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Outer Wilds and Millenial Dread by Caleb Sawyer

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Playing Outer Wilds prompted a mental reaction I have never had before. 

Somewhere in the space between planets, as I sought out the clues to solve this rapidly decaying universe, I found the answer to a question I never asked. 

I have as much trouble describing the mental distress Outer Wilds caused as I do just describing the game itself. There is nothing quite like the first reveal, the slow burn of you realizing what it means, all followed by the slow and meticulous uncovering of hints and clues. It all plays out like this very intimate mystery, despite its clear implications for the universe the game takes place in. 

I remember the first time I saw my uncle play Metal Gear Solid and fight Psycho Mantis. I often think about the implications that a game could encourage the player to do something physical, in the real world, to interact with it. I am even often disappointed by the fact that very few games actually prompt such interactions. 

Outer Wilds never asks you to do something in the physical world to complete it. Nothing I saw. But what I did encounter was a strange and deep urge to disengage with the game entirely.

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The impending doom of Outer Wilds, and its 22 minute time-loops, triggered a particularly millennial, frighteningly familiar fear: You will never have enough time to get to everything done that needs to be done. Every time a new loop starts, you head into your ship and read through your discoveries from the last loop. As the game progresses, each time you repeat this process the questions become more vague at the same time they become more precise. Putting together the mystery you are tasked with solving does not, innately make the game less obtuse. In fact, there are several moments where learning something scrambles the assumptions you previously had, leaving you staring at a bowl of plot spaghetti rather than the network of info highways you thought you had. It is through this process of misdirection and partial learning the game gets you to keep saying, “one more loop.” 

However, there was a moment about twenty hours into my playthrough, when I realized I had never ventured to Giant’s Deep. Here I was hours and hours into trying to solve this mystery, and I had left an entire fucking planet out of the equation. 

I remember sitting in my office, staring at the screen thinking, “But, I felt so close…”, and then turning my xbox off. I didn’t return for an entire week. It was crippling. 

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When I came back, aside from kicking myself for such a strange lapse in memory, I began to panic. I scrambled to Giant’s Deep hoping to earn some kind of reward for showing up and found absolutely nothing. Of course, the result I should have expected. Outer Wilds is adept at making players take their time, despite their being a constant invisible timer. You will want to rush while playing this game. Don’t. The music denoting the end of the loop began to play, I stared at a room I couldn’t access, realized how to get there in the same moment I realized my time had run out, and I just waited for the supernova to wash over me.

It was this strange battle I fought with myself over time which led to a lot of my stresses playing Outer Wilds. Each new loop, I wanted to break through in some way, find another clue, discover something new. The strange and cryptic messages left behind by the Nomai would feed me just enough information. Without failure, the loop would end just as I realized something else and I would have to wait for time the pass in the next loop for the conditions to be just right to access the info my revelation 22 minutes earlier had clued me in to.  

All of this led to a vicious love/hate relationship with the title. I loved finding clues and I despised running out of time. I loved the feeling of discovery and hated the overwhelming feelingI would never have enough time to discover it all. 

Then I got to the end. 

This entire game was offset, oddly enough, by the release of an album I latched onto in a way I have never experienced. Thank You Scientist’s album Terraformer came out on June 14th, a little over two weeks after Outer Wilds’ release and almost exactly when I found the time to start playing. The album is incredible, which I realize is subjective, but I couldn’t help but hear the songs as I thought of the game. Track Everyday Ghosts breaks into a chorus which says, “Sometimes I feel so ordinary / Sometimes I struggle with who I am.” I felt this in most every moment of Outer Wilds. I felt overwhelmingly normal, tasked with solving a mystery so far beyond me. 

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The album rests firmly in the Progressive genre, and I found a great deal of pleasure figuring out when and how the many time changes would play out. Without going into laborious detail on the album’s lyrical choices, suffice it to say I felt the words of each song spoke on some level to a facet of the game. No song better than Geronimo, a track devoted to helping its listener learn the best way through life is to understand there are some things that are just outside of your control. The end of Outer Wilds drove this home tenfold. 

When you finally piece together the final parts of the mystery Outer Wilds sends you on one last trip. And boy is it a trip. As I pieced together the last moments of the game I was hit by this unavoidable wave of relief, accomplishment, and oddly enough, reassurance. The game is full of heartbreaking discoveries. As you traverse the solar system you encounter the remains of Nomai scientists who have been trying to solve the same mystery as you, and who have obviously failed. You see their jubilant cheers when they make a breakthrough. You see their somber replies when they hit walls. 

But then you figure it out.

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I found myself trekking the pine needled earth of a forest, a single light source ahead of me, and infinite night sky overhead. The stars tumbling in the infinite black. As I followed the prompts I found instruments playing in the dark. I brought them back to the fire. As I brought each instrument back, their musician would appear, sitting around the crackling wood and flickering light. I assembled them all and then went to speak to them. “Should I start playing?” They would each ask this question. One by one I said yes and each instrument began to hum, strum, and drum. Each added a stream of smoke above the fire pit. When I went to speak to each of the players again they said something I’m not quite sure I was ready for. 

