Dénouement 2014: Part 3

  By Shamus   Jan 16, 2015   93 comments

Here are the rest of my important games list in 2014. Like I said last time: They’re numbered, but this isn’t like a “Top games” list where #3 is supposedly objectively better than #7. Really, I just numbered the list so you have a sense of how far you are from the end.

Sort of. I dunno. I guess the last one is my favorite after all. Just resist the urge to haggle over the ordering, okay?

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Project Button Masher: Reroute Kanal

  By Shamus   Jan 15, 2015   51 comments

We’ve done synth sounds for the past couple of weeks. This time let’s try something more modern. We’ll take a shot at the Half-Life 2 soundtrack by Kelly Bailey.

Here are the distinguishing characteristics I came up with:
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Dénouement 2014: Part 2

  By Shamus   Jan 14, 2015   73 comments

Here is the first half of my list of important games in 2014. They’re numbered, but this isn’t like a “Top games” list where #3 is supposedly objectively better than #7. Really, I just numbered the list so you have a sense of how far you are from the end. (Un-numbered list articles always feel a little strange because the end feels kind of abrupt. “Oh? We’re done? Okay then.”)

Also I totally forgot about Thief. Like, I forgot the game existed. So it’s not on any list (bad or good) in any capacity.

This is a list with with room for games that maybe I appreciate professionally even if I didn’t totally dig them as a player. Also I might put titles here that I personally admired but might not 100% recommend. You folks know what you’re doing and I know you’re not here looking for a list attuned to the current fanboy zeitgeist. So let’s do this…

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Experienced Points: How GTA V Fumbles on the Easy Stuff

  By Shamus   Jan 13, 2015   78 comments

I don’t expect this column to go over very well. GTA fans are famous for throwing temper tantrums when the game is praised too lightly, much less criticized outright. Moreover, my specific criticism is too easily dismissed by “LOL get gud” sort of drive-by stupidity. With any luck, “This review is so biased!” will also make an appearance. I’m kind of hoping for that one. That one makes me giggle.

Anyway, fear of reflexive fan-rage is a terrible reason to give a game a pass for such a slapdash approach to design. And if someone really is inclined to react with outrage to this critique, then they probably aren’t going to like anything else I do, so it’s best to just shake them loose now.

The worst part is, I know Rockstar isn’t going to change. This game made $RIDICULOUS and so they have no reason to fix this.

But just between you and me? This is the best GTA game since… I dunno. This might actually be my favorite. I would still rather play Saints Row, but this game does a lot right. And I’m not just talking about the graphics. If people don’t freak out too hard over this column I might follow it up with an analysis of what worked.

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Diecast #88: Mailbag

  By Shamus   Jan 12, 2015   195 comments

First off, a bit of technology housekeeping: I’ve messed with the awful WordPress Podcasting system some more. If you follow the podcast via RSS, then check out this RSS feed. The one we’ve been using is maintained by listener ydant, and requires direct human input to update. This new one – assuming this works – should update automatically. Currently, it should show this podcast and the previous one. (I’m not going to go back and add tags to the previous 86 episodes. Sorry.) Please let me know if it works for you.

On with the show:

This was supposed to be our 2014 retrospective. But then half the cast didn’t show up, I was sleep-deprived, and none of us were feeling the magic. We decided not to do the show. Then we sat around talking about videogames for 45 minutes and realized we were once again pissing away a show’s worth of conversation. So we decided to tackle the mailbag, which has been overflowing lately. And then we only managed to answer a couple of questions.

Also – just to make things extra-fun – my internet connection was abominable. I was getting lag spikes of 15 to 30 seconds, which made it very hard for me to participate in the conversation in a sensible way. You’ll hear me seem to react to things long after they’re said and interrupt the other hosts most than usual. (Although I tried to smooth it out a bit in post production.) Oh well. The episode is unfocused, but we made up for it by also making it overlong.


Direct link to this episode.

Direct download (MP3)
Direct download (ogg Vorbis)
Podcast RSS feed.

Hosts: Shamus, Josh, and Chris.

Here are the questions we supposedly answered, but probably didn’t because we didn’t read the question carefully before we ran off on an unrelated tangent:

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The Future is Here!

  By Shamus   Jan 11, 2015   132 comments

You know what’s a great way to celebrate the new year? By looking back on the past and laughing at it with the feeling of smug superiority. With that in mind, I’ve gotten some wonderful full-color laminated user guides for the Netscape-driven internet of 1997. It’s like looking at the internet of some alien species. A species with impeccable spellingby the standards of Earth 2015 but ghastly taste in web design.

