Late to the party: On Destiny 2, Breath of the Wild and how we talk about [SPOILERS]

Bungie / Activision

Watching Game of Thrones a year late is a weird feeling. I’ve never been the biggest fan of how the show structures its storytelling into slow conversations about diplomacy with enough walking and talking to make the Star Wars prequels blush.

But about once per episode, usually at the end, Thrones will pepper in a moment of genuine surprise. It’s usually an act of gratuitous violence, but it’s not limited to some huge revelation about a character’s backstory or a tease of things to come. As someone who barely remembers the differences among a Tyrion, a Tywin and a Tyrell, these are little windows into what keeps appointment television clinging to life in the year of our lord 2017.

What happens when those moments don’t surprise you? I’ll say from personal experience that it takes the wind out of the show’s sails when you already know what’s coming. [Spoiler] Jon Snow biting the dust carries much different weight when it happens just before the show breaks for a year, as opposed to a binger knowing he’ll wake back up in about two hours.

If the biggest series on TV loses its edge after a while out in the wild, there’s not much hope for games, either. In a year packed with monumental releases, two of the biggest have shown me that a couple weeks is all it takes to lose out on an ideal experience.

Just last month, Destiny 2 grabbed gamers’ attention in a vice. For the entirety of September, you couldn’t escape talks about bright engrams, shaders, raids – heck, not even Pop Tarts were immune. But as excited as most people were, this was one of those games I had to be convinced to dive into.

Two weeks after launch, I was convinced. But two weeks in Destiny 2 is like an eternity. Most of my friends already beat the campaign and hit the level cap. A few already completed the raid and moved on to other games until the next expansion drops.

I’ve done enough to stay off spoilers to keep the game feeling fresh. But Destiny is one of those games with mechanics that you feel the need to research. Maybe that’s a byproduct of the zeitgeist; for instance, so much of the conversation is on legendary gear that the game doesn’t feel the need to outright tell you what they do or why you should care. In that research, you see guns, gear, ships – stuff that’s locked behind the endgame. That little peek at the Christmas presents in the closet is all you need for your reaction to a legendary drop to change from, “What’s this? Can’t wait to test it out,” to, “Oh, hey. That’s the gun I saw on that stream.”

I’m doing my best to play when I can to see as much of Destiny for myself as I can. But after a month of the game in the public’s hands, it feels like, at least in my personal circle, a ghost town with secondhand surprises. And surprises can be the bread and butter of a great game, as we saw earlier this year in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

Nintendo

Like just about everything else in BotW, the game’s spoilers aren’t what you’d think. No one’s rearing back because you mentioned who Revali is or what the Yiga Clan is up to. What actually spoils the game is seeing it in action. When I finally got ahold of a Switch a month after launch, it felt like no stone was left unturned. Between the anything-goes design and the lack of tutorials, BotW has plenty of mechanics that aren’t spelled out for you, and stumbling across them is half the fun. So, going into the game knowing what shield surfing is or that you can chop down trees lessens the impact of those mechanics. The experience isn’t ruined, but that sense of discovery in a game fueled by it does feel diminished.

Both Destiny 2 and Breath of the Wild are already changing games in big ways. “Games as a service,” regardless of whether that makes you cringe, is now in the industry vernacular. And I’ll be surprised if Ubisoft’s upcoming open-world games don’t take a page out of Zelda’s playbook. But I’m also curious to see if these games change our thinking around what spoilers are for games. They’ve made me more cognizant of what mechanics mean for an experience and how they’re uncovered.

Games don’t exist in a vacuum, and neither should the way we talk about them. But in the spoiler-phobic popular culture, the more innovative the games, the bigger the minefield.

Anyway, Mario Odyssey just came out, and I’m loving the way they let you – you know what…never mind.

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New post on Creators.co

Hey all! Thanks to everyone who’s stuck around.

I wanted to let you all know that I just wrote a new blog post, but it isn’t on here. Instead, it’s on Creators.co, a new platform I’m trying out.

I’m still figuring out how to use the platform and circulate posts, so know that I have not abandoned you all yet.

Anyway, head over to my page and give it a read. It’s all on how I’m one of the five people who appreciated what DC tried to do with the New 52.

Check it out here.

For more updates on where I’m writing, stay tuned to my Twitter.

When The Flash’s superspeed is bad for the glutes

the-flash-versus-zoom-season-2-episode-18
Courtesy of the CW

The following post contains spoilers for season 2, episode 18 of The Flash, “Versus Zoom.”

My final year at Virginia Tech is coming to a close, so rather than face head-on the existential dread of becoming yet another graduate without a career in his field, I’m going to do what the past semester has kept me from doing: catch up on TV.