“Even if it’s over now, I had a great time learning.”

“The past is past, now, but that’s…you know, that’s ok! It’s never really got completely. The future is always built on the past, even if we don’t get to see it.”

“I tell you what, this has been really fun. And I got to help make something pretty cool, so I’ve got no complaints.”

Each statement an admission that, “I didn’t get everything done, but that’s ok!” It was a prescription to a sickness I didn’t want to admit I had. All of this fear I would never have time to get it all done began to wash away. I saw the face of my grandfather, smiling, happy that, while his chapter was over, he was given the opportunity to play a part. All at once I was made to realize, it’s not about doing it all in one go. It’s about playing your part to the best of your ability, lending to the next crescendo, contributing to the confluence. 

As I internalized this I stepped into the smoke above the fire, detonated existence, and set the ground work for a new universe to come. The futility of my endeavor to stop the end of existence was replaced by the satisfaction that some things simply must happen, and it is our responsibility to make sure when they do, even before they do, we just do our best. 

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All the time I spent with this game was fraught with tension and trepidation until I knew what I was meant to do; A lesson with surprising connections to one’s journey through life. One which hopes to help you find pleasure in trying to figure it all out. 

~Caleb
@LubWub

Outer Wilds Website

Thank You Scientist

Bouncing Off: Why it's Okay by Caleb Sawyer

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When I was a kid, in fact, when most of us were kids, our options for games to play were limited. I still remember planning out what game or two I would have for summer break. Final Fantasy VII, XIII (the amazing title from Ubisoft), Final Fantasy VIII. The list was small, always. My gaming as a kid was almost entirely dictated by the money my parents were willing to siphon into my recreational habits, and baseball was expensive. Occasionally a lent disc.

Between the years 2003 and 2004 three online marketplaces for games launched: XBLA, PSN, Steam. Between September 12th, 2003 and December 4th, 2004, those three platforms revolutionized game distribution. Small companies no longer needed to fund physical releases. Instead, they could publish their titles on multiple digital networks. Instant visibility. Instant access. Over the next 15 years the game industry would swing more and more towards digital distribution as a primary means of distribution.

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The surge of indie titles over this period was LARGE, and while I have had a hard time tracking down hard data, it isn’t hard to assume in the following years, the number of small market games able to self-publish to these marketplaces skyrocketed. On Steam alone, just 7 games were released in 2004, in 2018 the number sat at 9,050. A nearly 1300% increase in 14 years.

But why am I saying all of this?

When I finally got an Xbox 360, in 2009, there were a lot of titles available. Over the last 10 years, I have learned how to find the games I like. Specifically me. This ability to find content, and tailor your gaming experience based on your preferences, has led to a multitude of diverse and hyper-specialized experiences. You like first-person puzzlers and explorers? Grab Talos Principle, The Witness, Q.U.B.E., or Portal. You prefer retro-style side scrollers or dungeon crawlers? Snatch up Hyperlight Drifter, Below, Katana Zero, or Dead Cells. And those aren’t even the hyper-specific games. Like the retro-RPG feel, music, and XCOM-style strategy games? Try Wargroove. Third-person, focused linear story, cover-based shooters, with a more open world? Try on Spec-Ops: The Line or the Uncharted Series. Love dungeon crawlers and pinball/breakout mechanics? Look no further than Creature in the Well. 

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Honestly, the categorization and customization of your personal playlist is nearly infinitely wide and unfathomably deep. There is something for everyone out there, it just takes the know how of how to find it. 

This abundance isn’t without its setbacks though. As one would assume, the highly specific nature of many games, and the ability to hone specific likes and interests leaves more ample space for disappointment or, what industry professionals and gamers like to call “bouncing off” of a game. As I have developed my tastes I have become very familiar with this feeling. 

In 2018, Rare released Sea of Thieves, and open world, sea faring, pirate game giving its players the freedom to do just about anything they wanted. Sail the seas looking for treasure on age-worn maps? Do it. Challenge ancient evils and defeat hordes of Skellys (skeletons) to unlock the vault on the island? Sharpen your blades. Hunt other players down in true buccaneer fashion and sink their ships, making off with their hard earned treasures? Avast! But I had grown more accustomed to being told more story along with my gameplay and Sea of Thieves, when it launched, just didn’t offer what I wanted. I played Sea of Thieves for about 12 hours before I just couldn’t play anymore. My enamor in staring at the beautiful water and unique sailing mechanics just wore off. Instead, traversal between points of interest became dull busywork, and I legitimately began catching myself falling asleep while playing, only to wake right up when I switched to Rocket League.

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I ran into the same issue with Elite Dangerous, a space sim which falls into very similar categories as Sea of Thieves. You can do anything, be anything, so long as you take the time to find out how to do it. I needed more. I wanted a few story missions to hold my hand through the core processes and functions, even if just a little. I wanted to be introduced to the games ecosystem and universe. Not to just be dumped into a sandbox with a pile of tools and no instructions. I bounced off of those games hard. I have returned as they have added additional features, sure, but they didn’t become career games like Battlefield or Rocket League did.

