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    Beyond Eyes (PC)    by   dkirschner       (Aug 12th, 2016 at 21:22:05)

    I have a reason for playing this. I am teaching an upper level course, Sociology of Disability. After having some fun with my summer class using Never Alone in a lesson on culture, I must have been paying attention to games about disabilities, because I noticed Beyond Eyes, which puts you in the role of Rae, a blind girl looking for her missing cat. So I wondered if this would be somehow useful for a lesson on anything in the disabilities course. Well, I played the game, and the answer is yes. I can see this fitting right alongside a discussion of the harmfulness of disability simulations.

    Before criticizing the game's portrayal of a blind child, I'll say that it's much better done than I thought it would be. But that's the insidious part of trying to represent the experience of someone with a disability. You will never succeed. The game tries from a place of good will, and is heart-warming and empathetic. But let's pick it apart anyway.

    1. Rae is blinded in a tragic fireworks accident, so she acquired her disability at, say, age 8. It is said that she was out with her friends. After becoming blind, it seems she is very sad and sits in her garden alone all day. She befriends a cat that comes into the garden, and nothing else is said about her other friends. Where did they go? Have they abandoned her because she is blind? Has she socially isolated herself? This is a common myth when people acquire a disability, that they become socially isolated and their friends desert them. This is also one reason we fear becoming disabled. Granted, she finds one of her friends later in the game, and the game closes with them talking after [spoiler spoiler]. So perhaps the game shows Rae's process of coming to terms with her disability and not becoming socially isolated after all.

    2. Rae wanders around in her garden in the snow with no jacket. People with blindness are not stupid. Why doesn't she have a jacket on? She even hugs herself for warmth. She is portrayed as helpless, and this is visible throughout the rest of the game as well. This perpetuates the myth of dependence.

    3. Rae seems very jumpy and afraid. Blind people are not jumpy and afraid. According to the narrative, she had been blind for a year before she goes wandering out of her garden after her cat. She would have gotten used to it. This shows how we often assign character traits to certain disabilities. Blind people are like this, deaf people are like that, etc.

    4. Rae seems to have trouble detecting what is what in her environment. She cannot cross the street, which I presume is because she cannot tell when cars are coming. She things the clicking of the pedestrian crosswalk thing is a bird. She thinks a lawnmower is a car. She mistakes all sorts of things for other things. Especially having been sighted for ~90% of her life, and then blind for a year already, she would not be constantly making these mistakes. She would know what a lawnmower sounded like and she would be able to cross the street by listening for cars. I found this sort of insulting. People with acquired disabilities tend to adapt quite thoroughly, and children adapt quite quickly.

    5. People who are blind are adept at identifying sounds and navigating their environment. They do not walk at Rae's snail pace. Blind people can play sports and walk without constantly running into things (though that is common) and are usually very adapted to space. They often go through orientation and mobility training to help them master this skill. Often they learn the use of a cane, or learn how to have others help them. Rae, on the other hand, inexplicably wanders off alone, and thanks to the player (who is "experiencing blindness") constantly runs into things and gets horribly lost. The experience of a blind person is not to constantly run into things and get horribly lost, nor to be afraid all the time.

    There you go. A quick little demo of this game in class could show how the (well-intentioned) game perpetuates some common myths of blindness.

    Now, critiques aside, I enjoyed the game. The idea is great. Since Rae is blind, the player can only see what she perceives, which is what is right around her and what she can hear, such as birds chirping, cars driving, dogs barking, tree leaves rustling, etc. When she hears things, they become visible wherever they are nearby. It is a neat way to traverse the game world. I played another game some time ago called Lurking. It was a horror game set in a house, and it had a similar mechanic. You could only see by making noise, either your character or you, by breathing into the microphone. But enemies detected you if you made noise, so you had to manage noise--make enough to see, but not enough to get killed. It was cool. Anyway, this is a similar idea without all the dying.

    The colors are pretty. The game uses a lot of bright pastels and it has a "paint-brushed" feel to the world. When Rae gets scared (by a dog barking or whatever), the colors will mute and the world will turn decidedly more brown. The music also dampens and becomes sadder. It clearly conveyed the emotions Rae was feeling. And although I criticized her running into things (my fault, I'm sure), she does walk with her hand out if she is near something, to guide her. That was a nice touch. If the game were more technically advanced, she would react to what she touched, be it leaves, or a fence, or water, or a dog, or whatever.

