Archive for the ‘Aleks Samoylov’ Category

Memento Mori 02: Chocolate or Vanilla, Choose

Posted on: October 11th, 2014 by Aleks Samoylov

“Who wants a library full of books you’ve already read?”

– Harlan Ellison (Paladin of the Lost Hour)

“A Man Chooses”

If you’re a PC gamer with an adequate rig and a modicum of disposable income, you’re probably familiar with what I’ve termed the “Steam Daze.” With all the sales, and the deals, and the special offers, it doesn’t take long to amass something of a collection, a neat and ever expanding line of cheaply acquired titles just waiting for you in that lovely sidebar to the left. There are so many games to play, so many worlds to adventure in, so many virtual experience to sample. It’s nice, at first. It’s exciting.

Then it comes time to actually sit down and play something. You’ve been waiting for this moment for hours, perhaps at school, perhaps at work, perhaps at your cousin’s wedding: finally, it’s “you-time.” You settle in. You boot up. You crack your fingers. You open up Steam. And suddenly you become aware of your own mortality, more than you ever have been before. In stark white on gray are etched the lines of a dire prophesy. Never before have you known finitude so completely. Never before have you felt so utterly limited, so utterly dazzled and confused by the terrifying specter of Cronos, with his scythe, with his uncaring stare.


It’s true what they say about choice: having too much of it can often feel like having none at all. Unlike the kid in a candy store, who, we would presume, will gorge himself until he is hopelessly sick, you are more akin to the scholar standing in the midst of a vast library. It could take you days, sometimes months, to consume just one of the items on offering. And the very act of your having bought a game, even at eighty percent off an already reduced price, serves, by default, as an implied contract, stipulating that you do intend to play it…at some point.

But how much time do you really have? Even if you live to a ripe old age, and the world doesn’t end in catastrophe, and your income remains steady, and your leisure time is plentiful, will you ever be able to get through everything you’ve ever wanted to get through. Will you even be able try out everything you’ve wanted to try out?

“And that has made all the difference”

I realize that the philosophical problem at hand is a great deal bigger than games, and that this is an extremely privileged manifestation of said problem. It comes down, much more universally, to the sometimes terrifying question of how to best spend one’s extremely finite allotment of moments among the living. The issue is a great deal more profound than whether you’re feeling like a first person shooter or a point and click adventure game on any given evening. Nevertheless, one’s solitary leisure time (which is something that even extroverts benefit from, and introverts absolutely require), one’s time away from work (both meaningful and meaningless) and from social obligations (both happy and unhappy), is a significant part of life, and should, in my opinion, be factored fully into any discussion of said question.

On your death bed, in your death throes, will you regret those five hours you’d spent farming gold in your favorite MMO, or those ten hours it took you to finally defeat Ornstein and Smough in Dark Souls, or the twenty hours you’d spent on Assassin’s Creed 2, or the eighty hours you’d spent on Assassin’s Creed 4? I should probably avoid dwelling on games like Skyrim, lest I suffer a full on existential meltdown. Could you have spent that time better? Could you have spent it more wisely? Might you have had more fun playing something else?

Note that this isn’t a matter of “games” versus real life. I have firmly established elsewhere that I believe engagement with interactive art to be as valid and potentially meaningful as engagement with any other medium. It’s not a question of whether or not you’d regret having a virtual experience when you could have been merrily skipping through a dewy meadow with your significant other (while giggling ecstatically, of course), or working hard on finding the cure for cancer, or making your way through Ulysses. It is assumed, for the purposes of this discussion, that you already do those things, or something along those lines, in their own assigned time, and that you’ve already carved out a part of your day, or your week, for recreation anyway. This is a simple matter of choice. We know that one experience can easily be more enjoyable and more meaningful than another, simply because we, as human beings, have tastes and preferences. But, just as someone browsing in the aisles of a book store or a record shop, just like someone surfing the channels or compulsively reading the summaries on Netflix, we don’t always know what is what.

As a result, it’s easy to simply seize up, to freeze, to gloss over. You stare at the screen, at all the treasures you’ve accrued in your vault, and you fail to choose, to enjoy, a single one of them. Paradoxically, you find yourself procrastinating. You watch a video, or read an article, or (god forbid!) do some work. Before you know it, your coveted alone time has melted away, and you haven’t played anything at all.

