaking of Mic’s review template for a Rihanna album that hadn’t been released yet. That is to say they wrote an analysis of music they had never heard and just left out a few words and phrases to be filled in by whatever song/music service/lyrics fit the narrative for the album as they’d constructed it. And considering the increasingly banal output of most mainstream media outlets, this revelation was less of a surprise than I’d have hoped.  

This isn’t directly relevant to gaming, but what happens to older media will almost certainly happen to newer media if it hasn’t already, especially in a time where information is transmitted instantly across the entire world and everybody wants to be the first to soak up those page views. This is even more true in the tech-savvy and….mmmmm…. let’s say “occasionally overly passionate” gamer culture. So the question has been raised again: do reviews even matter? Like, at all? And should they?”

Obviously, the answer on a financial level is yes. Sites post these things because people read them. Publishers give bonuses to devs when their game achieves a high Metacritic rating, and gamers come out in droves to tear down any game that displeases them in the slightest manner by bombarding sites with bad user reviews while Youtubers make a living posting videos dissecting every aspect of releases old and new, so clearly the perception is that these things matter. At the end of the day, people are making a lot of money and getting a lot of attention doing this.

But consider the cultures of various forms of entertainment. Being a geek of all trades, I can’t help but notice that reviewing patterns differ greatly from one medium to another, and the results have become highly predictable. Often disturbingly so. Metacritic has often been lambasted for bringing review culture to a new disposable low, but they’re just the messenger. Each writer or publication is responsible for their own output. When “shit” like this happens it’s because they created it. Regardless of our personal interpretations of it impact on popular culture Metacritic is a great resource for tracking mainstream entertainment trends. So let’s take advantage and have a quick look at what gaming looks like compared to other entertainment media right now.

On the surface, game reviews seem to be striking a decent balance at the moment. At any point in time there are a lot of average scores, several good scores, a few great ones, and some stinkers. But when dealing with unimpressive AAA titles it does seem like the scores level out somewhat and magically dodge lower ratings while a lot of decent smaller games of comparable quality get the full brunt of the critical shaft.

Music is the oldest form of popular media, arguably the most subjective, and the least impressive when you look at the state of its critics. A glance at Metacritic confirms an intensely blase critical landscape where almost every release is within the same score range and the content of the reviews often say nothing of genuine artistic relevance. The only really highly rated albums are reissues of bonafide classics (which typically got lackluster reviews as well in their day) and the relatively low-rated albums are usually reserved for older flash-in-the-pan artists with limited followings. Everything else is almost custom-designed not to offend either the fans or the haters, as if they’re all looking for new ways of saying “it’s good if you like it, but not all that if you don’t”. It’s no wonder some sites feel comfortable using review templates.

metacritic games movies

Noncommittally positive ratings for CoD and Assassin’s Creed. How scintillating.

The film industry, on the other hand, seems to inspire elitism in critical circles, with a broad range of criticisms both objective and subjective. Some movies are so widely hated they will literally get a single digit average rating, others are endlessly applauded regardless of mainstream visibility, and most will have mixed results. You may not agree with any given review, but at least actual opinions are expressed with little regard for popular tastes. Film as a popular art is a little over a century old and the critical expectations and trends are pretty well established, for better or worse. It’ll be interesting to see if it follows suit and tips the balance further towards irrelevance in the future.

And that brings us back to video games. As an art form, it’s still finding its footing, so it’s not crazy that the state of its journalism is in flux. Sites rely on reviewing new releases, which relies on receiving early copies of a game from the publishers. And if you trash their games, they’re less likely to want to provide you with one. You can listen to an album or watch a movie in a couple hours tops, but most big games require a substantial commitment of time to explore and understand the mechanics and story so waiting until release day is hardly an option. The likelihood of somebody using impressions garnered from beta releases, demos, and past releases in the franchise to write a pre-review or to brown nose in the name of future professional considerations is much greater in gaming journalism than in other media.

And even putting that aside there’s the fans. The rabid, trolling, sanctimonious, Poe’s law invoking, death threating, fanboying fans. God bless them. God bless them to Hell. Even writing a well-thought-out opinionated-yet-objective masterpiece of digital entertainment analysis is going to bring on the hate either from lovers or haters of any given game or company. Could this possibly skew journalists’ content? Of course. Not everybody understands that when you guys threaten to murder people and their families in an AIDS fire because they loved the last GTA more or less than you did for any reason it just means you care. It’s like a digital hug (or at least an awkward unwanted grope).

Films have always been split between art and entertainment, with critics adoring the art and often disregarding the entertainment while fans have done just the opposite and music has insane fans that appear to have driven the state of its critical journalism into complete paralytic impotence. Where does that leave gaming? Games are pure entertainment now aspiring to be interactive art and succeeding more and more often, but in terms of fan passion we are trending hard towards popular music. We can probably expect professional critics to follow suit eventually.

It seems really likely that some gaming site is going to go full Mic at some point in the future if it hasn’t happened already, given the extra pressure that this youngest and most awesome of entertainment mediums places on its long-suffering journalists. As it is, most professional commentators are legit fans following their passion, but eventually that head of steam will run out, the corporate mainstream will have its way, and Gamergate will rise again, this time with complaints that go beyond an obscure female game designer cheating on her boyfriend with a journalist (god, did that whole thing really happen?).