    All this amounts to an oddly calming and/or boring game. I was literally falling asleep at my keyboard. I'd jolt back awake with my finger still holding the W key down to run. Again, it was a mixture of being really boring (because you just walk really slowly and try to figure out where the hell you're going, and hope you hear the cat so you can follow the sound) and really calming thanks to the nice music and pretty art design.

    I wasn't too keen on the ending. I liked how emotional it was. Again, that was conveyed very clearly. But, without spoiling what happens, I didn't follow Rae's logic, or the logic of the game too apparently. What seems to have happened in the end is in no way a certainty. I don't know why Rae assumed what she did. I sure didn't. And our difference doesn't have to do with being blinded or sighted. It's a difference in reasoning, and hers is jumping to conclusions without sufficient evidence. Yeah, I thought the ending was bad. But I liked that her human friend came to visit her.

    That's two games this week with endings I didn't like. What's happening?! Is this a sign of the end times?!

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    Knack (PS4)    by   jp       (Aug 12th, 2016 at 12:15:14)

    Just cleared the 4th stage (these take longer than you'd imagine, but we're playing on hard) and I have to say that while the game is quite endearing, some cracks are starting to show. I think this is mostly in the couch-co-op that my son and I have been playing. There are moments where it is clear that this was mainly a solo player game - not just because of the asymmetry between the two characters you control (regular Knack and "steel" Knack) but in how mission objectives sometimes fall apart. For example, the last time we played we had to make use of a new ability: stealth knack (who can walthrough surveillance lasers and such). It's really neat, except that the other Knack doesn't have it. So, when playing as non-stealth Knack you have to stay behind and die. Sometimes you're warped through. Othertimes...not so much. We're not sure. It's really unclear and works in odd ways.

    The camera is also odd - it essentially follows/tracks main Knack. So, 2nd Knack really is like a sidekick living in the shadow of the other Knack. It's not terrible, just a bit annoying sometimes. For instance, when normal Knack dies you reset and go back to an earlier checkpoint. This doesn't happen with other Knack.

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    Defense Grid 2 (PC)    by   dkirschner       (Aug 10th, 2016 at 15:40:54)

    What's up with all these short games? I beat Defense Grid 2 in two days. I was looking forward to this so much, but it is not the sequel that the excellent Defense Grid deserves. I checked my Steam account, and I spent 43 hours on Defense Grid. Defense Grid 2? 9 hours, and that was with replaying part of the story for some extra achievements. Part of the shortness of course is that DG had some awesome DLC, but DG2 has no DLC. Man, what the hell happened?

    DG2 isn't a bad game. It's pretty much more of the same of DG1, with some new enemy units thrown in the mix and a couple new things for the player's arsenal. None of it is game changing. Surprisingly, there are no new towers! I expected a couple innovations. There are "boost towers" (they aren't really towers though!) that are basically blocks you can build and then build towers on top of them. Then you can upgrade the boost tower to make the tower on top of it do more damage, or see stealth enemies, or reward more points for nearby kills. That was neat, but unnecessary. Then there are new "tower items," which aren't really explained. Sometimes I would get one at the end of a mission, and they are basically passive enhancements that you can equip on tower types before a level, like making the laser fire in a 10-degree cone, or adding a slow effect to the cannon. Again, neat, but I never noticed that they did very much.

    On the enemy side, they took away flying aliens for some reason, so you don't even have to think about ground vs air. They added a "dropship" that spawns right near the core housing and starts spitting out smaller aliens. I thought that was neat because it forces you to have the core housing covered. You can damage the dropship, but not kill it; however, the % of damage you do to it is automatically applied to any aliens it spawns, so if you drop its health to 0, aliens will spawn and basically drop dead. Then there was some new enemy that blows up when you kill it and temporarily disables your towers, but honestly I never even saw it happen.

    The story is actually really cool, and that was one of my favorite parts. Instead of just Fletcher (the AI from the first game) you accumulate like 5 or 6 different AIs who travel with you. Their code all becomes corrupted at various points, and there's this crazy story of someone who is either working with the aliens or using them to get what they want, but you're not quite sure until you get a suspicion as to who it is, and then there's a big reveal and a confrontation, and it was all suspenseful and mysterious. Most of the other characters are not interesting though. Fletcher is still awesome.