“I Choose Vanilla”

In college, my roommates and I used to go to this meditation class on Wednesday evenings. It was held in one of the dorm buildings, in the fitness center down in the basement. The building used to be a small women’s hospital, and the basement was rumored to have served as the morgue. You wouldn’t really know it to look at it, though. The room was brightly lit, with exposed brick walls, lacquered wooden floors, and mirrors everywhere.

One Wednesday night, seemingly out of the blue, our instructor turned to the student at the far end of the room, made fists with her hands, and held them up as though she were presenting the student with two ice cream cones.

“Chocolate or vanilla, choose,” she said.

“Umm…chocolate?” said the student.

“Why?” she said.

“Because I like chocolate?” said the student.

“Wrong!” she said. The teacher focused her attention on the next person in line, and asked her the very same question. She chose vanilla, and claimed that she chose it because vanilla tasted better to her, as an individual. “Wrong!” said the teacher, and focused on the next student. And every student, in turn, was wrong, whether he or she chose chocolate or vanilla.

“Do you want to know the answer?” asked the teacher, after every single one of her pupils, including myself, had apparently failed the cryptic test. We nodded in assent. She paused meaningfully and surveyed the room with something like triumph.

“I choose vanilla,” she said, and paused again, “because I choose vanilla.” She grinned excitedly.

“Isn’t that a mindfuck?” she continued.

We agreed. It was, indeed, a mindfuck.


Choosing to Choose

Most people overcome the “Steam Daze”, or whatever other gaming or non-gaming equivalent they might be most familiar with. It’s intermittent. We can’t keep falling victim to it night after night, even if we can’t hope to become completely immune. We understand that the daze is unproductive, that it ultimately prevents us from living. It becomes difficult to enjoy anything if you’re constantly second guessing yourself, constantly wondering if you might not have been better off having chosen something else. The grass is always greener and so forth. The ability to choose, and to stand by your choice, is a skill, and a very powerful one. In the end, that which you didn’t choose, for whatever reason, you simply didn’t choose. There is no inherent value to any such choices. All value is perceived.

But I’ve no right to wax philosophical. There is actually no great lesson here and I can’t claim to know the true answer to my meditation teacher’s koan, nor do I have the definitive solution to the problem of indecision. I suppose what tends to work for me is either picking up something short and sweet (or something that can be played for a short period of time) and going from there, or committing myself to something sweeping and epic, something I can play from one evening to another for a while, without having to think too hard about it. Sometimes I concede, and do something conventionally perceived as productive. Ultimately, the meaning we make, and take, from both our lives and our hobbies needs to be determined on an individual level.

I’m only publishing this because it’s been a rough couple of months, on oh so many fronts, and because my other articles are still in the shop and because, wracked with fear and dread, I can’t seem to decide which one of them to finish.


Remember, Thou Art Mortal

Posted on: August 21st, 2014 by Aleks Samoylov

I first became aware of my own mortality, not merely as a possibility but as an inevitability, when faced with a game over screen in a mediocre licensed game for the Sega Genesis. That much I know for sure. That much I remember. I don’t, however, remember my thought process. I don’t know how or why I arrived at that precipice, only that I did, and that it sucked. I was six or seven years old. It was a quiet, peaceful, unremarkable evening. The game, in case you’re wondering, was Tom and Jerry: Frantic Antics. It was colorful, cartoony, a little bland in retrospect (although I was enthralled at the time, mainly because it was what passed for “next gen” back then). I’d seen hundreds of game over screens before, and I already knew, intellectually, what death was. It was nearly bedtime. I was allowed one more try. I fell into a pit.

That’s when it struck me. Someday, after a certain amount of time had passed (and nobody could predict exactly how much), I, along with every single person alive, will die. For good. Game over. No continues. No save games. I’d had a fairly secular upbringing, so my thoughts didn’t turn to celestial palaces, eternal country clubs, or eventual resurrection. In fact, the concept of an afterlife didn’t occur to me until years later, and even then in the purely theoretical sense. To be frank, I didn’t really know how to process it at the time. And I basically still don’t.

