Gaming Culture

The Sonic Series is Sloppy, but That’s Kind of the Point

When you think of Sonic, do you picture him tapping his foot? Or with a finger gun and a wink? Sonic has come a long way from the former image, a Mario competitor that could blow him away in a 100 meter dash and looked impatiently at any players that couldn’t keep pace. 

Outside of the over 30 games that have his name on it, there have been 5 separate cartoon series, 2 movies (one animated, one live action), and multiple manga and comic series. The sheer amount of Sonic stuff speaks to an attachment that extends far beyond the “Nintendont” design and marketing philosophy. He’s his own brand man, an ever shape shifting series of adventures starring him and whatever anthropomorphic characters that Sega can cook up. He is a mascot, a universe, an ever evolving property aimed squarely at kids and their parent’s wallets. He is widely beloved and way more popular than anyone truly realizes. Which makes his game’s critical reputation a bit at odds. As his universe has expanded, his metacritic ticker has gone down. This speaks to a failing of this particular critical lense; it’s hard to truly evaluate on the old standbys set by magazines like GamePro. Sure the graphics aren’t all too hot, the story less than cohesive, and the levels themselves not too challenging. That sloppiness works in their favor though; an A-tier mascot refracted through the lense of willy nilly licensing and budget constraints. Sonic properties are there to sell you on a good time and how goddam cool these cheesy as hell characters are. Not a lot of other kid’s heroes are set to blaring rock music and EDM (they even made a spinoff where a character has a goddam gun). Sonic is sloppy and that’s half of the appeal.

Agreed Knuckles.

Which brings me to Sonic Forces, the 2017 game where you get to create Sonic’s new best friend. This game unequivocally rules. It’s a rollercoaster ride of a game, with fast paced levels trying to funnel you down the path as quickly as possible. The levels are not difficult, instead designed with a more on rails approach and a series of lock on targeting jumps. There’s no intense platforming and jumping, just speed (gotta go fast, remember?). You team with Sonic, blow shit up, go to space, blow shit up again and speak to the power of friendship. There’s also a war going on that culminates with all the animals attacking Eggmans forces in a Lord of the Rings scale battle? Count me the fuck in. That description above is obviously cheesy as hell, but that’s what makes it so great. This is a game that plays it straight, with characters like Knuckles earnestly talking about how to shift the tide of war. The story is rushed and the details are glossed over, but there’s just enough peppering of in universe events to get you hooked. All your favorite characters are there too, like Tails, Amy Rose, and Shadow the Hedgehog (Big the Cat is mysteriously absent though, has anyone checked on how he’s doing?).

Everything in the game feels a little rushed, a little haphazard but is fucking fun to play. Therein lies the critical rub, can it still be good when you can easily point out its faults? Abso fucking lutely. Sonic has and never will be a Mario caliber series. I mean that in terms of polish and innovation; Sonic has never been a series that’s led the way, but taken in contemporary influences through Sega’s strange lense most notably in the jump to 3D. When Mario got 3D levels, so did Sonic. The differentiator lied in Sonic’s reliance on speed, but how do you communicate that on a three dimensional plane? With lock on targeting, the same momentum based physics, and some odd platforming here and there.

Sonic Adventure blazed on to Dreamcast and immediately sunk its hooks into a generation of gamers. The feeling of platforming and running, while impressive, never felt tuned like Mario 64 did. Sonic felt slippery in a stand still, jumping felt just too floaty, and targeting could send you flying off a stage rather than toward a jump. The overworld, similar to Mario 64s castle, was largely awful and completely removed for the sequel. Adventure tried to one up its 64-bit competitor with cutscenes and told a globally expansive story (a pretty wild one at that). All of these didn’t add up to anything amazing and yet Sonic Adventure was hailed as an achievement. That enthusiasm certainly has waned a bit, but it’s still remembered fondly by gamers of a certain age.

Sonic Adventure still is the perfect encapsulation of the appeal though; Sonic didn’t have to be polished to be good. You got to outrun a goddam whale! New characters were introduced to meet and interact with, even play as! These are still the core tenants of the series. 18 years later, Sonic Forces has fine tuned those items. Lock on targeting is much improved and levels give you an even better sense of speed along with intense background activity. The Sonic cast has expanded triple fold with alligators and bumblebees. Sonic never had to beat Mario at his game, he was always racing to his own tune (and that tune is Escape from the City).

