I certainly didn’t mean to let this blog atrophy for a year (yes, my last post is celebrating its first birthday today), and it’s not as if I haven’t been writing: in that year, I’ve written over two hundred posts on my other blog, and a ream of tearfully self-indulgent joy-words on Facebook. But this blog… well, I just haven’t really felt like writing about gaming much.

In fact, I haven’t really even been playing games that much… at least, not compared to previous years. And there’s a couple of reasons for that.

The first thing to drag me away from gaming is the last-minute writing I tend to do on my other blog; the last couple of months of the year, as well as January, tends to be chock-full with panicky Fringe recollections after I back myself into a corner and have to finish the previous year’s Festival writing before the next one starts. (This year is a little different, though: discipline saw me wrap up the 135 posts I committed to before the end of August!)

Another factor was the Next Generation of consoles… or, rather, the complete lack thereof within The Moobaarn. With the exception of the Wii U (of which I’ve been an owner since its 2012 launch, and a happy owner since December 2013), I’ve not plunged into the current console generation yet: there’s nothing really there to interest me, quite honestly, and the one game that I’m really looking forward to – Bayonetta 2 – is a Wii U exclusive… so there’s no need for me to commit… yet. So whilst other people wax lyrical (or wane painfully) about this generation, I’ve not got much – if anything – to say.

And then there’s the little manner of my latest little addiction, affectionately referred to as my K-Pop Midlife Crisis, which commandeered the normally lucrative Christmas gaming time and instead sent me to Seoul for my first real holiday in nearly a decade. But that’s not really a story for this blog… well, some parts of it kinda are. Maybe.

And finally, the gaming world… well, it can be a bit of a shit-storm, can’t it? Three big incidents in the last couple of months alone: Puppy Games Dark Side of Indie PR blog post launched a shitstorm of hatred from narrow-minded, short-sighted “gamers”. The initially hilarious Moms Against Gaming Twitter feed showed that many cannot recognise satire, and rapidly became tragic: the blundering hatred spewed forth by some “gamers” can truly defeat a hopeful man. And as for the bile directed at Anita Sarkeesian and Zoe Quinn (and, thence, Phil Fish)… well, you know what?

Fuck those people. Fuck them all. Fuck them for tainting a hobby I enjoy – and, in identifying themselves as “gamers”, they do taint gaming in general – and, most importantly, fuck them for threatening people like that.

(Oh – and swatting? Seriously… what the fuck?)

And when I say “fuck them”, hopefully you’ll note that I’m not saying “I’m going to FUCKING KILL THEM”, or including some threat of sexual violence. No – I use a commonplace dismissal, a common expression of exasperated disappointment. Because that’s what I feel: Exasperation. Disappointment. Frustration. And a massively conflicted and confused quagmire of emotion whereby I want them to receive their comeuppance for their petulant comments (that, unfortunately, must be taken seriously), but which the pacifist in me wouldn’t want to see inflicted.


So… that might explain why I’ve felt a bit disconnected from gaming – or at least writing about gaming – lately. But it’s not like I haven’t been playing anything… So, carrying on from last time:

In between my random treasure drop Uncharted 3 multiplayer excursions, I played Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons in September 2013. It’s a short – but powerful – little game, with a handful of amazing moments packed into it; many will mention the emotional impact of the third act of the game, but for me the sheer exuberance of the goat-ride through the mountains made it totally worth playing through a second time.

The inspired decision to buy a second PS3 – and learning to operate four controllers at once – saw me boost with myself and collect the rest of my Uncharted 3 trophies surprisingly easily… I only wish I’d thought of doing so earlier. I toyed briefly with the idea of continuing to play Uncharted 3, but common sense got the better of me. I think I made it to Legacy 3, and I’ll certainly remember some of the team antics that occurred as a ragtag group of Aussies gathered together to take on the opposition (whistling “toot toot!” after every kill. Super mature ;)

A play through of Psychonauts on the PC was completed (it really is a wonderful game), and November saw the purchase and completion of Remember Me on the PS3: an interesting game with some occasionally compelling combo combat mechanics, and voice acting at both extremes of the spectrum. And whilst the game doesn’t outstay its welcome, it seems like the narrative could have had a few more things to say; overall, it proved to be a fun distraction, but hardly necessary.

With the release of the latest handheld Zelda title – A Link Between Worlds – I finally had an excuse to pick up a 3DS XL (especially after the universally glowing pre-release hype). However, I’ve barely played more than an hour or two of that game since then: but I have played (and completed) Super Mario 3D Land, which proved to be the perfect game for ten-hour plane rides to Korea. I absolutely adored 3D Land… but then Super Mario 3D World was released on the Wii U.

