Ben Kuchera isn't having any fun right now. I don't exactly sympathize with him. But if he had a different opinion, I might, so for all intents and purposes, I already do.
People are very pleased with themselves when they can use the word psychology in a sentence. The psychology of choice. The psychology of design. The psychology of marketing. Psychology, as a noun, is an amazing word. It simultaneously communicates a universality to human experience, a shared bond between all mankind, and a platform or perspective from which we can embrace human experience as a comforting commonality, as well as the reader's superiority to all those dumb shits. I mean seriously, those people only react that way because they didn't read this article.
We're too smart to fall for something like that, etc.
Medicine, in general, has that problem. On the one hand, there seems like there's some science happening in there, somewhere, right? Science is great. If we do it hard enough, things get better. On the other hand, there is an Us vs Them implied by anything medical or health related. The Us are the people who are 'well' (or sick), and the 'them' are those who are 'sick' (or well).
I started working somewhere new recently. The Project Manager seems like a nice lady. Apropos of nothing in particular, she let us know on my second week on the job that she was going to be on vacation for 2 weeks, mostly to attend a wedding. I say mostly because, apparently, also, after the great wedding, she has to come back through a weird route to 'pick up her sister' who is 'crazy' and 'wait, no, like *really* crazy' (she rolled her eyes). The mumbled 'I'm sorry to hear that' and general silence following this revelation was appropriate, but apparently not the right answer, so this woman continued adding details like 'she had a pretty serious suicide attempt, and now I *guess* I have to take care of her.' Oh hum. That's hard to listen to. I hope something something something... Will you please shut up?
Then she concluded by letting all of us know that '[She and her husband and son] ... just don't ever have any drama. So this is all new to [me].'
Cool, I guess.
So my first thought was, if this woman were my sister, I certainly wouldn't try to commit suicide until after I'd set her on fire or run her over in a van or something. Then my second thought was that blood is apparently not as thick as bullshit forum slang designed to make any person out to be an idiot, regardless of the content of their post. My 3rd thought was that this is just one of those reptile people who can't compute something unless they can assign a social point value to it, and those point values are usually interconvertible with dollars.
My 4th thought was that this all kind of reminds me of Path of Exile and Path of Exile kind of reminds me of the entire video game industry right now.
I've been on a binge of playing through my backlog recently. I booted up Diablo III, briefly, to see what the latest patch had (Barbarian shouts will now heal their parties more (thank god (did you fucking see their shouts last patch? It was like... man. Why even shout if you only get that other amount of health))) and I felt that old pull. But since nothing meaningful has been changed since I last played it, I instead started going through my backlog, and at some point, I ended up trying Torchlight II with several mods.
What's interesting about Torchlight and Torchlight II is that they both have no idea what game they're trying to be, other than the most popular game to ever exist. They fall well short. You pick it up and it feels like it's putting a finger in your World of Warcraft hole while it rubs your Diablo spot; talking to you and saying encouraging friendly things like Dungeon Siege.
But, realize, it's not like I started a Torchlight II play and bitch session (with coequal emphasis); I've been playing and, without rancor or harrumph, I've just been absorbing and exploring.
When I played Remember Me, I played it in French. Not because I thought the mother tongue would enhance the experience, but because 'why the hell not'. They're french. It's a strange premise. A foreign language for a foreign concept. Often I do not listen to the audio track in any case. I run youtube or music in the background and play the game in the foreground. I've done this since I was a teenager. Games are an information stream and they do not merit monopolizing two input ports simultaneously. I'm sure I've missed a number of remarkable experiences.
Before I started this habit, I remember the sounds of Final Fantasy 6--the last good Final Fantasy. Or Final Fantasy 5. The one good enough to intrigue me into making my initial entry into the genre of JRPG. Even Final Fantasy 7, the game that everyone fellates Square Enix for making.
Do you want to have a good time at a movie? Bring your preconceptions and creative narrative. I love Conspiracy. It is an intensely dramatic historical drama. There is a joke about lawyers being evil. In fact, it analogizes discussions of law to the machinery of the holocaust. You know what? It's perfect. But if you don't sit down to watch Kenneth Branagh with your own apprehensions about authority and preconceptions about the corruption of a historical narrative, you may never give a shit.
Corruption of a narrative? (Actually talking about the game now): this game does one thing for a player that I've never seen done as well. When you reorder or alter the environment in a memory, the story changes. It's not player-driven. The story can't help happening. But at least it happens once.
I want to make games. I think writing stories and drawing pictures are defunct retarded arts for a lesser ape. This is why: There is nothing in a static image except a memory. Memories are the catalogue of disposable life.
