Twelve million, five hundred fifty thousand, eight hundred twenty-one blocks away, if you want to get technical about it. The name comes from the distance a player must travel in Minecraft to reach ‘The Farlands.’ This is a place where the mathematical rules that control the rendering of the land break down, resulting in spontaneous, foreign, alien features. On top of that, movement becomes aligned to a grid, meaning that the algorithms that smooth out player movement also collapse. Everything feels laggy, although it isn’t. At roughly thirty-two million blocks from the starting point, the variables storing the player’s position overflow. If the game didn’t freeze and crash long before then, the player would likely cease to exist. Such is the ominous nature of the Farlands.

I adopted this name for two reasons. Firstly, the Farlands represent a point at which a game is no longer a game. Defining characteristics are erased, strange and spontaneous problems arise, and things fall apart. In the case of the Farlands, this is caused by events outside of the player’s perception, i.e. the programming and fine-tuning of aesthetics. I adopt this name because, in this blog, I will not simply be reviewing games. I will be picking them apart, defining what about each game makes it a game, and what parts of it fail to meet its own criteria (When it is no longer a game, so to speak.). I will pull apart the inner workings of, not only the aesthetics of the game, but also the psychological effects it has on the player (These would be the ‘events outside of the player’s perception.’). In my reviews, I seek to find the ‘Farlands’ of every game, as well as the reasons behind them.

This is not a video game review blog. This is an insight into the psychological connection and philosophical implication between gaming and the human mind.

For those who are curious, the second reason I chose this name is because Minecraft is pretty fantastic. And I like obscure references to things.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Dishonored: Corvo Attano vs. Gordon Freeman

This was a great, little game, with a good number of parallels to Half-Life. You have The Outsider/G-Man, The main characters end up as vigilantes, the levels are even designed by the same person. But this article here brings up the point of Corvo/Freeman, claiming that he (the designer) has created a better 'silent protagonist' than Half-Life.

I knew right away that you couldn't compare the two, but I wasn't sure why. He states that the other characters talk at/about/around Gordon Freeman, but Corvo's actions speak for themselves and develop his character as the player decides. Basically, Freeman doesn't talk in any way, shape, or form, leading to awkward, one-sided conversations, while Corvo's talking all the time- Just not with words. But that makes Corvo not as much of a 'silent protagonist' as Freeman. He is a character that develops on his own, has his own relationships. Freeman is a vessel for the player, and nothing more.

Thinking back, I never felt any kind of emotional attachment to any of the characters in Half-Life (Aside from a twist of events at the end of HL2:EP2). The game felt very classic, very fun, just "run around and shoot the bad guys." And that's all it really is. It's brilliant, and it's reshaped the FPS genre, but as far as character development goes, there is virtually none, aside from however the player starts feeling about certain characters. There's too much emotional freedom in the game. Personally, I never ended up attached to anyone, or ever felt guilty about shooting people in the head. The game simply isn't built for that reason.

This leaves Gordon Freeman as a very literal vessel. He himself has no character, no role, very little purpose, without a player to control him. He is a shell for the experience of the storyline, yet for an emotional experience within a game, this won't do much.

Corvo, on the other hand, has a very clear character, defined at the very start of the game. He's the lord protector of the empress, clearly, yet as soon as her daughter, Lady Emily, comes running into his arms, so enthusiastically happy that her Corvo is home, a character forms and relationships are solidly established. The Empress herself is displayed as very close to Corvo, and a glimmer of affection is visible. But of course, as the Empress, out in a public area, won't show that. Already, though, we see far more character in Corvo than Freeman ever expressed.

The reason this works is because Corvo's relationships and affection towards those close to him are established before the game starts. How they talk and how they act around him shows this very well, because it is simply an aftermath of things previous. Half-Life, however, attempts to build relationships from the ground up, during gameplay. Realistically, how strong can you expect a relationship to be if it is built from one-sided conversations? Sure, they can portray it happening. They did. But it doesn't feel as strong. It doesn't feel realistic. And throughout all of it, Gordon Freeman does what people tell him. The relationships he ends up in with other characters are simply results of those characters' actions. Very one-sided. No control. No player influence over them.