Check out my YouTube channel if you want to see my thoughts on Sonic Forces in video form.

Gaming Culture

SSX: My 2020 Reboot Wishlist

If you’d ask me for my list of favorite video game franchises, SSX somehow would never come up. Hell I’d forgotten it completely existed until my brain randomly spoke up and resurfaced the “Welcome to Ghirabaldiiii-eeeee.” How could I have forgotten SSX Tricky, probably one of my most played games of all time? While other kids were playing Tony Hawk (by the time I got a game system by the time everyone else could completely demolish me), I was replaying SSX Tricky over and over and over. The perfect balance of an arcadey trick system, cheesy character designs, and over the top level design had me pegged. I had every level, every shortcut completely memorized and could deal back all those losses in Tony Hawk ten fold.

So what happened to the series and why has it left the public consciousness? EA had a couple non starters following SSX 3, failed to rebrand it as a “dark and serious” snowboarding game, and put out a largely solo, wide open mountain snowboarding reboot (it was fine, but missed what made the franchise special; over the top silliness).

There have been very little rumblings of a potential reboot of the franchise, but now is the perfect time to strike. The 90s and early 2000s joyful excess is starting to come back into vogue and nothing suits that more than EAs BIG brand.

What could they possibly do in a new SSX game in 2020? Well, I’m glad you asked. Here’s my wishlist for a new SSX game, if one were going to exist:

A Return to Tighter and Sillier Track Design

SSX Tricky Tokyo Megaplex

The original trilogy of games was all about getting up close and personal with your fellow snowboarders. Sure there were shortcuts, but that just added to the feel of an alpine kart racer. Races were fast and frenetic and learning the tracks benefited you not only in races but allowed you to pinpoint where special pipes and ramps would appear in trick modes. There was  honestly nothing better than having the trick mode tracks be the same ones, but with giant crisscrossing pipes everywhere. The reboot removed most of that, presenting a more traditional version of alpine mountains. This resulted in tracks that were a lot less memorable and also meant you lost your other racers much more easily. The open design allowed for more exploration, but missed that early fast paced, head to head gameplay. I want the game to feel like an icey Mario kart track or a downhill Tony Hawk track dialed up to 11 (points for giant fans in the floor). All this talk of gameplay leads to my second point:


SSX Tricky Multiplayer

I didn’t come to SSX for a solo boarding experience, I came to make (and push over) my friends! SSX 2012 moved multiplayer to an online only experience and there was no traditional simultaneous multiplayer option. Early SSX modes pitted you against six other racers and it was even better having a friend be one of them. Want to grind that pipe? Better be going faster than the person behind you or they will take you out. Ever line up to go off a ramp only to have someone push you over before you got air? It was the worst, but also the best! I want to be able to do all that again and do it with someone sitting on my couch. Of course I’d love online modes too, but that shouldn’t have to cost me a couch competitor. Bring them both in! I definitely like the idea of an online leaderboard too, but I’d love to be able to compete in the same trick modes as friends. It makes me so mad not having multiple snowboarders, I just want to push someone…

A Nemesis for the Restivus 

Nemesis System Reveal

People proclaimed the nemesis system from Shadows of Mordor the next great video game system (not really but still, it was talked up a lot). It hasn’t really been used effectively since, minus the Mordor sequel. The original SSX games not only allowed you to physically shove over other boarders, but it influenced their attitude toward you in subsequent races (I’d be pissed to if you kept shoving me). A new SSX could bring this back and expand by creating literal rivals out of racers. Depending on the character too, they could even go out of their way to make your life hell. They could even do one on one rival race or trick modes! They could leverage the different characters too for fun voiceovers and voices during the races. Finally, the ultimate application of the nemesis system!

Styleeeee and Color, lots and lots of Color

SSX 2012 Eddie DLC

Remember how I mentioned that 90s excess is back? Well EA Sports BIG took direct cues from that style. Everything was outlandish and over the top, especially in the character designs. SSX 2012 toned this down, not surprising for A) the pivot from Dark Descent and B) the time. I want the fun brought back and that starts with lots of neon colors. Let’s bring back that over the top fun and the highlighter pinks and greens! One thing 2012 did right was the effects on tricks. When you filled up your super meter, your tricks had a trail of a light color follow you as you did it. I say keep that, but marry it with the style of earlier games. Include a remix of a classic rap song, and we’re in business. 

