What Makes A Great Western RPG?

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If there has been one genre that has captivated gaming audiences more than any other in the last decade, it is the RPG genre. We have seen some of the most genuinely staggering adventures delivered to our screens by very talented western developers. Each presents unique quirks, art styles, mechanics and narratives that make them stand out within a very saturated field. That’s right, there are hundreds of AA and AAA RPG titles made every year, but only a handful get their time in the spotlight.

Not every game can be a Breath of the Wild, an Elder Scrolls or The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. However, there is a particular formula that makes a successful RPG game. While that may not be too clear from the outside looking in, we aim to delve deep into the phenomenon and find out what makes these games so popular. So, without further delay, here is our guide as to what makes an excellent western RPG.

#1 – An Expansive, Detailed World

First and foremost, you need a setting that is conducive to the RPG title. This means you need a unique environment rich in lore, visually appealing, full of exciting characters, fauna, wildlife, different cultures, biomes, and groups that underline the world’s population’s most essential morals and beliefs. It’s about making the world feel like a complete escape from our own yet giving it enough similarities that we can still find relativity with our real-world ideas and opinions.

Take Fallout New Vegas as an example, a post-Apocalyptic world full of mutants and ghouls. Yet, at its core, this is a world that has left and right-wing political parties fighting for control of the state of Nevada, much like modern-day America. So, in short, make the fantasy detailed, unique, and relatable.

#2 – Emergent Gameplay

The second point relates to emergent gameplay, which for those unaware, means gameplay that will differ from player to player. If you are playing a role-playing game, you crave those moments that you can clip and share with your friends. An odd glitch, a moment that defies physics, an NPC mishap. Anything that makes the experience different from other players. Arguably, western RPGs do this better than any other genre. Their enormous scope allows for many different approaches, enables players to make different decisions and ultimately, has them live with the consequences of their decision. Without this, it’s a rather hollow experience, so a good western RPG needs alternative choices and consequences.

#3 – The Freedom to Role Play

Another aspect of a good western RPG is the ability to play your own way. You can play the main story, prioritize side quests, simply wander aimlessly, or you could sack off the whole potentially world-ending plot and become a chicken farmer. No matter what the player’s desire is, the game must allow for this eventuality.

Compare Fallout 4 and Red Dead Redemption II, for example. While it is hailed as one of the best RPGS of its time, this is a shortcoming. Almost every quest has one set method for completion and in terms of the time in-between. Aside from building your settlement, there are few grounds for role-playing. Whereas in RDR2, you can approach the quests in some ways, you get graded on your approach and in the lulls in between, you can hunt, fish, upgrade your camp, rob, steal and generally cause chaos. In short, RPGs need to allow for roleplay, plain and simple.

#4 – A Strong Progression System

One of the critical components to a western RPG that keeps players engaged long-term is a cohesive leveling and progression system. This system needs to help you build the character you want, give you new skills that allow you to manipulate the in-game world with ease, open up new areas and mechanical possibilities to the player. Plus, all this info needs to weave together seamlessly and inform the player very clearly. So, the UI needs to be on point.

One of the best examples of excellent progression systems would be Disco Elysium. It allows you to gradually build your character’s personality and uncover a mystery as you progress. Or on the flip side, games like Horizon Zero Dawn and the Middle Earth series do a great job of offering more mechanical options to the player, giving them a heightened sense of power.

#5 – Varied Gameplay Mechanics

Then to ride on the coattails of the last point, the mechanics and gameplay within these titles need to be varied, ever progressing and most importantly, fun. This means that players should be constantly given new quests, game modes, combat skills, weapons, loot, vehicles, be continuously challenged with new enemies and bosses. Plus, the game should be balanced so that one play style isn’t inherently better than another. We are looking at you, Skyrim, with your indulgence for stealth archers.

One of the best examples of constantly progressing game mechanics that keep the game feeling fresh is Stardew Valley. This relaxing and straightforward RPG (though neither a western RPG nor a JRPG) utilizes simple farming game mechanics. However, as the game progresses, even up to three or four years into your campaign, new mechanics and content are hurled your way. Showcasing that even with limited scope, you can still provide gameplay that evolves as you play.

So that is our breakdown of what makes a western RPG successful. What do you make of our list? Do you think that we left out any key components? What is your favorite western RPG of all time? Let us know in the comments section below and as always, thank you for reading.

Resident Evil 2

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The release of Resident Evil 2 back in the day was a landmark moment for many gamers of my generation. Back then, lines weren’t quite so drawn between who gamed X or Y platform. We each had diverse consoles, Sega was still in the race with the greatly underrated Dreamcast released the same year. It was all a big melting pot of sharing games and consoles. Like many of my peers at the time, I only owned one console but bought many games for all the home devices on the market. We’d share around both our games and devices, to the enjoyment of all. Even playing single player games like Resident Evil 1 was a community effort where we all sat down and played. It was a great support system especially after experiences the jump scares, alone, at night. You just wish you had your buds next to you for support.