So enjoy it while it lasts, folks. My psychohistory game is strong and I’ve seen the future. Right now we’ve got a vibrant community of sites and publications with frequently strong opinions (be they right or wrong) and that’s something we should relish as we discuss our favorite hobby. But there’s a lot of money to be made there and when corporate America figures us out, they will take us over and the result will be boring. We’ll always have the comments sections and message boards to name call and threaten one another, but in terms of legitimate opinionated professional content our days may be numbered.


mass effect andromeda

[USE AS HEADER IMAGE]

For BioWare fans, it’s been a long wait for [LAUNCH DATE], but Mass Effect: Andromeda is finally here. The latest entry in the beloved sci-fi action-RPG series is another massive space opera that rewards gamers’ patience with [INSERT RELEVANT PHRASE] and expands upon the themes of previous Mass Effect titles while successfully integrating [NEW MECHANIC STOLEN FROM ANOTHER GAME] with a new sheen of polish on the familiar tactical RPG-shooter mechanics that have defined the franchise. While some fans may miss the [FEATURE  FROM PREVIOUS GAME NOT PRESENT IN THIS ONE] and others will decry the launch day DLC, the sheer scope of the game is overwhelming and epic sequences like [LARGE-SCALE ACTION SCENE] are artfully contrasted with small personal moments that raise the emotional stakes even beyond the destruction of the universe. Scenes like [TEAR-JERKING MOMENT] are the kind of moments that make me proud to be a gamer and that’s where Andromeda really shines.

You weren’t supposed to see that. Whoops.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯      

Getting Into Character With Telltale’s Game of Thrones

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“The truth that will kill you

The power in lies

The Lords of the Rock claim

You win or you die.”

-Anthrax

If you’ve managed to pry yourself off of Fallout 4 long enough to play the first season conclusion of Game of Thrones, The Ice Dragon, congratulations (and maybe condolences?). I appreciate you taking a minute from picking your guts and pieces of blown mind off the floor to read this.

Telltale Games has long proven its spot-on dedication to molding itself almost flawlessly to the franchises they adapt to their brand of story-driven interactive fiction, but it wasn’t surprising when some said nay to HBO’s omnipresent dark fantasy based on George R.R. Martin’s ongoing masterpiece A Song of Ice and Fire as Telltale biting off more than they could chew.

Martin’s work represents a new level of detail and complexity in the fantasy genre and writing original stories in that universe that capture the original work is a nearly impossible task. Even Martin himself is barely up to it, taking the better part of a decade to write a single book these days. Factor in the cost of licensing from HBO and paying the star actors for likenesses and voicework and it’s not hard to see how Telltale could have fumbled this. How anybody else certainly would have.     

But on top of kicking out the best story of the year with Tales from the Borderlands -which concluded only lasttelltale game of thrones ramsay snow month- we got six episodes that not only captured the spirit and tone of Game of Thrones (minus the copious sex), but wove a story around the existing narrative incorporating nearly all of the series’ familiar elements into a seamless narrative that runs parallel to the story we all know while being an entirely new experience in and of itself. I don’t know how they do it and maintain such an outstanding level of quality. In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve become a bit of a fanboy.

Game of Thrones sets itself apart from Telltale’s growing and increasingly impressive stable of franchises by putting you in control of not one or two characters, but an entire House fighting for their existence on multiple fronts across Westeros and beyond the Narrow Sea. The result of controlling an entire diverse cast in a variety of settings and circumstances is that rather than projecting my own personality onto the protagonist, I was instead inspired to become them and see the world through their eyes.

You control five different characters representing House Forrester over the course of the narrative, each with their own personalities, struggles, potential allies and enemies, and methods for defending their family and home. While each of them allow for a certain amount of player projection, the variety presented is liable to force gamers to think of things in new ways and perhaps do things they’d never consent to do while playing as themselves.

The Forresters are beset on all sides by various forces orchestrated by a rival House and if you know anything about the books or show, you know that playing nice will possibly be rewarded with your character’s head on a chopping block. Literally. Then again, sometimes not playing nice puts a knife in your back when you least expect it. That damned if do or don’t approach is a big part of what makes the franchise the sensation that it is, and it’s on full display in this story. But this time, you’re calling the shots, making this foray into Martin’s universe that much more engaging.

The harrowing humiliations, the paranoia, the anger, the subterfuge, the alliances and betrayals and brutal satisfaction are all par for the course in Westeros, but no matter what I was expecting, I was taken by surprise time and again as I twisted, turned, and schemed while winding through the ongoing politics and warfare. The ways I reacted to each situation occasionally surprised me. And the results surprised me even more.

telltale game of thrones cersei tyrion miraMy roller coaster ride led me places I never expected to go and put me in situations I’d never want to be in. Some gamers decry that Telltale’s games don’t open up entirely different stories based on each decision you make and all end up more or less in the same predicament regardless of your choices, but the journey is the thing; not the destination. Mario games don’t end differently based on which goombas you stomp or what secrets you discover; it’s the joy of getting there in your own way that makes a game truly worthwhile.

Game of Thrones especially drives this point home by forcing the player deep into their own head to test their mettle time and again when faced with difficult situations. It’s way more than save Person A or save Person B only to have whichever one you chose die shortly after or choose to shoot a stricken character yourself or force somebody else to shoot them like in The Walking Dead. Not that that’s not emotionally engaging and brutal, but this one is a whole new level of nuance in terms of consideration and consequence.  

When playing as the child lord Ethan, the dilemmas of a young boy forced into a seat of power put me into a very different mindset from when I was controlling Mira, a handmaiden at King’s Landing using her feminine arts and tenuous royal connections to pull strings, or Asher, the rightful lord of Ironrath, now a brash exiled sellsword in Meereen. As Ethan, I felt a need to assert authority from a position of weakness while maintaining an aura of benevolence whereas Mira called for social finesse and low-key subterfuge while Asher is a hot-blooded warrior who seemed to demand action.

All six episodes were full of intrigue and violence, but the final chapter is extremely brutal even by dark fantasy standards and yet somehow fulfilling. It pushed me to my psychological limit and saw me lose myself almost completely in the characters, abandoning my personal beliefs at times and choosing to feed into Asher’s aggressive mindset and Mira’s fierce dignity and loyalty over my own concerns as a gamer for the survival of my characters or my real life desire for peace and compromise.