I started with The Flash, my favorite show and the best reason to sit and eat Oreos while people on screen exert themselves since The Biggest Loser. This particular episode caught some ire among fans, and I can see why now. Because dang.

“Versus Zoom” stays the usual Central City course for the most part, diverging a spell for what’s easily one of the series’ darkest moments in Zoom’s origin. It’s an appropriate bit of exposition, if a bit expected. And I can’t see why Barry wouldn’t be a bit excited to meet a Kryptonian, but that’s fine, I’ll just chalk it up to inter-network meddling.

No, what grinds my Grodd is the last 10 minutes, when all those fumes from the particle accelerator apparently began to have adverse effects on Barry and the crew. In order to get newfound brother and walking character tease Wally back, Zoom demands that Barry give him the Speed Force in his body.

And he does it.

There’s no contingency plan. No duplicate vial of Speed Force that will sabotage Zoom’s power. No trap to do anything other than ensure Zoom is the only player on the board. It’s infuriating, especially considering it comes minutes after Barry has Zoom in cuffs but lets him escape while Barry does his touchdown dance.

I get the frustration with the “deal with the devil” trope. It never pays off, unless you’re really good with a fiddle or you’re trying to impress the ladies with your holophonor skills. But this misstep is far more egregious, and it’s something that’s been plaguing The Flash’s sister show Arrow for its past two seasons.

The Flash completely forgot how to character.

the-flash-season-2-episode-18-versus-zoom-updated-with-new-photos-926162
Courtesy of the CW

There can be a pleasing frustration in seeing our favorite characters act like idiots. It’s how we get karaoke Caitlin or Red Kryptonite Kara on Supergirl. We see our characters be who they aren’t so we can more greatly establish who they are. The Flash, a show that lives and dies by its characters, went past that tipping point when it mattered most.

This is all the more frustrating when compared to Arrow, a series that began as The Flash’s springboard but has devolved into a warning sign for the Scarlett Speedster. As a fan since the pilot, I’ll always love Arrow, but its third and fourth seasons have suffered from this same issue.

“It’s not an episode of Arrow unless someone forgets their character development,” my friend and I send each other just about every week. The first two seasons found Oliver and company struggling with establishing themselves as a team and the threats that come with moonlighting as Robins Hood. Come season three, however, when characters only act how the story needs them to. Oliver is a loyal leader, until he isn’t. Diggle is the calm confidante, until he has to be angry. The only characters with any consistent voice are the ladies of the Arrow-cave, which makes season four all the more sinful for pushing them out of the spotlight.

The Flash doesn’t usually have these problems. Sure, Caitlin and Cisco are whatever kind of scientists they have to be, as long as it’s somewhat similar to their usual roles, but that’s fine.

If you need another example, let’s take a look at the source of many an inspiration: butts. The guys at Extra Credits broke down the recent Overwatch pose controversy with more class and thought than I ever could, and it’s from the point of an experienced animator. Take a look, it’s worth your time:

See, when a character’s actions don’t fall in line with what we’ve come to love or expect, it all feels unnatural. It feels gross. Not unlike a plucky superspy trying to recreate the “Anaconda” video.

The entire Flash team just stuck their butts out, and that’s gonna have to stop. Otherwise, it’s nothing better than the rear-end peep show called Arrow.

Knobbles’ Top 5 Movies of 2015

Courtesy of Warner Bros.
Courtesy of Warner Bros.

I’d like to say that 2015 was “The Year of Something-or-Other,” when in actuality the past year’s films were all across the board. We had plenty of franchises, sequels and reboots, some performing better (“Jurassic World”) than others (Hey there, “Jem and the Holograms”); let us not forget the several films with a 5, 6 or 7 attached to them. And yet, there were plenty of original ideas to supplement the rehashes.

As cynical as we’d like to be, for every “The Cobbler” there was a “Spotlight” nearby (or maybe that was just for Tom McCarthy). No matter what you enjoyed, 2015 had plenty to like. That in mind, here are my five favorite movies of 2015.

5. “The Martian”

Courtesy of 20th Century Fox
Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Full disclosure, I thought this movie was going to bore me to death. The idea of “Man stranded on Mars makes potatoes out of poop for two-and-a-half hours” made me want to cry. I’m glad I was wrong.

Marketed as a serious survival drama, “The Martian” was pretty unexpectedly hilarious. Matt Damon brought the wit and charm we know and love, and he paired extremely well with the rest of the massive cast, all of whom were firing on every cylinder. Screenwriter Drew Goddard is quickly becoming one of my favorites, thanks in large part to his snarky, scientific, jargon-laced-but-never-confusing script.

This one’s for the pootatoes.