Another strong point for Dishonored's Corvo is that there is morality. You can murder everyone in cold blood, or exile them, or choke them out and throw them off a bridge. You can chain the High Overseer to a chair and brand him a heretic, or kill him as he hopelessly stares back at you. You can play the game stealthily, killing no one, or rush through, destroying everything in your path. Depending on what you do, and what kind of person you are, there are decisions you can make that will make you feel guilty. Feel bad about what you have done. It forces you to evaluate your actions, or deal with the consequences, and the way Corvo's loved ones talk to you reflect that.

Freeman's story is much different. He's a pawn that everyone else controls, and you, as the player, simply do what they say. There isn't much reward for exploration, either of the map, or of the characters. That wasn't the purpose of the game. The good guys are good, and the bad guys are bad. Shoot the bad, protect the good. It's very classic, very straightforward. It revolutionized the storytelling of first-person shooters, but games have evolved since then.

Corvo is his own character to begin with, with attributes you can change depending on how you play the game. Freeman is a shell, and nothing more. They both serve their purposes very well, but they are fundamentally different. They cannot be compared for this reason.

Now personally, I prefer Corvo, but that is only because I absolutely love the emotional experience that a good game can offer. Dishonored has a touch of that, which does little more than put a smile on my face, but it does make the experience more rewarding for me. But for a truly fantastic emotional journey, there is nothing better than Bioshock 2.

More on that later, perhaps.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Super Meat Boy

The premise of this game is, simply put, weird. The protagonist is a blob of meat, on a quest to save his girlfriend, who happens to be a clump of bandages, from the clutches of a human fetus in a jar. This isn’t a game that is played for the storyline. A bit of appeal may come from the complete insanity of the character interactions, but this is a game that is designed, almost entirely, for the gameplay.

Before I start detailing everything that makes this game good, I must state that this is a maso-core game. What this means is that it is difficult. Ungodly difficult. You will die at least a thousand times. Progress in games such as these is made, not because of skill, but because of tedious repetition, failure after failure, and slowly learning from the mistakes that are made every ten seconds. These games don’t simply require patience; they require a very calm mentality. Maso-core games are notorious for making people want to break things, and Super Meat Boy is no exception. The reason it is so completely difficult to create a good maso-core game is because the genre itself goes against the traditional definition of what is “good.” The learning curve is too steep, the punishment for failure is usually too harsh, and the environment is usually too unforgiving. All of these points are true with Super Meat Boy, but something in it makes it incredibly addicting, which is hard to accomplish when you’re failing every ten seconds.

The graphics are bright; friendly. There are no jagged edges, no harsh outlines. Everything flows together, and it is very pleasing to look at. There are just the right amount of cutscenes. Not so many that it feels more like a movie than a game, but not too few that the gameplay grows monotonous and dry. The humor is dark and cruel. Never before has a game killed off key characters, so nonchalantly, with a happy smile. The game is unique, even within its genre, yet still contains the key components of a maso-core game. It is a mesh of all the things we love in games, and all the things we despise.

Of the things we like, the control reigns supreme. The character moves very smoothly, and, despite this incredibly smooth movement, is still capable of stopping on a dime. It looks and feels like it’ll be difficult to control, as the character tends to slide around, yet a bit of practice makes perfect. After a bit of time, the controls feel great, and the player will feel in complete control of the character.

The beauty of Super Meat Boy is that the things we enjoy tend to shroud the things we don’t. For example, the character leaves a trail of blood everywhere he goes. Dying and restarting the level is bothersome, but painting the entire map is strangely entertaining. If you aren’t fond of the blood, there’s always the replay. Upon completing a level, your efforts, all of your failed ones and your single success, are replayed at the same time. What starts as a massive mob of meat boys dwindles down to the one that successfully makes it. And this is another fun thing to watch; to be able to say “despite all those deaths, I still made it. I still won.” It lifts you up. The knowledge that you are capable of starting at nothing and conquering every obstacle is very encouraging. So you beat one level, and it felt great. Now beat another. And another. And another. Before you know it, you’re lost in the game. A death is just “another way not to make a light bulb,” so to speak. And you learn this.

That being said, the game will still anger players. Everyone has a breaking point, especially in a game such as this. You’ll put the game down, you’ll swear it’s all crap, you’ll claim you’re done with it. And yet, you’ll go back. You’ll beat the level that caused you all that anger, and you’ll keep playing.

