Sunday, September 18, 2016

Majora's Mask and the Nervous Crush

My relationship with the Zelda-series is a respectful yet distant one. Although I can acknowledge it for the achievement it is, it's just never been for me. The most fun I've had was with the Minish Cap and I've played far from every entry in the series. I definitely prefer the 2D ones over the 3D ones but to be fair I haven't played enough of them to make a good judgement. Ocarina of Time is still one of the few video games I've owned and sold (although I regret it now), after my dear brother deleted my clear save. Not that I had beaten the game or anything, but I had bought it from a friend who had. I had spent some time running around the world, checking it out but after that save was gone I felt no need to play the game from start. Would you believe me if I told you I found it too creepy?

I'm still interested in the Zelda-series however and don't mind keeping up to date on information or reading/listening to the odd piece about it. So it came that I listened to a podcast about Majora's Mask by Cane & Rinse, a podcast I recommend checking out if you're into more in-depth discussions about video games.

The heart shape is a trap.

Just as with most Zelda games, I've never really played Majora's Mask myself. I've got the Zelda-collection on the Gamecube and gave it a spin a couple of years ago but just couldn't get into it. Just as with Ocarina of Time it's not because it's not a good game, but because it doesn't feel like I belong there. I feel out of place. It's a difficult feeling to explain and I've tried to formulate it to myself many times. Since I've never heard anyone mention feelings similar to that (not that I've asked though), I've always sort of thought I was just being weird about it or that it was actually feelings of inadequate skill that I tried labelling something else. It's far from just Zelda games that give me this feeling either, Omikron: The Nomad Soul is another good example of a game I have no reason to dislike, yet have so much trouble to get into because I simply feel like I'm not supposed to be there.

I don't get this feeling from anything else either. There's never been a movie I really enjoyed but didn't want to watch through, or a book I thought was great but didn't want to finish. Maybe it's because I invest more of myself into a game than those things. With a book or movie, I am an observer. With a game I am participating, I am the one getting affected by what happens, through my proxy on screen. Eventhough I love books and movies they can never become as immersive as a really good game to me. But I wondered if I was the only one who thought that way about some games.

Yes, David Bowie is in the game.

Then I listened to that C&R podcast on Majora's Mask and realized they were talking about exactly those feelings. In it, spoiler alert here by the way if you actually want to go and listen to it yourself first, they conclude that eventhough Majora's Mask is a very good game in almost every respect, it's just not very welcoming. Most agreed that the game was original and were glad it existed, yet none of them (if I remember correctly) said they wanted to ever return to it. Even if they didn't word it the same way I had to myself, I instantly recognized what they were talking about. But what does that even mean? And how can a game be good, yet not be able to make you want to play it? Isn't it by definition a bad game then?

As I said I've been trying to explain to myself how this can be happening, but I am struggling to find the right words for it. Looking again at a game like Omikron, that I've at least spent more time with than Majora's Mask, I have no real reason to dislike it. The controls, albeit taking some getting used to, are fine. The story is interesting, the gameplay is cool. And it's far from a scary game - yet it is definitely unsettling in its style. The world is so different, the characters in it so odd, that I feel out of place and frankly, stupid, whenever I play it. And it is exactly that feeling I had when playing Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask. Even if I may be perfectly capable to play the game, and I know I am, it instills me with a feeling of inadequacy, like there is always something going on behind my back that I am not quite getting. Like I am the one being played and not the one in control.

It takes me right back to when I was completely new at gaming and every game I booted up made me feel insecure and out of place. I didn't know the controls, I didn't know the gameplay. It took me a lot of time and courage before I even dared to try out entire genres, like shooters, because I simply thought I didn't have it in me to play those kind of games (bullshit, of course). Now, except horror games, there is no genre I avoid simply because I think I am incapable of learning them. I know I am bad at certain games, but I'll still play them and I will still have fun with them if they're well done. Yet these special style of games like Majora's Mask and Omikron, eventhough I have fun with them once I get around to playing them and think they are good games, they make me feel like a newbie again. The best thing I can compare it to is having a crush on someone but you end up avoiding them because they just make you so nervous.

Yep, nightmare fuel.

Maybe that is the root of the problem. These games make me feel vulnerable, not because I am afraid I am going to die or fail but because I can't work out what the game wants me to feel and think. The game feels smarter than I am and like it is always one step ahead of me. I never feel like I am in control and as such it is like playing something that is always on the verge of becoming a nightmare even if I intellectually can tell myself it isn't (to be fair, a lot of people think Majora's Mask is nightmare fuel). This drains me of so much energy when I play them that even when I do get around to starting them up, I can never stick around for long before I am mentally exhausted. It is really a very difficult thing to wrap my head around and I end up wishing I could just think of them as "just another game", but somehow instead I get too invested.