Incidentally, I remember my troubles during the PS1 era. I was adequately a big N follower (I still am but as maniacally). I did not have a Sony console and would not have one until the end of the PS2’s life cycle, during the peak of the PS3. Playing games such as RE mean leaving the borrowed console powered on and restarting entire levels after death because I did not have a memory card. This was resolved soon enough and I made it a point thereafter to always obtain every means of saving games possible for whatever console came out. I did not have the devices but you can bet I had their cards somehow. All of which was defeated once consoles started shipping with internal hard drives.

RE2 was difficult back then, like many games of the time. It was more than a question of the clunky controls (yes, we all remember the characters were actually two-legged panzers…), but the sheer level of unforgivingly slim margin for error. Furthermore, it was quite scary in a way we did not expect. It wasn’t the first “horror” game I played. But it was the first one on consoles for me, and it went to lengths I did not expect for a home medium which is usually rather colorful. I would expect this on most of my PC games but not here. Side note: I was for a very long time 80% PC gamer with 20% left for exclusives on consoles that may interest me.

Resident Evil 2 in 2019 is all of that…..times 10.

I am glad to see that most reviews also agree with this and it is not unexpected. Technology in the past gave us the best version of RE2 that it could. Technology in 2019 just gave us the means to play the RE2 that we, gamers, deserve. It’s a great start for those who never played the classic version. But, in my opinion, those who grew up with RE, like me, will enjoy this the most. This is not a review, it is an opinion and a bit of advice to go play it.

Now, excuse me while I go pray to the universe that someone does Silent Hill 2 at least half as good a service by remaking it to THIS stellar quality.

Opinion on Starlink: Battle for Atlas

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About now some of you interested in gaming have heard about “Starlink: Battle for Atlas”. Given the price point of entry, a lot of regular gamers will want to try it out in digital or physical versions just for the sake its genre mash-up. As put by a few YouTubers, quite rapidly after release, this game should have been called Starfox’s No Man’s Skylanders. Obviously from the name, one can easily deduce what trifecta? it seems to heavily inspire on.

Ubisoft may have stricken gold with this in all forms. There is most prominently the physicality of the regular (non-digital) versions of the game. All console base versions come with a physical ship and a pilot, except for the Nintendo Switch version which comes with Starfox as a pilot along with his trusted Airwing ship and another pilot from the game’s story. This is all well known at this time and been covered by games media. Consequently, for those who rather dislike digital versions of games, they will necessarily try out the toys even if they never were quite fans of such things. Heck, some people may discover they like actually having a physical ship on their controller to maneuver the ship on screen. And let’s not forget the compulsive collectors… As a result, a percentage of buyers will end up purchasing an upgraded weapon or extra ship/pilot pack and what will this add up to? Bundles of cash for Ubisoft!

By now, from reviews and videos, a lot has been said concerning the gameplay etc. As a reminder, whatever version of the software you opt to buy, this is and remains the most Starfox game ever, even for those who do not have the Switch version ; it is also the No Man’s Sky we were promised on day one as well as a great Skylanders type of game (toys to life). Which explains the long moniker used to create the new title lol. Controls are satisfying for me, although it can take a while to remember Starfox strategies from my old days, they are important in order to easily survive.

I have to point out, if it weren’t obvious to some, how Ubisoft is doing an amazing support of the Big N of late. They even have the very latest Assassin’s Creed on the Switch, albeit in streaming version only. Sure, it’s only in Japan for now, but even if it never makes it to the West, the fact that it was *done* anywhere at all is amazing. We already saw during the 1st year of the Switch how surprisingly good Kingdom Battle was. It was a true Rabbids game (those guys are nuts!) and a true Nintendo game with an Xcom framework. One does begin to see the mash-up trend does one not?

Ubisoft showed well how certain games can translate “well” to the platform and how AAA Third Party games don’t need to be just ports of past iterations. And now, with this new IP, they have made a multiplatform game where the best version in terms of content(both digital AND physical) happens to be on the Nintendo Switch.

The other versions are great in terms of technical performance since they are on much stronger platforms. Nevertheless, having both a PS4 and a Switch, it was a no-brainer for me as to which version of Starlink would be worth my money. Starfox means something to me. It was the very first game I possessed on the N64 and one of those out of which I got the most enjoyment with my friends (split-screen battles!). With all the extra dedicated story content, seeing the characters in a space exploration action-adventure is awesome. Without them, without the related exclusive content, Starlink still feels like an open-galaxy (see the wordplay there?) Starfox without humanoid animals.

Ubisoft is on a roll with the Switch. I actually feel like trying the newest Assassin’s Creed although I had sworn them off after AC: Unity. There is hope that the company has taken a form I can like again. Needless to say, Starlink BfA is one game I highly recommend to at least try. I have completed so far the entire main story as well as the Starfox content. There is still much to do such as completely scanning the fauna and flora, getting rid of Outlaw bases (I annihilated the dreadnoughts as soon as I could though). It’s just too bad there doesn’t seem to be a demo available. It would be so much more beneficial to the publisher in my opinion. At least half those who would’ve experienced the demo would surely buy it( by the way, it’s almost half off the price at the moment at most retailers).