That Signature Arcadey Feel

SSX Tricky Mac

This ones an easy one; EA never completely deviated from that formula. It’s the most important one too, the series secret sauce. SSX always had an arcadey feel to it’s snowboarding, see kart racer point above. Even the reboot kept this aspect, making for a slightly looser feel when you’re navigating treacherous mountaintops. Keep the weightless feeling, the super meters, and fast paced downhill.

That about covers my absolute must haves for a new SSX. If (when) SSX bubbles back up to the surface, hopefully it’s a return to the outlandish roots of the original 3. There’s a big snowboarding shaped hole in my heart and only Mac can fill it. 

Competitive Games Dota Gaming Culture

My Commitment to Dota is Eating up my Schedule

My favorite thing about Dota is the investment. Dota’s large time commitment allows the stakes of each match to be huge. Your character, your team, your opponents, and even your role evolves as the match progresses. Match length allows for deep strategy to happen on a micro level that affects macro gameplay objectives; the largest one being how your character’s farm (how much experience and gold you bring in) effects battles and map control over your opponents. This investment is also easily the thing I hate most about Dota.

When I go to play a match, I have to make sure that nothing else can interfere. I have to strategically plan when I can play. Have to make an appointment in an hour? No way I can fit a match in. Meeting up with friends soon? Dota’s a no go. Get home from work and have to make dinner, go to gym, and get other chores done? Where the hell can I fit an hour match in? Dota requires you to make it priority number 1. It eats up entire evenings, afternoons, and mornings if you let it.

Dota 2 Sand King

Even if you do set aside just enough time to squeeze in a match or two (I rarely have time for more than one in a sitting) the physical investment is no joke. Matches require your full attention and leaves no opportunity for you to step away from your computer to do anything else. I usually run through a quick checklist before I start a match:

  • Am I hungry at all? Do I need to bring snacks over or make dinner before I start?
  • Do I have water nearby? Getting up to grab a drink could only maybe be an option 20-30 minutes from now.
  • Do I need to go to the bathroom? Will I need to go to the bathroom? Maybe I should just do a quick run to double, triple check

Besides the insane details listed above, the emotional investment is where Dota really becomes an exercise in masochism. The team nature of Dota requires all 5 players to actively play their roles well (or at least have one extremely good carry depending on MMR). You have to pay attention and have an understanding of the game that is frankly intimidating for new players. Knowing when and where to assist or take things for yourself is important for game objectives and team wellness. If even one player slips up, there goes an entire 45-60 minutes wasted. Defeats are agonizing (I’ve written about my experiences losing in Dota before) and are only offset by the extreme highs of victory. Having a run of defeats is demoralizing; I often have to stop playing Dota for months if I end up with a string of them. I also have to be energetic to play Dota; if I’m tired it shows. Lazy play on my end means a defeat for my team and a chat full of expletives aimed straight at me.

Dota 2 Earthshaker

So why play Dota? More importantly, why make time for Dota? That’s something every Dota and MOBA player is still figuring out. It’s those extreme highs really, the shot of adrenaline that comes with every strategy that succeeds, every play that comes out right. Now I just need to free up that schedule of mine to play it…

Gaming Culture Star Fox

It’s Time to Rethink Star Fox

Star Fox has had a rough go of it. The series hasn’t had a true hit since Star Fox 64, which is celebrating its 20th (!) anniversary. Currently, Star Fox stands as Nintendo’s sole blind spot as all its other flagship series continue to find success. Adhering to older game styles have proven to be successful with new games this year (see: Sonic Mania). Star Fox’s place as a top Nintendo series seemingly prevents a success like that; $60 is just too steep. With the series currently on hold with the most recent failing on the Wii U and Star Fox 2 finally being released as a pack in with the SNES classic, Star Fox’s path to success is by rethinking the series’ place as a AAA title.

Star Fox 2

Star Fox’s best games are enjoyable because of their single-minded gameplay approach.  The third person aerial combat provides Nintendo’s trademark accessibility through its simplicity; one button to shoot and one button for bombs. The game also had Fox and team never leave the cockpit of their respective arwings, landmaster, and blue-marine in both the Super Nintendo and N64 games. Further iterations attempted to have the animal heroes fight on foot with negative results.