The worst thing is that I actually like these games, I do find them fun. Omikron has been such an interesting experience so far and it should be right up my alley, yet I have to force myself to play it because it stresses me out to play it for some reason. Maybe I just need to gather up the courage to ask it out on a proper date.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Field Report #23 - Dragons and Dinosaurs

I was hoping to be able to do a review of Grandia today, but the game turns out to be slightly longer than I anticipated. Not that that is a bad thing, I am already feeling a bit sad that I'll have to part with the characters before long, after having spent almost 40 hours with the game so far. So instead here is a little bit of this and that I've been gaming lately;

Endless Sky
I got the recommendation to check out Endless Sky after having ranted about how much I like Escape velocity yet another time. And it is definitely very much like Escape Velocity! In fact I'd say it is almost an identical copy in style, albeit it seems the story is somewhat different. It's difficult for me to say since I haven't really encountered much story in Endless Sky yet, but it presents itself in the same manner that it does in Escape Velocity. Endless Sky, much like Escape Velocity, is a pretty slow-start game. You don't get much of a ship to work with early on, but there are fairly easy ways to make money. It does require a lot of "mindless" flying back and forth to do escort and shipping missions however, but this is just the way it was in Escape Velocity. I haven't really got the hang of how to battle in Endless Sky yet, and I didn't do much of that in Escape Velocity either, but in both those games it is clear that if you want to enter the fringe areas of space you will need to be able to stand your ground in combat. At the moment I am still mostly doing delivery service in the centre, and safe part, of the galaxy (ie close to the Earth Solar system) and waiting for a story arc to present itself, but overall it is proving to be much of the same simple fun Escape Velocity was.

This picture does not capture the danger of these zones.

Dragon Age Origins
After a rough start where I didn't have much fun with the game things are starting to look a bit better. I've got a squad I am fairly happy with but I still feel a bit lost in the bigness of it all. Dragon Age Origins suffers from the same problem a lot of more-or-less open world games do - they give you a main story arc to follow, often a very urgent one, yet also gives you free hands to ignore it. What's the problem, you might think? Well, it makes the main story arc less believable and immersive if I can just choose to ignore the imminent threat of death and destruction at any time. In DAO I've got characters that remind me of my main task at hand, and that get annoyed when I choose to dilly-dally. Eventhough I like the touch, their nagging personality actually grates on me and to have someone sigh everytime I want to save a child from trolls got on my nerves. So goodbye Morrigan. So far it's definitely not a bad game and I find combat quite enjoyable most of the time (targeting with aoe's is so broken though), but I have yet to feel immersed in the world or stories and the whole Fade business is verging on being more obnoxious than fun or interesting.

He might sound like an Antonio Banderas-wannabe, but he's my favorite character so far.

Yoshi's Story
Not that I have been playing it much, but the son has made great progress! I am so proud. And a bit surprised seeing as he really has not played the game much. Probably not even ten times in his whole life. I am still far from promoting gaming to him since it really is more hassle than it is worth, as far as I am concerned. Personally I think he can have just as fun with a train set or something, and then there is a lot less worry for me that he will break something. He did have a bunch of friends over the other day and at one point they wanted to play some video games. They knocked my n64 twice in the floor before I said it's time to go play something else. Lesson learned, consoles with cables should be on floor level.

Yoshi's Story is great though because it really has a very gentle learning curve. It allows my son to take his time and just jump and walk around for a bit if that is what he wants to do. There is no time limit to worry about and the first stage has very simple enemies. But he's already learned to jump obstacles, eat enemies and fruits, shoot down fruits and get eggs. It's eerie really.

No Man's Sky
I am actually still having fun with NMS. I say that like it's some sort of miracle, but it's gotten so much scorn people seem to treat it that way. It really requires that you make your own thing of it and try to forget the hype. Just like I said in my Initials Thoughts on it, there is a fairly entertaining game in there, it's just not what you might expect.

World of Warcraft: Legion
I am pretty sure I am going to buy this sooner or later, but I really haven't decided when. I knew that I wasn't going to get in from the start because I really don't have the time to stand around with a hundred other players trying to click the same quest giver and getting kicked out of the server over and over. I've done that, no more, thanks. But maybe in a month or so, we'll see.

And that's about it for now, but I'd love to hear what you all are gaming at the moment. I'm guessing it's mostly Legion though!

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Replay = Love?

I read a tweet yesterday that paraphrasingly said that you make time for the things that matter in your life. I consequently interpreted it as meaning the things you don't choose to spend time on are things you don't care so much about. The original tweet was in regards to people. As someone who is notoriously bad at keeping in contact I found it difficult to agree with it however. I rarely call anyone, but there are very many people I am very fond of. I don't call my parents often, but I keep regular contact with them through other means, like Messenger. But someone like my brother, who I care very deeply for and always enjoy being around, I haven't called for years. I don't even think I called him for his last birthday. If that makes me sound like a terrible person, you might be half-right. I've had friends question my lack of interest, only to have me try to persuade them of my sincere enjoyment of their presence in my life. I know people who call to other people in their lives every day. I'm not saying there is anything wrong or weird about that, but it's just not for me. This is something I've had to become better at (and I have definitely improved!) because the feeling that you're not important to someone who never calls for you is a pretty logical one. Anecdotally it reminds me of my ex who always had a hard time remembering peoples names and then trying to convince said people that he still cared for them - he couldn't even remember the names of his grandparents.