Boss Fight Books 17/19: advance reviews

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Books 17 and 19 of Boss Fight Books series happen to be from two different seasons. Book 17: Katamari Damacy is the final book of season 3 while Book 19: Shovel Knight is the second book of Season 4. Having read all the books released thus far, it’s quite striking to notice the difference in feel among them. Season 4 of BFB is dubbed “Creator Access Edition”. As the name suggests it focuses most on the different studios and people involved in the creation of the chosen focus of the books. In contrast, many of the past books in this series were so much more about describing the games themselves in their intimate entirety in regards to narrative, but also the relationship of the author to said games. I should point out then that one of the books which most related to the author was Spelunky, Book 11, written by Derek Yu….the games creator!

As a backer of the season 4 of Boss Fight Books on Kickstarter, I am entitled to the entirety of the series up to the current season. Nevertheless, I received advance copies of both books for the purpose of this review. A big thanks to BFB and Gabe Durham for this opportunity! On with the books…

**Katamari Damacy

kata

Katamari Damacy is one those strange quirky games that your best friends may frown upon when they see you playing it, but secretly itching to get their hands on the controller. In my mind, I have difficulty dissociating it from Patapon which elicited similar reactions from my peers whenever I was found enjoying it. As the author points out in this books, this is a work leaning most on great gameplay, novelty and fun. It is a work of art in that it can be interpreted in depth despite its simplicity, it presents not the shallowness often coupled to the superficial fluff of improved graphics at the time. To this day I do not really always care about how pretty a game can be; a lot of people are rediscovering this fact in themselves, the critical acclaim and the sales of Octopath Traveler attest to that.

As the final book of Season 3, Katamari Damacy takes an approach more similar to the books of Season 4. It focused a lot on the creator’s journey up to and beyond the release of the game. I felt a great parallel between it and Shovel Knight which releases with it in a few days. The author did a solid overview of certain culture particularities related to the Japanese which quite frankly would have gone way over our western heads had he not written about them. Those part are some of the most interesting, more creators should, with their cultures, be this unapologetic about their unique aspects.

**Shovel Knight

Shovel

This book takes a very investigative approach to its subject. It is very more in line with my thoughts on what creator access should be, and very special in that it is as much the story of WayForward (WF) as a company as it is about the IP itself. Many publishers have had their story told and retold in a way that we could actually recite them verbatim. Examples of this are Id Software, Nintendo, Square-Enix. The story of WF relates as they represent in a way the dreams of many of us gamers who dreamt of being creators, and at the same time, they have lived through some of the hard times that we can easily imagine happens when one takes the route of independent development. It is not difficult to understand that many such teams of developers never survived beyond a game or two. Following their journey towards themselves as a group of friends and colleagues become something bigger, then towards their dream which culminated in one awesome modern NES game, was a blast. Theirs was a true journey, with many downs but their ups reached some interesting peaks to balance everything out. I would not mean to spoil anything from the narrative, nevertheless, I must that it was amazingly serendipitous that so many of their favourite creators from the golden era of the NES/SNES could meet with them, even collaborate in Shovel Knight!

Both of these books achieve their goal and the research/interviews were well done for me. Naturally, I do find myself partial to any story of an indie studio, whether of success or failure. If Katamari Damacy had focused more on the big publisher (Namco) instead of the true creator hidden behind this corporate juggernaut, I would not have like it as much. I enjoyed both books, and I recommend both, especially Shovel Knight simply for the fascinating tale of Wayforward Studios. Both Boss Fight Books come out in a couple of days. They can be easily found on Amazon: Katamari Damacy (Boss Fight Books Book 17) and Shovel Knight (Boss Fight Books) or at Boss Fight Books.

Foreign

A stranger in a strange country.

To some extent, many people have never live out the particular aspect of teenage angst whereby one feels foregin to everything and everyone.

Bodies changing, hormonal awakening and all that. We’ve been through it…Have we come out of it?

When your mind thinks in a language and your people in another, when your tongue craves tastes that others shy away from, and in your ears echo songs of the world but not of *your* world…

What does that make you?

Foreign in your being, among your peers;

Foreign by birth, among your species;

Where are you a citizen of?

Musical Poetry

The Relation Between Written Poetry and Music

Written poetry is one of the most musical of all literary forms. Poetry depends upon sounds, rhythm, silences, and criteria beyond the content to create its effect. In history, poetry was always performed with music and poetry and music have never been separate entities. However, what is the interconnection between poetry and music?

What is The Interconnection Between Poetry and Music?

Poetry and music are clearly two different types of art, but they both make most people feel the same way. The impact on people is dependent on the type of personality and the past experiences they made. Poetry shares a particular message, idea, or feeling. The choice of words and context significantly impacts the message communicated from the poet to the reader.

Also, the way the words are read plays an essential role in getting the message across. The mood and the connotation have a significant impact too. This comes in tone, rhythm styles, cadence, alliteration, repetition, assonance, and many more. All of the previous are qualities very similar to music. Poets of social protest tend to use music alongside their work because the use of music tends to achieve a bigger audience and ensures that their message is heard.

Poetry is received and processed by the right hemisphere of the brain, just like music. That’s why poetry can leave you speechless and touch your heart. Regular texts instead are received and processed by the left hemisphere of the brain. The human voice has pitch and volume. The sound we make have duration, and all the variables are present in music and in speech. Thought does not arise before speech or song but in parallel with it. You can start speaking a sentence without knowing how you will end it. Thinking proceeds in parallel with expression.

