Playing the Last Guardian is like Going to India


“Before I get to The Last Guardian, a digression…

When I was 23, I backpacked around India alone for two months on a shoestring budget. I stayed in Spartan hotels for roving businessmen or huge bunk houses with 24 beds to a room, usually at a price around $5 per night. I walked ten to twelve hours most days in 90-100 degree heat and 95%+ humidity. I took a few short plane flights to get between major cities at first, but eventually I settled for train rides where I would stuff myself in-between migrant workers in 5th class, two of which lasted 17 hours.

On a daily basis, I was miserable. The physical exertion, heat, humidity, and beating sun took its toll. I had trouble maintaining weight and was chronically sunburned despite liberal use of sunscreen. Then there were the locals constantly trying to beg and scam me, especially the taxi drivers who turned every cab rental into a prolonged battle of wits over how much of my dignity I would sacrifice to save 20 rupees (please don’t look up how much that is in real money). More than anything, I was exhausted. The walking and heat and constant travel and paranoia of scammers with no comfortable respites along the way made the two months feel like an eternity. There were good moments too of course. I saw incredible temples and palaces, I met wonderful people, and I witnessed first-hand incalculably amazing parts of the world that I never thought I’d see with my own eyes.

But I still could not have been happier when I returned to America. The horrors of India were still fresh in my mind and the comfort of my couch at home seemed more valuable than all of the temples and mosques erected by the Mughal Dynasty over a thousand-year period (or whatever).

And yet, after maybe a week, that sentiment started to shift, or even invert. The walking and heat and sun and dirty bunk beds and scammers started fading from my mind while the temples and palaces and curios became more prominent. It wasn’t that I was literally forgetting the hardships (though I’ve certainly forgotten a lot of the little things over time), but rather they were no longer visceral. The weather was torturous while I was there, but I can’t feel the 100 degrees or 100% humidity (or both simultaneously) while I write this sentence in my air-conditioned bedroom. I know Indian taxi drivers are the scum of the earth, but even though I am not a rich man, I can’t say I care too much about the times they charged me an extra $1.50 for a cab ride.

Meanwhile, the temples and mosques and all that great stuff seemed even greater in retrospect. Especially near the end of the trip, I’m sure I was too exhausted and mentally fatigued by seeing the same architecture over-and-over again to even care who built what building when and why. Yet the memories of the beautiful curvature of some ancient stature, the festive buzz of Calcutta on Holi Day, and the spectacular beaches of Chennai, glow in my mind. Today, I consider going to India one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life. I will die with one less regret.

Anyway, that’s sort of what playing The Last Guardian has been like.”


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Response to “It’s Very Bad” on my Metal Gear Solid V Analysis


The blog, “It’s Very Bad,” has written a “rebuttal” to my Metal Gear Solid V analysis:

I will attempt to respond to every part of the rebuttal, but there’s a catch… it’s written in Russian. I don’t speak or read Russian, so I am relying on a Google translation. It’s entirely possible that Google might misinterpret some parts, though some sections definitely get their intentions across anyway (like, “To hell with this ‘analysis,’ which invites us to swallow it”). If the author of the rebuttal believes I’ve misunderstood anything, he should feel free to point it out.

I’ll break down my response into 10 parts to correspond with the rebuttal. In each part, first there will be an excerpt from my original analysis in blue, then there will be the Rebuttal in red, and then there will be my response bolded in black.

Continue reading “Response to “It’s Very Bad” on my Metal Gear Solid V Analysis”

Why Doesn’t Civilization Let You Play as Hitler?


Sid Meier’s Civilization games let players rule over a civilization from its foundation in 4,000 B.C. to a theoretical future era powered by fusion technology. Players pick from real historic civilizations and real historic individuals to serve as avatars in their games. These historical figures are typically the most famous leaders in the given civilization’s history. So the American civilization has Washington, Lincoln, FDR, etc. The Roman civilization Julius Caesar, Augustus, Constantine, etc.

The German civilization has… Otto von Bismarck (who was never actually a leader), Frederick Barbarossa (a Holy Roman Emperor), Frederick the Great (technically Prussian, but close enough), and Maria Theresa (technically Austrian, not close enough).

If you asked a random selection of people in America, Germany, or anywhere in the world to name the most famous German leader in history, somehow I don’t think any of those three would be a common choice.

So why isn’t Adolf Hitler in the Civilization series?


Continue reading “Why Doesn’t Civilization Let You Play as Hitler?”

Sam in Prison – Uncharted 4’s Vortex of Contrivances and Plot Holes

NOTE – Despite everything else I say in this article, Uncharted 4 is an awesome game that everyone should play.


Uncharted 4 is a massive step up in terms of writing and directing quality compared to the previous three Uncharted games. More than that, in terms of sheer cinematic excellence, there are probably only a handful of game ever made which can match U4, one of which is director Neil Druckmann’s previous Naughty Dog game, The Last of Us. Note that this doesn’t mean that I think U4 and LoU are the greatest games of all time or even have the best video game stories ever, but I do think their story presentations are nearly unmatched. I truly hope that the success of these two games will lead to something of a revolution in cinematic game design so that video game directors actually start paying attention to basic cinematic craft when stuffing half-baked movies into their otherwise functional video games (as discussed here by Film Crit Hulk).

Yet as much as I admire the cinematography, writing, motion capture, voice acting, pacing, and story control which contributed to U4’s quality, I can’t help but get hung up on a single plot point. This one story event is of such abysmal quality that it very nearly sunk the whole experience for me until U4’s superb ending changed my mind.