This is muscle memory. This is evidence of the effectiveness of practice. While playing through a particularly difficult level, you will find yourself getting farther and farther with each try. Not much, but eventually, you’ll be at the end. Everything that you’ve gotten past so far, you haven’t done so because you consciously think about it more. It isn’t more focus, or even that you’re getting better. If anything, you’ll be less focused on the parts you are eventually able to pass. This is muscle memory. At this point, you instinctively know how to get around obstacles.

When you leave, come back, tear through a level that tore through you a day ago, it is because of practice. With practice, everyone reaches a breaking point. They won’t get any better, and they usually start doing worse. After a good night’s sleep and another try, they find that they are better now than they were at all the day before. This is how practicing works, and it is made very evident in Super Meat Boy.

It is still a maso-core game, yes, but success in the game, while still based on repetition and frustration, is made exponentially easier by muscle memory and practice. Other games in the genre don’t achieve this. They are either too hard, and the cycle of memory and practice is too slow for the player to feel rewarded, or they are too easy, and fall short of the “maso-core” title, ending up only as hard, irritating games.

Super Meat Boy found the equilibrium between ‘challenging’ and ‘impossible.’ It is this equilibrium that expresses, quite successfully, the power of practice. After enough repetition, any level in the game can be completed. It’s fast enough for players to notice it happening, but slow enough that it still poses a challenge. The game is also dynamic enough that, if there isn’t enough challenge, there are still 100+ levels outside of the main storyline that are mind-numbingly difficult. Regardless of the player, this game will be a challenge. There will still be a flawless example of the power of perseverance.

With practice, anything can be achieved. Any obstacle can be overcome. Those with natural talent may have a head start, but no one is limited on how much they can grow. Anyone can become incredible at anything; all it takes is perseverance and practice. When it comes down to it, the only obstacle is determination. Anyone can do anything they want to, and in a roundabout way, Super Meat Boy is a testament to that.

Thursday, September 1, 2011


Before we get started here, I’d like to state that the majority of this analysis will be my interpretation on the events of the game. To get the most out of this, it would be best if you had played the game first. If not, then reading this could either A) Completely spoil the game for you, or B) Give you more of a drive to play the game. I don’t know which it will be, because susceptibility to spoilers changers per person, and I don’t know how much of a giveaway this analysis will be of the events in the game.

You could just play it safe and play this incredible, time-manipulation-oriented game prior to reading this. It’s an experience unlike anything I’ve ever seen in gaming. Others have attempted it, yes, but Braid was the first to actually succeed, and what an overwhelming success it was.

This game doesn’t just allow you to rewind time on a whim. It allows you to rewind specific objects through time, freeze time in localized areas, match the movement of time with your forward or backward motions. Braid gives you an incredible variety of control over the flow of time, and this plays a very important role in the understanding of the game’s events. Similar to The Company of Myself, this game immerses the player in the character’s story by forcing them to take part in the character’s actions.

The ingenuity of it all comes from the various ways the player must manipulate time to reach the goal of each level. As soon as you have learned one method, feel like you have mastered it, another, completely different mode of manipulation is thrown your way. As soon as the player is comfortable with reversing the flow of time, they have to deal with objects that don’t obey the manipulations. After that are the character’s shadows, or “ghosts,” which are essentially time-space duplicates.

After each component is mastered, a new way of thinking must be learned. At the peak of each new method of manipulation, the player is able to logically deduce how to solve every problem. They feel intelligent in a new way, and they feel on top of their game. It’s a good feeling, but the very next level breaks that down. Back to the basics. The player must relearn everything they thought they knew. As frustrating as it can be, it builds a kind of self-confidence; an ability to start from nothing and reach any goal that needs to be achieved. It formulates the concept, however faint, that nothing is impossible, that tasks can always be accomplished. This is the psychological reward of a game such as Braid.

The storyline, if properly deciphered, or even realized, is something that can be much more rewarding. Now, if you have not played Braid yet, and do not want anything spoiled, I would stop here. Otherwise, carry on.