In history, ballads and folk songs have been written and sung as a part of the traditions and cultures of many countries. Poems often inspire a song or vice versa, and both are born from within another. So, poetry and music are strongly connected. The philosopher Nietzsche had the concept that music and poetry were unified in the past. In his theory, each of the two art forms lost something when they developed along separate tracks.

The poem must be read aloud to reveal the meaning of the poem. The voice, expression, pauses, lilt have much meaning within. That’s why many poets nowadays record their poems to music and release it as an audio file.

Conclusion

When you start looking at poetry the same way you look at music, you will get the urge to read poems just as you listen to certain music. Words are more powerful than we think, and they can hurt people, uplift them, and genuinely sing their ways into their hearts.

“Truly fine poetry must be read aloud… Poetry always remembers that it was an oral art before it was a written art. It remembers that it was first song.” — Jorge Luis Borges.

Choices – End

Part 4

Casey felt himself falling through a dark hole again. He wasn’t sure he could take more of this. He believed he would puke or pass out at any moment. But then, that only happened in real life. He didn’t know was real or wasn’t again. It was all a stretch, and everything merged into one another. This time, it was fast, and everything around him swirled. Keeping his vision was difficult, not that he could see anything as darkness took over everything. He was tired in every sense of the word. He needed to feel something solid, not this abyss that eroded his senses and left him useless. There were no walls to feel. It felt as if he was going through a portal often talked about in children magic storybooks. At last, his request was granted, but not in the kindest way.

Casey fell against the desk, bumping into it with his side. The pain shot up through his side. He struggled with his balance until he found a suitable place to sit on the floor. He was in the office, and he was grateful to be. A place he would have abhorred felt like home to him. His brain felt foggy as he struggled to come to terms with what had taken place in the office. The office clock showed that everything had happened in the space of thirty minutes. Thankfully, no one had come inside to see what was going on during those periods. They would have been shocked because he didn’t know what happened himself.

The chirping birds by the window provided a momentary distraction for him, slowly bringing him back into reality and a consciousness of his environment. He felt a stab of jealousy as he looked at the creatures flapping their wings. They weren’t only free; they also had no cause to worry. The birds weren’t bothered about where to sleep or what to wear. They didn’t have to think about the right clothes to wear. They were beautifully created, and nature served them.

Slowly, he considered his life and what had put him in his present situation. The wads of notes drew his gaze like a magnet. He was in a precarious condition. Many things could go wrong if he took the money. The police could be hot on his chase in a matter of days if the money was either the building owner’s or had been reported stolen. He could become a fugitive for real. But then, he knew that what he had just seen was a picture of what his life would be if he decided to escape with the money or left it. The police chase would be a small price to pay for the exotic lifestyle he had seen.

Casey was no seer or prophet. He never believed in such things and would gladly bear the title of being the least religious person in the entire universe. But now, his belief was being threatened and put to test.

On the other hand, he could go without the money, which was the honorable thing to do, but he was tired of the kind of life he lived. What he had seen was worse compared to how he lived at the moment. He wished to have a family, go for cocktails, have expensive dinners, drive luxurious cars, and have people at his beck and call. Who didn’t want that kind of life? He didn’t only desire it; he deserved it as well. It was his right. Casey felt a kind of righteous anger go through him. It wasn’t fair that only a small percentage of society lived the kind of life he had seen. What should he call that- a trance or a vision? Nobody deserved to be poor, especially him. He worked as hard as everyone else, always ensuring that he gave his clients the utmost satisfaction in every job. But then, humans were wicked and merciless. For instance, he had slaved his butt off in the trance, and the client had deemed it fit to pay him meaningless wages.

Now, he would chart the course of his life. Casey recognized that he had a rare opportunity. He wasn’t ready to let it slip through his fingers because of one honorable deed that no one would acknowledge. He would think about the price to pay later. Now, whatever he decided to do with the money would determine how he ended up in society. Which one would it be: Casey, the pauper, or Casey, the billionaire? He knew the one he would choose. The sound of billions caused his stomach to knot, but it was a welcomed reaction. He refused to be at the rung of the ladder any longer. Those at the top should wait for him because they were having a new member. Once he reached that point, there was no going back.

His mind was made up. However, he still had some things to do. He stood up from the floor, finished his cleaning, and wiped the soiled table. His client must be satisfied, so much that he would be the last suspect. Then, he picked up the wads one after the other, knowing he was being melodramatic about the whole thing. The smell of money was intoxicating. It wafted through his nose and pooled in his brain. He got another black bag to repack the notes. Folding the bag well so that it looked small, he tucked it into his jacket. Of course, he felt odd, probably because it was, but Casey banked on a successful operation. He packed his tools and stealthily walked out of the office. He knew no one would pay attention to the cleaning man who walked oddly because there wasn’t a time when he didn’t walk or behave oddly to people. Poverty always made someone look strange. Now, he was bidding it farewell. It had characterized his life enough. The world would witness the transformation that only money could bring. He smiled into the darkness around him, the desire for survival overriding the need to be morally upright.