I have a long standing feud with my family over Warframe. My uncle and grandmother absolutely love the game, and for good reason. Digital Extremes is unrivaled in their community interaction, feature addition, and bare knuckled persistence. Warframe is deep, and shows no signs of showing down. There is just one problem: I just can’t force myself to like it. The introduction, specifically the portion of the game you have to play before the story really “gets good” takes close to 30 hours. Your time before said moment is spent digging through a series of relatively unremarkable levels, recycling mission objectives, and frequently plowing through enemies like some kind of space Dynasty Warriors game. It is pretty, smooth, and mechanically sound in every way. I just don’t particularly care for the gameplay loop. Give me more substantial rewards. Give me more story. Give me more unique objectives. Give me enemies with consequence. 

I don’t want people to see this as a piece solely devoted to bashing Warframe, because it isn’t. What I am trying to point out is, I have tailored my tastes around a few key genres with a more diverse subset of sub-genres mixed in. No matter how hard I try, Warframe just doesn’t click enough of those boxes. Sea of Thieves didn’t originally tick those boxes. Hell, I bounced off of Doom 2016. Something about the speed of player movement and the specific setting didn’t jive with my desired gameplay or sensibilities at the time and I ricocheted hard. Like…I played 4 hours. Tops.

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The hardest part, in all of this; the hardest part about bouncing off of a game, in today’s gaming environment, is dealing with the feeling of guilt you get when it happens. Often times for me it is a self inflicted guilt, but the guilt is easily compounded when you have friends who do like the thing you can’t get into. My family’s Warframe feud has largely subsided, but when it was at its peak, I genuinely felt like I had failed them, not being able to get into something they loved so much. 

I wanted to speak to those who have found themselves bouncing off of games everyone around them seems to love. It’s ok! Really. There is so much out there to play, so many things to discover, you should never feel like you have to like something. It’s ok if you picked up Red Dead Redemption 2 and just couldn’t stick with the sluggish controls. It’s ok if you tried to dive into Monster Hunter World and just couldn’t fall in love with the hunt (I didn’t either!). 

Instead, keep your head up and keep looking. Austin Walker, on Waypoint, said in a podcast recently, “someone out there is making my favorite game.” Maybe its already out there. Keep looking. And don’t feel bad if you bounce off of a game a lot of your friends love (I’m looking at you Destiny). Games are rarely closed books the day they come out. Most of them will continue to add content, and a lot of the content they add is made to bring more people in or win them back. Stick out the bouncy ones for as long as you can, come back if you are intrigued with new content, and in the spaces between those events keep looking for your favorite game. It’s out there somewhere.

~Caleb
@LubWub

Why I Write About Games by Caleb Sawyer

by @lorenzoherrera

I have been writing about games for 8 years. I started in college, intrigued by an opportunity to write for the Rambler, the school paper. I had just quit playing baseball, a sport I had been committed to for nearly 12 years, and I had an abundance of time, a love for film and games, and an opportunity. I started by reviewing movies. I saw Drive, Contagion, and many other films in the first few months. It wasn’t until I saw an ad for Battlefield 3, an ad with a cheeky dig at Call of Duty claiming that Battlefield went “Above and Beyond the Call”. It was smart. It may seem silly, inconsequential even, but that small ad sparked…something. 

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In the past 8 years I have written about indie games, AAA games, news, studios, conferences. It has been an amazing ride, even if that ride has been bumpy, inconsistent, or even to a smaller audience than I want. I keep writing, as slow or fast as I can, because I couldn’t live with myself if I just decided not to. And that’s just it. I will never stop writing about games, and the reason (for me) is simple: I believe that games have the ability to touch lives deeper than many people think, and I want to make sure as many people realize that as possible. 

When I started writing about games this motivation made itself clear quickly. Unexpectedly, my resignation from competitive sports had a large impact on my immediate mental state. I had a means of expression and a place to take out aggression for over a decade that was suddenly gone. While I continued to play in the summer for a few fo the following years, It never took center stage again. I became depressed, I started smoking, my sleep schedule fell apart. In the spring of 2012 I got the opportunity to go to a journalism conference in Seattle. Within moments of the first session I knew that I wanted to write for the rest of my life. Upon returning from that trip my uncle connected the dots for me. “You love games, you love writing. Why not write about games.” It was like being punched in the face. But in a good way. 

Over that summer I was given the opportunity to work alongside my uncle and write journalistically for several blogs and author a few comic books. Ben (my uncle) is a comic illustrator, and works from home. Adopting his schedule, I wrote forty pieces in the three months of summer for multiple blogs. At the same time we both realized that going back to school in the fall would prove hitting deadlines for other blogs difficult. After a few days of brainstorming, NerdyBits was born. 

I continued to struggle with my newfound depression during this time, and I authored a piece called Why Games Matter. I wrote about how games helped me through my depression in the last year. How Mass Effect 2 helped me feel like I could solve problems. I wrote about how Skyrim saved my life. 