Game of Thrones tested these throughout, but in The Ice Dragon they come to a devastating head as the characters’ world burns down around them. It feels terrible and unfair, but then again, that’s part of the beauty of Martin’s work in the first place. Life isn’t fair and doesn’t subscribe to genre tropes and expectations, and many of the most engaging stories don’t either. And why should they?  

telltale game of thrones end choices

Spoiler alert.

While the player is given a lot of freedom to customize their characterization of the protagonists, the variety of player characters bucks the typical mindset of thinking of them as extensions of yourself and playing them accordingly. And that, more than anything else is what made this such an outstanding work, even among Telltale’s other triumphs. Minor thematic spoilers follow.

I felt a certain satisfaction as the characters like Tyrion Lannister, Margaery Tyrell, Jon Snow, and Daenerys Targaryen critiqued my characters’ decisions and graded my performance. In spite of the fact that I felt like a complete failure, there was still a glimmer of hope to be found and even some pride. In one excellent foreshadowing scene, two characters have a conversation weighing the philosophy of survival at any cost versus dignity. Given the choice, would you choose to debase yourself beyond any foreseeable redemption because where there is life, there’s opportunity or choose to die and leave a tale of bravery and sacrifice worthy of who you are?

And that’s the question at the end of this journey. As Cersei once said, “when you play the Game of Thrones, you win or you die”, and sometimes, there’s just no way to win. But maybe, just maybe, there’s a way to do both in a sense. You can give your life for something meaningful (even if it’s just to one other person), rather than live as a walking joke; a living trophy on your enemy’s shelf. My arc with one character began as a self-involved quest to get other people to fight my family’s battle, but over the course of the triumphs and tribulations they were caught like a rat in a trap and chose to sacrifice themself almost for the singular purpose of bettering somebody else’s life. A small gesture, but any gesture that makes this crap world a little bit less crap has to count as a win, especially coming from someone whose own ship is sinking.

Gamer Nick knows these are only virtual people and a dead player character is no good to anyone, but my character chose to believe instead in faithfulness and friendship when they were at the end of their rope. And that’s a sign of great interactive fiction: when the characters almost take on a life of their own and can compel a gamer to work against their own best interests. I’m far from sure that I made the best choices for these characters, but I do know that even if the proposed second season never comes I left behind a story that I won’t be forgetting anytime soon, and that’s what conclusively makes Telltale’s Game of Thrones the best companion to the show and books for my money.

Lost in the Wasteland: Five Features That Are Missing in Fallout 4

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All right, we’ve all had time to bask in the glory of Bethesda’s latest digital life-consuming menace and weigh the insane hype and expectations against the finished product. The verdict is positive all around (barring the expected internet trolls) and while it’s not the surefire runaway winner for Game of the Year we were expecting after E3 thanks to an extremely great lineup of games in 2015, it is still arguably the single most addictive gaming experience there is.

That said, Fallout 4 could have been better. Even barring the occasionally last gen visuals, typical bugs and glitches, and dodgy controls there is room for improvement. Normally, that’s a pretty impotent criticism, but in this case the issue is that recent Fallout titles have had some rock solid features that have been stripped from the latest installment. Some of are assuredly decisions made in an attempt to mainstream their next big thing to make it more accessible to non-RPGers, some are possibly oversights, and others are just baffling. Here are five that I miss.

Gear Maintenance

fallout 3 repair maintenance pip boy

This is one feature that isn’t going to be missed by everyone, but for those of us who treat our open world RPG’s like second lives where we enjoy the challenges of struggling for survival, it’s an immediately noticeable annoyance. In previous games gear would degenerate with use and by taking damage, making it vital for players to pay attention and keep their stuff in working order.

Needing to repair and maintain your gear weighed heavily on the economics of previous games and made it profitable and worthwhile to invest points in perks that allowed you to use parts from similar gear to repair your favorite weapons and armour in Fallout 3 and New Vegas rather than burn money. You could also repair looted gear to sell at a premium price, increasing profits and lightening your load at the same time.

But I think what I miss the most is not being able to target enemies’ weaponry in VATS so you could shoot the gun out of their hand Wild West style. If you saw a particularly tough super mutant with a rocket launcher in play, you could snipe it and make it unusable to level the playing field a bit, but doing so would render it almost useless to sell so you had to weigh options. Weapon and armour degradation added an extra layer of strategy to the game in several areas and often forced players to improvise when their preferred gear got damaged, which makes for some harrowing but satisfying Wasteland survival experiences.

Rest assured that this feature was eliminated to make Fallout 4 more palatable to inexperienced gamers. After Witcher 3, this is the first massive RPG made specifically for next-gen hardware and it’s been rightfully hyped to the gills. There’s already an overwhelming crafting and modding system in place that we’re still wrapping our heads around and I figure Bethesda decided that gear maintenance would be one step further than a lot of gamers would want to go. Crafting and settlement building were somewhat optional, after all, whereas gear is an absolute necessity. But personally, I miss the immersive effect of having to care for my weapons and armour. And speaking of optional features and immersion…

Hardcore Mode

fallout new vegas hardcore mode

Them not recommending it just makes me want to play it more.

Fallout: New Vegas was heralded by some naysayers as a glorified expansion of Fallout 3, which was itself seen as a betrayal of the earlier games due to Bethesda taking over the franchise and using the same engine as their Elder Scrolls games to make it feel more like “Oblivion with guns” than a proper Fallout title. Well, Obsidian Entertainment took the reins for New Vegas, and they were formed from the series’ original developers from Interplay Entertainment. Although it still used the same engine, a lot of gamers preferred the personality of New Vegas and its new addition, hardcore mode.

Hardcore mode ratcheted up the immersion of the Wasteland survival experience by forcing players to eat, drink, and sleep. it also added weight to previously endlessly stockpileable ammunition, making you really think about what to bring and how much before you set out. In addition, stimpacks and sleep didn’t magically heal crippled limbs; you had to see a doctor or have very specific items.