These have copyrights stamped in the corner and even have an ISBN number. This raises some interesting questions about the speed of copyright decay in this new millennium. As a technical guide, these things are perfectly worthless. Everything that isn’t obvious is completely obsolete. This is like the driver’s manual for a Ford Model S. The only value is historical, because anyone still using one is obviously a weirdo hobbyist already knows how it works.

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The Last of Us EP35: The Last of The Last of Us

  By Shamus   Jan 9, 2015   163 comments

Link (YouTube)

Apologies to the people of Germany. The end credits music has blocked this video in your country. I realize this must be really irritating, but at least this has put an end to music piracy in your country. So you have that going for you.

And so it ends. Is it weird that our most positive season of Spoiler Warning is about a console exclusive that less than half of us have played? It feels weird to me.

And now I’m playing through it myself. There are a lot of little details you don’t get to see in our play-through, or by watching the cutscenes online. When you’re playing on your own you’re probably going at a slower pace, taking in the sights, and maybe even re-starting from checkpoints if things go sideways. Playing like this, I’m seeing little bits of dialog and little animations. Ellie in particular is good at looking busy without dropping into “blank-faced NPC idle” mode.

Since this is probably the last time we’re going to talk about the game, and since I’m finally getting around to playing it myself, I feel like I should say something about the gameplay. But I really hate to end on a down note. I dunno. It’s up to you. Stop here and bask in the happy ending of seeing a game successfully melting our blackened hearts, or read on and listen to me repeat gripes Josh and Chris covered weeks ago. This is it. Turn back now and leave with happy thoughts. I don’t mind. Thanks for watching.

Really. You don’t need to read the rest. It’s the rants of a whole season, distilled into a single post, written mostly while still angry. That can’t be good. Go in peace, and knowing that we really do love The Last of Us.

The End

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Dénouement 2014: Part 1

  By Shamus   Jan 9, 2015   136 comments

I called 2012 “The Year we pretended to choose things“. And last year was the year of the indies. I guess this is the year of… “Meh”? My usual criteria for putting games on my end-of-year list is that the game has some sort of lasting message, theme, mechanic, or idea. This lets me filter out disposable big-budget titles that are serviceable as entertainment but aren’t really worth analyzing or talking about once you’re done with them. This is supposed to be a list that lets us get a last few words on whatever titles got us talking.

The thing is, I’m just not feeling it this year. Up until recently I thought it was just me. I thought maybe I just wasn’t in a gaming mood? Maybe I’m getting old and the magic is gone?

But no. Apparently I’m not the only one who thinks this way. Chris and I both decided to call this year “meh” before we’d even talked about it. It’s not that games were terrible this year. It’s that there wasn’t anything really remarkable. (Although, for a contrary point of view, check out SuperBunnyHop’s year-end video, which is pretty good. )

The Losers

With an intro like that, I guess I need to head off a few objections along the lines of, “But Shamus! How could you not like X? It was great!” So here is a list of X, where X is a popular game that didn’t make my “best of 2014″ list:

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Project Button Masher: Robo Miner AI Hotfix

  By Shamus   Jan 8, 2015   66 comments

It’s time to take another stab at imitating videogame soundtracks. This week we’re going to try the Descent soundtrack. Unlike last week, I’m going to do what I can to try and make this one sound like it really belongs in the game, which means trying to re-create the old MIDI sounds.

The Descent music has been remixed a lot over the years. Some people heard those old MIDI tunes and felt the need to rebuild them with modern instruments. Sometimes the new version would be a faithful adaptation, and sometimes it would be unrecognizable, bordering on sonic vandalismLet’s be clear: The person who did the unfaithful remix is still more musically capable than I am..

For my project, I’m going to compose something original, but get as close to the old MIDI sounds as I can. Thankfully, MAGIX has a tool to help with this:

Are we making music or going to the moon?

That looks… scary. And it kind of is. There are a couple of video tutorials for this thing on YouTube, but they were so thick with music jargon that I couldn’t follow them, and they usually boiled down to the teacher just reading the damn interface to me. “This is the OSC glide. It will let you adjust the glide for the OSC up or down.” Gosh, thanks Yoda. You really unraveled that mystery for me.

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Last of Us EP34: Giraffes Are Cool

  By Shamus   Jan 7, 2015   107 comments

Link (YouTube)

At this point in the game – just as we finally enter the home stretch – I’m finally going to get to play The Last of Us for myself. I now own a Playstation 4, along with GTA V and TLOU. These arrived via UPS with no note or indication of who bought them. I have my guess, but I don’t want to say anything until I know for sure. The important thing is that someone was very very good to me and I am very grateful. This is exactly the package I would have picked for myself.