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I don’t want to sound like I’m saying that people who don’t write emotionally about games are doing it wrong. There is a huge need for news, investigative reporting, and editorials based in fact. There are all-stars doing this reporting, this writing. What I decided, in short, was that I would do the writing I wasn’t seeing as much. Drawing from my own life to tell unique stories about the games that I have played. Confident that others would gravitate towards stories with a strong human element.

Over the last several years I have written about criticism in games, why indie games are saving the industry, how playing MLB: The Show reminded me that losing is ok, how a mobile game prepared us for the death of my grandfather, and how Far: Lone Sails helped me cope with that loss. This writing keeps me going. The more I do it, the validation I receive. People connect with these pieces. 

A few months ago I was approached by a friend who wanted to write for NerdyBits. He wanted to tell the story of how Zelda taught him how to be a better brother to his epileptic sister. Learning to help rather than complain, because she needed help, and it’s “dangerous to go alone.”

Last week I met with another friend, and after explaining my credo for writing games, he told me about a story he wants to write about how doing Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has made Absolver mean more to him. How doing martial arts in real life has shown him the beauty in movement, the power in swiftness, and the place for self-defense in a fallen world. 

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People connect emotionally to their games. Sometimes that emotional connection is peace in a tumultuous world. Sometimes that connection is a new reason to live. For the next adventure. For the next quest. For the next moment. Sometimes that connection goes unnoticed until someone else, someone like me, puts context to content.

I am going to keep writing this way. I have to. And when I get the opportunity, I will do all I can to signal boost others who want to share similar stories. Because people need to hear them. Because people need to know it is ok to feel strongly about something they played. Because games, and those who make them, need know what their creations can, and frequently do, illicit in their players: Emotion. The kind that sticks with you for the rest of your life.

@LubWub





Far: Lone Sails - Learning to Cope by Caleb Sawyer

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Almost a year ago, my grandfather died. It has been hard to escape feeling like a hack because I keep bringing that up. The reality is, I haven’t written much since that day and what I have written has been punctuated by a tone that overflows with grief that I’m still not sure how to deal with. Nevertheless, here I am, attempting to write again. This time though, I am not going to steer away from that well. Part of that is self-motivated. The other part is Far: Lone Sails.

I watched the trailer for Far: Lone Sails one night while perusing the upcoming games in the Xbox Store. The music, the art, the tone, instantly hooked me. I am partial to games that have a system based in upkeep. I love building cities in City Skylines. I love managing my base, personnel, and resources in XCOM. Maintaining the mechanics of this land ship, traveling across a wasteland was an easy pre-order. 

The first moments of this title froze me. My character sat in front of what I can only assume is the grave of their father. A picture lays propped against a tree. The music is soft and sweeping. The environment monochromatic. Grays and whites punctuated by the red coat and hat of the player. 

If there is one thing that stands out immediately in Far: Lone Sails, it is its ability to deliver an aesthetic swiftly and creatively. As a long time fan of Playdead’s Inside and Limbo, the task of telling a compelling story in the limited space of a side crawling platformer is a challenge not easily overcome. Music and art take center stage, while gameplay often takes a back seat, punctuating the visual tableaus with puzzles. Okomotive’s ambitious entry into this genre is an outstanding accomplishment. 

———

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My grandfather served 23 years in the Navy. A period of his life he spoke of sparingly. To this day I am unsure if that was because it conjured memories he didn’t care to relive, or if there was another reason. The stories he told were always comical. Stepping up several decks in a single bound while the ship flexed in choppy waters. Drinking hot beers on the deck while docked at shore in the Philippines. Nearly missing the boat back while resupplying. His Navy career was a mystery to me. It will always be a mystery.

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Far: Lone Sails takes place in a world made desolate by a disaster given no explanation. As you step down a sandy beach, the sound of an ocean never comes. Instead a windswept desert stands in its place, the carcasses of various ships strewn about the wastes. As you step into your ship (the eponymous Okomotive), crank up the engine, and pull away from the scaffolding surrounding it, you set off across this lonely place. The destination: unknown. 

Within moments the world begins to unfold itself around you. Broken down ships are everywhere. Dust crept onto their decks. Debris lays scattered, half submerged in the sands of of time and abandonment. Something happened to this place. It is hard to keep from imagining a world full of color. Rippling seas teeming with life. Nothing remains but shattered hope, abandoned dreams, derelict homes. 

———

When my grandfather passed it was sudden. He had interstitial lung disease. One day he felt worse than usual. He and my grandmother went to the Emergency Room. Eleven days later he was gone. Despite the expertise of the doctors that attempted to help, they never found out what caused this flare up. Despite everything they attempted there was no explanation. I remember my uncle, sitting in shock next to his dead father. “My whole life I have believed in science. And science has failed me.” The words were sobering.

———

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As you progress through Far: Lone Sails the obscured history of the world begins to unravel itself. The shallow, dried out seabed gives way to rolling pastures. Billboards pass by for a small farming and industrial town, The Blue Isles. This town, as picturesque as it may look with its rolling green hills, rests abandoned. The hills are washed grey-green, and before long you find barns and farmhouses torn asunder. Cars rest on roofs. 

A tornado appears just beyond the last partially standing buildings. Without words it becomes clear: the damage done to this world is deep and irreparable. 