I love perusing catalogs and deciding what to buy without any follow through. Hotkey based animated events are the gaming equivalent to being a browser. In older games, you would carefully examine all options, decide upon the optimum choice, and then select it. In a modern game, the optimum choice is called out with a complicated interactive movie, and each step is carefully massaged into your consciousness. Press X to press a dagger firmly into a sternum. Recall, from the larger game, that X is the button you press to 'hold' someone. You are, very specifically 'holding' them with a dagger. In their sternum. To death. It is fulfilling.
Remember Me has a trailer. I don't think a triple A game can get released anymore without the trailer being considered part of the experience. The trailer is a section of the game, and the section portrays the reordering of a government official's memory to cause him such pain that he blows his brains out.
There are several elements here that I like.
First, that an official, despite being a cloying disgusting self absorbed prick understands the value of a loved one's life. In a day of 'Zero Dark Thirty' and police forces purchasing drones, I appreciate the thought that humanity infects the superstructure of society.
Second, a dirty relationship is no reflection upon its participants. It's the internet, these, days, man. If the 70s were cynical, and the 80s were morally void, and the 90s were weirdly out to lunch, and the aughts were too fucking hip to accept human emotion, we are *now* in the teens. The first teens since The Great War, and if you claim, in a forum forum, to be privy to a human frailty, there is a template of Dr. Phil approved behavior to which people will attempt to steer you. Here, at least, we can see the sanity of yesteryear, when bad decisions, and their consequences, have no presence in reality until given vitality by the hand of a punch-up writer: who is, in this case, the player.
The player will manipulate a well navigated perilous impasse of humanity in order to produce an explosion. Subverting self-control, subverting self-reflection. Subverting the social contract which traps us and preserves us from the flights of idiocy which we, ourselves, know full well we do not wish to encounter.
This is God of War, where, instead of 'Ares' or some other defunct religious icon, we fight better judgement. When we win, we gut it and lay it rotting in the hot sun.
The trailer culminates in the 'dude' du jour blowing his brains out (ze repeat). The woman of his memory comes into his office as he dies, and exclaims in distress even as you used her memory to drive him to this extreme. The process of getting him there is only a gameplay iteration on the quicktime event. But how much more could it have been!
There is a star missing from Remember Me. That star goes to a combat system that seems to be about kicking homeless people hard enough to kill them. It goes to a 'secrets' system that reveals no more than a health upgrade. It is obliterated by the paint-by-numbers quality of the experience. The remaining 3 stars are for potential and the glory of France, still vital after all these years of dilution and lampooning; shining brightly enough for the truly insane banshee to wale 'what the fuck is this even supposed to be?'
Historically, France sits at a nexus of bullshit. To the west, the fortified spanish. To the north, the aggressive ancestors of the anglo-saxons. To the south and east, the children of the Roman empire, constantly reasserting their dominion, despite all context having long been moved further east.
Eddie Izzard, a british comedian, has a wonderful bit he does regarding the USA. He mentions Lafayette, and then teases 'you remember your own history, yeah?'. No, of course we do not. If we knew our own history, the craven artifice of 'freedom fries' would have resulted in the person who suggested it being pinned to a wall, and eaten raw, like a victim of democratic barracudas, swimming unwittingly into a republican school of righteous anger. The french are America's spiritual mother, the succor of Locke, our physical father who came to our aid when we sought independence. Our greatest icon of liberty is a French gift. Our greatest historical moment of triumph was achieved with the aid of France. The prototype of our revolution was eating the Rich, like France. To denigrate France is tragic. It is the angry teenager decrying their loving mother.
Remember Me, mechanically, makes me weep for the lost closeness of our kinship with our past--whether France, Germany, China, Native, or England. Remember Me has a single, simple message, a gorgeous presentation, and enjoyable basic mechanics. They are all swept up in a soup of insanity trying to simultaneously be Blade Runner, Aeon Flux, God of War, Minecraft, and Devil May Cry.
I am not a fan of the 'PC gaming of yesteryear' bullshit. I think the PC gaming of yesteryear is an old saw. Dignified intellects do not give a shit about PC gaming. PC gaming exists for precisely as long as it is relevant to a player.
Remember Me, however, is the Good Old Days, in spectacular current fashion. It is 'Taxi', the video game. It is Brotherhood of the Wolf, the interactive movie.
Have you ever considered making a game? Where do you start? There are so many fundamental decisions. 2d or 3d? At least that offers a direction. If you build 2d, you can understand collision. If you build 3d, you can understand 'camera'.
