Tag Archives: Review

Go, Duck

I don’t trust Google. There is something pernicious about all these companies that live by collecting our personal information. Companies that analyse our searches in order to deduce the most efficient ways of manipulating our behaviour as consumers.

Unfortunately, Google retains certain monopolies. YouTube is inescapable. Google Office is the only decent way to collaborate on an online document. Their mobile phone keyboard is light years ahead of any other for iOS or Android.

For three months, I resisted using Google’s search engine; I opted for DuckDuckGo. But it’s still not good enough: there is a crucial flaw for anyone who uses the internet for serious research. That’s the ability to filter results over the past year.

Search engines give priority to what is new – too much, even. Even so, as a general rule, when doing a search, if we do not set a maximum limit for the age of the results, we will get outdated knowledge.

But if we use filters too biased towards recent results – a week, or a month, as DuckDuckGo allows – we run the risk of receiving a bunch of garbage data that was crafted to earn clicks. There is a content creation industry that has to be always spitting out articles without regard to their quality.

When serious research is to be done, the ideal filter is one year – things are not old enough to be out of date, and it is a sufficiently large temporal arc to allow for finding quality articles and not just the latest garbage to be displayed in the internet’s public square .

Unfortunately, only the search engines that subsist on advertising have this option. So I’m back to Google. For a while.

Photo Credit: Thomas Hawk Flickr via Compfight cc

The Broken Throne

It’s a losing battle, to be the new game in the “The Witcher” franchise. And that’s what Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales is, despite its title gymnastics. Even though it is a game in a different genre, it is doomed to being compared – when it comes to character development and narrative – to one of the greats in these areas.

But let’s start with what the game does well: the metaphor. Specifically, the mechanical metaphor that translates, through cards, the tactical and strategic concepts of war. It is surprising how many situations the game’s creators can portray through the various abilities characteristic of each individual card, and how these abilities can, in turn, modulate the basic rules of the game board.

This factor, coupled with the growing variety of cards that become available for the player to build their deck throughout the game, opens the door to a staggering number of strategies – some more obvious than others. It’s a shame that, apart from heading into the multiplayer competitive mode, there’s no way to see the decks that other players are using, because when it comes to deck building, the game is ripe with opportunities for player creativity.

The issue here is that the difficulty curve does not encourage much experimentation. The player’s power level is already so high at the end of the first chapter, based on the most straightforward card and deck upgrades, that you can expect lead your chosen strategy practically unchallenged until the end of the game, right up to the final battle. At that terminus awaits a final enemy who subverts the rules of the game in such a way that, finally, it forces the player to think about how to build a deck specifically geared towards countering his particular advantages.

The result is that, despite the mechanical wealth inherent in the rules, almost everything between the first chapter and the said final battle is filler, a stroll from banal battle to banal battle where we may use the same deck with the same strategy, doing minor tuning as we upgrade cards, but for the occasional confrontation with a / boss / or a puzzle in which we are given a pre-defined deck and a specific goal to fulfill.

It’s left to the story to pull us through the roughly forty hours of play, and this one’s story is mediocre. Once again rises the spectre of Witcher 3, a game superficially about confronting an invading army and a supernaturally powerful foe, yes, but in reality, about a father trying to protect and shape the character of his adopted daughter. And also, a game in which every decision felt meaningful, which led us to think about the consequences that could come from it.

The contrast is deep. The main character – queen Meve – is a mother who is turned against the son. However, rare are the occasions where this seems to be a factor in the character’s inner life.

In Witcher 3, Geralt had a well-defined personality, yet in it, we were able to find justification for any decision we made. In Thronebreaker, Meve is neither; she is a one-dimensional strongwoman, a tabula quasi-rasa in which we are rarely given the opportunity to carve out any sort of bas-relief.

The decisions that have the greatest impact on the game are not those that say something about the character, but those that lead us to lose some favorite cards based on our moral compass. There, at least, is a courageous decision – to make our choices have a direct impact on our strategic capacity.

It is a shame that the game’s designers didn’t bet on this aspect to the point of making the choices that affect the morale of our army be of any real consequence. Each of the game’s sports an abundance of easy ways to raise the army’s morale, ready to be tapped upon whenever the soldiers disagree with our royal decrees.

Thronebreaker is not a bad game, but neither is it a good one. The seeds of a good game are there, buried under a pile of filler and a mission to pander to the masses. 

It lacks the courage Meve has in abundance: the courage to decide which course it wants to take, and to pursue it adamantly, Gods damn the consequences and the displeasure of those left behind.

The Walking Dead

Today I tried something new, something I never thought I would do. Something that I never quite understood the appeal of, for other people.

Today I saw someone play a video game from beginning to end on YouTube. That person was the famous Pewdiepie, playing the latest episode of “The Walking Dead.”

I finally figured out why people enjoy doing so. It’s a way of enjoying a terrible game. Seeing Pewdiepie play didn’t give me any desire to play along; if anything, it convinced me that if I played it, it would be a waste of time, an annoyance.

The “game” has almost no game to it; the plot is pathetic; and the dialogue sucks. Except for a few moments of tension (which would be much more powerful in a movie), the only thing of value during the 2-hour session was the commentary. Having the YouTuber comment on the ridiculousness of what has the presumption of being a dramatic story was, indeed, entertaining.

But I’m not writing this to declare that I’m joining the cult of the Swedish gamer. I’m writing this to note how the cult of poor quality, the lack of craftsmanship, took over the world of video games. 

Shortly before Christmas, the video game media joined in solidarity, reporting the “terrible” loss that was the closing of Telltale Games studios, responsible for the series “The Walking Dead” in video game format.

(This episode that Pewdiepie played was completed and released later, by another studio that took the charge of finishing the work of the previous one.)

I’m not sure of how to swallow this. On the one hand, on a personal and humane level, I suffer for the people who have lost their jobs and livelihoods (and so close to Christmas Eve). On the other hand, I can’t help thinking that we are better off without studios like Telltale, that produce this kind of garbage.

Because this is rubbish. Firstly, it is a bad video game because it has almost no interactivity. But if it was a movie, it would also be a bad movie, because the characters are not interesting, and the narrative is a catastrophe. There are video games that suffer from lack of interactivity, from not having interesting mechanics, but make up for it with story, or with audiovisual spectacle.

This game, this series, does not have any of that. It is a mere regurgitation of Telltale’s first great success, a game that never excelled in interactivity, but which, at least at the time it was released, had an audiovisual quality and was something unusual, fresh. And it had interesting characters, and between these characters, the storytellers managed to generate real conflicts and tension.

It might not have been a fantastic game, but it felt unique, and it shone in other ways.

But since then, Telltale has been resurrecting the corpse of this first game, making it shuffle its feet through the market every year. And every year it has a little less meat on its bones, every year it smells more of rot, every year has a hollower look in its eyes.

How can we justify the existence of a studio that coasts on this, from producing – not even art – but product, mediocre entertainment? Should the public buy these games from a place of piety, to justify the jobs of the people who work there?

I wonder how they manage in the movie industry, when a huge-budget production falls flat? I am very ignorant when it comes to the business of Hollywood, but I don’t recall hearing of big studio closures, of large losses of jobs. Is there a model to replicate?

I have no answer for the human drama. I can only say that I do not shed any tears about losing Telltale as a company, as a studio.

Perhaps now the dead can rest in peace.