I remember going to bed and staring at the darkness. It was the inevitability part, I think, that was new to me, the concrete understanding that just as my birthday, no matter how far away it would sometimes seem, eventually came around, just as the summers and the winters eventually came around, so too would the moment of my own death.

I wish I could remember what it was about that particular game over screen that did the trick. But, unfortunately, I can only speculate. And my speculations on the matter aren’t especially interesting. Since then, I’d torn through more avatars than napkins (most of them in Dark Souls, though Hotline Miami is probably close behind), and I like to pretend, like most adults, that I’ve come to terms with the reality of death, so unlike the common fictions and conceits of the medium.


The panic attack I’d experienced while grinding my way, death by death, through Heide’s Tower of Flame and the Lost Bastille and simultaneously listening to the recent This American Life segment on hospice care is surely nothing to be alarmed about. It was just incongruous, confronting the permanent and inescapable nature of actual death while thoughtlessly eating lance after lance, while watching the words “you have died” flash on the screen again and again, and knowing that no, I actually haven’t, not just yet.

When I hear accounts of actual war, it is not uncommon for me to feel guilty about occasionally enjoying simulated violence. Sometimes (too often), I feel guilty about writing in such serious tones on a medium that is still often conflated with child’s play, while all kinds of awful and serious things are happening all across the globe. But this, well, it’s different. For a moment there, I did feel a twinge of guilt. Where do I get off, resurrecting at the nearest bonfire like it’s nothing while real people are suffering through painful, and irreversible, endings!? Then I realized how stupid that sentiment was. It assumed, once again, that I was somehow exempt, that I wasn’t going to end up on one of those hospice beds sooner or later, without any power ups or magical rings to save me, just as surely as taxes are due every April. This was a problem that my several layers of privilege can’t protect me from. Some people die old, and some people die young, but all people die (transhumanist fantasies aside).

I once lived next door to an elderly artist. He’d take walks around the neighborhood sometimes. As I passed him on the street one bright, spring day, I smiled, said hello, and asked him how he was doing. “I am over ninety years old,” he answered. “Just yesterday, I looked young. I looked like you.” He didn’t bother asking how I was doing in turn. He sort of just kept walking. And while his demeanor might have been outwardly cantankerous, he’d earned the right to say what he wanted, and he exercised it when it suited him. I liked him for that. He died in hospice about a year later.

I had no reason to feel guilty. Yesterday, he looked like me. Tomorrow, I would look like him, and that’s only if I’m very lucky. I’m fairly sure that he ate more conscientiously than I do, and exercised to boot. I, on the other hand, have been playing fast and loose with my future corpse (shudder, shudder, shudder) since a fairly early age.

Ornstein…umm…the Old Dragon slayer, ran me through again. I rose to my feet beside the bonfire, on the edge of a vast sea, among the sunken ruins of a once thriving, now long dead, civilization. Unreasonable guilt gave way to perfectly reasonable existential dread. But, in the end, I kept listening, and I kept playing. What can you do? So it goes.

Don’t Look Back: Choice, Consequence, Unrest

Posted on: August 2nd, 2014 by Aleks Samoylov

The Next Leap…

The mission prompt informs me that I am now Tanya, an introverted, intelligent peasant girl of fifteen, but it doesn’t really insist on it. Following the introductory sentence, the narration shifts to the third person. And that’s just as well, I figure. From my experience with the two preceding vignettes, short but potent, I know that I ought not become too attached, lest heartbreak follow. Pyrodactyl’s Unrest, with its heady mix of fictional politics and human drama and its cast worthy of a Tolstoy novel, is not, after all, Tanya’s story. Not exclusively, in any case. I have a god’s eye view (paradoxically both detached and focused) of her drought stricken village, but I have already learned that my power is limited. I am not God. I am not even Doctor Sam Beckett. According to the description on the tin: “…there are no heroes of legend, there is no mystical quest, and fate has not chosen you.” Foreboding words, but the proof is in the pudding.