Most people will understand the fact that Tim left someone he loved to pursue someone or something else, some will see that the princess is a metaphor for the atomic bomb, but few will see that there are two storylines: A metaphorical one, played forwards, and a romantic one, played backwards. I’ll start with the metaphorical, as it will be easier to see, therefore, easier to understand.

Note how Tim leaves the girl to pursue the Princess. All throughout the game, he is trying to find her, yet cannot come up with an easy way to do so. He begins relying on his feelings and thoughts, believing that they will eventually lead him to the Princess. In this regard, his pursuit of her is very similar to the scientific method. He strolls around various areas, taking notes of how he feels, just as one would do a variety of experiments, taking note of the results. Tim’s pursuit of the Princess is a scientific one, eventually leading to an incredible breakthrough.

The entire game is Tim’s discovery of the atomic bomb, and, as expressed in the epilogue, it was a success. It details all of the finer points, connecting Braid to the Manhattan Project even more so. It even discusses the methods Tim used, and the end of the epilogue states that it “feels like an acceptable start:” The start of the arms race. Aside from that, the beginning scene is a bombed city.

There is another point in all of this, though. If the story is of the discovery of the atomic bomb, then where does time manipulation fit in? Well, shouldn’t we all feel guilty of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Shouldn’t we wish that such a tremendous demonstration of the barbarity of humanity never occurred? Shouldn’t we desire to reverse time, and prevent this discovery? Therein lies the connection to time manipulation.

The other storyline is something that astounded me when I discovered it. In World One (The last world you unlock), Tim tells of how he lives opposite everyone else. Where he is pursuing a spark that will later grow into a “palace where we can exist in peace,” everyone else is leaving this “palace,” forgetting of its existence, and forgetting what they once had. At least, this is true from Tim’s perspective. But, keep in mind, that Tim is living his life in reverse.

As he left the one he loved to pursue this Princess, he states that he didn’t need to say anything. She already knew. It implies a fading, dying love, ending with Tim walking out on her to find the girl that has always been on his mind. Now play this in reverse. There is a girl, a princess, that Tim can’t stop thinking about. He meets this girl, and a love is born. It is weak at first, filled with distrust, yet it grows. As Tim states, “he thought he had been cultivating the perfect relationship.” Played in reverse, this is true, and their love continues to grow.

As you play through the game (and progress backwards through this storyline), you will reach the final scene, where the backwards nature of their romantic tale is revealed. What appears to be a kidnapper becomes the “Princess’s” “knight in shining armor,” And together, they are happy. This Knight is the original “Tim.”

In the final scene, the current Tim must come to terms with his past (Which is, coincidentally, her future). He sees that he has been living backwards, and effectively chases the Princess away from his current self in the act, pushing her into the arms of his past self.

Tim was blinded by what he believed. He wasn’t moving towards some great palace, but away from it. It is everyone else who actively pursue what they desire, while Tim left that which he loved the most. This is the initial mistake that Tim made, as referenced in the very first book you open. By the end, he sees that, once upon a time, they were happy together. It is time for him to start living forward.

The multi-layered, interlacing storylines are what completely blew my mind with Braid. It is the kind of hook that keeps players interested, long after playing the game. There will always be a desire to figure out meaning, and this game gives plenty of meanings to decipher. For intellectuals, this game is brilliant. The incredible variety in time manipulation was what got me hooked into the game, but the two storylines, running in opposite directions, are what makes this game truly memorable. And yet, the connections do not stop there. A “braid” is a series of connected things, such as two storylines, crisscrossing each other. It is multiple meanings, such as the braid of stories, or the Princess’s “braid.” The title of the game itself references both the storylines and the Princess, making it an autonym (A word that defines itself).

The multiple layers of this game make it truly unique. The play style, although not necessarily new, is something that no other game has fully succeeded in doing. Braid is beautiful for these reasons.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


Everyone has heard of this incredible game. Its beginnings go back to a final project at the DigiPen Institute of Technology by the name of “Narbacular Drop,” created by only seven students. Immediately after graduating, the entire team was hired by Valve to produce Portal, a game that ended up bundled with bigger titles such as Half-Life and Team Fortress 2. It didn’t need to hitch a ride on these other games for its success, though. Portal became the selling point of the bundle, and it was labeled “Game of the Year.” The incredible success of this fresh-out-of-college game spurred the production of a sequel, and now, download content.