Again, a lot of gamers might be thinking “who the hell would want THAT?” but it’s called “hardcore mode” for a reason. Fallout is often at its best when you’re struggling for survival in a desolate nuclear desert making due with whatever you can scavenge or steal. Most of the numerous culinary items just clog up your inventory in the regular games, and guzzling water, injecting stimpacks, and eating iguanas on sticks to heal your wounds meant you didn’t need to bother resting at all.

Experiencing human weaknesses in a video game isn’t something we deal with often, but in games like this I feel like more realism is better, even when fighting giant fire-breathing ants and terrifying mutated chameleon monsters with a portable nuclear missile launcher. Maybe Bethesda figured the audience for this was too small or they were salty because a lot of gamers liked New Vegas more than theirs, but this option isn’t in the new game. They could have thrown gear maintenance into it as well for the sake of the dedicated survivalists out there, but instead we got nothing. Except for the awesome core game, that is. #firstworldgamerproblems

Enemy/NPC Indicators on HUD

fallout 3 ghouls enemies hud

Hey, this guy’s looking at our red ticks on his HUD! Let’s get him, boys!

I guess I can understand why the above features were cut, but if you’re going to make things easier for new gamers, why make it so much harder to find NPC’s? In previous games, you could detect enemies as red ticks on your Heads Up Display’s compass, helping orient yourself to potential threats. This was particularly helpful because enemies can be hard to spot amongst the endless landscapes and limited colour palette presented by modern Fallout games, but they will certainly see you and be on you in instant if you aren’t careful.

Raising your perception stat was a great help in the previous games because it improved your automatic enemy detection capabilities, but now that’s gone. Enemies still show up at times in Fallout 4, but I have yet to determine how or why. It seems like they only show up on your HUD after they’ve detected you, but sometimes they don’t show up then either. It seems annoyingly random and unhelpful and now I have to constantly tap the VATS button to detect enemies in time to take action before they attack.

Previously, allies would show up as green ticks on your compass, making it easy to see who was friend and foe. Now you have to go into VATS to see if they will attack or not (green health bar means friend, and red means foe). Not only that, but it can often be a pain to locate your partner or other NPC’s in your settlements, who are prone to wandering and shacking up in random structures out of sight. In the old games, you’d see a green tick on your HUD and would know where to look, but now you have to either check every nook and cranny and hope you get lucky or ring a bell to bring the entire town slowly ambling your way. Annoying.

Companion Wheel

fallout new vegas companion wheel

The words say “open inventory”, but the picture says “carry all my shit”. Nice touch.

In addition to making it harder to locate your companions, Fallout 4 unnecessarily makes it more of a challenge to control them as well. New Vegas had a simple and elegant companion wheel which allowed you to easily issue commands on the fly whether it was to trade items, give you some space, kill all opposition on sight or follow your lead, use ranged or melee attacks, stimpack, etc. It was a fast and intuitive way to get your companion to behave however you wanted them to behave.

Bethesda took a big step back in forcing you to engage your partner in conversation trees for every little thing. Good luck issuing commands mid-battle ever. You have to walk up to them, activate them, wait for their response, aim right at them, and then attempt to point them at the thing you want and hope nothing is in the way. And if you want them to switch to melee or ranged attacks, you need to go into their inventory and personally equip them with the weapon you want them to use.

But the worst part by far is the fact that they’re clingy as HELL. They want to be right up in your personal space whenever you’re out in the field. Want to snipe an enemy? They want to be in front of your scope. Looting bodies? They want to stand on those bodies so your cursor picks them up instead. Walking down a tight hallway? Sorry, they’re standing there. Try jumping over them over something. It’s like owning a cat without the cuteness (okay, Curie is pretty cute). The whole interface is a huge step back for the series. I can see leaving out something like hardcore mode as a niche addition by another dev, but bringing something as important as companion interaction back to what seems like the stone age makes no sense.    

Grenades in VATS  

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Cue Wilhelm scream.

I love Bethesda and all of their works, but any way you look at it the physics are notoriously janky in their games. That means that throwing explosives can be a bit…clumsy. Clumsy like “you’ll probably die if it’s not a wide open area” clumsy. Something as simple as tossing a grenade to clear a room becomes a gamble. For every time you pull it off, there’s three times you’re either gunned or rushed down trying to line up a proper throw standing in the middle of the doorway or dying stupidly because the grenade bounced off of the door frame or hit the ceiling, your idiot companion, or something else and blew you up instead.

In previous games, your good friend VATS had your back and you could place your explosive device right where you wanted it to be: at your foes’ feet. I don’t know why this is no longer possible, but it’s a horrible oversight. The grenades could at least go where you’re aiming in real time, but no. You just have to huck it in their general direction and hope it lands somewhere near them and doesn’t somehow end up killing you. I spent an embarrassing amount of time trying everything I could think of to throw a grenade in VATS, thinking I was just too dumb to figure it out because no way would they take such an essential ability out for no reason. But nope. Well I am dumb, but they did take it out.

Not that the grenades never work right and you can’t learn to compensate and use them effectively in most situations. There is a perk that will allow you to see the arc of your throw, but it’s still a remarkably clumsy endeavor. The fact that the throwing mechanic is so unwieldy to begin with probably makes Fallout 4 seem more outdated than any single other aspect and thinking about why Bethesda took out the ability to use VATS to circumvent this issue hurts my brain.

It’s an amazing game – probably the best RPG we’ve seen in ages- and we will be playing this and loving it for a long time, but it’s still frustrating that so many cool and helpful features were removed that could have made Fallout 4 the unquestioned pinnable of the genre instead of a brilliant game with some significant and unnecessary frustrations tacked on.  

I, Monster: Five Modern Games that Let You Unleash Your Inner Beast

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“I know always that I am an outsider; a stranger in this century and among those who are still men. This I have known ever since I stretched out my fingers to the abomination within that great gilded frame; stretched out my fingers and touched a cold and unyielding surface of polished glass.”