From the very beginning, it was clear to me that Pyrodactyl’s promises of deep interactivity and role playing freedom have, in fact, been fulfilled, but what the player can and can’t actually accomplish is really a matter of scope and scale. As Chitra, a seasoned ambassador from the Naga Empire (a prosperous nation of sentient and comparatively enlightened serpent beings that serves, in large part, as a convenient means to address xenophobia), I had full reign over my words and actions, if little else. I decided that Chitra was to be a paragon of diplomatic virtues, cordial, sensitive to cultural differences, quick with a joke when it suited him, and, above all, dedicated to his mission, one of peace, security, and mutual profit. I could, however, have easily turned him into an arrogant, demanding hard liner, or a cold and calculating manipulator. I couldn’t predict or avert the inevitable disasters to follow (there wouldn’t have been much of a plot otherwise), nor could I leave the confines of the royal gardens, where the controversial treaty between the Naga Empire and the humans of Bhitra was to be negotiated and signed, but I was free to do my best, free to choose how my character, my charge, responded to the limiting circumstances at hand.


The End of Something: or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love The Secret World

Posted on: July 23rd, 2014 by Aleks Samoylov

“They finally immanentized the Eschaton”
The Eye and the Pyramid (from the Illuminatus Trilogy),
by Robert Shea & Robert Anton Wilson

“…Mountains sit in a line, Leonard Bernstein…”

Unlike most roleplaying games, Funcom’s The Secret World doesn’t hide the apocalypse behind vague prophesy or in a pocket dimension at the terminus of time. The End isn’t couched in the endgame, something to anticipate and prevent. It isn’t a matter of a final showdown, or a final revelation. In The Secret World, the eschatalogical event is the main floor show and the opening act. Even the lowliest lowbies, fresh from their faction hubs, quickly learn that what they’ve been made privy to is, quite literally, the end of the world as we know it.

Zombies and sea beasts have all but overrun the once sleepy (now feverishly tossing) town of Kingsmouth. The small Egyptian settlement of Al’Merayah is besieged by a legion of Filth infected cultists and the Biblical plagues (those are some big goddamn bugs) seem to have returned in full force. The Transylvanian village of Har’baburesti stands on the front line of a vicious vampire crusade as the monstrous legacies of Soviet experimentation emerge from their former obscurity and stomp across the frozen ground of the Carpathians. In Tokyo, the dark, viscous substance known mainly as “The Filth” (that same mysterious abomination that lies at the root of the global conflagration) pours out of the subway tunnels and snakes up the sides of skyscrapers. A massive Quarantine wall has been erected around the affected area, but while it does appear imposing, even oppressive, to the fleshy human observer, some of the Filth monsters can fly. The Filth is infectious, virulent. It overtakes and corrupts any ordinary life form it comes in contact with. It’s only a matter of time.


Strangely enough, the power remains on in Kaidan (the epicenter of the Tokyo disaster). The streets are well lit. The billboards and neon signs wink at their surroundings. But the sidewalks and the roads are eerily empty, eerily quiet. What remains of the citizenry has long been transformed by the squirming blackness.

These recently infected once-people are the most disturbing of all, worse than the giant locusts, or the vampiric soldiers, or the ravening undead. You encounter them in every corner of the world, humanoid husks (many wearing the clothes they were “caught” in) with blackened skin and glowing eyes. They don’t merely growl, or snarl, or chitter. They speak, they rant. The ones in Kingsmouth rant in English, one moment pleading for some unmentioned entity to leave them alone, to get out of their head, the next obsessing over their misplaced keys. The ones in Kaidan speak mostly in Japanese (which I don’t understand), but a few of them, on spotting an investigator, have been known to utter a hearty “fuck you” as they pull their target toward them (at least I think that’s what they’re saying).

While the Bees, Gaia’s Chosen, (the players) have the enviable benefit of functional immortality, and the heads of the Illuminati, the Dragon, and the Knights Templar do their best to put on a confident facade, there is no permanent safety in this new world. Even as you relax over a pint in Ealdwick (the Diagon Alley of The Secret World), or watch the rain from a Karaoke bar in Seoul, or rub shoulders with the occulted hipsters of Brooklyn, you understand that all too often a haven is, in fact, merely the eye of the hurricane. Somewhere out there, the darkness isn’t waiting. It’s tearing the world apart, slowly but surely, molecule by molecule.