What made the game so vastly popular and such a tremendous success is this: Portal was the first game in a long time to do something that was truly new. The concept of a first-person puzzle game wasn’t even a real genre before this, and the idea of portals completely destroyed the notion of what a puzzle game should be. Normally, to cross a pit, you would need to find some blocks to make a bridge with, or find some obscure button to bridge the gap, or fight through a room of monsters to allow access. With Portal, just shoot a portal here, a portal there, and you’re done.

The portal gun itself is something that, if introduced into any other game, would be completely devastating. If you think about it, this doesn’t really apply to any other items from any game. Any weapon in one game would just be a weapon in another game. Most power-ups don’t even apply outside of its game. But the portal gun is something that would allow for beating Super Mario Bros. in a few shots, warp past boss fights in a standard FPS. The portal gun is something that requires a genius mind to be able to limit, and the crew behind Portal did a brilliant job of that.

It wasn’t simply the addition of portal-proof walls, but the puzzles themselves. Regardless of limitations on portal placement, some rooms are simply unsolvable unless you guide an energy ball to a receptor, launch a box to a button, and propel yourself through a slanted portal. In some cases, all at the same time. Through the use of these components, the game does a very nice job of placing limitations on what is quite possibly the most overpowered item in gaming history.

Now, let’s back up from the reality of a first-person, portal-based puzzle game, and look at the obvious: This is a portal-based portal game. This is something that has never been done before. The idea of using portals to solve puzzles is something we humans are not accustomed to dealing with. The game’s tagline, “Now you’re thinking with portals,” holds a good deal of truth. People don’t know how to cope with the concept of folding through three-dimensional space (portals).

The learning curve of the game is a very shallow one, though, and allows all varieties of players to learn and enjoy it. The first few rooms show how portals are used to easily solve puzzles that would otherwise be very difficult. It starts out by showing the player the limitless potential the portal gun has, and proceeds to challenge (and add to) that knowledge. It’ll show you that you can use it to get boxes to otherwise inaccessible buttons, and then make it increasingly difficult to do so. It’ll show you how to use portals to direct energy balls, and later, hide the target receptor behind a series of doors with timers thrown in. Similar to Tower of Heaven, it creates the illusion of loss of power, yet, with Portal, you have more power over space than you could ever dream of. Once the player breaks through the illusion, it feels like that power increases, and the player is allowed to sit in a state of ecstatic awe for a brief moment, and then the next puzzle awaits.

The selling point of Portal was, very clearly, the portals. They introduce an entirely new way of thinking, a completely new logic. In every other game, there is a very solid “game logic.” There’s a locked door. Go find a key. There’s a forcefield. Go blow up a generator in the next room. This doesn’t apply with Portal, and Portal logic goes against all the things that common logic has taught us. Once you start “thinking with portals,” the game becomes a different kind of challenging. How many different ways can you get though a room? Do it with the least amount of portals. Do what you can to “break the system,” so to speak. Solve the rooms in ways they were not meant to be solved. What’s even better is that the team that made the game knew of these alternative solutions, but decided to leave them in for the clever players to find. It creates a sense of “breaking the rules,” and it feels great.

The logic of this game has stimulated the creativity of many, resulting in hundreds of custom maps, all made by increasingly brilliant originality. Each successive map results in more and more groundbreaking creations, because, like the original game itself, they all encourage people to do something new. Outside of the gaming world, there are always conversations revolving around “what would you do with a portal gun?” The logic extends past the game, and into the real. It provokes conversation everywhere. It stimulates originality.

Portal is hopefully the first of many games that present new logic. The first of a new generation of games.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Amnesia - The Dark Descent

Since we’re on the topic of horror games, let’s jump to one of the more ‘traditional’ titles. While Amnesia appears to be your everyday zombies-in-the-dark kind of game, it is rather far off. The uniqueness of this, which is why it is appearing on my blog, comes from the fear of implication. The number of times you actually encounter the sentient creatures that seem to stalk you can be counted on one hand. The rest is because you think something is after you.