Choices – Part 3

Part 3

Casey gasped for breath. He felt himself choking as he tried to regain his sense of place and direction. It was happening again- the shift

Everything around him went dark again. He was returning home after the usual stressful routine of each day. The atmosphere matched his emotions and state of mind. The night was dreary and had a mournful feeling to it. Casey trudged along the path, dragging his tired derriere behind him. His body was drenched in a mixture of sweat and the rain that refused to let up. It was all so great! (He thought sarcastically). He should go home, but he would only go and drown himself in sorrow. He was afraid to be by himself during this time. He didn’t trust what he could do.

Casey wasn’t only tired; he was very angry. Left to his weary bones, he would have packed it up and ended everything, but his anger fueled his motions. He walked on familiar terrain, so, his legs carried out an automated function, while his brain focused on the grey areas in his life. Speaking of the grey areas, he had many of them. He found it hard to understand why people chose to be heartless and difficult. He had done a cleaning service, which wasn’t unusual, but the client had done him a great disservice. He had gotten only a stipend compared to the enormous job he had executed.

Casey eventually stopped in front of a rickety building that was his destination. His usual clique was there, each man with his problem. They hardly talked about such depressing things when they were sober. However, once alcohol took its course, their tongues loosened up. He drew out a stool and requested for a bottle of beer with a glass. He didn’t have money, but he could show some class. Using the glass, instead of drinking from the bottle, was a way of depicting that he wasn’t a low-life many assumed he was. He was only unfortunate to have the shorter end of the stick in life. There was no rush as each man cradled his bottle or glass, as the case may be, like a baby.

In for a little fun or insult, depending on how the guy took it, Casey placed his legs on the table. Those legs needed to stretch. Almost as he had guessed, his motions didn’t sit well with the bartender who ordered him to take his filthy legs away from the table. As if that wasn’t enough, he followed his statement with ear-deafening expletives and insults. Casey only grinned at him. He that is on the ground needs not to fear any fall.

The night soon wore away with Casey taking his time with his precious bottles. He tackled them one after the other, but he wasn’t drunk. It would take more than a few green bottles to get him knocked. When he was satisfied, he paid for his drinks, followed by curses and insults as the bartender graciously reminded him of his debt. He would sort those ones out once he had the cash. They knew he was going nowhere, at least, not anytime soon.

He trekked the distance to his house, covering it in no time even though he was only partly functional. He didn’t stay anywhere fancy. A mirthless laugh formed in his throat as the thought of what fancy meant crossed his mind. People like him were not cut out for anything fanciful in life. They only managed with whatever was available, which at times, was nothing. His apartment consisted of a tiny room with an adjoining kitchen. He was glad to be unmarried. At least, he didn’t have to share the small room with a wife and some tiny urchins who never remained small for a long time. He kept a chair and table somewhere for reading, which wasn’t often. During those times, he found a convenient way to fold his bed to provide the necessary space. Once he was done, and it was sleep-time, the chair and table would go back to their original positions.

Casey wasn’t a man with many regrets. Of course, he could have made some better choices in his life, but he had no regrets. His philosophy was that whatever would be, would be. However, starting from this day, he had a regret. He must have lost his mind for not taking those wads of money. He wasn’t only a poor bloke; he was a coward as well. Now, he had to live with the punishment of not taking the money. His punishment was remaining in penury. The one day that his cleaning job had fetched him a great fortune, he had blown it all by leaving the treasure behind. Who on earth made such gullible decisions if not him? He could have rewritten his life’s history and left the pauper category for life, but here he was, entering his apartment like a spy.

Sure enough, the source for his misery and anguish waited at the top of his steps. He was the reason why he crept inside like a robber on a plantation farm. His landlord couldn’t have chosen another time to conduct whatever business he had with him. The morning was there for Pete’s sake, but the other man looked unfazed. He stood against the railing. Casey knew that the relaxed position was only a decoy. His landlord was always tensed about everything, especially when it had to do with his rent. And dealing with someone like him, the man would be double-tensed. Casey couldn’t remember the last time he paid. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to pay, he simply didn’t have the means. He felt a rush of anger again as he thought about the money he had seen. What a waste!

Casey anticipated the man’s move. Sure enough, the landlord pulled him aside to remind him of his gross irresponsibility and his growing bills. He promised to do something about it by the end of the month. Of course, the other man didn’t believe him.

Choices – Part 2

Part 2

The sight that greeted Casey sent an instant message into his brain making him momentarily forget about his throbbing toes. What was a little pain for the pleasure that was before him? He could take care of himself and do more than that with the crispy notes lying on the floor.

The several wads of dollars scattered close to his feet. He instantly lost whatever semblance of control he had over his jaw muscles. He opened and closed his mouth several times like a fish deprived of water. Maybe it was because his mouth was suddenly dry. He desperately needed water, but that was a luxury his clients didn’t think was necessary for him. He provided his water when he was at work, but this time around, he didn’t have his can. Anyway, a bottle of beer would do more justice to his feelings than a pitcher of water.

Casey knew he wasn’t himself, and he wasn’t sure he would recover anytime soon. He reeled from the shock of seeing such large amounts of money. With a quick scan with his eyes he estimated that the treasure ran into hundreds of thousands of dollars. That was way more than anything he had ever come across in his entire miserable life. He could faint right there. For the first time in his life, he was weak. Wow! He couldn’t believe the effect this money had on him. He held on to the side of the desk he had just cleaned to support himself, soiling the point of contact with his dirty hands. Casey didn’t notice that. He understood now what people meant when they talked about swooning. For a big guy like him, that was far away from his imagination.