Everything about Sam’s imprisonment is nonsensical. Some of the problems with it are simple contrivances where the logic of the story is stretched beyond its expected parameters (despite the Uncharted games having a pretty loose sense of plot logic to begin with). Other problems are outright plot holes which break the story entirely.

                                   ****SPOILERS AFTER THIS POINT****

Continue reading “Sam in Prison – Uncharted 4’s Vortex of Contrivances and Plot Holes”

Sunless Sea is what No Man’s Sky Should Have Been


No one encapsulated the failure of No Man’s Sky better than Tom Chick with: “Exploration isn’t about exploration. It’s about discovery. No Man’s Sky doesn’t understand this at all.”

And no game encapsulates what NMS should have done better than Sunless Sea.

I first played SS back when it came out in early 2015, and I praised the game for its uneven but innovative systems. I recently dived back into it with the release of a new expansion, Zubmariner, and once more got sucked into this incredibly weird vortex of a game. SS is difficult to describe because there isn’t too many games out there like it. The closest comparison I can think of is Sid Meier’s Pirates (the 2004 remake), in the sense that you sail a ship around a big open map while periodically stopping at ports, managing an inventory, and tackling a massive set of an entirely optional quests at your leisure. But unlike Pirate’s sunny Caribbean backdrop, SS takes place in a steam punk, Lovecraftian world where a chunk of London dropped into an underground ocean (called the “Neath”) where the laws of physics are in disarray and Hell has a client state filled with anarchists (among other strange occurrences).

This sleeper indie hit does everything NMS does, but better. Ok, SS doesn’t have NMS’s budget, or incredible universe-generation engine, but both games have the same core design philosophy: they each present an alien world (both “alien” and “world” can be metaphorical here) and unleash the player to explore it at his own pace and for his own reasons. They are both wildly experimental games with broad exploration as the primary driving force behind the player experience. But while NMS ended up being… well, No Man’s Sky, Sunless Sea is largely a successful product.

Continue reading “Sunless Sea is what No Man’s Sky Should Have Been”

Paradox Studios, Stocks and Flows, and the Challenge of Contextualization in Stellaris

“As of writing this sentence I have put a combined 2,000 hours into Europa Universalis III, IV, Crusader Kings II, and Victoria II, all of which were developed by the Swedish studio, Paradox. For the uninitiated, Paradox almost exclusively makes incredibly in-depth grand strategy games which place the player in command a nation’s political, economic, military, religious, and social affairs in a wide variety of time periods. If you’re the type of person who loves the Total Wars and Civilizations but you think the AI is too weak and they lack long-term strategic depth, then I cannot urge you more strongly to try a Paradox game.

The company’s latest (assuming you arbitrary ignore Hearts of Iron IV) and arguably riskiest outing yet is Stellaris. Though at first glance Stellaris may appear no different than any other recent space-based 4X venture on Steam, its developer’s pedigree implies a different take on the genre. Indeed, the game’s Steam page calls Stellaris an “evolution of the grand strategy genre with space exploration at its core.” Meaning Stellaris is not merely a space game with more strategic elements than usual, rather it’s intended to be a grand strategy game in the mold of Paradox’s previous endeavors that happens to take place in space.

Imagine the complexity of engaging in dynastic feuds in Crusader Kings, or directing colonial expansion in Europa Universalis, or plotting to start international wars to stimulate your country’s weapons manufacturing industry in Victoria… brought to outer space.

The mind boggles at the possibilities. How will warfare work with spaceships? How will immigration work between alien species? What are the cultural dynamics of intergalactic federations? If an enemy species really pisses me off, can I use the genophage on them? This is an unbelievably cool idea, I am thrilled that a studio as competent as Paradox has decided to take it on, and I am incredibly excited to see where it goes.

But I’m also kind of worried that Stellaris cannot possibly live up to that promise. Not because of any inherent weakness on Paradox’s part, but because the task of capturing the essence of what makes the other Paradox games fun enough for me to invest over 2,000 hours into them, and transferring it into Stellaris’s setting, might be too great of a challenge for any developer.

The problem is one of context. Namely, all of the other beloved Paradox games have a context based in history while Stellaris does not…”


Paradox Studios, Stocks and Flows, and the Challenge of Contextualization in Stellaris



Pure Exploration is not a Valid Standalone Mechanic

“I’ve already written a brief overview of my take on No Man’s Sky and have spent a good portion of the last few days scouring the Internet for the various criticisms and defenses of the game.

Perhaps the most salient and convincing argument I’ve seen thus far on behalf of NMS is the game isn’t meant to be enjoyed by the standards of traditional mechanics, rather, it’s a game based on “pure exploration.” The argument goes something like this:

Due to a combination of Hello Games making vague comments about the potential content of No Man’s Sky and Sony pouring a truck load of money into marketing to fuel the game’s hype machine, a lot of players were misled into believing that NMS was a standard AAA game with wide appeal. In reality, NMS is basically an indie game with an indie-sized development team (15 individuals), working on a barely larger than indie budget, with indie ambitions to fill the niche indie market of pure exploration games. Yes, NMS is lacking a lot of expected features, feels bare bones in parts, and doesn’t have a very compelling core gameplay loop by the standards of traditional big budget open world games, but that doesn’t matter because that was never the point of NMS. The game is really just about exploring cool worlds in an enormous universe and seeing everything that there is to see. It’s all about exploration.”

While I completely sympathize with the idea that an indie developer got caught up in a hype machine, and I’m totally on board with seeing small indie games try wildly experimental gameplay techniques… I don’t buy this argument on behalf of NMS…”


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Pure Exploration is not a Valid Standalone Mechanic