The game continues this story of unnatural disaster as you progress. Color comes and goes, rarely, but those colors are always bleak. Dreary. Joel Schoch’s score moves emotionally throughout these moments, rising as the Okomotive churns forward, dipping as night falls, rising as the day breaks, the amber glow of the sun projecting into the thick clouds that cover the world. Schoch’s score is incredible. I’ll never forget trudging through the rain, the drops plinking off of the Okomotive, while the score receded. Leaving me to the sound of the rain and my thoughts. One of the best parts of Far: Lone Sails’ score is its willingness to leave you in silence, proving that even in its absence it can have a dramatic impact.

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It was rainy the day he died. I remember thinking, “thank god no one else will be happy today.” I had always found comfort in rain. Since then, rain has been…different. No longer just a source of comfort, it is a reminder. Every time it rains, I am brought back to that day. Each time a little less, sure, but it is still there. I think it may always be there. I’m not sure I want it any other way. 

The thought that he died of natural causes so suddenly felt, well, unnatural. He was tough, he rarely complained, and to think that one day his body just decided it was tired of struggling was hard to understand. 

For the next six months it was hard to see color in anything. Everything felt greyed out. Food tasted different, sleep was less rejuvenating, laughter didn’t linger like it used to. My inability to write became apparent quickly. I struggled for hours to get singular thoughts onto a page. I was afraid that talking about this loss openly would look like a crutch I was leaning on. So I didn’t write. 

———

The billboard for the Blue Isles says “A Fresh Start” just beneath the name of the town. Another says, “We Build Our Future”. The people of this place tried their hardest to move past the fact that their world was dying. But they don’t appear to have ever attempted to address the issue. The rusted and hulking remains of industry and manufacturing tell a story of a people who believed in science, and who were betrayed by that belief.

As the remains of civilization pass you can see people building escape hatches, not treating a wound.

———

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Writing has always been my release. My means of escape, of coping, of healing. Not writing meant I did none of those things properly. I bottled and distilled my grief, making each moment it returned stronger. I tried everything to get away from it. I hid my pain from my grandmother, trying to be strong for her. I hid my pain from my wife, trying to prove that I was fine. That I was able to hold it together. I tried my best to move past the fact that a part of my world had died. In reality I was building escape hatches. 

Without giving away the ending of Far: Lone Sails, because you should absolutely play it, I realized that part of me needed to let go, sure, but a larger part of me needed to face the problem head on and push through it. My grief is my Okomotive right now. I need to maintain the ship pushing me through life. I need to remember that, even if the ship is damaged, it is fixable. But it won’t be forever. Someday, it will decide it can go no further. When that time comes, it will be okay to let it go. To move on to another vessel. To take a moment and say, “Goodbye old Friend.”

The front of the Okomotive in Far: Lone Sails has two figures etched on its prow. An adult and a child. The house you pass through in the opening moments show you a Father and his child and the machine they created together. I am not entirely self-made. I owe a lot to Timothy Sawyer. His family was the thing he was most proud of. I realize now, that is why he didn’t share a ton about his service in the Navy. It wasn’t what he built with his hands. His family was. Now that he is gone, we must take journey forward, through the waste and colorlessness, to a new place. And he is still here for the ride. Even in his absence he has had a dramatic impact on all of us.

———

I valued every moment I had with Far: Lone Sails. It has brought me a lot of peace over the last few weeks and helped me better contextualize the struggle and pain of moving on. Of pushing through the shit to get to the other side.

Mechanically easy to pick up, hard to put down, a brilliant and evocative score, and entrancing art elevate Far: Lone Sails into the poetic. A contemplative and somber yet unwaveringly charming journey It hooked me immediately. Despite having beaten it twice, I keep finding myself coming back for a little more every couple of days. 


Bravo, Okomotive.

Thank you for making this game.

Far Cry New Dawn: A Familiar Walk in Unfamiliar Surroundings by Caleb Sawyer

Far Cry New Dawn

In June of last year, a few months after the release of Far Cry 5, Terry Spier (Creative Director, Red Storm) said that the Division 2 would not be making a political statement. The game takes place in D.C. after a plague decimates the population. D.C. is in ruins, and the trailer released at E3 last year says “A remnant of a corrupt state lurks in the shadows, ready to engage in a new civil war. Agents of the Division are the only one standing against it.” So how…what the…?

I brought up Far Cry 5 earlier and I need to explain why these two are inextricably linked. Far Cry 5 could have been very political. The first Far Cry game to take place in the United States dived deep into satirizing what makes America tick: Guns, preppers, piss tapes, and fanatical religion. There was a little Trump, a little Alt-Right, a little religious violence, and for the first time ever, mostly white enemies. Who would have thought people actually would be upset by any of these things (definitely not the author of this [fake?] Petition?). 

What is most interesting about the setting and cast of Far Cry 5 is that, despite the ample material to draw from, it tried so desperately to remain apolitical. In fact, Ubisoft didn’t make a true political statement about the title’s contents, publicly or in the game itself. Something that reviewers and critics would hold issue with as literature began to be written up. So do you side with the petition and get angry at how political it is? Or do you side with the reviewers and get angry at how hard it tries not to offend anyone?