4. “Straight Outta Compton”

Courtesy of Universal Pictures
Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Before this movie, I had heard one, maybe two N.W.A. songs. They didn’t get a lot of radio play during my childhood – you know, in late 1990s rural Midwest. And yet, “Straight Outta Compton” captivated me as if I had grown up listening to the album. Musician biopic and summer blockbuster aren’t typically said in the same breath, but “Straight Outta Compton” took the country by storm almost as quickly as its subject, topping the box office in its first three weeks.

Director F. Gary Gray captured the drama and grit of the group’s rise to fame without relinquishing much of the soul and heartbreak. It’s a long film, but it’s one that keeps you engaged from the first few minutes with its smart script and its enthusiastic new talent.

 

3. “It Follows”

Courtesy of RADiUS-TWC
Courtesy of RADiUS-TWC

Horror movies seem to have had the same view of sex as Bush-era public schools or the movie “Mean Girls”: If you have sex, you will (get pregnant and) die. However, David Robert Mitchell’s excellent “It Follows” turns that trope on its head (named as such because “Ghost STD” didn’t test well).

From the opening scene, “It Follows” creates an atmosphere of dread like few films before it. It succeeds by showing us monsters both real and supernatural, while letting us decide which is worse. College girl Jay (Maika Monroe) takes part in what should have been a harmless sexual encounter, only to be knocked out by her date. In one of the most chilling, well-directed scenes of the year, Jay awakes for him to explain “The Rules.” There is this thing – could be a ghost, a creature, it’s never explained – and it is going to follow Jay. Only she can see it, and it will kill her once it catches up to her, just to move on to whomever passed it along to her.

With an almost complete aversion to cheap jump scares, “It Follows” relies heavily and efficiently on its creep factor, providing a tense, layered tale of losing one’s innocence. Coupled with a fantastic, synthesized score by Disasterpeace (also known for his work on the game “Fez”) that harkens back to horror of the 80s, “It Follows” has plenty to teach the genre about immersing its audience. Just don’t stop looking over your shoulder.

2. “Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens”

Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

It shares way too many beats with the original trilogy. There are more than a few problems with the script. It leaves so many questions unanswered in favor of a drawn-out chase scene with tentacle monsters. “The Force Awakens” is full of glaring errors, but that doesn’t stop it from being the most fun movie of the year.

I can’t remember another movie so simultaneously hyped while shrouded in secrecy, but that combination worked wonders for the experience. For the half hour sitting in the theater before that 10 p.m. showing on Dec. 17, I felt like a kid again. Once that John Williams theme boomed throughout the theater, I think I shed a tear or two. Star Wars was back.

This time, though, we had brand new characters, new worlds and a new adventure. There’s nothing quite as surreal as seeing your favorite childhood movies return in a new way, especially when they turn out well. “The Force Awakens” is pure cinematic joy – good thing I’m seeing it again tomorrow.

1. “Mad Max: Fury Road”

Courtesy of Warner Bros.
Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Not having seen the original “Mad Max” films, I had no expectations going into “Fury Road.”

Then it proceeded to blow my damn mind.

George Miller’s post-apocalyptic Wasteland is twisted perfection, dropping the audience into a fully realized dystopia with dictators, disease, strife and righteous fury.

Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa is, in my mind, still the best character put to film this year, if not the past few years. She’s strong but vulnerable, trusting but never over-reliant. Furiosa is a hugely progressive character, but the film’s effort in not focusing on these traits only helps her to seem more so.

Apart from “feminist action movie,” “Fury Road” has so much more to offer – it’s a film with real, challenging ideas. Its take on bio-capital and human usefulness encouraged me to write an entire research paper on the film, after all (which I will publish after further edits).

I can’t say enough about “Fury Road,” at least without rambling. Miller’s world is beautifully shot, scored, acted, written – it’s the full cohesive package. If there’s a more complete and challenging movie that came out in 2015, I’d love to see it.

Leave your favorite movies of 2015 below, and we’ll chat about how the artistic choice to have war boy corpses ragdoll around is actually a narrative choice to represent their role as human capital and abused ammunition. Sorry, I’ve done a lot of thinking about this movie.

Have a great New Year, and see you in 2016.

Knobbles’ Top 5 Games of 2015

Courtesy of Sony Computer Entertainment
Courtesy of Sony Computer Entertainment

If you appreciated the order and stability of the past two lists, boy are you in for a disappointment today.

I know I take every opportunity to complain about how I don’t have enough money to keep up with every single everything that comes out in a year, but games are something of a tricky case. I pick up one, maybe two new releases at launch per year, with most of my game buying starting at either Black Friday or around Christmas.

It’s also been an insanely busy year, meaning that I’m not finished with most of my games, some of which even made it onto the list below. Thorough and objective? Definitely not. But I have nothing to prove.