This is the penultimate episode of the season. It’s been a good run. I feel sort of bad about stepping all over our discussion of the ending in my column yesterday, but I think there’s plenty of stuff left to discuss beyond, “How stupid and useless are the Fireflies and are they worse than Cerberus?”.

So I’m curious: Can you shoot these animals, and does Ellie react? We didn’t want to do the experiment and risk the wrath of Mumbles if it turned out the Giraffes were mortal.

The scene just before you leave the Giraffes behind is kind of interesting. As far as either of them knows, this shouldn’t be a big deal. Ellie is just expecting to be “studied”. They should be relieved to be done with travel and danger and fighting for survival for a few days. But the dialog flows as if they both know this is going to be a bigger deal than any of the challenges they just faced. The only explanation I can think of is that Joel thinks they are about to part ways.

And finally: Exhibit Z in the “Proof that the Fireflies suck at everything” files: The tunnel leading to their hideout is the most heavily zombie-infested place in the entire game. How long have they been here and not dealt with the monsters on their doorstep? Don’t they need to come and go once in a while? And while we’re at it, I should point out that with no viable means of trade or farming, there’s nothing for the Fireflies to eat.

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Experienced Points: In The Last of Us, Joel Had It Right

  By Shamus   Jan 6, 2015   137 comments

Here’s a spoiler warning for Spoiler Warning: This week our play-through of Last of Us will come to an end. Which means it’s time to talk about the ending. On the show I do the conversational version with the other hosts, but my column this week is the slightly more organized version.

Analogy time: Let’s imagine there’s some movie where a passenger airliner loses an engine. The hero immediately lands the plane on the highway, which kills somebody. Everyone is like, “The hero saved the lives of 100 people, so it’s okay that one person died.” But then some jerkass like me comes along and points out that he didn’t save anyone, because planes can continue to fly if one engine malfunctions. Does that mean that the hero is guilty of manslaughter because he should have just landed the plane properly at an airport? We end up arguing about what the author intended. Was the writer saying our reckless hero panicked and performed a needless emergency landing? Or was the plane really going to go down, regardless of how planes work in the real world?

You end up with two different debates taking place, but they keep getting their wires crossed. One is an ethical debate about the kind of risks you can take when 100 lives are at stake, and the other debate is about how planes work. But if we don’t agree on how planes work then the ethical debate doesn’t make any sense and some people will be arguing that the engineering doesn’t matter because the story is really about the ethical debate and so we go in circles until everyone gets mad.

So maybe it’s unfair of me to analyze Joel’s actions based on the logic of the real world and not on the logic of his world. On the other hand, I think the ending would have worked better if the science wasn’t so muddled. And I think it was muddled because the writer wanted to blur the line a bit to avoid having Joel perpetrate an objectively evil act.

I don’t know. It’s an interesting conundrum.

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Errant Signal: Grand Theft Auto V

  By Shamus   Jan 6, 2015   140 comments

Link (YouTube)

The video makes it sound like Rockstar is taking the game even further in the direction I hate: Now with 50% more arrogant sneering hypocrisy! It’s the ultimate product of bombastic, base, crass, violent, stupid, shallow, consumerist culture, and it spends the entire game looking down on bombastic, base, crass, violent, stupid, shallow, consumerist culture. You could argue that it’s going for some kind of “Spec Ops” style criticism of the genre, but GTA is the genre. It’s like making Spec Ops into a core Call of Duty title, so the game spends its entire running time criticizing the existence of tropes that it invented and continually perpetuates.

And that would be fine if it was self-deprecating, but instead the game pretends it’s somehow above all that. GTA V making fun of beer commercials for their excess of tits and marketing-engineered machismo is like David Cage making fun of the button-mashing stuff in Telltale games. Dude, your house is a pile of glass shards and you are out of rocks. Shut up already.

Rockstar should just make the protagonist Holden Caulfield, except in their version instead of a red hunting hat, Holden is wearing a Nike baseball capThe original red hunting cap would be available as a pre-order bonus. It would still have the Nike logo, though., Levis, Air Jordans, and a Nickleback concert T-shirt. He’s got a spray tan and drinks Mountain Dew while bitching about all those big corporations that are like, hurting the environment or whatever. He would call people phonies, but only if you buy the “Everyone is a Phony” DLC.

And yet, as much as I hate the swaggering stupidity and tone-deaf condescension of GTA, that footage from Errant Signal really makes me want to get the game and explore that world. Which means I am the dumbass consumer they took me for, and they really are the soulless corporate shills they’re mocking. I guess the joke is on all of us.

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