video games

Mad Max (the Game): Is it any Good? (Spoilers) by Matthew Marchitto

Mad Max (the game) is one of the best licensed games I’ve played. In theory, it’s a prequel to Fury Road, but I don’t think the story is canon. The game starts with Max getting into a fight with Scabrous Scrotus, losing his Interceptor, and is left in the wasteland with nothing but his torn up clothes.

Enter Chumbucket, the deformed hunchback who believes in the Angel Combustion. He’s a black finger (a master mechanic) and thinks Max is his warrior saint. Max needs a new car, and Chum promises to build him the Magnum Opus—the car you will be upgrading throughout the game.

Max’s goal is to create a car that will be fast, durable, and able to carry enough fuel to get him to the Plains of Silence. As you get upgrades for your car, you’ll meet stronghold leaders, lunatics, scavengers, and a whole crapton of war boys.

The gameplay consists of two major parts, car combat and ground combat. Both are equally fun, but have their own little quirks and issues.

***SPOILERS BELOW***

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Meaty Ka-Chunks and Overwatch's Reload Animations by Matthew Marchitto

I’ve been playing a lot of Overwatch lately. It’s a great game, with a lot of clever design, and a team devoted to constant updates/tweaks. But one aspect that Blizzard always nails is their presentation. Their games always have that extra sheen of polish that makes them feel better, whether the game is actually better or not.

In Overwatch, the reload animations stand out. They’re meaty, filled with scraping metal and pulsing energy. Hitting reload makes Winston’s charging Tesla cannon feel heavy, or Roadhog’s scrapgun brunt and messy. Each one is damn satisfying.

On paper, I wouldn’t have thought reload animations added much to the game. But after playing some Space Hulk: Deathwing, I couldn’t help but notice the absence of those extra little details. In Deathwing (which is pretty neat, I’m not knocking it) the reloading is a sad lowering of the gun followed by a click-hiss that is oh-so unsatisfying. Especially when you’re playing as a big, bulky character like one of the Warhammer marines.

Presentation is something that’s become more and more important in gaming. The mechanics of gameplay will fall flat without the right sound effects and visual cues to make the player either feel rewarded or powerful. It’s why, in order to make a cannon feel good to shoot, it has to boom and shake the camera. All to make the player feel like their shooting some heavy ass artillery. The numbers and damage output aren’t enough.

It’s one of those sticky issues when talking about games. A lot of folks, generally myself included, think gameplay is king. And that’s true, but so much of what makes good gameplay is layered under good presentation. Good presentation is what makes the gameplay shine.

There are a lot of other good things about Overwatch, but this one finer detail helps bring the whole package together.  

Are there any other little details in a game that you felt added a lot?

Milkmaid of the Milky Way by Matthew Marchitto

Milkmaid of the Milky is a 90s style point-and-click adventure, where you play as a milkmaid on a journey to save her cows. Developed by Mattis Folkestad of Machineboy (essentially a one man team), Milkmaid of the Milky Way is a labour of love. And I think it shows. It has evocative visuals, amazing music, and is written entirely in rhyming verse. Passion was poured into this game, and it’s better for it.

Milkmaid of the Milky Way is both whimsical and melancholy. A story about being alone and coming together. The protagonist, Ruth, lives alone on a small farm. Her only companions are cows, but she is devoted to them. When a spaceship shows up and abducts her bovine friends, she vows to go save them. Here is where the story takes off, and I don’t want to say anymore for fear of spoiling it, but things get much more complicated as the story twists and turns.  

The dialogue is written in rhyme, and coupled with the hand drawn backgrounds, the game has a storybook feel.

Despite the spaceships and cows, the story is about moving on, fighting loneliness, and asking when your responsibilities are infringing on your life and happiness. It’ll leave you wondering if you’ll have any regrets when you’re older, and maybe put a fear of stagnation in you.

On PC the game controls like most point-and-clicks. You move by clicking on an area of the world, and you can double click to run. This is a nice feature that keeps you from lumbering back and forth as you traverse the environments, especially when you have to do some backtracking. You also click to examine or interact with an object (including items in your inventory), and dragging items from your inventory onto an environmental object will let you use it on the object.

The cursor also helps identify interactable elements by pulsating when you hover over them.

The puzzles are straightforward and not too difficult to figure out. Whenever I was stuck, I found myself backtracking a little more than I would have liked, but the run feature went far in alleviating that minor stressor.