3 months later…

[The Division] is not a political statement? “Absolutely not.”

See, the line isn’t hard to draw here. Extremely mixed response from undecidedly political/apolitical game = Nope. No politics here. But boy would you look at how great D.C. looks? 

Enter Far Cry New Dawn. The first direct sequel to a Far Cry game. 

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SPOILER ALERT

At the end of Far Cry 5. Nukes detonate all across America, making the big, bad, religious creep Joseph Seed “right” (ugh) and then the game rolls credits. New Dawn picks the reins back up seventeen years later. The wildlife has been altered, the flora is colorful, the world is overgrown, largely untouched by the hands of man. In the time that has passed, people have rebuilt, or at least they have begun the process. Within seconds of New Dawn’s establishing shots (you are the hero, you travel the wastelands and help small settlements get back on their feet, you’re on a train full of people and supplies) the antagonists show up. Colorful dirt bikes, wacky attire, fireworks, smoke grenades. 

Essentially you get rolled on by patrons of the post-apocalyptic (regular?) Burning Man and, well, it is kinda awesome.

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Here is where I realized Far Cry New Dawn would be different: in the introduction of its antagonists, two black women, Mickey and Lou. For the first time since I played Far Cry 3, I didn’t hear an ounce of allusion in their intro. They weren’t the personification of anything but post-Collapse, cut-throat survivors that took the dark path. 

This isn’t to say that New Dawn is without its own politics. There are plenty of story beats that lean into corruption, bribery, and religious fanaticism, but there is one key difference: this game doesn’t fee like it is about those things.

Outside of the return of a few of Far Cry 5’s characters, New Dawn largely stays away from what made its predecessor such a split-decision for most people. And while the setting and execution is familiar (think Mad Max, Rage, or a little Borderlands), there is something fresh about playing this setting in Far Cry’s formula, despite Far Cry’s formula being more than a little played out.

That perhaps is my biggest, and only real, gripe with Far Cry New Dawn. It just feels like more Far Cry. 

In many cases this isn’t a problem. When you love the mechanics of a game, when the studio changes those mechanics up it can be disorienting. Even disenfranchising. The thing is, Far Cry 3 released in 2012, and while I absolutely loved that game and its reimagining of what Far Cry was, those changes have remained largely unchanged in its successors. 

Far Cry New Dawn Outpost

Outposts still operate the same way: Kill everyone silently for a large bonus, knock out alarms and go loud for a small bonus, or throw caution to the wind and kick down the door, no bonus added. The vehicular mechanics remain the same, the shooting feels the same, the hunting and wildlife feels the same (except this time you are getting attacked by Wolverines, not Honey Badgers), and the bow is still the best weapon in the game. Though I want to make sure I don’t knock (get it) the bow - it fucking rocks - I need Far Cry remember how to change again.

The new mechanics introduced to this game are largely inconsequential. You can build up your base by collecting Ethanol, adding a bit of functionality to taking outposts beyond just shooting (or stabbing) people. But that neither feels adequately rewarding, nor does it explain how Prosperity (the base) builds a farm with…Ethanol. Once you upgrade the Workbench to make Epic weapons, you can completely ignore upgrading the rest of the base outside of the story mission that requires it. 

Far Cry Rush

I should make it clear that New Dawn is a direct sequel to Far Cry 5, and is likely built with the same exact engine and tools. Appropriately, Ubisoft priced the title at only $40. These things together make complaining that New Dawn feels like more of the same, feel a little obvious. That is literally what it is.

Minus one thing: Painfully irreverent and borderline overwhelming political overtones. 

There is a part of me that wants Ubisoft to not be afraid of having political commentary in their games. Then, there is another part of me that believes that there is some kind of political commentary in New Dawn. That perhaps this title feels better because it doesn’t appear to be commenting on current events, but that doesn’t mean it exists without a message. 

Then I come back to Spier’s response to the question about The Division 2 making a political statement: Absolutely not. Perhaps making a political statement means something different here. New Dawn had a message: Do everything it takes to make the world a better place. And that message could be seen as having political applications. But a direct political statement, that forces players to choose a side or fractures your base? Maybe that is what he meant to steer away from. 

Far Cry Hope County

New Dawn appears to be the result of that decision. It wipes the political slate clean with a few dozen nukes and tells a surprisingly human story devoid of Alt-Right mouthpieces and trumpeted up stereotypes.

I want games to have a political voice, to take a stand on something, if they want to. But maybe this isn’t the worst thing ever. 