To me it's meant a bit of work with myself. To the people around me who have expressed their desire for me to show more active interest, I've obviously tried to do so. For the people who seem fine with me just checking in every now and then and maybe never (like my dear brother), I've kept things that way. It also made me realize I have the same relationship with things.

Not a picture of my brother

I guess it'd be difficult to try to convince someone of your love for a game (or game series) that you have never even played yourself. Yet that is me and my relationship with the Resident Evil series. There are plenty of games out there that I respect for the quality gaming that they are without actually wanting to or having played much of it myself - games like the Metroid-series or Zelda-series. I've tried a couple of them but the gameplay is overall not something I find very enjoyable. This is not the case with Resident Evil however. I really like everything about those games (up until Code Veronica) yet I have never played any of them.

It's simply always been a series of games I've had someone play for me. I keep telling myself it's because they stress me out and I find them too scary. This is probably the closest I am ever going to get to an explanation as to why I haven't played them. Yet I have played horror games, like System Shock 2 and Dead Space (and Alone in the Dark is on my to-play-list). And I have been in very stressful gaming situations, like raid healing in endgame World of Warcraft. So maybe it's the combination then, or just exactly what Resident Evil makes me feel. That could possibly also explain why I am not such a big fan of RE 4 as everyone else seems to be - it might just be more fun to play than to watch. The only RE game I have tried so far is RE 5 co-op, and I definitely had some fun with that but then it is getting more towards an action game than a horror game at that point.

Resident Evil is a bit of an odd one out however, since most games I really cherish I have played. Surprisingly many of them I also hold in very high regard without having played them for years. Games like Lemmings, Yoshi's Story, Final Fantasy VII or Azure Dreams - all games I would recommend to anyone in a heartbeat but haven't touched for ages. It's not even a question of replayability, I know I would have fun with all four of these. But I have played them and so it's more interesting to try something new than retrace, even if I don't know how much fun the new will be.

In fact there are very few games at all I can say to have replayed (or revisited if you like). FFVII and FFX I've played twice, I've watched the first four (five if you count Zero) Resident Evil being played through multiple times if that counts but otherwise I'd be hard pressed to mention more, even if I'd include games I replayed for a bit but not all the way through. I replayed Yoshi's Story a lot back when that was my first and only game, but since then I've only played the occasional stage with my kid. And can you call it replaying if you've never even beat the game in the first place? I spent a lot of time on games like Snake Rattle n Roll or any given Mario game, but I've never beaten them.

I know plenty of people who do the opposite, in fact my SO is just that kind of person. He can rewatch the same series and movies over and over and replay the same games over and over. Of course I rewatch and replay things as well, but it is rare and far inbetween. Does it mean I love them less and enjoy them less? Maybe! Obviously it is very difficult to measure subjective enjoyment but it doesn't sound too farfetched that someone who chooses to play a game enjoys it more than someone who doesn't.

Or maybe it is not that simple. Maybe I just fill up on my enjoyment meter faster or don't empty it as fast as other people. I'm venturing in to ramble-ground here, but why not - that is what a Sunday evening blogpost is for. For instance I know I seem to have a surprisingly good episodic memory, at least when compared to people around me. I can remember, in quite vivid detail, a whole lot of things that has happened to me all the way from around 5 years old to today (as memory is a very fickle thing I couldn't say much as to the truthfulness of said memories, but they're there anyway). Maybe this also helps me store more memories of a game I've played or movie I've watched and so I feel less inclined to re-do it again? So then it is not about how much you enjoy a game but whether you need or want to replay it to experience that enjoyment again.

I think what I am trying to get at is that eventhough there are many games I really love, and even love to play, I rarely get around to actually playing them. I almost always choose a new, unknown experience over an old, known one. I don't want to think that means I love them any less, but I can't exclude that possibility. When my SO boots up Sonic the Hedgehog for the umpteenth time and I see that smile spread over his face eventhough he's spent so much time with it he knows the game by heart - I can envy that sometimes. In his case it is probably also a nostalgic kick, but not even games that hold great nostalgic value to me seem to give me that same feeling.

I didn't grow up playing games or watching films either, so that might be another factor. I didn't have a TV in my own room until I was 19 and could buy one for my own money. I didn't have a computer until I was around 16 and I owned my first console at 13. That might explain the lack of a real nostalgic kick from most things movie and game related, but I don't think it can explain why I so rarely choose to replay games.

In the end I guess it doesn't matter. I'm not suffering from it and I am sure no one else will either. But it is interesting to ponder your own relationship with games sometimes, the ones you call special and how much time of day you actually end up giving them. I wonder how common it is for people to pick up their old consoles and boot up an oldie but goldie rather than play another match of Overwatch? It makes me think that maybe it is time for me to give good old Settlers 2 a spin again, I haven't played it for far too long.