 -H.P. Lovecraft

One great thing about video games is it affords anybody the ability to be anything and do anything free from the consequences and hassles of harsh reality. You can be an invincible hero saving the world while romancing sexy aliens, you can enter fighting tournaments to throw fireballs at people and rip them limb from limb when you’re done, you can gamble without losing your life savings, or just chill out and solve some puzzles with no clean up. Whatever you’re into, there’s probably a game about it.

Well, you know what I like? Monsters. It’s been true since I was old enough to watch Universal horror and kaiju flicks on Saturday afternoon matinees and worry my parents by finding every last book about monster folklore in the library and refusing to leave until the let me check it out. I’ve also been obsessed with the idea of being one of those monsters; some misunderstood abomination doomed to hunt and destroy to survive in a world and society made exclusively for humans.

The above quote is from “The Outsider”, a story where a lost and confused protagonist seeks connection only to see every human run away from him before finally happening upon a mirror and realizing he’s the embodiment of human nightmares. I wonder if a monster ever really knows it’s a monster. It’s something I’ve always sought to experience in a video game, but the industry has been shockingly uncooperative when it comes to letting gamers experience life as a creature of darkness. At best, you can be a monster fighting other monsters, but that’s just not the same. Here are five games that are exceptions to the rule and let the player really get in character as a monster facing off with the most dangerous game.

Left 4 Dead

left 4 dead versus

One of the best co-op titles of all time, this zombie apocalypse shooter game really sang for me with its PvP Versus mode, which took the four-player campaign levels and then pitted four players against them controlling the “special infected” alongside the typical runners.

The special infected are mutated with special predatory abilities which, used strategically, give human players fits. For instance smokers have insanely long tongues they can use to snag players and drag them away from the group, boomers can spew bile all over them that immediately attracts a horde of runners, and the tank was just a massive moving wall of death.

Left 4 Dead’s focus on strategy and balance as well as its AI-governed procedural level augmentation made every game a surprise and a challenge, whether you were an infected looking for an opening against well-armed opponents on their guards, or a human just trying to make it to the end of the stage against all odds.

Playing as the monster was a big part of what made it one of my favorite shooter experiences ever. Shooting zombies is always fun, but we can do that any old time. Being the zombie avoiding the bullets and sneaking up on other players to ruin their night by puking on them or slicing them to ribbons while their buddies panic around the corner is so much more satisfying.

Poltergeist: A Pixelated Horror

poltergeist pixelated horror

Another thing I’ve always wanted to do is play as a ghost scaring virtual people. This has been done in the past with Haunting Starring Polterguy for the Sega Genesis, but I had a SNES so boo. Beyond: Two Souls gave us a little taste last gen, but it was far more focused on interactive human drama than on the awesome possibilities of playing as a spirit. Last year, a retro indie title brought the concept back as a charming horror-themed puzzle game so I finally got my ghostly fun fix.

Poltergeist puts the player in the shoes of a spirit with some territorial issues, making it his business to expel any and all residents throughout various eras. Each level is essentially a puzzle where you use your limited allocated abilities to maximum effect and frighten every living thing out of there.

Everything from tossing appliances around to manifesting spectres, demonic possession, chasing people around with summoned hellhounds, and sucking them into alternate dimensions is possible, but the humans can fight back with ghostbusters, priests, mediums, and bosses to neutralize your fear-inducing powers. Finding the solutions is a good time and the 16-bit style makes it both cute and affordable. For right now it’s the best ghost simulator we’ve got.

Gears of War: Judgment

gears of war judgement overrun

Gears is a series defined by massive marines chainsawing and shotgunning through monster guts. In multiplayer, one team gets to play as the Locusts, but since the two sides play exactly the same, it doesn’t make a difference. The third game introduced Beast Mode, which allowed players to play as some of the other creatures from the campaign against human AI bots, but it was shallow and brief.

The post-trilogy prequel game, Judgment, did it several times better with its multiplayer Overrun game, which took a page from L4D and pitted player-controlled humans defending a base against player-controlled monsters attempting to destroy it. The result was a massive bright spot in what was otherwise a disappointing misstep that took the game away from its roots and eliminated the beloved cooperative masterpiece Horde mode.

While humans had different classes to choose from, the real fun was, of course, in playing as the various monsters, with stronger breeds becoming available the more damage you do. Sure, boring old Locusts with guns were available, but wouldn’t you rather be a burrowing corpser spider, an unstoppable berserker, or an acid-spitting serapede? Hell yeah, you would. Or I would anyway. I played a ton of every kind of Gears online ever since the franchise’s inception and I have to say that 90% of my time with Judgment was spent in this one facet of the game’s multiplayer.  Strategizing and cooperating to use your monstrous abilities to take down heavily armed and fortified humans was the only thing that made this game great.  

Stubbs the Zombie in Rebel Without a Pulse

stubbs the zombie

I may be stretching the definition of “modern” a little here since this originally came out on the original Xbox, but it’s only been ten years and any excuse to point out how awesome this game is and lament the lack of a sequel or spiritual successor is a good one. Stubbs the Zombie is a game where you play as the titular shambling zombie, and it’s the only proper undead plague simulator I’ve ever played.

The name of the game is eating people’s brains as you go full Romero rampaging through country farmhouses and taking on the American military with the occasional 60’s pop dance-off. Every human you bite rises again as your minion and as you evolve, you gain a variety of helpful abilities like using your internal organs as infectious hand grenades and detaching your hand to skitter behind enemy lines and take control of enemies’ minds.

Needless to say the game is fun as hell. It’s pretty cartoonish and filled with humor (although still somehow controversial), but at the same time it does a great job of letting you experience life as a zombie bent on spreading your plague. The creativity inspired by Stubbs’ abilities and the level designs alone made Rebel Without a Pulse a must for any gamer, and doubly for anyone who’s ever felt a desire to kill all humans.