The Ghost of Gaming Past

Posted on: July 9th, 2014 by Aleks Samoylov

Insofar as I can recall, my first console was a surprise gift from a visiting relative, an unexpected and (at the time) incomprehensible boon. Gaming was still very new to the Russian mainstream, and while I understood enough to be excited, I had absolutely no idea what to expect. There were no commercials on the television. There were no video game magazines that I was aware of. Nobody I knew owned anything more advanced than a Game and Watch trinket, more mechanical marvel than digital art. The console came in a colorful (in that early 90’s way), tape encrusted box bearing a photograph of a black, plastic thingamabob. Both the lettering on the package and the instructions were printed in pictograms, mysterious and inscrutable foreign symbols. I’ll never know for sure what language the text was in. I’ll never find the box, even if, by some miracle, it still exists.

I don’t remember much of what transpired between our receiving the enigmatic treasure and those first moments of play. The system, which was, in fact, black and plastic, came with a single cartridge, which was yellow and plastic. When we turned it on, the television began to play a melancholy chip tune. There was a pixellated sky, a pixellated ocean, and a line of pixellated beach, complete with pixellated palm trees. On opposing sides of the screen stood two pixellated figures, presumably a man and a woman.

In the space between them stood a wall of more incomprehensible pictograms, each line marked by the much more familiar Arabic numerals. I quickly discovered that I could cycle from line to line using the directional buttons on the controller (which, at the time, appeared to be delightfully alien and thrillingly advanced, like some artifact out of a science fiction movie), and that moving past the bottom of the list would bring up a whole new page, make the man and the woman take a step toward one another, and move the big, pixellated sun down closer to the horizon. In the end, it was nighttime on the beach. The man and the woman sat together around a bonfire…I think. Or maybe they kissed? Google hasn’t been especially helpful (maybe I’m not searching for the right terms), so all I have to go on is my memory. How many copies of that bootleg cartridge were ever assembled, I wonder – a few thousand, a few hundred, just the one? How many are still intact?


Impressions – Transistor

Posted on: May 29th, 2014 by Aleks Samoylov

The River Always Finds the Sea

If Dear Esther is the video game equivalent of an Ingmar Bergman feature, then Transistor, Supergiant Games’ sophomore effort (and the very indirect spiritual successor to Bastion), is more akin to a Tarantino flick. To be only a little bit more precise, Transistor’s overall aesthetic feels like a heady blend of Kill Bill, Blade Runner, and just about any Wes Anderson movie you can name.

It’s inherently unfair to compare games to movies, of course. The two media, while having the audiovisual component in common, are fundamentally different in just about every important aspect (structure, plotting, mode/level of engagement, etc.). In this case, however, the comparison serves as a convenient shorthand for what I’m trying to express.

Though stylish as hell, Transistor is not, despite what some may claim, an artsy-fartsy title. And that’s not a bad thing in the least. While I’m normally a big fan of the artsy-fartsy (art house cinema, literary fiction, art games), clearly to the point of seeming, and being, annoyingly pretentious, I will be the first to admit that an expressive medium hasn’t fully matured until it has produced its fair share of in-betweens, those hybrid pieces that truly straddle the line between art and entertainment, that do approach the sublime, whether in aesthetic or narrative or both, while remaining both accessible and conventionally enjoyable.


Transistor isn’t merely a stylish and emotionally eloquent experience, and it isn’t merely an excellent action/tactical roleplaying game. Transistor is both, and it manages to be both without compromise. That makes the release of this gem a very, very good thing both for gamers and for Video Games. Neither Kill Bill nor Blade Runner is Citizen Kane (and seriously, we need to stop constantly name dropping Citizen Kane – it’s getting unseemly), but both films, at least in my opinion, are fantastic works of art (note that in the case of Blade Runner, I do not acknowledge the validity or existence of any version prior to the Director’s Cut). They are unabashed, unashamed, unafraid to be exactly what they are.

Supergiant’s latest, much like its aforementioned cinematic brethren, never apologizes for what it is. It speaks, and sings, for itself, in the vernacular of its choice. And, in my view, there is something honest about it, something, believe it or not, refreshingly unpretentious.