As if discovering the treasure wasn’t enough, Casey had the strangest feeling. The day was surely one dedicated to unexplainable occurrences. He felt himself shifting into another dimension. His body felt as if he was being lifted, and he saw a different version of himself.

He was dressed in a well-tailored suit with matching accessories. He had a meeting and was running behind schedule. His personal assistant struggled to catch up with heavy breathing, but he wasn’t fazed. As a matter of fact, he was enjoying the attention and smiled to himself. On another day, he would have laughed out loud, but right now, he was getting late for his meeting. Not that anyone would query his late-coming. He liked to put people in their places and on edge by getting to the venue pronto! This was the privilege that only money could afford. People worshipped money and those that had it. He was among the few that commanded such respect.

Casey checked his wristwatch for the umpteenth time. Right on cue, the Limousine he favored for such meetings, especially when he was interested in creating an impression, drove into the special parking space allotted to him. His driver knew that he didn’t like to be kept waiting. This lateness entirely was of Casey’s doing. He had lost track of time while absorbed in his work. On the other hand, his vain side knew that was only an excuse as his personal assistant had reminded him several times about the meeting. He was going to assess many contractors, all vying and dying to pick up the contract of marketing and advertisement of his cleaning company. Let them squirm as they wait for him. It was his time, and the ball was in his court.

His personal assistant managed to get herself inside the limo along with him. She held out some documents to Casey almost as soon as her bum hit the soft leather of the car seat. Casey couldn’t stop the quirk from forming at her reaction. He wasn’t a difficult boss; he was far from it. However, his members of staff knew that he wanted his work done in a specific way and at a particular pace. He took the papers, thoroughly went through them, and appended his signature where it was necessary. With that done and out of the way, he focused on something else, but his personal assistant was obviously not done with him. She informed him of a press conference scheduled to immediately hold after the meeting. She mentioned other things, but Casey’s mind wandered from her. She would repeat them after the meeting, even if he told her he got everything she said. His thoughts soon drowned out her voice.

The meeting was a brief one. Although he tried not to mix his business with sentiments, he awarded the contract to a start-up company. Casey knew what it meant to be poor and struggling. As long as the company did his work well, he had no problems.

The Press Conference was scheduled to hold thirty minutes after the contract meeting. He used the chance to grab something to eat, giving his personal assistant the time off to prepare for the conference. He went with some of his colleagues, enjoying the relaxing atmosphere of the luxurious hotel. He dined in nothing less than a five-star hotel. Any other was below his standards and what society expected from individuals like him. Not that he cared, but it was sometimes nice to enjoy the luxury that came with his position.

The Press badgered him about his humanitarian work. He loved that, but what he loved more was that they acknowledged the success of his cleaning company. It was his pride and source of joy.

“Sir?” One of the pressmen called.

He acknowledged the gentleman with the tilt of his head.

“One last question, sir, before the end of this conference,” the man said, nonverbally seeking his permission to continue his line.

“Ok?” Casey replied.

“How did you come about your wealth?” The man finally threw the dagger.

Casey smiled his answer to the man, preferring not to say a word. Nobody would believe how he made his fortune, and he didn’t want them to. It was his little secret. He cherished it above anything else.

Choices

Part 1

Casey walked into the already dilapidated building and took the stairs to the 4th floor of the building, he hissed as he kicked against some scattered debris on the stairs. He hated his job and all that it represented. He walked dejectedly into the office that looked abandoned and stunk.  He wondered who in the right mind would get a business started in this abandoned building with leakages and moss growing on its walls. He didn’t have to think much farther it was the people like him who were desperate for an income and were mostly trying to make ends meet. It was obvious business was slow because the condition of the office didn’t attract many customers.

He had been hired to clean the office and fix most of its leakages and possibly make the office more presentable. That was his job fixing, mending and cleaning. His friends at the club, the only friends he had, called him fixit. He was known for the patch work he did around the neighborhood and at the end of the day he would drown himself in beer at the club sharing jokes about women and politics.  It was boring and the building was dead being a Sunday. He dropped his tools on one of the tables and took a deep breath. The building was so damaged he was confused as to where to proceed from.

He began his chores by filling the holes on the wall and scrubbing the dirt on the walls. He worked for a while peacefully humming to the tune from Bruno Mars’s ‘lazy song”. By noon he was almost half done with his chores. He locked the office and went down for a cup of coffee in a nearby café. He ordered black coffee with no milk or tea, bland and bitter like he thought his life was. As he sipped his coffee he couldn’t help but imagine what he would do if had even a substantial amount of money to himself. He was definitely not going to waste it partying or journeying around the world but rather invest in a cleaning company to help people like himself and also make success out of it. A lady sitting across him in the café winked at him, he smiled politely and looked away and he was still yet to understand women’s fascination with men in uniforms. He was too busy with work to dwindle with any lady for the time being which was just going to cost him more mental stress and at the same time monetary expenses.