Remember Me is a game that probably should have been done in 1d. The player would be presented a flat line of events. They would click on that line, and start typing. A parser would try to interpret their inputs like the adventure games of old. The event would be placed on the timeline, and alter subsequent events.
If a 100 people had spent 3 years doing nothing but this, they might have produced the first chapter of the game that could do Remember Me justice.
Ever played God of War? It's called that because after you're finished stabbing everything in the mouth 40 fucking thousand times, you become Mars' replacement. Mars was the one who condemned you to a fate of endless quicktime events, and also your chief adversary. It's super compelling shit. I think you get to rape a nymph for experience points. Twice. The sequels are about how hard it is to stay a God when you weren't one in the first place. The complexity of that fall from grace is equivalent to the complexity of rubbing a balloon to make it stick to your bedroom wall.
Did you know that Cyclops' were originally designed to have balls, but it was cut?
Remember Me is affixed to your wall with legitimate hangers. Someone drove nails into support beams. Someone used a level to find the right height.
There's these digital beatles hiding in vents. if you shoot them with a digital gun, they yield experience points. When I say 'digital' I mean imaginary [i]in the context of the game[/i]. The premise of achievements and collectibles is metastasized into a cancer.
Is it clever? No. I'm bored by it. But is it worth seeing? Absolutely.
The people who made this game wanted you to go through a game within a game. They wanted you to consider the impending wall of virtual sensory stimulation that we've all been contending with since the mid-80s, when 'Brainstorm' was released. Is death frightening? Is sex alluring? What about a simulation of sex and death?
Any shithead can destroy a virtual car with a virtual explosion. I know; I just did it 47 times in Saints Row III. I expect Saints Row IV to be one of the best video game experiences to ever encapsulate a paradigm. But you know what it can't do? Use a series of emotional touchstones to communicate physical disruption.
Action Button .net is a place for the deifying of specific interactions. When you fly, or create, or destroy, like unto a God or George Lucas be thee. But what of the remaining 75% of experience?
Nietzsche is a sticky bastard. I'm going to go off the rails here and give you a quick intro. We hear a lot about this asshole, I think many people do not have any idea what he's up to. First, there's not Nietzsche. “Not Nietzsche” is a dizzying array of ideals filling in blanks. There's Schopenhauer. He thinks shit rolls downhill, and that you better not be a toilet. There's Descartes, he thinks trying earns you almost as many points as doing. There's Plato: he thinks you'll never get there no matter how hard you try. Seminally there's a variety of proto Indian Socratesalikes, who think you're wrong as soon as you form any coherent opinion.
They're all right, irritatingly enough. The modern useful philosophical position embedded in science, catholicism, communism, and the new caliphates all agree on one thing; meaning is defunct, and the first person to explain how you can replace it is going to reap a harvest of a billion productive worshippers.
Remember Me thinks it is a sandbox game about triple A game development. It gives you mild hints--if you string together all the moves which regenerate special meter, then you will win fights by expending special meter. Special meter is that old saw aforementioned, (when we mentioned saws), that is the catch-all for interesting interactions.
There is a cruel memory-mistress in Remember Me. She must be defeated by the use of several 'verbs'. It is an archaic Adventure game in which a primitive text-parser translates your every action into a meaningful advancement of the story. Like a Denny's placemat maze, there is only one answer, yet 'figuring it out', somehow, still has catch.
I had a redirect virus in my browser yesterday. It is a vicious problem. One of its more clever techniques is that it is not, allegedly, a 'virus'. It is 'malware'. It does not do things which are universally considered computer-evil. Technically they are computer-acceptable. As a result, they are not caught by virus-protection programs. However, they are still undesirable. So you must go to websites. These sites, themselves, are poisoned and muddied by the false information of a dozen corporate facades each existing only to defraud you further. Ultimately, when you wash up among the tech savvy and dangerously upset minority of users who've persisted to strive against this foe, you may find a command line tool capable of removing the interloper.
I removed my interloper. Then logged into Steam, loaded Remember Me, and manipulated a brain-altering software magnate into self-hatred. A scar which had been a republican drive to correct her unworthy society, became a democrat's self-recrimination with which to flagellate her own inadequate flesh.
At some point a game is not automatically better just because it simulates interesting subject matter. Beyond Good and Evil is a typical playstation era game about typical playstation era mechanics, which, through the alchemy of pretending a 'woman' is the main character, and making the first person view a 'camera' purports to have value.
Fuck that, says I.
I like that people are desperate to find a feminist point of view in the sea of videogame bullshit. Or, more aggressively, in the sea of cultural bullshit. But as far as pop culture is concerned, the ultimate feminist point of view is a blowjob that brings world peace (note: this is not as bad as it sounds).