Evolve

evolve kraken

When Left 4 Dead co-developers Turtle Rock Studios split from Valve and abandoned the franchise after two games in one year, what they came up with next was essentially the ultimate monster versus human simulator. Like the zombie co-op title, the gameplay revolves around a team of players facing off against a player-controlled menace, but this time it’s four against one.

Evolve puts pressure on both teams with human classes relying on each other to stand a chance against the monster’s overwhelming power and the monster usually being forced to flee in early stages of the match to consume enough wildlife to evolve to higher levels while being hunted by a team whose only goal is to track and kill them. It’s a very different experience from…well anything else.

I have to admit that I really loved playing as various classes in this game. Whereas L4D was more of a “go through the motions until I get to be a monster again” experience online after a certain point since every human character was the same, in Evolve it was not only fun to evade and trick puny humans while stuffing my ugly face and circling around to slip past my pursuers, but it was also really fun and rewarding to play as a tracker using different abilities and signs to ferret out and trap the fleeing beast, manage healing, buffs, and debuffs, call in airstrikes, or just fill that oversized freak with lead while evading with your jetpack or active camouflage.

That said, it was still cooler to be the monster at the end of the day. Leveling up your various abilities and devising strategies using them to take the team down one by one or all at once with your beast of choice was as fun as it was challenging. With multiple monsters possessing abilities like flight, teleportation, and projectile attacks as well as heavy durability going for you, it’s hard not to feel like a badass as the hunters scurry from your assault like so many rats. It’s less badass when they successfully cooperate to frustrate and take you down, but still a good time.    

Five Games that Are Challenging Fallout 4 for Game of the Year Honors

goty

I’ll go ahead and admit this right now: after E3 I pretty much wrote 2015 off as the Year of Fallout 4. I mean, seriously; what was going to compete with THAT? But now that release day is here and we’ve had several more months of gaming to catch up on the year’s best before the November 10 nuke drop, I’ve noticed that this has been one hell of a year.

Even if Fallout 4 lives up to the insane expectations Bethesda created with their E3 presentation to be 2015’s Game of the Year (and reviews indicate that it does), there’s a ton of competition out there. And even pretending AAA blockbusters like Assassins Creed, Call of Duty, and Halo are no longer relevant (and we are), there’s no sure victory.

It’s been a monumentally great year for video games on every platform from massive releases down to the indie sleeper hits. These are just five of the many deathclaws and behemoths in 2015’s gaming Wasteland that could spoil Bethesda’s year-end victory party if their latest post-apocalyptic open world epic makes any missteps.

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Painmetal gear solid v snake

Upon release, Konami’s latest masterpiece of tactical insanity collected near-perfect scores almost across the board with game critics and sits at 93 on Metacritic, the highest rated console game of the year. That is going to make it a tough act to beat by itself.

Fans discussed the game as art, analyzing tiny details in search of metaphorical and philosophical meaning in its crazy narrative and critics praised the massive open world freedom and top rate production values that somehow retain the bizarre and personal feel of an indie title thanks to the deft guiding hands of series creator Hideo Kojima.

There was sexism controversy, cries of betrayal from long time fans (due to the game’s relative lack of the film-length cutscenes that have long been a MGS hallmark), and a successful online component to assure that all AAA bases were covered in terms of both gameplay and community discussion. One way or another, if you were a gamer in late 2015 you were bumping up against this game.   

With this being the official swan song of one of the most revered and discussed creators in gaming and the culmination of a long-running and acclaimed series, this game has a sentimental factor and a rabid fanbase going for it as we hurtle towards the end of the year awards. If you ask Konami’s marketing executive, The Phantom Pain is the undisputed Game of the Year and “the most engrossing and stunning game of the year.” But there may be a conflict of interest there so humor me a little and read the rest of the list, ‘kay?

Undertale

undertale game show

This is the little RPG that could. An independent PC release that will hopefully make it to consoles one day, Undertale is that rare game that can come along and change your entire way of thinking. The graphics ain’t much and the music is nostalgia fuel, but if you have a heart beating in your chest, this game will win you over eventually, one way or another. If charm and sheer creativity were the only factors in making a great game, this would be one of the greatest of all time hands down and it’s the only release to score as highly among critics as MGS V this year

It’s a title where the game’s characters occasionally address the player and game elements directly, turn game mechanics to their own advantage, toy relentlessly with the gamer’s expectations, and test them in ways they’ve never been tested by a game before. And arguably more so than any other game, the story really does depend on your actions. That is to say you can play Undertale as a typical RPG where you kill the monsters that bar your path and turn it into the story of an unstoppable genocidal maniac, you can look for non-violent solutions to your problems and have a heartwarming story of friendship, or do a little of each for a different outcome yet.

Even taking the creative mechanics, the mind-melting metafiction, and the groundbreaking philosophical concepts aside, the humor of the game by itself has led to an endless supply of fanart and memes dedicated to the various characters and moments that will permeate your journey depending on your choices. If this game had been released in the 90’s, it’d likely be remembered as one of the greatest RPG’s of all time so as dark horse GOTY candidates go, Undertale is filled with determination.

Tales from the Borderlandstales from borderlands rhys sasha

It’s been three years since Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead aimed for gamers’ heads (and hearts) and laid the competition to rest to garner near-universal Game of the Year awards in 2013. Since then, the indie studio has been the toast of the interactive fiction sub-genre, delivering a constant stream of quality stories immersing us in the worlds of Game of Thrones, Fables, Minecraft, and Borderlands.

That last one I’ve got to admit I wasn’t expecting much from. Borderlands is a great RPG/FPS hybrid with a sick sense of humor, but madcap fun is kind of the whole point and it’s largely considered a co-op title to boot. What’re the odds that adapting it as essentially a sequence of playable cutscenes would be amazing?