He paid for his coffee and walked out of the café. He was exhausted and he was more determined now more than ever to finish his work so he could retire to his room. He walked into the office and as he cleaned the office his foot hit a plastic bag.  He yelped out in pain and angrily tossed the bag unto the pile of trash he had gathered at a corner of the office. He was done with cleaning and it was quite late in the night. All he had left to do was to dispose of the trash. As he packed the trash into a plastic bag, a plastic bag got stuck on a nail on the wall. He groaned aloud, it was the same bag that he had hit previously; he tugged angrily at the bag hence spilling its content on the floor.

Wads of dollars spilled onto his feet, he stood in shock and the weirdest thing happened. He felt like he shifted into a new dimension where he stood in well-tailored suit and leather shoes with his PA running behind him. He laughed out loud; he was headed to a business meeting, in which he had to decide on the company he was going to contract marketing and advertisement of his cleaning company. His limousine arrived to pick him up with his PA entering along with him. She showed him some documents in need of his signature. As he signed on the documents, she informed him of a press conference that was scheduled to hold immediately after his meeting. He went for the meeting and ended up contracting it to a starting company because he was mostly being compassionate to them being previously poor himself. It was time for the press conference before which he had lunch at a luxurious five star hotel with some of his colleagues at work. The press was asking questions mostly on his humanitarian work and praising his success in his cleaning company. “Sir” one of the press men asked him “one last question before the end of this conference. How did you come about your wealth?”

Casey felt everything darken around him, he found himself walking alone on a dreary night with his tools in hand. He was returning from a tedious day at work, his body drenched in sweat. He was angry, he had gone for a cleaning service and his client had only paid him a stipend compared to the service he had rendered. He walked into his regular club where he sat with his friends slowly sipping on a glass of beer. He stretched his legs on the table and the bartender insulted him and told him to remove his feet.  At the end of the night he paid for his drinks with the bartender reminding of his previous debt he was yet to pay off. He walked home to his apartment, which was mostly a small room with a tiny kitchen blaming him for destroying the money he had found at one of his cleaning jobs. As he walked up the stairs to his apartment he ran into his landlord who pulled him aside reminding him of his irresponsibility and not paying the bills.

He fell down and found himself back in the office with the sounds of birds chirping on the window bringing him back to consciousness. Reality dawned on him; he had found a sum of money that had the possibility of changing his life. Whatever he decided to do with the money was going to determine how he ended up either as a successful man or a man not respected by the society. The trance he had seen was what his life would look like should he decide to use the money or destroy it. He was stuck between doing what was right or wrong. He knew what he had to do with the money, so he picked the plastic bag of money (and?)…

Nostalgia in Gaming – The Cure or the Curse

Nostalgia is one of the biggest trends in the modern video gaming world. You only need to look as far as a release schedule to see sequels of games that have been running for years on end, and even games that have been re-imagined and reintroduced into the realms of gaming.

Nintendo is a company that beats the nostalgia drum quite heavily and with repeated fashion. Look at their top games line-up and you’ll see the likes of Mario and Zelda rearing their heads to cast their gaze over you and your wallet.

Nintendo has gotten it right for the most part. While a large portion of their games may come from the same universe, not many of them are absolute carbon copy or re-imaginations of older titles. Quite a few of them can stand on their own as solid examples of video games.

 

The Psychology of Nostalgia

Behind the nostalgia that you may feel while gaming is a rather sound psychological principle. It’s a mix of both positive and negative emotions that arise when thinking back to meaningful events. Media content is a trigger for nostalgia that can help people feel better about themselves and get rid of that solitary feeling.

Nostalgia can promote mental health and well-being. This especially true when teaming up with the same characters from before. These relationships, while social and complex, allow players to see these characters as extensions of themselves or members of their social circle.

 

Defining Nostalgia in Gaming

It’s a difficult task to look at nostalgic gaming because there’s no real answer as to how the games make people feel or indeed, what guides them towards these games. But you don’t need to look into too much depth to see why the games are defined as such.

The Final Fantasy series is one of the biggest inclusions, despite the games having advanced in terms of both graphics and gameplay. The newer games don’t feel much like the older ones at all. The stories have very little to do with each other (save for the remakes), but there is usually a common thread that lies within the games. The developers throw continuity out of the window in favor of the title to generate the feelings of nostalgia and sell games.

So, while you have to sort through the feelings that are generated by such titles, there are some new games that came out recently that spark the feelings of nostalgia, but still, in their own rights, are amazing games. Titles such as Cuphead and Undertale are two that strike an immediate spark. Both of the games have been designed to, either purposefully or accidentally, spark the feeling.

 

True Nostalgia

The truest form of nostalgia in every sense of the word is bringing back the games of old. Looking back through consoles like the SNES and even the Sega Mega Drive, we saw a bunch of games that defined the industry as a whole. Where would games be without the influences of characters like Sonic and Link? How would games be different today if it weren’t for the button mashing of the first fighting games, or chopping down multiple enemies in Golden Axe?

Looking back to the late 1970s, Oregon Trail is a game that few played, but many know about because of its meme power. The game was supposed to be a form of edutainment, teaching people about the settlers across the old west. It was able to teach you that every decision you make is probably the wrong one and will kill you without any fear of hurting your feelings. You’ll die of dysentery multiple times, and it’s as simple as that.