For the parallels between the style of fright and the game itself to be seen, I will explain a bit of the storyline. The character, Daniel, has drugged himself so that, for whatever reason, he cannot remember anything from his past. He only leaves himself with a note, telling him that he needs to kill a man named ‘Alexander.’ The reason for all of this, as will be explained by more notes the character left himself, is a mysterious orb. It contains untold power, yet causes demons and shadows to follow him, trying to kill him.

As you can see, the self-induced amnesia, combined by the paranoia of death around every corner, now mixed with the prospect of killing a man, will certainly make the character completely terrified of the dark, and his sanity probably isn’t stable.

This is the selling point of the game: Sanity. If you remain in the dark for too long, the walls start to ebb and flow, creepy, demonic voices and sounds seem to come from all around you, and, if you can’t get to a light, you will collapse and presumably die. The only real danger throughout the game is an absence of light, which can be fixed anywhere there’s a candle or oil lamp. There are a few areas where you have to sneak around zombie-esque creatures, but aside from those rare occurrences, the rest of the incredible fear is simply pure psychology.

My first run through the game, I couldn’t play for more than an hour or two at a time because the feeling of insanity seeping from the game made me paranoid of everything. Right before I would stop playing, I would be hiding in cover in any room with a light, treating it as a safe haven. When I finally left the room ten minutes later, it was in a frantic sprint to the next room, looking every single direction, and then lighting another candle as soon as I found one.

Of course, the only real dangers are simple puzzles. The rest, as previously stated, is just bogus. The necessity for light and the fear of failure naturally makes every bunch of candles, every lamp and lantern, into a safe haven. It gives the player a natural drive towards light, and, consequently, away from darkness. This is spurred on by the distortions to the surroundings and the threatening sounds of the shadows. I’ve noticed that, when going insane, the creatures can be seen in the distance. It is a terribly frightening image, and with the walls closing in and the sounds of rattling chains getting closer, death feels inevitable. This makes the frantic desire for light even stronger, making darkness seem even more threatening in comparison. Next time the player is left in darkness, the already strong fear is then expanded again by the melting walls and screaming ghouls, sending them back to the cover of light. It is essentially a vicious cycle that makes the shadows seem more and more threatening, the light more and more beckoning, and it is this reason that extended amounts of playtime are so difficult.

But none of the threats are real. The zombies only exist in the mind of insanity. A slamming door, although startling (and is certain to cause some entertaining moments of berserk fear), is still just a door that is now closed. A zombie that attacks whenever you touch the water is simply a recreation of the “the floor is made of lava” games we have all played as children. On its most basic level, the player must go through a fairly simple maze. If it gets dark, light a candle. There is really nothing more to it than that.

Amnesia is one of the few horror survival games that really stick out because, even as I write, repeatedly, that the game isn’t really dangerous or scary or anything more than a maze, I’m thinking “this isn’t true at all.” The psychological tools of recreating pure dementia work so beautifully with this game that it efficiently convinces any who play it that they will die. The cycle of “light is good, dark is bad” that builds into “light is heaven, dark is instant death” makes everything more and more menacing the more the game is played. Even on my second time through, this cycle still completely snagged me, and even though I know there is no harm, I can’t play it for long.

This game is a haunted house. While there is rarely any chance of harm, the illusion of harm makes it impossible to believe that. However hostile this game will seem, it can’t hurt you. It’s all in your head. Amnesia is a game that is played out within your own mind. The more it is played, the deeper into your mind the fear and horror gets lodged. Sooner or later, you will leave. Then you’ll remember that there aren’t really any difficulties in the game, nothing trying to kill you, and you’ll go back for more.

The game will keep calling you back for more.

Saturday, August 27, 2011


[Free game: Download here]

This game is the fastest and easiest way to destroy your happy place. I will try to leave this analysis as spoiler-free as possible, but even if I had spoiled it for anyone, I believe that the shock and horror at the turn of events will still grip any player, which leads me to the psychological tool used in Eversion: Fear.

It isn’t fear in the traditional sense of “things that go bump in the night.” There are no zombies, no demons, no Saw-esque traps. There is no gore, and there are minimal surprising happenings. It is fear in the distortion of reality, the distortion of what we believe things to be. It is fear caused by deception and false security. It is fear because, up until the very end of the game, things do not stop getting worse.