Remember Me is not feminist. It's not an antidote or opposed to God of War. It's not an articulated proposition. It's not a hemispherical solenoid piping DNA back into itself. It's not even the future. Ceci n'est pas una messager.
Remember Me is a game that thought it was going to be a sandbox, and became a completely boxed experience. There is nothing in this game to discover, whatsoever. The 'choices' presented are all meaningless--even as they are delicately and elaborately engineered to feel real.
Remember Me is nothing less than the best quicktime event ever conceived. You ought to experience it. You ought to believe its premises, and press all the buttons it demands. You ought to see every piece of content and collect every hidden item. You ought to take careful note of the scavenger hunt hints and attempt to find the perspectives to which they correspond.
Remember Me is a digital epigram designed to remind you to give money to the homeless. To donate to kickstarters without expectation of reward. To devote the entire proceeds of a Humble Bundle purchase to its developers.
I played Crusader: No Remorse in high school. It's a tactical shooter stripped down to one character, whose main thrust is that the righteousness bestowed by authority is quickly defunct when you are attacked by the self-same authority's giant robot thresher.
A valuable lesson in this day and age.
The answer, as some may recall, to authority, was to pilot a remote controlled explosive into the vulnerable innards of infrastructure.
I have to invest this with stars, and when I reach into my gut to find the truthiness of the matter, I get 3 stars out. So if Remember Me is a series of quicktime events with a novel veneer, where the fuck do 3 stars come from?
Pathfinding isn't just a game concern. It's a concern of life. When confronted by obstacles, how do organisms find the other side? In game environments, the concept of path finding is intimately connected to the player viewpoint. Because the player can see the other side of the map, they expect their units to have universal GPS and omniscient awareness of the optimal path.
The approach to simplifying the question of how to get to the other side is a formidable one. In short, you can go straight and be fucked if anything is in your way. You can find all the corners in the entire world and trace the fastest path through those corners to your goal. You can render a grid over the world, simplifying the path into an abstraction which allows you to more easily decide where to go, or you can just do what makes sense to you from where you are at the moment--gravitating toward the goal, and trying to move away from obstacles, until you find some way forward. Each has downfalls, and ultimately, each is paralyzingly time consuming unless you drastically simplify the situation. While we consider ourselves to live in 3 dimensions and perhaps move through a 4th, the reality is that our plans exist in dozens if not hundreds of dimensions. Each piece of articulation in the human body is a variable on where you might fit. Each quirk of perception and availability of memory or emotional content change the shape of the tetris piece which must find the path to its goal. As the number of possible obstructions are layered upon each other, each specific to a state of mind, body, or the world around you at a given point in time, the time it takes to process a way to your goal increases.
The answer, such as it is, is at the crux of all human problem solving. When artificial intelligence comes into being, it will be on the back of 'pathfinding' through a sea of dimensions encompassing space, time, behavior, and resource priority. Remember Me is a remarkably sophisticated message about entertainment, art, and pathfinding in a package which is oddly competent where it counts and suboptimal where it can afford to be. Remember Me connects the player with the goal of having played it and enjoyed its ideas in a way that may not be perfect, but arrived before the sun burned out and pervasive entropy putrefied time itself into a vinegar of meaningless eternal background radiation.
There are 2 distinct strategies, and they are extensions of every cognitive function human beings undertake. The first is randomized path finding. At the root of all intractable problems is the question of how far off the mark you can fall before your answer is no longer suitable for your purposes. The answer when dealing with the complexity of human experience? Pretty fucking far! Remember Me is far off the mark from a perfect game expressing its content. However it started somewhere, and each step in its design and story took it vaguely closer to its goal. When it had a candidate for that path that seemed appropriate; an action adventure game with magical technology and a unique retelling of the God of War premise as though it were taking place in the Assassin's Creed universe, it stretched a rubber-band over the framework it had developed, and began optimizing that path until it was coherent as an experience.
It produced it before it became stale, or, worse, was noticed by marketing and put to a new purpose. It did not attempt to be every fucking RPG/ActionadventureHybrid/TripleA experience on the market at once, instead it took the parts that might encourage a player to see all the parts of what was created, and left out that which did not matter. It included fighting mechanics with very explicit, obvious reasons for existing, rather than a deep and mysterious combo tree and evolving move set which might occupy a person entirely on its own.
Remember Me is a multidimensional experience. It does like 12 fucking things that alone could have been a game unto themselves, but somehow manages to avoid blowing their wad on a half-assed version of these features which in aggregate amount to nothing. Instead, it concedes that it does not have time to do it all, but does only what will work to make the game better and coherent. It is the quintessential Adventure game.