Going back to play the game now is a waste of time for most gamers. The game looks terrible is awkward to play. Its soundtrack is pretty shocking, to say the least and it has almost no replay-ability for the sake of being boring and repetitive.

Something like Ultima 7 was a game of true nostalgia. Had you sunk many hours into it when it was first launched, you’d understand everything about Britannia. The music as you entered Lord British’s castle, the way you and your companion Iolo had discussions over ale in the tavern, and even feeling sad for Spark, after seeing his father’s gruesome death. The game conjured up emotions, told weaved tales, had amazing music and was a genre-defining game that pushed the limits of technology at the time.

Opening the game now is a little different. It may be that technology plays a big part in why games cannot be felt the same way anymore. Games seem dated, clunky and obtuse. With gamers playing on huge monitors, and the type of gameplay and graphics we’re now accustomed too, those games of old can only do what they can to conjure up images of fun and joy from your youth.

Nostalgia isn’t always a saving grace though, as Duke Nukem Forever proved. Trying to relive the glory days in the world of first-person shooting, Duke Nukem Forever failed in every single avenue possible and was a mere shadow of the success of what Duke Nukem 3D was… Or was it?

Do we remember those games so fondly because they were that good or just because there were so few to choose from? Looking back at some of the more popular games that were available, they did seem to be rather difficult by comparison. Games wouldn’t last a mere 4-6 hours of gameplay. People would put months into games from the Mega Man series, constantly trying to best their enemies. Even games as new as Baldur’s Gate would boast upwards of 40 hours of gameplay.

The nostalgia of the gaming industry may be less about how good were the games we played, but more about the time spent in a world of fiction, enjoying the experience that lay out before us.

 

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Detroit: Become Human

It’s not so much about the story but the presentation of it. Similarly, the level of involvement makes for a more immersive experience. Naturally, a player *can* choose a more casual play approach, but, I do not recommend it.

Apart from Omikron: The Nomad Soul (which encompassed many different sub-genres), Quantic Dreams affairs much like the point and clicks of yore, are often backed by story and a certain cinematic pizazz to it all. A common moniker for such experiences: “interactive movie”. More recently, Telltale had had great success with their Walking Dead series, especially given that they had been multiplatform. As of late, Quantic Dream has focused more on console exclusivity for their IP. Very few of their games came out on PC and even so only in the very recent year with some announced upcoming on the Epic Games Store. One of the very first games I played from this developer was, of course, Omikron, but the one I liked the most and actually finished back then was Fahrenheit, more than a decade ago. Americans will know it as “Indigo Prophecy”, a name which I didn’t quite like but that is just one opinion…

Nevertheless, watching a movie is one thing, participating is another. There is a level of emotional engagement involved in choosing words, actions, reactions of a character and changing the story. Netflix tried to incorporate this in their movie “Bandersnatch”. Although it made less noise than I expected, I believe it was a first success nonetheless. There is an amazing amount of work gone into such stories. How often have you watched a movie and groaned at a specific character’s choice and wished you could just tell the idiot to “look out!” or do something else? Netflix has created a precedent in the movie industry. Even in gaming, not many apart from and David Cage’s Quantic Dream dare tackle this beast.

Imagine: for a specific scene you need to shoot as perfectly as possible a specific course of actions and consequences, action and reaction from multiple characters. Then, you have to go back and *reshoot* for alternatives. The handy flowchart in Detroit easily illustrates what his entails for one episode. Every node has to be mapped out, breaching out to different outcomes and each means extra work for the actors, the film crew, the writers, the graphic artists etc. When you sit and think about it, it is grueling and difficult work. It gives a whole different perspective on the 40 and so dollars I paid for it. Quantic Dream did not twiddle their thumbs and just “land” the game on our laps.

Detroit: Become Human is not entirely grounding breaking in its narrative. It takes concepts, which were the core of “I, Robot” by Asimov and puts a certain modern or “realist” spin on it. XXX, the undertones of slavery and the parallels to the segregation of the black population/ the apartheid are vibrantly evident. To go farther into this, I would recommend actually playing through in a less casual way. At the same time, there is the surprising fact that in many cases, which I shall not disclose, playing a character to the best of their persona will not be what you, as a player, desire. Needs and goals can clash. Going fully into “X” person’s character and M.O. may be detrimental to another. I should have expected this but I did not. It felt so much like playing a movie that I forgot characters you play can die if your choices, with them or with others, lead there. At the same time, I found out though that not all NPC deaths are immutable. It is not impossible to find ways to “save” them or keep them alive for as long as can be. Hint: always check the flowchart to guess what could be feasible.

All in all, Detroit: Become Human is an enjoyable experience for lovers of story-heavy games and choose-your-own-adventure books. Much of the important moments of the narrative are based upon the given characters own agency. Nevertheless, you as the player shape that agency to some extent, as well as other characters’ opinion of them. This simple fact makes the story last longer in my own mind. This is especially true given the parallels I can draw to the android plight as a person of color whose race has gone through what they are going.

 

Note: There is a Quantic Dream Collection out since the release of Detroit which includes also Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls. It is a good deal for those who have never played any of those games before. Quantic Dream Collection – PlayStation 4