This places the series in a tricky position. Fans want new games to adhere to the N64 formula while also expanding on it. This formula has not aged especially well though; while the gameplay is still engaging, the game is thin on content. One run through the star map (~7 levels) takes under an hour. Anyone familiar with how to navigate the star map can take the multiple run throughs necessary to see all the levels within a few short hours. This makes charging $60 for a new game a tough proposition. But this is where that change in mindset could benefit both Nintendo and fans; by moving Star Fox from console headliner to a more budget friendly downloadable game fans can get the Star Fox gameplay they want without having to tack on unnecessary modes or gameplay tweaks.

Star Fox Adventures
Remember this???

It would help to think of Star Fox as another modern-day game type; rogue-like. Indie games like Galax Z, Spelunky, and Dead Cells are a perfect way to reinvigorate the Star Fox series. While their gameplay is very different, these games offer tight focused single player campaigns that satisfies players much in the same way the original Star Fox games do. Their campaigns are segmented into discrete levels with each subsequent mission increasing the gameplay difficulty with a final challenge building on everything that came before it. These games are also meant to be repeated. Also like Star Fox, when you run out of lives you restart at the beginning. Rogue-like game feel complete with just this campaign as players receive a full experience by the time the credits roll. There is no need for a multiplayer component or larger variations on the core gameplay.

Star Fox Train Fight

Players also don’t feel cheated out at their smaller price point. This is the perfect area for Star Fox and a way for Nintendo to focus on a smaller number of levels to fill the campaign star map. No need for weird platforming sequences or on foot combat, keep the players and the animals in vehicles at all times. Include a multiplayer component if you must, but just don’t make it the focus of the game. There is also no reason for any shifts in control schemes either, just keep it to the two buttons and the joysticks. Star Fox fans would agree, we’re all happier when we’re fighting giant robotic ships in arwings. By moving away from thinking of Star Fox as a headlining act, Nintendo can effectively please everyone who wants a taste of that old nostalgia.

Competitive Games Dota Gaming Culture

Missing Stuns and Feeding: Losing in Dota 2

There is no feeling worse than losing a match in Dota. Correction: there is no feeling worse than knowing you’re the reason your team lost in Dota. You’ve been missing stuns all game, your gold count is always too low for your next item, and you just can’t help but be caught by enemy players. Everything just feels OFF. Obviously, I would know from experience.

Dota first of all is a giant time sink. You won’t complete a match in less than 30 minutes. The game is also extremely dependent on all 5 members of your team playing properly, not mention coordinating together. Dota also requires you to know the character you’re playing. Not only what their abilities do, but their strengths and weaknesses versus other heroes, what items to buy, and what role they play on a team.  No one character or player can truly dominate an entire match (depending on your MMR or player rank) so when you have a weak link on your team, you really know. One person not filling a role can spell doom on an entire match. All these factors provide you with immediate feedback on how well you’re playing. You can sense when other players in your lane are starting to out match you. When these players take over a lane, it makes it even harder to bounce back.

Dota 2 Hero Chart

I’ve never played another game where I feel so horrible for playing badly. I can just feel it in my body like a sore muscle; it hurts and there’s nothing I can do to change it. Even without the notorious (read: toxic) player community to provide feedback, I can tell how far behind I am in a game. Bad games resemble a slow-motion train wreck as the time slow inches forward until the other team is capable of pushing on your ancient. There are ways to try and gain back ground; sometimes big team fights where you kill other high level players can help swing the match in your favor. But for the most part if you aren’t playing a support character and you have a bad start, you have doomed your team. The rest is just waiting 45 minutes while the other team gains power.

Dota 2 Lane Fight

The negative feelings that come from playing a bad game of Dota ranks at the top of worst reactions from a game. It can eat away at your demeanor (why do you think the community is so toxic?). It’s the type of feeling that really makes you question your involvement with the game. But somehow it manages to pull you back in for now, making you eager to prove yourself in the next match.