Holy shit. What a game! Tight controls, wonderful level design, and everything that’s great about Mario. I’m way off finishing 3D World – Champion’s Road is insane – but I’ll keep plugging away until I’ve got all those stamps. The Wii U still gets plenty of use from Wii Fit U, too – my spreadsheet of score bands is pretty comprehensive at this stage, and – just like its predecessor – it’s encouraged me to lose some weight, too. Bargain!

Xbox Live Games For Gold offered up some appealing items: Sleeping Dogs was knocked off in April (and I highly recommend playing The Zodiac Tournament Pack – even if you got the game for free, that add-on is worth every cent of its additional cost), and Lara Croft: Guardian of Light was a quick jaunt in March. And I’ve also snaffled Dark Souls via GFG… I’ve been too scared to start that one, though ;)

Once the last piece of DLC was released for Bioshock Infinite, I dove back in to finish that off. The wave-based Clash in the Clouds DLC freed the gunplay from the jarring contrast of the narrative, and was actually a pleasant challenge; and Burial at Sea was just fucking lovely. Really lovely storytelling, immersive gameplay, and… just wonderful. Way better than the original game.

The StreetPass freebies on the 3DS have kept me busy for a while; Picture and Mystery Manor fell quickly (after the discovery of HomePass), with Quest and Battle soon following. Garden was a bit of a pain in the arse, and I’ve still got one task outstanding for Force… hopefully I’ll conquer that soon, just as I conquered my Heroic run through Halo 2 a few months back, and rolled up all the countries at the end of Katamari Damacy.

But the biggest gaming accomplishment – yes, better than nailing the final Achievements for Lumines Live – was completing Dyad. Some of Dyad‘s Trophy Levels are fiendishly difficult… but incredibly rewarding. I’d honestly be hard pressed to think of a more satisfying moment in my gaming history than seeing Dyad‘s Platinum Trophy pop… it really was everything I want from a game: An abstraction of a world. Consistent rules. A test of mettle.

The plasmic eye candy helped, too.

But you know what’s missing from the year’s worth of gaming above? Any mention of Perfect Dark Zero. Again. Oh, and any discussion of the not-insignificant content of my Steam account. Because discussion of that would cause The List to leap into triple figures.

And we wouldn’t want that, would we?

KartOps DyadShock

Once again, it’s been way too long between posts for me, and the excuses are many and varied: getting sucked into extended play sessions that eat into my allocated writing time. Much more local theatre-going than I’d expect at this time of year. Unwanted time spent in hospitals supporting family members. The onset of Cabaret season here in Adelaide, with both a Cabaret Festival and Fringe to investigate.

But there’s been plenty of playtime, though. Oh yes, plenty.

When I last wrote, I’d just completed my first play through of BioShock Infinite; I gave myself a couple of days of palate-cleansing, then went back in and wrapped up a 1999 Mode run. Whilst it was nominally the highest difficulty level of the game, my familiarisation with the game’s expectations (not to mention the “Return to Sender” trick on the final battle) made this feel far easier than my first run through the game. I still love the story, and I still think the gameplay adds nothing to it – but I wait to see whether the forthcoming DLC will be able to bridge the gameplay-narrative gap.

As soon as I had finished Infinite, I ducked into XBLM and bought Spec Ops: The Line from Games On Demand… and, after two back-to-back playthroughs, it’s a chin-stroking contrast to the polished sheen of BioShock. In no way could Spec Ops‘ gameplay be considered superior: there’s way too much awkwardness to entertain that idea, with the cover system a particular source of great frustration. The visual and aural aesthetics, whilst pleasing in their own way, are also a notch below Infinite… and the narrative could only just be deemed on par (which is excellent).

But where Spec Ops: The Line excels is exactly where I hoped it would: in the ludonarrative realm.

In encouraging (not telling, with one notable exception) you to perform some truly horrific acts of war, Spec Ops creates a sense of inner conflict with the player’s character – and, as strange as it may seem, that soon becomes congruent with the clunky controls. Walker fights your control because he’s fighting with himself; the uncomfortable extended periods of checkpoint-free play has the effect of forcing you to sit there and ever-so-slowly tiptoe through the horrors of the battlefield, contemplating each move as if it were your last.

At least that’s how I react to it. Maybe that’s a little fanciful, but it seems entirely consistent with my experience.

I loved my two playthroughs of Spec Ops: The Line, and only today did I finally gather the courage to start the slog through the FUBAR difficulty level. And it is, without a doubt, the most punishing third-person experience I’ve had; popping out of cover for less than a second at the wrong time can mean instant death. There’s a high degree of chance involved with this difficulty – if you even blindfire at the same moment that two enemies fire upon your location, you’ll die – but I’ve made it through two of my ScaredyPoints already, so I’m feeling like this will just be a grind. A good grind.