Lastly, know that there are plenty of games I haven’t even touched – most of this year’s major releases, actually. No “Metal Gear Solid V,” no “Fallout 4,” no “The Witcher 3.” Not even “Undertale!” But I see this as an opportunity! An opportunity for you all to read about some games you maybe haven’t thought about in a while, if at all. These are my (bold/italicized/underlined) top games of the past year.

If gamers love anything, after all, it’s challenging their ideas and being open to change.

5. “Batman: Arkham Knight” (Rocksteady Studios)

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

If you read my initial thoughts on “Arkham Knight,” it’s safe to assume this would be higher up on my list. I’ll admit, the game makes a great first impression. However, once the initial luster wears off, you find a game defined by its peaks and valleys – its subpar DLC- and Bat-Tank-ridden valleys (Who makes a Deathstroke boss fight involve stealth tanks? Really?).

But those peaks, though. Combat is better and more challenging than it’s ever been, and there’s nothing more satisfying than dropping into a crowd of goons only to beat them senseless and then soar off into the gorgeously rendered night (if you’re on console, at least). Getting from point A to point B in the Batmobile is a blast, and the new Dual Play feature is a great addition to the gameplay. Whoever designed that Professor Pyg side quest knew how to terrorize some players. Well done.

4. “Lara Croft Go” (Square Enix Montreal)

Courtesy of Square Enix
Courtesy of Square Enix

I know it isn’t the obvious pick for Tomb Raider game of 2015, but don’t let the mobile platform fool you: This is the puzzle game at its finest. “Lara Croft Go” is beautifully complex in its simplicity: you swipe up, down, left and right, but that leaves plenty of room for some of the hardest and most satisfying challenges to shine.

You’ll move the eponymous tomb raider throughout the cavernous labyrinth on what equates to a turn-based board game (it makes more sense in motion). You’ll evade giant spiders and spear snakes as you traverse the landscape looking for treasure. The game is broken up nicely into short checkpoints, so if you fail (you will fail), the next try is just a momentary respawn away. Always tough but never unfair, “Lara Croft Go” is the best way to ignore your loved ones sitting right next to you.

3. “Until Dawn” (Supermassive Games)

Courtesy of Sony Computer Entertainment
Courtesy of Sony Computer Entertainment

Full disclosure, I’ve only played the first three or so hours of “Until Dawn.” But man, what a rush those first three hours were. I’ve loved the past few Telltale games (“Tales from the Borderlands” is still on my to-do list), and the thought of pairing that game style with the horror genre felt like a perfect match. Like the Telltale games, this one is great when played in a group setting. “Until Dawn’s” focus on story and choice lends itself fantastically to spending a Friday night playing it with your friends, half of them yelling at the character to run and the other half screaming to stand and fight the horrors of the night.

I guess you could say “Until Dawn” is my favorite game I’ve barely played this year. But the game has left me craving more – I’d say that’s a very good sign.

2. “Rocket League” (Psyonix)

Courtesy of Psyonix
Courtesy of Psyonix

The revving of the engine. The audible “whoosh” of the boost. The satisfying “thunk” of the ball bouncing off your car. “Rocket League” is a total rush, and it’s exhilarating from the start.

If you’ve missed the biggest overnight hit in gaming of the past year, “Rocket League” is soccer, but with cars instead of players. You wall-drive, flip and boost your way around the field, working as a team to score goals. It’s so simple, yet oh so satisfying. Developer Psyonix has put an insane amount of polish into this little sport(?), and it’s enough effort for this one to stick around in everyone’s minds for a few years to come.

1. Hungry Cat Picross (Tuesday Quest)

Courtesy of Tuesday Quest
Courtesy of Tuesday Quest

Wait, what? This game didn’t even come out in 2015! Heck, I tried to look it up but I couldn’t find when this game was released. Then why is it my number one?!

No game defined my past year like “Hungry Cat Picross.” My friend Molly recommended it to me back in the summer, and my life hasn’t been the same since. I’ve sunk hundreds of hours into this free little download. I play “Hungry Cat” on the bus, when I’m waiting in line – you better believe I play it on the toilet. When the weekly Tuesday Grids show up, I do nothing else for the first hour of my day.

“Hungry Cat Picross” does a wonderful job getting you acclimated to the puzzle’s rules, introducing gameplay elements on a small scale until you’re eventually conquering massive 30×45 grids. The game gives you hundreds of puzzles with new ones released periodically, all at no charge to you. Most of all, the game is just so, so, so fun.

It’s not a deep, detailed world like “The Witcher 3.” It doesn’t have the flashy explosions of “Just Cause 3.” It isn’t even an original idea. It’s just a simple concept crafted to perfection. With all the hours I put into this game, I can’t think of another title at the top of my list.

Please leave your hate mail below, and let me know what I need to catch up on. I just started “Destiny,” so if you want to find me there, I’ll be the green Ultron with a mohawk.