Gaming Culture

“Souls-like” Games are the New Character Action RPG

The Souls series and its progeny are less its own genre and more of a change to action game trends

 During the 360 and PS3 era, third person character action games were everywhere. Games like Devil May Cry and Ninja Gaiden started a trend on the PS2 and Xbox for fast paced, third person character driven combat. New series took the core concepts, light RPG mechanics with various weapon choices, and copied them into a variety of settings. The character action genre reached its nadir through licensed games, such as Spiderman licensed games like Web of Shadows, and underwhelming sequels, such as Ninja Gaiden 2 and 3. This gave way to a sort of genre burnout as the number of character action games on the new consoles became limited. Besides Ninja Theory, it seems like the genre’s sole proprietor is Platinum Games who have served up some of the genres highest points (Bayonetta 2) and lowest (Ninja Turtles Mutants in Manhattan) for the new console era. During that time though, a new type of action game began to be immensely popular among enthusiasts. The Dark Souls games became a household name as people became engrossed in their rigid combat system and immense difficulty. Games that incorporate similar design choices (such as slow, deliberate combat) have become known as “Souls-likes” or simply being called Dark Souls clones. But both labels miss the point: these types of games simply indicate a new direction for the third person character action genre.

Ninja Gaiden 2 Xbox 360
Ninja Gaiden 2

Something that gets lost when looking back at the third person action game genre was just how hard those original games were. Ninja Gaiden required split second timing and precise controls as even regular enemies could take you down within seconds. Devil May Cry (especially the original version of 3) required rigid skill to make it through the combat arenas and platforming puzzles. These games were known for being only for masochists, a torch that has since been passed on to the Soul’s series. The most important aspect of this difficulty though is that it is rewarding for the player and not just randomly punishing. Both those original games and the Souls games are extremely rewarding for players when they can conquer their systems. What is telling though is that Ninja Gaiden and the aforementioned Devil May Cry 3 released versions of the games that lessened the original games difficulty. Ninja Gaiden Sigma for the PS3 was seen as a step back for genre purists while also inviting (slightly) more casual players to try the game. This intense difficulty of the genre was watered down as it passed off to different developers and series. The same direction could be headed for the Soul’s series as well. Nioh, while still containing difficulty, has been said to be more forgiving with its twists on the combat system and a better entry point for players looking to jump into the genre.

Devil May Cry 3 Dante Fight
Devil May Cry 3

While the Souls games carry the difficulty found in the best of the past generations character action games, they vary considerably when it comes to combat systems. Ninja Gaiden and Devil May Cry both require twitch reflexes to make it through their fast paced combat interactions. The Souls games however are on the complete opposite side of the spectrum with very slow and deliberate combat. Both do require precise dodging and striking enemies during attack openings, but a very different speeds. Missing enemies is a detriment in Dark Souls not because of their quick movement and attacks but because your character’s slow attack speed leaves you vulnerable. Soul’s characters are limited by a stamina meter, preventing continuous attacks that could be performed in Ninja Gaiden. Stamina also limits dodging as a depleted meter takes away the players escape.

Dark Souls Bonfire
Dark Souls

While these limiting systems define a Souls-like game, I would argue that they more reflect a change in taste when it comes to character action games. The overabundance of fast paced action games wore out audiences with their similarities in playstyle. The Dark Souls games inadvertently satisfied a need for a change among the genre. The Dark Souls game design does not exclude the more traditional design of the character action game but rather adds variety to a fairly derivative genre. As more Souls-like games continue to be released, I believe it is time to end that specific terminology and view them as a new, integral part of the character action game genre.

Gaming Culture Kingdom Hearts

Kingdom Hearts: Remixing Disney into Anime

The Kingdom Hearts series doesn’t make any sense on paper. Disney meets Final Fantasy. Donald Duck and Goofy working side by side with Aerith and Squall. Keys are giant swords. Mickey Mouse is the ultimate samurai warrior. Disney movies as planets. Hearts leaving bodies and memories being wiped. All of these elements combined sound like a story being tossed around on a fan fiction forum. But in 2002, Square Enix put these ideas into a video game and made Disney anime. The first Kingdom Hearts proved that this unlikely alliance between the world’s largest movie universe and arguably the most revered game series could make for an engaging crossover. Over the course of 15 years, 7 games (with only 2 numbered sequels) and 4 collections, Square has created a fleshed out if overly convoluted mythology. Now with the announcement of the Marvel cinematic universe being taken over by Square subsidiary Eidos Montreal and a new Kingdom Hearts collection dropping this month, it is the perfect time to look back and understand why this series is such a phenomenon.