Oh, me of little faith. Telltale once again proved their uncanny knack for capturing the tone and essence of any property perfectly and combined all of the best aspects of their previous games into an interactive fiction experience that I would describe as just about perfect. I have literally no complaints or practical ideas about how that story could have been better, and that is a rare, rare thing.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

witcher 3 fiend

This is probably the biggest competitor right now and has remained effortlessly at the head of the pack for most of the year. CD Projekt RED’s dark fantasy action-RPG is one of the most massive and epic RPG’s ever created. If you don’t put a hundred hours into this one, you aren’t trying, and odds are, you’ll enjoy every minute.

While there is no one facet of The Witcher 3 that marks it as the best, it combines the greatest aspects from the best fantasy RPG’s of its time into one glorious experience. It’s got the action combat of Dark Souls, the open world exploration and customization of Elder Scrolls, and the great characters and moral quandary-infused choices of Dragon Age. The parade of free post-launch DLC doesn’t hurt its chances any either.

The conclusion of Geralt of Rivia’s trilogy seldom disappoints and if nothing else, it will give you a hell of a lot to do, a lot of ways to do it, and a great experience getting it done. As gamers what more could we ask for?   

Life is Strangelife is strange tracks

It took most of the year for Dontnod Entertainment to complete the journey they began in January when they released Episode One, but the consensus seems to be it was well worth the wait. Taking pages out of Telltale’s book, Life is Strange is another character-based interactive fiction designed to make you laugh, cry, and love.

The innovation here is a helpful one for the genre. In this game, you can rewind time to a certain extent and make different choices if you so choose. This is excellent because it not only saves the player the trouble of resetting the game if they pick a wrong choice or just to see a different outcome, which is a pretty common occurrence while playing through these kinds of games. The kicker is that your choices have a butterfly effect where the consequences are often not seen until some time later, meaning that what seemed right at the time may have unforeseen consequences down the line.

Life is Strange’s stylish hand-painted art capturing the beauty of the Pacific Northwest, memorable characters, emotional twists and turns, slice of life approach to story, and metaphorical journey into the human psyche have earned it industry accolades and fan devotion alike. It’s crazy to think that publishers demanded the game’s pivotal duo of Max and Chloe be changed to male protagonists, but Dontnod deserves credit for fighting for their characters and delivering the story they wanted to tell.

A great addition to a growing genre that further shows why gaming’s interactive elements can and will see it surpass film and television as the visual story medium of choice. In fact, all of these games kind of do that. 2015 has been a banner year for quality gaming all around. Fallout 4 has got a lot to live up to if it’s going to come out on top of this heap.

The Unbroken Circle: Five Modern Games with Folk Songs as Themes

folk

Music and gaming have gone hand in hand ever since gaming became an industry. Every kid who grew up in the 80’s likely has a mental library of classic video game theme music that they’ll carry with them until the day they die. You know the ones I’m talking about. But time moves ever onward, games are so much more now than they were, and the catchy jingles that defined yesteryear don’t really cut it anymore.

AAA games are now expected to come with their own amazing scores and soundtracks to match the best film and television have to offer, and most of the time they are up to the task. No more computery melodies of bleeps and bloops to infest our brains, we’ve got full on sweeping orchestral scores and popular music to heighten the moments and propel us to action in modern video games.

Sooner or later, every kind of entertainment has to come full circle and arrive back to the beginning of art as entertainment: folk music. First it made a comeback in popular music in the 60’s protest era and again recently with bands like Mumford and Sons. Movies -particularly indie films- have often used it and acclaimed films like O Brother Where Art Thou were built around it. Then it was modern television with shows like The Walking Dead leaning on the timeless sound for moments of poignant drama, and now finally we come to video games.

In the last generation of gaming, there have been games that have used folk music to incredible dramatic effect, proving once again that anything film and television can do, gaming can do better. Here are five examples of games using a musical style and songs so old nobody even knows where they came from to bring interactive entertainment into the dramatic big leagues while making ancient music new again.

Until Dawn

“Well what is this, that I can’t see?

With ice cold hands taking hold of me

When God is gone and the Devil takes hold

Who’ll have mercy on my soul?”

The opening credit sequence for the this year’s interactive horror story of choice uses a reworked version of the traditional (which is short form for “so old we don’t know who wrote it or when”) ballad “O Death”, which was originally recorded in the 1920’s.

The song a natural fit for acoustic blues, but the way it’s used in Until Dawn is particularly effective and brings it into the modern era nicely. A pulse pounding rhythm escalates throughout the song ha classical vocals and initially sparse orchestral instrumentation swoop in and out. The verses accompanied by various thematic images are interrupted by an introductory cutscene setting the stage for the story before returning to the song for the finale, making the journey ahead feel epic before it even properly begins.

As credit sequences go, you can hardly do better (unless you are Tales from the Borderlands) and the choice of song couldn’t have been more spot on. The sound of a beautiful feminine voice pleading for her life with the grim reaper is a good place to start off after the opening sequence where you see two teenage girls driven to their deaths. And with death seeming to lurk around the corner of every decision you make in the story, the lyrics are incredibly fitting.

The Walking Dead: Season 1

“All that we have known will be an echo

Of days when love was true

Muted voices just beyond

The silent surface of what has gone”

The finale for Telltale Games’ breakthrough hit series based on the unstoppable multimedia franchise that began life (undeath?) as an independent black-and-white comic put the small dev right in among the AAA heavyweights. A video game that can make grown men admit to crying is a video game that gets people’s attention, and even if you resisted the innumerable atrocities and tragedies thrown at you in the first four episodes, if that finale didn’t break you the you were already broken to begin with.

The song, Alela Diane’s “Take Us Back” isn’t an old song, but it sounds like it is. It could have come from literally any period of human history, its themes and melody are so universal and timeless. But in this context the lyrics embody the wistfulness of a ruined world ruled by the dead; a shadow of a time when humanity meant something.