    Mmm, what else? Oh yeah, the game is very easy on normal difficulty. I never died except when I was trying to get a few achievements (like beat a level in chapter 4 or 5 with only inferno towers, yikes). There aren't any crazy maps like there were at the end of DG1 or its DLC, which was disappointing. Again, I don't know why the game is easier and the maps less complex, but it's worse for it. There is a ton of replayability in terms of level modifiers, but I think I'm good. This just didn't feel that it had the same amount of love poured into it that DG1 did!

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    Lovely Planet (PC)    by   dkirschner       (Aug 9th, 2016 at 18:33:22)

    I'm very impressed that i made it 3/5 of the way through Lovely Planet. That game is hard. Lovely Planet is basically an FPS speedrunner's dream come true. It helps if that speedrunner likes Katamari Damacy too because the art and the music remind me of it.

    You have a gun that fires purple squares, of which you have infinite ammo with no reloading. There are various "baddies" around the level, and new varieties come with each new world (5 worlds, roughly 20 levels per world). In the beginning, there are some innocent blue block people (don't shoot them, or it's level restart), some easy stick-like enemies, some red blocks that shoot purple squares at you, and maybe some other things that show up, can't remember. In each level, you have to kill all the baddies and reach the end without triggering a level restart (i.e., dying). If you get shot, it's a level restart, if you finish the level but leave a baddie alive, it's a level restart, if you fall off the ground into the abyss, it's a level restart, and there are other ways of failing later.

    I made it pretty easily through the first world. The second one gave me some trouble near the end, as it introduces some serious acrobatic feats. There are these "tomatoes," for lack of a better description, that launch on your movement (when you move past a certain point, the tomato launches), and you must shoot the tomato before it hits the ground. So toward the end of the second world, it introduces tomatoes that don't launch until after you run past them, which means, in this one crazy instance, that you have to run past this grounded tomato, jump toward a faraway platform, TURN AROUND in midair, shoot the tomato, TURN BACK AROUND, bounce off the platform to the next platform as a second tomato launches in front of you, bounce off the second platform and nail the second tomato before it hits the ground. That one took me a while, but I felt amazing when I got it.

    Lovely Planet is full of those moments that make you feel amazing for accomplishing some fantastic feat of dexterity. It's very Super Meat Boy-ish in that regard. The third world introduces some blocks with hats that shoot homing missiles at you, as well as some energy field triggers that will cause a level restart if you are in the energy field about 3 seconds after it triggers. Took me a few minutes to figure out what was killing me on this one level, then I realized what those triggers were (they look like yellow dandelions or something). Note that the game provides no tutorial or hint or instruction. You have to figure out what's killing you and what the rules are for yourself. It actually works and feels rewarding.

    On to the 4th world! It's a swamp, and this is where I threw in the towel. The swamp world is filled with fog, so you can't see very far ahead of you. For the whole rest of the game, my success was due to my reactions and developing skill, as well as a little bit of learning where baddies are. In the swamp, learning where baddies are becomes the main thrust. That's too bad because it minimizes what I thought was the great part of the game, my reaction to seeing what's ahead and my skill at handling what I can see being thrown at me. Introduce fog, and you can't really see what's ahead. So it becomes about going forward bit by bit, memorizing what's beyond in the fog, and then just following your memory. Yeah, your reaction is still tested, but it feels straight up unfair now, and the focus has to win by memorization.

    I watched the rest of worlds 4 and 5 on YouTube, and I definitely wouldn't have made it much farther in world 4. There's a video of someone doing world 4 and world 5 perfect (that is, complete the stage with 100% accuracy and under the goal time limit, and these two videos show the person completing many 3-star levels quite close to the tip top of the global leaderboards, geez). World 5 introduces teleportation and blue "innocent" baddies that shoot at you, but you still can't shoot them. Parts of those last two worlds look insane. I think my head would explode. Fun game, the free price tag!

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    Transistor (PC)    by   dkirschner       (Aug 8th, 2016 at 21:11:17)

    Well, I didn't anticipate Transistor taking only an afternoon to complete. As a follow up to Bastion, this is excellent. It didn't immediately grip me in the same way, probably because it uses several of the same elements that Bastion did; the narrator and the difficulty system, for example. But after I figured out the combat and got into the flow of the game, it had its teeth in me. Like I said, I played the whole thing this afternoon.