Kingdom Hearts, 2.8 Final Prologue, Terra, Aqua, Ventus, Square Enix
I haven’t played the 2.8 prologue, but this does look beautiful

Kingdom Hearts takes the entirety of the Disney movie universe and places them in a Final Fantasy game. Besides the core Disney animated characters (the staples Mickey, Donald and Goofy) the other movies are separated into cordoned off worlds that the main characters visit. This allows the player to visit famous hallmarks of Disney movies such as Neverland and Halloweentown, but remain a detached visitor. The main core of the game revolves around Sora defeating a heartless infestation and locking the world with his keyblade. Each world involves missions that revolve around the movies’ plot points. It is important to note that this world hopping campaign has remained unchanged across all of the 7 games. This has proved to be the series main attraction while also being its greatest weakness. Many Disney films are only comprised of one film meaning that you are often replaying the same movie plot points across multiple games.

Kingdom Hearts, Disney, Goofey, Mickey, Donald, Square Enix, Sora

The Kingdom Hearts series would be nothing without its Disney backbone though. The nostalgic excitement of moving from Agrabah to Tarzan is wholly unique to Disney. These various worlds also offer the chance to team up with famous Disney heroes and square off against infamous villains. Square smartly keeps the hero team ups to their respective worlds while villains are given a chance to take on a more plot central role. Pete and Maleficent often make up part of the main antagonist team and are usually the main drivers of the heartless invasions. The Disney villains are not given the same importance as the newly created antagonists of the series, but their hierarchy in the enemy legion allows for plenty of face time and confrontation with Sora and the team.

While Disney forms the main backbone of the series’ campaigns, the core of the plot revolves around the new and original characters in the series. The plot of Kingdom Hearts takes the family friendly American values of Disney and animes the fuck out of them. A deathly serious tone revolving around the fate of the universe? Check. Amnesiac protagonists and memories being erased? Check. Existential themes revolving around souls and consciousness? A very big check. The Kingdom Hearts games take what could be considered a crossover event very seriously. Light and Darkness are very real and tangible items in the universe as represented by characters with or without hearts (or bodies without hearts). The enemies of the series are much more multidimensional in comparison to their Disney counterparts. Ansem and Organization XIII are looking for spiritual fulfillment through the series McGuffin Kingdom Hearts. The series also toys with its own protagonists’ souls as well, with characters often having to undergo ego death (or rejecting it at their own expense) to become whole like in the case of Roxas and Tera.

Kingdom Hearts, Square Enix, Sora, Axel, Nobodies
This was 12 years ago….

The plot would be nothing without the series’ engaging cast of characters. Fans immediately latched onto the pretty trio of protagonists Sora, Riku, and Kairi with each representing certain anime character tropes: the earnest good-hearted hero, the troubled but well intentioned friend, and the wise beyond her years love interest. The basis for these characters may not be original, but they have proven to be unique in their struggle to defeat the darkness invading their worlds and within themselves. The enemies also prove to be engaging through their aforementioned multidimensionality. Their tragic backstories, usually a result of their formers selves losing their hearts, add the backstory to their single-minded and emotionless pursuit to be whole again. They have no regard for others because they are incapable of being empathetic and their goal is to one day be whole again. Their main goal is to have their hearts and bodies reunited making them similar to our heroes.

If all that sounds extremely complicated, it is. Square Enix have done themselves no favors in creating games that provide more incremental detail and more mystery to their universe in between making a fully-fledged numbered sequel (with still no date as of yet announce). This overly complex mythology though is exactly what keeps fans clamoring for each successive game in the series. It may be unfair to say that Square may not have a great idea how to wrap up all of these disparate plot points with their next mainline game, but they certainly do seem hesitant to move the plot forward in a meaningful way. Even with that in mind, the Kingdom Hearts series has more than earned its fanatical following.

Gaming Culture

Lazy Sunday: Finding Enjoyment in Early Morning Gaming

Games, for the most part, are thought of as a night time activity. A time where the only lights in the room are colorful LEDs. Everyone else has gone to bed, leaving the player with zero distractions. While there is something to be said for the late night gaming session, I receive much more enjoyment by moving my game time from the dead of night to early morning.