In Death’s Dream Kingdom: Dark Souls as Allegory and Initiatory Experiences in Games

Posted on: May 11th, 2014 by Aleks Samoylov

“Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death’s other Kingdom
Remember us-if at all-not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men”

– An excerpt from The Hollow Men, by TS Elliot

This is Dark Souls

Dark Souls 2, the latest (not quite second) installment in From Software’s tough-as-nails action roleplaying series, has only been out on PC for a few short weeks and already it seems to have captured us in its powerful grip (which is part of the reason why this article has taken me so long to post). It is still too early to evaluate and critique this specific game judiciously (as our about page implies, we at Cloud Monster like to take our sweet, sweet time with that sort of thing), but my own recent return to its melancholy universe has led to some interesting musings on the series as a whole.

The Souls games, while hardly short on lore and content, are famously sparse and opaque in their presentation. After a brief tutorial, you are dropped into the world and left to your own devices. In the case of Dark Souls 2, you’re given some idea of what it is you’re actually supposed to accomplish (break a curse, restore your humanity, seek a king or some such). In the first Dark Souls, you’re treated to a dense, poetic exposition dump in the opening cinematic, but the whys and wherefores of your strange destiny are left relatively vague until about the halfway point. You’re sort of supposed to figure it out as you go along.

The Souls experience can be said to be the gaming equivalent of a walkabout, except you’re not expected to avoid dying. You’re expected, instead, to persevere in the face of the sometimes ridiculous level of difficulty and constant discouragement. As a paunchy, well fed individual who is, predictably, terrible at sports of any kind, I can’t exactly claim that Dark Souls is anywhere near as intense as physical labor. Nor can I claim that surviving any number of its various virtual perils should be classed as a true “accomplishment.” But it can undeniably feel that way.


Series devotees return in part for that rush of adrenaline in the midst of a contentious fight, that rush of endorphins after finally slaying an especially troublesome foe, that rush of dopamine on discovering a new area or exploring a new tactic. The games are known to punish the player, sometimes mercilessly, almost sadistically, but they’re also known to be commensurately rewarding for the adventurer with the patience, the resolve, and the acumen to take them on, the adventurer who is willing to take the time to learn their quirks and secrets. Mechanically, they are about as deep as action RPGs can possibly get. It is this balance between madness and reason, between pain and tenacity, between punishment and reward that makes these games as successful as they are.

Much has been said and written about that inimitable “I did it” feeling that the Souls series, among precious few other titles, provides. While progressing through Dark Souls won’t make you richer, more handsome, or otherwise better off, it nonetheless *feels* important. You aren’t merely playing. You’re engaging in an undertaking, an expedition, a virtual journey in the true sense of the word. It stays with you.


Mind the MacGuffin

Posted on: April 15th, 2014 by Aleks Samoylov

Mac·Guf·fin noun \mə-ˈgə-fən\ (coined by Alfred Hitchcock, circa 1939) – an object, event, or character in a film or story that serves to set and keep the plot in motion despite usually lacking intrinsic importance.

Attack of the Giant MacGuffin

By now, the disappointing conclusion to Mass Effect 3, the final (we assume) installment in Bioware’s popular space adventure/role playing series, has been discussed and dissected to death, then resurrected, then discussed and dissected some more (again, to death). We’ve heard and read everything from ingenuous fan theories, designed to attribute higher meaning to what was most likely the sad result of an eleventh hour all-nighter, to in depth analyses of its various failings, to impassioned pleas of “say it isn’t so” and “my Shepard wouldn’t do that.” With this much distance between us and the unfortunate event in question (oh, that moment when millions of fan-boys and fan-girls suddenly cried out), there isn’t much left to say about the ending itself. If I’m to avoid major spoilers (mostly for the sake of Arie, who has yet to play the damn thing), I oughtn’t really say anything at all.