@LubWub

Show Me the Games: Holiday 2018 by Caleb Sawyer

Photo by @ollie_606

Photo by @ollie_606

2018 was a stellar year for games. From God of War kicking the door down in March, to Fortnite redefining persistent online experiences, to Red Dead Redemption 2 causing games to flee its wake, to Celeste, Owlboy, and Gorogoa taking hearts and thumbs by storm. It is impossible to tell people what they should go out and play because the list is humanly impossible to complete. That is, unless you are superhuman. So, rather than trying to page through every single Black Friday ad, we thought it would be more fitting to give you a list of games that you have to play. The deals run amok on Black Friday and with the Black Friday ads linked below we are confident you will be able to find these gems at a deep discount somewhere (in many cases EVERYWHERE). So for our list, in no particular order:

AAA Must Have Titles:

God of War (PS4 Exclusive)
Forza Horizon 4 (Xbox Exclusive)
Red Dead Redemption 2 (Good luck finding a discount here)
Battlefield V
Destiny Forsaken
Overwatch
PUBG (Xbox Exclusive)
Fortnite (Technically Free, but find all the V-Bucks deals you can)
Detroit: Become Human (PS4 Exclusive)
Monster Hunter World
No Man’s Sky
Marvel’s Spider-Man (PS4 Exclusive)
Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey
Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 (Doorbuster in many locations)
Hitman 2

Indie Must Have Titles:

Celeste
Owlboy
Dead Cells
Mark of the Ninja: Remastered
We Happy Few (If this even still counts as indie now)
Overcooked 2
Octopath Traveler (Switch Exclusive)
Unravel 2
State of Decay 2 (also questionably indie now)

Get out there and get some games!

BLACK FRIDAY ADS:

Walmart
Best Buy
Target
Microsoft Store
GameStop

@LubWub

Everything Xbox by Caleb Sawyer

Photo by @takeshi2

Photo by @takeshi2

Xbox is coming to Black Friday with some solid offerings. With systems lower then last year, you can look to find the Xbox One S in nearly any store (Walmart, Best Buy, Target, GameStop, and the Microsoft Store) for a cool $200, while Target and GameStop will reward you with a gift card for you console pick up ($20 and $50 respectively). Similarly, if you need to grab an extra controller, controllers are dropping $20 across the board, with the Microsoft Store also dropping their Design Lab prices by $10. If you are looking to bring home the beefy Xbox One X, Walmart and The Microsoft Store have both knocked $100 out of the MSRP, while Best Buy and Gamestop have the X for sale for 429. Best Buy offers their Xbox One X with a copy of Battlefield V and an extra controller, while GameStop bundled in a copy of Fallout 76 and that handy $50 gift card. Memberships are also on sale across the board, albeit at different price points. Walmart is selling 3 months of Xbox Live for at half price ($12.50), where Best Buy and GameStop are dropping $10 from the price of the 3 month and 6 month memberships. Target is taking $10 of the whole year subscription (normally $60 in total) and the Microsoft Store is offering a 1 month membership of both Xbox Live and Game Pass, each for $1. To round it out, GameStop has their 4TB hard drive on sale for $100, dropped from the original $129.99.

If you were to ask me, your best deals can be found at:

GameStop and Best Buy if you’re looking for the Xbox One X
Anywhere if you are looking for the Xbox One S
Walmart if you are looking to renew your Live subscription
Anywhere if you are looking to add a new controller

BLACK FRIDAY ADS:

Walmart
Best Buy
Target
Microsoft Store
GameStop

2014: The Year in Review by Benjamin Sawyer

2014 has swiftly come and gone. The next generation of consoles have been the current generation for a full year, a bevy of titles releasing for both. Gamergate took the gaming world by surprise and left a quagmire of unsavory, garish internet hostility floating on the surface of everyone’s minds. And industry names changed hands or outright closed with surprising frequency, from Irrational laying developers off to Microsoft buying Minecraft from Mojang for a stifling 2.5 billion dollars.

However, despite this year’s scale and ambition, I can’t help but feel underwhelmed. Now, while you may feel that evaluation is ill-based or even borderline ungrateful, let me explain myself. This is going to be a long conversation. Pour a cup of coffee and pull up a chair.

This year was massive when it came to games. With the new consoles getting comfortable in their new digs the year began with an air of promise to it. New consoles meant new games, many of those new games being new IPs (Intellectual Properties) that brought an astounding amount of potential to the table. From the freshman studio (albeit it made of veteran developers) Respawn Entertainment’s all-out, mech-heavy shooter Titanfall, to Ubisoft’s cyber-security action game Watch Dogs. From Warner Bros’ delightfully dark Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor to Insomniac’s comically outrageous Sunset Overdrive. A lot of games hit the shelves this year, but only a few stood out. A problem, in my opinion, not based so much on the merit of the games themselves, but with the manner in which they were released.

The first half of the year was lackluster with a few bright spots. Thief had a tepid comeback and Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare effectively fell on deaf ears. Titanfall stole March, and for a good reason. The new IP from ex-Infinity Ward developers was polished, intelligent, and stepped onto the scene as if it were no different than a Call of Duty sequel; with confidence (even with its laughably reduced persistence system). The rest of March was pretty solid as well, with genuinely good titles like Dark Souls II, Yaiba: Ninja Gaidan Z, and Infamous Second Son rounding out the lineup. The only real blight was Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes, a game that should have been priced differently, should have lasted longer, and could have just as easily been released as a part of the larger Phantom Pain, planned for release in 2015.

Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs, a game that had people antsy for its release for more than a year, stumbled into our hands in late May and, despite all of its hype (or, perhaps, because of it), played a relatively boring game of limbo with the bar that it had set itself.