Master Chief; Halo; Early Morning GamingI used to be a morning person. Before I went to college and had the option of starting my day with 11 o’clock classes, I enjoyed waking up with the sun. I can understand if your schedule mostly revolves around staying up late and sleeping in, how you might find this early morning idea to be silly. Now that I have entered the work force however, I find myself waking up earlier and earlier and rediscovering what I loved so much about that time of day. Everything is quiet and the morning light so soft that having the time to slowly wake up to a favorite activity has become quite a great pleasure of mine. I also don’t have to interact with any roommates while my mind is still groggy. It provides me with some perfect alone time to start my day, which as an introvert I desperately need. This has become my preferred way to play any single player game and I love wrapping myself up in a story with the perfect cup of coffee.

Coffee Shop; Early Morning; GamingEarly mornings are the perfect time for gaming. Often thought of as a time for runners and the unnaturally fit, early morning game time provides the perfect way to start your day. Picture this: you roll out of bed still slightly groggy. You brew some coffee and move with your piping hot cup over to the couch and turn on the TV. As you pick up your controller and press the home button, the console’s power up music slowly soothes and helps wake you up. As you sip your coffee and the caffeine shakes the sleep off your brain, you decide what game to play. Maybe you can try beginning your day with an easy to pick up game like Peggle. Maybe you want to sit back and work your way through a more story driven game with slightly more relaxed gaming mechanics like Firewatch. Or maybe you want to jolt yourself awake with some adrenaline and immediately jump into an Overwatch match. Or you can even pick a fourth option, and play a little of all three. The best part is, this is before anyone else is awake.

Competitive games of course don’t quite work for this scenario. Friends are usually not up at that early hour and your brain and reflexes are not quite warmed up yet to take on opponents. But if you have a great single player game to play and a nice weekend in which to do it, I highly encourage you to take the early morning route.

Gaming Culture

Returning to Virtual Communities

I left behind the village of Stardew Valley about 6 months ago. When I first downloaded the game, I was immediately taken with its Harvest Moon-like structure (I grew up playing the n64 version). It was refreshing to see that this style of game, one that tasks the player with not only running a farm but improving the town and creating social relationships with the neighboring villagers, still made for an exciting experience. After I played through about 2 and half years in game, I stepped away from farming and instead moved to interstellar demon slaying (someone had to get them off Mars!).

Stardew Valley

I did not return to Stardew Valley until only recently, excited to revisit my farm. Something felt off though; in the 6 months I spent away from the game I had unintentionally removed myself from the NPC community. It felt strange to step back into the town that at one point I was emotionally invested in. I didn’t feel the same pull to help Clint the blacksmith break out of his shell and pursue his crush on Emily. There wasn’t the same gratification in gifting Linus, the misunderstood hermit, some cheese (which I had to look up on wiki to remember if he liked it). Worst of all, I was no longer as emotionally invested in pursuing my romantic relationship with Leah. The cooling off period I had from the game created a separation between me and the various characters similar to the feeling of distance between old friends whom I no longer keep up with. Interactions aren’t as exciting as they used to be and the environment that once felt like home feels alien. It was exactly like visiting my home town after years of absence; new social relationships and communities have taken priority so old relationships are no longer as important as they used to be. Games like Stardew Valley require players to become emotionally invested in the towns that they are placed in, in order to add meaning to the gameplay. If players don’t enjoy their interactions with the villagers, then why even attempt to help them?

Animal Crossing: New Leaf

There aren’t many games that engender this type of social attachment, but I have had similar experiences when returning to Animal Crossing. Animal Crossing, like Stardew Valley, is all about interactions within its community, only that the villagers’ movements and continue even when you are not in game. Animal Crossing’s NPCs will move away or even forget the in-game character. It makes returning to the game even more jarring than Stardew Valley. Favorite friends could be gone, replaced by new characters that can serve as poor replacements for the previous tenant. The neighborhood makeup can be completely overhauled, making this virtual town feel completely foreign.

These types of social-driven games face this unique issue. Other game types, like RPGs, may be hard to return to because people forget mechanics integral to moving forward in the game. Games like Stardew Valley and Animal Crossing however face a much harder challenge; trying to remind players that they are vital and important part of this community, even when it doesn’t feel like home anymore.