I’m not concerned with the final outcome, in fact, but rather with what I believe to have been its primary cause. The sloppy finale was merely the effect, I would argue, of this larger and more pervasive narrative fault. The Mass Effect series has been lumbering along with this burden on its shoulders since its second iteration, and utterly collapsed under its weight in the very first scene of the third game. I am talking, of course, about the Reapers, those damnable space lobsters bent on galactic annihilation. The problem, simply enough, is that the Reapers are too damn big, too damn threatening, and too damn powerful to serve their purpose properly. They are well-enough designed, mildly interesting from far away, and appropriately menacing (also from far away), but a full on Reaper invasion is really just too much for Mass Effect’s plot to handle without serious, generally negative, consequences. Ultimately, a simple rewrite of the game’s concluding moments couldn’t have done the trick. The whole plot had become compromised at its very core as soon as the decision was made to have the third game revolve around what is essentially an apocalypse-in-progress. In short, Bioware’s writers failed to properly mind their biggest MacGuffin. They allowed it to grow too big. They got it wet and fed it after midnight. And it wasn’t long before this MacGuffin, instead of driving the narrative forward, consumed it, bones and all.

The Hype Train: Obduction

Posted on: April 4th, 2014 by Aleks Samoylov

All Aboard

Before I start off on what will likely be an extremely emotional trip down memory lane, I must sing out, with an open heart and a brazen voice, in praise of the Gods of Crowdfunding, and of Kickstarter in particular. Kickstarter has served as a wild, wet, beautiful storm in the desert of the gaming industry; it had bid that desert bloom, bloom like never before. Without it, the world of games would be a much darker, sadder, uglier place. So much of what I’ve loved, or at the very least enjoyed, these past few years (Shadowrun Returns, Blackguards, Expeditions:Conquistador – yes, I’ve been on a serious tactical role playing kick lately) and what I look forward to enjoying in the near future (Dreamfall Chapters, Wasteland 2, Sunless Sea) can be directly attributed to crowdfunding. It is no secret that I am a big believer in the model, and in non-traditional methods of publishing and creating in general.


And now I can gladly add Obduction, currently in development by Washington based Cyan Worlds, to my “most anticipated” list. In fact, it pretty much takes the very top spot on said list. For me, there is simply no contest. This is, of course, a very subjective assessment, entirely based on subjective, and extremely personal experiences with Cyan’s former products. But that’s what the Hype Train is for: personal passions, unreasonable expectations, excitement, anticipation, hope.


Adolescent Male Power Fantasies Indeed!

Posted on: March 30th, 2014 by Aleks Samoylov

I liked the original Infamous (despite the wonky character animations and the campy story), and I really, really liked Infamous 2. It addressed all of its predecessor’s visual problems full-heartedly, and its story, while still campy, felt endearingly so. Frankly, I’m a sucker for tales of genuine bromance.

The most recent installment in the series didn’t exactly disappoint me. Yes, the side activities could have been a bit more engaging (I’m all for Banksy style stencil art, but pretending that my controller is a spray can and waggling it about for a few seconds doesn’t really a mission make). Also, I personally would have liked more challenge and did sort of miss the cover system. Still, Infamous : Second Son essentially delivered exactly what I had expected it to.

It is a solid Infamous sequel with absolutely astounding graphics: a comfortable, if not especially innovative, experience for the fans, and an excellent demonstration of next generation capabilities for the world at large. I mean, you really have to see it to believe it. At points, it felt as though the Patron Deity of Video was repeatedly punching me in the face with the full and awesome force of her magnificence. And it certainly doesn’t hurt that Second Son’s story is decently written and, more importantly, extremely well acted. That Troy Baker has serious range. The game itself is a bundle of superhero fun, and I absolutely love the fact that you can, almost from the very beginning, take the baddies down without killing them, and that this proves to be a fun and challenging alternative to the standard slaughter-everybody playstyle.

In short, I really, really, really like Second Son. There is one thing, however, that bugs me, and just won’t stop bugging me. The karma system I’ve made my peace with. It is what it is. The uninspired side missions, and the fact that I am no longer being swarmed by baddies from every direction (something that I rather enjoyed about the earlier installments), only bother me enough for a quick grumble. The one thing in the game that really makes me uncomfortable (warning: feminist soapbox ready to deploy), the one thing that I truly found to be disappointing (in that it neither met nor exceeded my expectations), is the dialog spoken, in passing, by the randomly generated female denizens of Second Son’s virtual Seattle. Do bear with me here.