But, in late May, with the prospect of being out cabaret-ing five nights a week for the month of June, I didn’t want to necessarily start a game with a heavy narrative thread. So I decided to start a game that I could just tinker with… you know, just play an hour or two here and there, whenever I got the chance. I decided on Mario Kart Wii… completely forgetting how sucked in I get by a lot of Nintendo games.

And did I ever get sucked in by Mario Kart Wii.

And I discovered a whole bunch of new ways to swear.

My goals were simple: unlock all the content available within the single-player modes. This boils down to unlocking all the Expert Time Trial Ghosts (largely a straight-forward affair, with one or two exceptions), and one-starring all the Grand Prix (including Mirror Mode). And one-starring essentially means: stay in first place most of the time, and win most of your races.

On 50cc? A doddle, even whilst learning the tracks. On 100cc? After experimenting with a few new karts and drivers, pretty easy.

On 150cc? Oh fuck you Mario Kart, fuck you right in the eye. Imagine three flawless races, leading from start to finish, and then – on the fourth race – getting double-blue-shelled on the second lap (the second time whilst in the air over a drop) and falling from first to unrecoverable last because your items turn out to be little more than chaff.

Yeah, that happened to me. So did double-blue-shell mere metres from the finish line; blue-shell-red-shell-POW on the final turn; triple blue-shell on the second lap.

But I eventually one-starred 150cc.

On Mirror Mode? Fuuuuuuuck.

I’ve never sworn more at a game… yet immediately returned for more. It’s an incredibly well tuned piece of software that can keep you interested, even when it’s cheated its arse off and abused you in the process. But, despite Mario Kart Wii being a planned gaming distraction for the month of June, I played and I played and I played and… I eventually won. Or rather, one-starred everything (and even managed a few three-star rankings on easier levels). So Mario Kart Wii is now off The List.

Which leads me to one last piece of gaming news: a game that I’d been looking forward to for nearly a year.


A particularly industrious procrastinative mood saw me finally set up a US PSN account so I could purchase Dyad; even now, months after the European release, it’s still not available for sale in Australia. So: I bought; I downloaded. I eyed the game on my XMB with some deal of hesitancy; I know this is going to be a List-Lingerer, I know this is going to be a game I want to love and adore but which I will be astonishingly poor at actually playing.

But I took a deep breath, and started playing anyway.

Initially, I was… well, disappointed. For all the talk of minimalist presentation, the level introduction screens felt cluttered; for all the promise of transcendental visuals, my Space Giraffe-ready eyes weren’t really challenged. It looked pretty, yes, and it sounded lovely, for sure; but it was not what I had expected.

Mind you, I had expected it to change my life… so the problem there is with me, clearly.

But I decided to force myself through all the levels (as recommended by creator Shawn McGrath) before attempting any of the “Trophy Levels”… just a couple a day. I’d come home from work, duck out to the theatre, come home, push through a few levels of Dyad. Every new level introduced a new mechanic, or put a slight twist on an established mechanic – it’s a relatively linear learning curve.

And that plan worked well… until I got within a handful of levels of the end. Some of those later levels required many, many attempts to garner even a solitary single-star rank; I was actually starting to get demoralised by Dyad. Depressed.

But then came the level “Giraffes? Giraffes! From Outer Space”.

And if my first play of this level doesn’t win my Best Moment Of Gaming Award for 2013… well, something pretty unbelievably fucking special is going to have to come out.

It was amazing. Exactly the kind of experience I was looking for.

Dyad is brilliant. I’ve yet to sink any time into the Trophy Levels, and there’s a fair few of the “story” levels that are still at one-star rankings, but I am so looking forward to getting to know this game better.

The Narrative-Gameplay Contrast Project

So… I’m embarking on a little project.

I’ve been insanely curious about Spec Ops: The Line since its release, with many (somewhat trusted) media sources raving about the use of narrative in the game. See, I’m a big fan of narrative… but only when it makes sense in a game. Which is a backwards way of saying that I’m not a fan of narrative/gameplay dissonance.

Now, I must be honest here: I was sorely tempted to write “ludonarrative dissonance” above, because that’s what all the Kool Kids are writing about at the moment… especially regarding BioShock Infinite (which I’ll talk about a bit more later). But I’m not quite sure that’s the right fit for what I’m talking about.

Ludonarrative dissonance – as I understand it – contemplates the conflict between the narrative aspects of what the game projects, and the actions that it asks you to perform as part of the game. In my mind, any game that tries to engage in a real-world scenario is always going to have some sort of ludonarrative dissonance: the need for scoring mechanics, and the simple mapping of such a mechanism onto “winning” (usually “killing”), makes it difficult to reconcile any narrative arc (which usually tugs on emotional heartstrings for effect) with that mechanism. Curiously, that implies that Call of Duty-type games suffer less dissonance than, say, Uncharted.