    The biggest departure from Bastion is the combat. It's in real-time, but also has a turn-based mode that you can trigger to set up combos and whip around the arenas, gaining backstabby rear positions on enemies or sprinting to safety while the enemies stand there. I very much enjoyed it. You unlock a ton of "functions" (which are like attacks) and place them into various slots. You can have four functions equipped at any given time, one in each "active slot," but each active slot also has two "upgrade slots," and you also get four "passive slots." Now, each function can go into ANY of these slots, and the functions do different things depending on the slot AND depending on which other function you equip it alongside. There are a whole lot of possible combinations, and it's a lot of fun experimenting and learning which combinations are good for which types of enemies and environments.

    Take the function Crash for example. Crash is a basic melee attack. If you equip it in an active slot, then you can run up to an enemy and swing at it. If you put Crash in an upgrade slot with another function, it will usually add some sort of stun effect. If you put it in a passive slot, you take 25% less damage and are immune to stun. One big combination I used a lot at the end of the game was Ping (fires a bolt of energy) in an active slot with Mask in one of its upgrade slots. Mask most upgrade slots raises damage from backstabbing, so my Ping did 125% damage from behind. Then I put Tap (life steal) in Ping's other upgrade slot, so I stole 2% HP every time I shot an enemy. Then I put a massive attack in another active slot, called Cull. I upgraded that one with Purge, which adds damage over time. In my passive slots, I usually had Load, which drops a mine every 10 seconds that you or enemies can blow up, and Spark, which spawns a copy of myself every time I get hit, and Bounce, which gives me a passive damage reduction shield. Note that if you place these functions in other types of slots, the bonuses change! So if you want to automatically drop a mine, Load has to go in the passive slot. If you want your Ping or any other attack to shoot more bullets, you must equip Spark in its upgrade slot. And you can only put a function in one spot (you can rearrange at save points), so every choice eliminates many other uses for the function.

    Finally, I made sure to have Jaunt (a dash) in an active slot because only in an active slot can you use Jaunt during Turn() recovery. What is Turn() recovery, you say? Well, Turn() is your strategic planning mode that you can enter when the Turn() meter fills up, which it does naturally and fairly quickly. When it fills up, you can press RT and then cue up as many actions as will fit in the Turn() bar, where some actions cost more than others. When you press RT again, your character does whatever you told her to do. It's risky though because the more of your Turn() bar you use, the longer it takes to recharge, and you can't use your abilities at all unless the Turn() bar is full, either in the real-time or turn-based mode. This is why Jaunt is so amazing in an active slot, because you can take your Turn() actions and then get away while the bar recharges. And if you put Jaunt in an upgrade slot with most other abilities, it makes that ability usable even if the Turn() bar isn't full.

    Wow, long explanation. The combat system is pretty great, and I wish there were more! You can play the game again on New Game + and keep your levels and functions, which is nice.

    If you played Bastion, honestly the feel of the game is familiar despite it being in a different place with a different story. It's still a world destroyed and you're trying to stop its destruction and bring it back to life. And there's also a sort of twist on that idea, the titular Transistor. There's a narrator, like the old guy in Bastion but not as good, although he's a lot more of a character here, which was good, since Red (the main character) carries him around with her. (The narrator is a guy trapped in the sword, the Transistor). It's got the same sort of difficulty system, which is still brilliant. It rewards you making the game harder with bonus XP. I was running 3-5 of the difficulty upgrades the whole game to make it more challenging. I'm sure the game is simple without any of them turned on. There are also some time trials and other challenges, and I beat all that are available on the first play through (yay!).

    The ONE thing I disliked was the ending, which is weird, because I usually am very accepting of endings, even those that other people hate. It was very abrupt and I feel it weakened the Red character. I can't say much without spoiling, but I think it was an easy and quick way to wrap it up. I don't buy it, and have questions! Nonetheless, the game is worth playing for sure, and I recommend it.

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    Devil May Cry (PS2)    by   jp

    It looks really nice, but the camera is kind of weird and I hate not being able to control it.
    most recent entry:   Saturday 17 July, 2004
    Having finished MoH:Frontline, I needed to pick up another PS2 game that would keep me busy over an extended period of time. I actually have a pretty large backlog of PS2 games to go through (...and I keep buying more) so I picked one of the older games: Devil May Cry.

    As everyone who hasn't played it, I had heard wonderful things about it. I must say, it looks fabulous and the sound is excellent. However, I did manage to get lost easily as well as stuck on the first mission. I have this key which must go somewhere, if only I knew where! I've started to meticulously explore every single location available to me. What is probably going on is that I haven't been able to find a spot where the auto-camera shows me the door I'm looking for. Sigh. Why won't it let me pan around?

    [read this GameLog]

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