As I played through this game, there were two thoughts running through my head. The first was “My happy place is dead.” The second was “How many levels of Hell must there be?!?” Now, before you continue reading this, play the game. Just start it. You don’t have to beat it, although I would understand if it pulled you in until the end. The very first screen is over-the-top happy. Vibrant colors, cheerful music, Smiling, dancing mushroom enemies. The sun is shining, the flowers are singing, and everything is just wonderful and happy. Little do you know that you just began your journey through the nine circles of Hell.

The art is eight-bit. The sound is of the same vein. It’s immediately brings to mind the classic Mario games, and already, the player is expecting a Mario-esque game, where everything is happy, the good guys are good, the bad guys are bad, and it’s a fairy-tale ending. It all leads you down a path that you’ll think you’ve been down before, and the game takes full advantage of that fact, exploiting every flaw in the assumption, similar to Depict1, but on a much more psychological level.

Also, the game starts very similarly to Limbo. There is a main menu, but upon starting a game, there is no story, there are no plot devices. There is just a happy little blob (you), a map, and gems which you will naturally feel obligated to collect. It drives the player into the game, not with a storyline, but with a gripping control method and desire for the usual everyday platformer. It starts out, taking advantage of the player’s assumptions to pull them in, then keeps them in the game by completely destroying their expectations.

Within the first level, you will encounter a new element in platformer games: An “eversion point.” Here, you can ‘evert’ the world, transforming it into one that is slightly different. My immediate reaction to this was “Oh, it’s a bit like ‘Link to the Past.’” I suppose that was right, but only in the concept of ‘light’ and ‘dark’ worlds. With this… Well, I strongly recommend everyone to play this.

When the player reaches the later levels of the game, where they are constantly submerged in a middle level of Hell, two emotions will begin to surface. One is fear, simply due to the violent distortions of everything. This fear will drive the player to wish for the usual again, part of them searching for an eversion point to take them up a level, to a happier place. The other emotion is one of curiosity. How much worse can this get? What could possibly be warped next? How satanic can this game appear? The curiosity urges us to play through the rest of the game, delving deeper and deeper into the unknown. At the same time, we are fearful of what we may find down there.

From a philosophical perspective (or, I suppose, religious), we want to meet Satan. We want to come face-to-face with the embodiment of fear, either to see that he exists, or to see what the limit is to pain. We are always told that Hell is a terrible (pardon the understatement) place, but part of us always wants to test that. Well, just how bad can it be? But, of course, none of us want to end up there to find out. Humans have a natural desire for chaos and destruction, yet we fear it. To embrace this side of us, however, is marked as “inhuman.” Those that do become serial killers, psychopaths, rapists. The “human” thing to do is to fight against the desire, to fear it, to discard that part of us. And we do. So effectively, that many will argue that the desire was never there. This game brings that desire back. Well, how bad can things really get? What lies in wait down there? With this game, we will find out.

What makes this game so completely gripping, yet at the same time, chilling, is that it revives a primitive desire. It revives the thirst for chaos and mayhem. It reminds us that we want to meet Satan. And, by the end of the game, we do.

I cannot say much more about this game, for fear of spoiling the moment for those who wish to play it. It is, on the most basic level, another Mario. Fight through the levels to save the princess. Except, with Eversion, we must fight through hell and back to do so. The very end of the game shows us that things are deceptive. They aren’t always what they appear to be, and very rarely are.

The first ending, the one awarded to those who do not collect all the gems, reveals human nature in the modern sense. It shows what happens to those who don’t give in to their primitive nature, and it’s an ending that will likely trip you up. The second, better ending, shows us a world where we do give in to the primitive side. We are happy, yes, yet the world is in ruins around us. Yet if we are happy, nothing else should matter, right? Some would argue yes, others no, some, depends on the cost of happiness. It all comes down to our own morals, and we should all come to our own definitions regarding this ending.

Eversion is amazing. I have never been so shocked and fearful of a game that dragged me to the end of it, and I doubt any game will match this. It destroys what we think things really are, it perverts our world, it sends chills down our spines. Eversion introduces us to our primitive side. It introduces us to Satan.