But that’s not what I’m talking about.

I’m more interested in the feel of the game… the physical expression of the player in doing what the game is challenging you to do.

The Wii (oh, that’s so last generation) had it easy with its motion controls: Wii Sports Tennis is the very epitome of this type of engagement, but that’s cheating a little bit… that’s mimicry. I want to dig into the games that somehow conjure up a physical correlation between what the game wants, and what you – as the player – deliver.

Consider Ico – a stunning game, to be sure. One of the best, in my book. But part of the reason I feel that is because holding Yorda’s hand – which you’re doing for much of the game – is accomplished by curling a finger around onto R1 on the DualShock controller. When I’m playing Ico, and my index finger isn’t on that button, I’m anxious – Yorda’s in danger.

The game did that to me. I suspect it’s a glorious combination of narrative and control tuning that works for Ico; but other games manage without narrative… and I usually describe them as having “responsive controls” or, more often, not notice it at all. The absence of engaging controls is, after all, easier to describe: games can feel “floaty” or disconnected.

But then there are games where the physical interaction is so at odds with the narrative aspects that it’s jarring – proper harshing-my-gaming-buzz jarring. But more on BioShock Infinite later.

So I’ve decided to embark on a little project. I was originally just going to play the aforementioned Spec Ops: The Line, fully expecting the narrative to be completely divorced from the gameplay: everything I’ve heard suggests that the gameplay component is an average third-person shooter, but that there are Decisions to be made… and I want to see how that process is presented by the game. But, with BioShock Infinite getting a lot of positive comments about its narrative aspects from reviewers and punters alike, I thought I’d give that a bash as well… and then there’s the Director’s Cut of cult-classic Deadly Premonition, a game lauded for its great story and cack controls.

Three games of wildly varying perceived quality, all with reportedly strong narratives, none of which are really in genres that elicit enthusiasm in me: I call this the The Narrative-Gameplay Contrast Project (NGCP).

But before I launch into that, there’s a little tidy-up and context-setting to be done: in the last fortnight, I managed to conquer the last of my Colossi, knocking Shadow of the Colossus off The List (a game that also has a wonderful physicality to it… even though I think it’s a poor game in comparison to its spiritual prequel), and rushed through a playthrough of Uncharted 3 on Normal, mopping up treasure and weapon Trophies. Uncharted 3 is, of course, a long-term project, with a squillion multiplayer Trophies to be hunted down; I’ve started playing it a bit online, and it’s a much more accessible game than Uncharted 2 ever was (though there’s issues with balance being skewed by high-ranking perks). But the single-player campaign is absolutely devoid of narrative engagement; as I’ve mentioned before, the game presents itself to me as an asset tour, but I’m not necessarily one to be wowed by those assets.

Which brings us – finally – to BioShock Infinite.

Now, let’s get one thing straight: I love the narrative of BioShock Infinite. I think it’s on par with movies like Inception (which I quite enjoyed, but not to rave-worthy levels), and I think that it’s fantastic that Irrational have chosen to deal with issues like racism and class warfare and personal engagements, all steeped in waves of cheesy nostalgia that evokes The Truman Show. And it certainly presents a wonderfully realised environment; there’s lots of assets to be toured there.

But as for the gameplay

Well, it’s functional, at least. But there’s something about the gameplay that keeps the story at arm’s length for the entire game; it’s almost like it belongs to some other story. Or that Infinite‘s narrative belongs in some other game.

I’m really shocked at how disjointed it made me feel; and that prevented me from actually engaging with the characters, and emoting in moments that were described in the Game|Life BioShock Infinite SpoilerCast (which really is quite spoilery, so only listen to it after you’ve played the game!).

But then there’s the ending.

Not the final “battle”, which is as jarring as the realisation that Brütal Legend is actually an RTS, but the significant end-game sequence (seriously: put aside an hour for it).

The ending is, for me, BioShock Infinite done right. And I know that I say that as someone completely divorced from the history of the game (I’ve only played the demo of the first BioShock, and neither of the System Shock games)… but there’s lots of other disconnects there for me, too. The pervading nostalgia for Americana of a bygone era is lost on me, and it’s only today that I discovered that the oft-referenced Wounded Knee was a real (and horrific) event. But that end sequence absolutely nails the physical engagement with the game for me: every button press was considered, even though there was no bearing on the outcome.


That end sequence that I enjoyed so much? There’s an indie game that does something similar, but so much better. It’s only five dollars, it’s maybe thirty minutes of your time (if you’re a nosy explorer like me), and it’s a really, really wonderful experiment in game-ified narrative. It’s Thirty Flights of Loving, and it’s… well, I’m glad I played it; I’m glad it exists.

Further thoughts on The Narrative-Gameplay Contrast Project as they arise…