Then (after a long, meh, summer) came Destiny, Bungie’s first title since Halo: Reach. But Destiny, despite its merits, was underwhelming for many people and garnered a very mediocre reception. The sci-fi, action-adventure epic seemed to be missing something. A lot of something, or somethings. A bare bones story, a punishingly unfair reward system in which part of your currency was a reward, a severely unbalanced multiplayer, the problems seemed to just stack up. Fortunately, Bungie developed Destiny to a high level of polish, the game had no real gameplay flaws, which proved to be just enough to keep people playing while they addressed balance and loot issues via a collection of swiftly released patches. Yes, Destiny had its flaws, and still does, but Bungie’s involvement with their community has proven key to the revitalization of their project.

October is when things began to pick up (for better, or worse) for releases. October alone had Alien Isolation, Driveclub, Borderlands the Pre-Sequel, Sleeping Dogs: Definitive Edition, The Evil Within, and Sunset Overdrive. All highly anticipated titles. All flawed, either by design or by poorly-timed release. Alien Isolation had AI problems for the first two weeks that almost broke the game for some. The Xenomorph literally appearing from thin air seemed to not sit well with players. Driveclub suffered crippling online issues. The Evil Within was another game that received mediocre reviews (despite the fact that Game Informer gave it a 9 out of 10 its metacritic just meets 75). In the wake of these games, Borderlands and Sleeping Dogs felt overlooked.

But not nearly as much as Sunset Overdrive did, and I blame November for that.

The Insomniac developed title was unique, fun, and downright refreshing. A game as self-aware and satirical as Borderlands, fused with Tony Hawk, with a comic book attitude, and a punk soundtrack. It was everything I wanted in a new IP. But then November hit.

A week after Sunset’s release, the new Call of Duty came out, a week after that Assassin’s Creed Rogue, Assassin’s Creed Unity, Halo: The Master Chief Collection, and Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham. A week after those came Far Cry 4, Dragon Age: Inquisition, Grand Theft Auto V on next gen, WWE 2K15, and Little Big Planet 3. Ten games in three weeks. Just like that, Sunset Overdrive got buried by games with established histories and, especially in GTA V’s case, proven and resounding success. Even if you bought a game a week in November that still swiftly added up, and despite Sunset Overdrives promise, the more proven games got players’ money. After all, Sunset was a new, unproven IP that, if purchased, would dent your bank account just enough to make pulling off November an exercise in fiscal responsibility.

Even with the technical flaws that plagued Assassin’s Creed Unity and Halo, most of the titles released were overwhelmingly quality. Call of Duty took its already over the top cinematography and gameplay to a whole new level with the addition of VO great Troy Baker and Oscar Winner Kevin Spacey. ACU’s ambitious co-op, though initially flawed, was a huge pull for gamers, and now proves itself as one of the year’s best cooperative iterations. Halo 2, remastered, is a delight, and having all four core Halo titles on one disc is paramount. Far Cry 4, while a bit of a rehash of Far Cry 3 (but this time with elephants!), is a solid title that deserved the Best Shooter award. Dragon Age: Inquisition is a masterpiece, enough said.

The number of games titles that hit shelves this fall was truly astounding. But the success of the game industry as a whole took away from the successes of the titles as individuals. Dragon Age needed more elbow room. As did Sunset Overdrive and Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor (yeah, that came out in September, amid the outcries of disappointed Destiny fans). The Last of Us and Bioshock: Infinite, arguably two of last year’s best titles, and quite possibly for the entire console generation, released in June and March, respectively. And while I understand the release of games in the fall from a business standpoint, from a consumer’s standpoint I felt overwhelmed, even exploited. My friends and I have games still sealed (or barely played) because we just didn’t have time to get to them. Did 2014 have a game on the same playing field as The Last of Us, other than the remastered version of Last of Us? I would say no.

But this isn’t the first time that the fall game season has been overloaded. It’s a yearly event. So why did this year it hit a little harder, especially for gamers in possession of the newest hardware? Before September there were only a few quality titles worth putting hours into. Everyone was looking a few games to bolster their repertoire. So when we were confronted with the surplus that was this fall, we were all craving so much more than what we had. If you didn’t understand the marketing behind this, you should now.

In the end we have a 2014 that, on paper, looks amazing. A new Call of Duty, two full Assassin’s Creed titles (for the first time ever, mind you), the Halo collection, Far Cry 4, GTA V, Dragon Age, Destiny, Titanfall, Sunset Overdrive, Infamous: Second Son, Watch Dogs, and Shadow of Mordor. But how many of those games have you gotten the chance to play? How many have you beaten? There are at least four award-wining games in that short list, and I left a lot of games out. We should have the opportunity to play all of them without refinancing our homes.

For those of us that did buy all the games that we really wanted, now, instead of reveling in a collection of solid games, we are digging through a stack that feels a lot more like homework than recreation. I think 2014 could be a good year. I just need to get to the bottom of the stack first. That shouldn’t ever be a burden.

@CalebTSawyer
~Caleb