Friday, August 26, 2011


Everyone needs a good sandbox game every once in a while, and what makes it all the better is when it’s an amazingly violent one. Violent games have always been great in modern society. With all the bills and mortgages and payments and dead-end jobs and bothersome managers, stress in this day and age is higher than ever before. It transitions to anger, either directed at individuals, or at the world. Violence is the natural transgression of anger, and at the point where we just want to scream, we can just cut dozens of people in half instead.

There is a plotline in Prototype, and it’s a gorgeous one if I say so myself, but the game is set up so that the main storyline is optional. You can advance to the next portion of story immediately after it’s unlocked, or you can complete a section, run around a city killing everyone and everything for hours, and then proceed to the next. You play through the game at your own rate, playing how you want to, using it as an emotional outlet of stress, or just enjoying the sheer power the character has.

Which bring up the point of character balance, or complete lack thereof. Most games are toned so that the player is always one step behind where their opponents are. They are always on the lower end of the spectrum, fighting difficult fights. Or, if they are higher on the chain, it is because of hard, diligent work, and they won’t stay there for long unless they keep working for it.

Prototype is not like most games. The player starts out ridiculously overpowered, able to destroy a tank in three blows, pull helicopters out of the sky, and cross Central Park in two to three bounds. Buildings aren’t even an obstacle, since the character can run straight up them, launch himself off the top, and glide for miles. However, the controls and the movement can get a little frustrating, due to the sporadic camera angles at times and the delicacy of combos. This can result in accidentally jumping off a building, performing the wrong attack at the wrong time, or activating the wrong ability. All of these can result in death, if not handled properly, but it is something that the player learns to cope with, just so they can enjoy the sheer power they are endeared with.

And it gets even better. From the start of the game until the end, every kill goes towards making the character even more overpowered, giving him “devastator attacks,” which affect entire areas and can take down an entire army. This insane amount of power makes the game easy, yes, but it does so in an incredibly satisfying way.

Whenever an opponent is killed, time slows down to allow the player to savor the moment. Blood splashes up in slow-motion as units fall into separate pieces, and after an adequate amount of time, gameplay resumes. This slight delay isn’t enough to hinder gameplay, but it also isn’t so brief that it isn’t noticed. This, coupled with the insane amount of power, creates a feeling of superiority, a “check out what I can do, and you can’t do anything to stop me” kind of complex.

After a long day of always being put down by others, nothing feels better than to end up on top. Not just on top, but towering over everyone and everything else. It is commonly said that games are used to escape reality, and Prototype is the greatest escape a game can offer.

Even though the player is given this enormous power, the game is still just as difficult or as easy as desired. This goes past the standard difficulty setting of “easy, medium, hard.” There are areas of the city that are incredibly difficult to destroy, yet the reward is usually pretty substantial. The player can avoid these areas if they choose to. In addition, there are dozens of minigames scattered throughout the map, each one with bronze, silver, gold, and (after completing the storyline), platinum milestones. Platinum is, of course very challenging to achieve, but again, it isn’t necessary. By mixing and matching the difficulties that this game presents, any player can be satisfied by the challenge that they are presented with.

The completionist will find Prototype to be a moderately easy game at first, maybe with a few rough patches, but it will quickly get challenging, as the difficulty curve rises exponentially. For hard-core gamers (Which most completionists are), this presents a very enticing challenge. The casual gamer will find this to be an entertaining “do whatever you want” kind of game. A sandbox game, if you will. The style of the game lives up to the character within the game: A shapeshifter. And, like the character, it changes to match whatever the player is interested in at the time.

The most impressive aspect of Prototype is that, although completely overpowered, the game can still be challenging. Players will die. Many times. The challenge comes from, not the difficulty of the opponents, but the sheer number of them. It is, at many times, one versus one hundred. This allows for the satisfaction of tearing apart wave after wave of zombies and military grunts, yet also provides the threat of being overwhelmed. The game is set up so that, the more you fight, the more will fight you. The longer a battle goes on, the more tanks and helicopters the army will bring in. If you want a challenge, stay and destroy them all. If you don’t, it’s pretty easy to get away by running in one direction until the heat dies down.

Prototype is a nice gem of a game. It is challenging, it is relaxing. It has an immersive storyline, or a casual sandbox mode. It is tailored to casual and hard-core gamers alike. It is a wonderful outlet of stress. Prototype is the shapeshifter that can meet anyone’s needs and desires.