It’s one thing to be born into a world of shit, but to be that first generation living with the memory of a once-thriving society and trying to find the hope to go on…it’s almost overwhelming to try and process what that must feel like. But after hearing “Take Us Back” over the closing credits of this remarkable work of interactive art, I know exactly what it sounds like.

Red Dead Redemption

“Step in front of a runaway train just to feel alive again

Pushing forward through the night, aching just to blow aside

It’s so far, so far away”

The best moment in Rockstar Games’ definitive tale of the death of the Old West isn’t dragging lassoed bandits through town tied to your horse, winning a quickdraw duel, or engaging in epic shootouts. It’s something undefinable that could only truly be experienced in a video game.

“Far Away” by Swedish-born singer-songwriter Jose Gonzalez takes the most basic function of an open world game and transforms it into a poignant, meditative moment of moody intangible beauty. If you ever needed an example of how music can utterly transform your perception of a scene, then John Marston’s long ride into Mexico is it.

While you, the player, is pretty much just directing your horse towards your destination the way you’ve done over and over while traveling hither and thither the whole game. During this turning point in the story, you get on your horse to ride into uncharted (by you, at least) territory and this gorgeous fingerpicked guitar is suddenly accompanying your journey as you gallop past the river colored by the gorgeous sunset.

The beautiful scenery and haunting music combine to make the most mundane of open-world gaming chores magical, and the lyrics naturally mirror Marston’s journey as well. There aren’t many lines in the song, but with the recklessness of your hero’s quest to do whatever it takes to leave his past behind, both the player and the character understand on some subconscious level that the past is something you are never free or clear from. The song suggests this as well, painting the story of a man so weary he’s not sure if he’s working towards a true goal anymore or just trying to find a way to finally die. No matter how far he goes or how hard he tries, his dream of a peaceful life is always far away.

The Walking Dead: Season 2

“Little girl, little girl, don’t lie to me

Tell me where did you sleep last night?

In the pines, in the pines, where the sun never shines

You shiver the whole night through.”

Nothing says success quite like an encore. Telltale didn’t waste much time in expanding their smash hit into a second season, passing the protagonist’s torch to the young girl players spent the first season protecting. And given the glorious feels and universal praise for their use of music at the end of that first season, they decided to expand on that and use songs at the end of each episode.

As with before, the wistfulness of folk music wins the day and provides gamers with a few minutes to reflect on what they’ve just been through emotionally. Most of the tracks are from a band named Anadel with their highlight being “In the Water” closing the first episode with traditional acoustic folk to set the tone. Other episodes feature piano ballads and an instrumental as well, all hauntingly lovely tunes.

But my pick for the standout theme of this soundtrack is Episode 2’s closer “In the Pines”, a traditional piece sung by Janel Drewis, but probably best known as a song Nirvana covered during their legendary MTV Unplugged performance. Given the heroine Clementine’s “little girl lost” story in this season as she looks for stable footing while being tossed  from storm to storm, this song sums up that feeling perfectly.

At this point in the story, she’s been lost in the woods scavenging to survive and comes across a band of survivors living in a cabin. The beautiful, protective tone of Drewis’ performance and slow dirge-like pace of the music encapsulates the tragedy of a young girl with nowhere to go in a harsh and indifferent world.

Video contains Season One spoilers.

BioShock Infinite

“Will the circle be unbroken?

By and by, by and by

There’s a better home awaiting

In the sky, oh, in the sky”

BioShock Infinite should get some kind of lifetime achievement award for its groundbreaking use of music in a video game. Specifically, in taking classic songs and using them in way you never would have expected. Everything from the strains of “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” emanating from a mysterious portal to a lone woman singing CCR’s “Fortunate Son” in the style of a traditional slave spiritual as a city in revolt burns around her to a barbershop quartet treating us to the Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows” not only provide musical delight, but build the world of the floating city of Columbia and foreshadow the mind-boggling revelations of the story’s climax.

The masterstroke is the use of the inescapable folk hymn, “Will the Circle Be Unbroken”, originally written in 1907 and rewritten and popularized in the 30’s by the Carter Family as a funeral song celebrating the infinite nature of life, death, and rebirth while mourning the passing of a loved one. Irrational Games used the original lyrics and turned them on their head for BioShock Infinite in a way that’s so brilliant, it hurts my brain. The scene where your character picks up a guitar on a whim and accompanies his charge Elizabeth as she sings the chorus slowly and sweetly while offering some food to a homeless child gave me goosebumps. One of my favorite moments in what I consider one of the best games ever.

What this scene did in a single bar of music was illustrate the theme of the entire game in a context having nothing to do with the lyrics as they were written originally. As we find out later in the story, the game operates on multiverse space-time physics theory and the story itself on an infinite time loop. And given the setting of a city floating in the sky and the general religious bend of its culture, there you have it: an incredibly complicated sci-fi setting and theme summed up in the chorus of an ancient hymn.

Additional themes implied by the song choice is the “all of this has happened before/all of this will happen again” nature of human politics and of oppression and revolution (think Orwell’s Animal Farm) illustrated as a parable within the game’s story. It’s kind of sad that a lot of people so criminally misunderstood it all. That’s a lot of depth in two lines of songs, though, any way you look at it. The game’s closing credits reprise the song in its entirety on a more festive note, showing the two lead voice actors actually recording it in the studio for a truly wonderful credits sequence celebrating a monumental gaming achievement. A beautiful way to end a beautiful game.

And not only does it sum up the themes of the game, but the theme of this article as well. This age-old form of human expression, its timeless songs, and the universal emotions they represent always find their way back to us and always with something new to add. Whether it’s in popular film, television, radio, or video games, folk music is something that people are always going to relate to on some level. So yes, the circle will, in fact, be unbroken, and as long as there are people around to sing it and hear it, there will be folk songs for every occasion.