The components of the puzzles fit nicely into the world. When Ruth uses a wooden spoon to reach something, or her knowledge gained from farm work to solve a problem, it’s believable. The puzzles never felt abstruse or out of place.

Milkmaid of the Milky Way is a beautiful game. Its characters are all endearing, and it manages to communicate personality through visual cues and terse dialogue. It’s a tightly made package, with a strong story, evocative music, and gorgeous visuals.

I highly enjoyed it and would recommend anyone looking for a point-and-click adventure to check it out. 

Buy Milkmaid of the Milky Way on Steam for PC and Mac, or on iTunes for iOS.

You can find Mattis Folkestad on twitter, at Machineboy.com, or visit Milkmaid of the Milky Way’s official site.

 

I was provided with a free copy for review.

Game Structure and Narrative by Matthew Marchitto

Recently I played Rise of the Tomb Raider, which was a lot of fun, but it got me thinking about narrative and game design. Namely, the idea that they don’t fit together well. A lot of games, Tomb Raider included, are broken into two parts: gameplay and story. They’re both pretty self-explanatory, but I want to talk a bit about how they interact.

The gameplay is the part where you run around and shoot the baddies, get the points/experience/whatever. Rinse and repeat. This is usually the part where the protagonist gets shot in the head and chomps on a turkey leg to regenerate health. The gameplay is always the meat of the experience. It’s what we spend the most time doing and why we play to begin with.

If the gameplay is the meat, then what’s the story? Usually, it’s the framing (or the skeleton). The story is an excuse to bust in the tower door and decapitate the wizard. It gives us a reason and context for what is going on, why it’s going on, and how we’re going to shoot it in the face. The story is told in three to five minute cutscenes that break up the action (unless it’s MGS). Again, the gameplay is the meat so we don’t spend a lot of time in the cutscenes.*

*I know there are certain games and genres that buck this trend. I joke about Metal Gear Solid, but JRPGs are story heavy as well, though if you consider their 100hr length versus how much of that is actually story it might be a rough equivalent to the format mentioned above.

The story will always be regulated to a second tier, and that is why is loses some of its importance, its ability to unfold and pull the player in. But, on the opposite end, I’d rather play a game with good gameplay and a bleh story than one with an amazing story but bleh gameplay. Bad gameplay is much harder to tolerate than a bad story.

Rise of the Tomb Raider is a great game, with phenomenal gameplay and action sequences, but a bleh story. It’s only there to propel us on the adventure, and we never get to dig deep into the subjects presented. The game did its best to set up as much as it could, to try and communicate through subtext of conversation, but there’s only so much you can do in five minute intervals. It favoured the gameplay instead of the story. Even the cutscenes seemed eager to remind you of this. They had a tendency to end with gunfire, an explosion, or a threatening helicopter as if to say, “don’t worry, the gameplay is still here.”

No one takes notice of how messed up Lara’s become. She lights dudes on fire and stabs them in the head.

No one takes notice of how messed up Lara’s become. She lights dudes on fire and stabs them in the head.

Gameplay and story have always been disconnected, and we don’t see it anymore. In gameplay mode the protagonist takes a shotgun blast to the face, ducks behind cover, and puts a band-aid on in. In story mode, a bullet to the gut means they’re dead. And we just accept it, because we all know the game wouldn’t be fun if the player died from one or two bullets. That’s why I dislike this structure. We’re used to it, but that doesn’t mean it’s good.

The Last of Us melds the two together well, but still falls into some of the same traps. Joel’s combat sequences are more than just gameplay mechanics, they build his character. Joel isn’t a good guy, he’s a broken, selfish person, and each time he murders an enemy we get the sense that it’s affecting (or reinforcing) his mental state. The gameplay shows us what he is willing to do for self-preservation, and this is then supported by the story in the cutscenes. When it comes to the game’s final decision, we’re more likely to believe that Joel would make the selfish decision over the altruistic one. In this way the gameplay informs the narrative.

Story as a bookend is frustrating. It’s clear that it’s only there to set up some context, to be an excuse for the adventure. I like the adventure, I want to be on the thrill ride too, but I want the story to keep up. To be more than just set up for the next action sequence.

Of course, this isn’t all games and there are some that do both phenomenally (Witcher 3 comes to mind). Do you guys have any examples of games that you think intertwine story and gameplay in effective ways?

This was originally posted on Medium.