Thoughts on The Witness

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Myst Island: Round 2

Jonathan Blow’s The Witness has me intrigued. A Myst game for the modern era.

I tend to forget how hard Myst was. Sure, the game was beautiful in it’s time. But Myst required coordination with other players. Writing down clues, puzzles,and code. The ultimate water cooler game.

Polygon — 8/10

“But The Witness throws endless puzzles at the player while almost never recognizing their accomplishments, which creates something of an antagonistic relationship between player and creator. I fear that will send players running to walkthroughs faster than they would have in a more rewarding environment.” — Justin McElroy [Review]

USgamer — 2/5

“And that’s the overlying problem: The Witness doesn’t care if you’re having fun—for the most part, it relishes in how clever it can be. There’s some joy to discovery, sure, but once that’s over with, you’re just scraping against the few things in your way. I appreciate Blow’s lack of presence in his world, but it’s a blessing as much as a curse. Of course, I understand what he’s doing: The Witness is very much a modern-day update of Myst, and meant to be played as if we were back in 1993. Ultimately, it feels like something designed to be chipped away at over weeks or months—not an experience to cruise through over a handful of afternoons.” — Bob Mackey [Review]

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I have read several reviews that liken The Witness to Dark Souls or even the more recent Bloodborne. Games that demand skill, patience, and an almost sharing of secrets. My more recent foray into Bloodborne had me consulting with friends for both strategy and encouragement.

The modern era has us all on our individual technological islands. What if certain types of games force us off of them? Forcing us to bridge the virtual gap, to talk in person, to somehow experience humanity again. Yes, that sounds dramatic. But you understand where I am going. Gaming has become a much more isolated experience, despite the internet. I am all for games that force us to connect with one another. Even if that connection is forged over progress and survival.

Are you playing The Witness? Tell me about your experience in the comments below. 

King’s Quest – A Knight To Remember

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We (i.e., Bryan Hall and Josh Cauller) decided to do a co-review for King’s Quest: A Knight To Remember, the first episode of a re-imagining of the classic 1980s adventure game series. We liked this episode a lot. Here’s why:

M. Joshua Cauller

I thought this might be some obtuse point-and-click game — since King’s Quest was the founder of the prehistoric adventure genre of the 1980s, but instead I found a beautiful game with Telltale-like control and a ton of character. I was like, “Oh, I can play this!”

What was your first impression, Bryan?

Bryan Hall

My first impression? Surprise. I found the introduction to Graham compelling: through his exploits with the dragon and the Telltale-like choices with said dragon — set her free, or walk away.

Being able to do all of these things with my son, even better. King’s Quest: A Knight To Remember had me hooked from the opening. It advances at a steady gait until it falls to adventure game trappings. Do X in the right order to trigger Y.

Did you end up having to use a walkthrough, Josh?

M. Joshua

Yeah. I totally used a walkthrough.

I felt like I knew where I should go or what to do only about half the time. There’s a wealth of obtuse puzzles where you have to lure a badger into your inventory so you can use the badger to get the squirrels away from the pumpkin so you can take the pumpkin to the potion shop to get the thing you really wanted all along.

It’s old-school and the total opposite of Telltale style of adventure game — where you mostly just make decisions and press forward — but I think that it works well here in those few examples where you don’t need a guide. When I figured puzzles out on my own, I felt smart.

I’m curious how you handled the obtuse puzzles with your son. What did he love about the game?

Bryan

The game’s humor had Wyatt giggling beside me. The obtuse puzzles, however, left him ready to do something else. Anything else.

Wyatt is used to Skylanders’ world of constant action and character swapping, but King’s Quest calmly holds a hand up. Stop! Be patient. Talk, explore, and listen to the world and those around you.

There were some speedy parts that really had us on the edge of our seats, like Achaka, ninja dude extraordinaire. His journey into the dragon’s lair was probably our favorite part.

M. Joshua

Yeah, the part when you follow Achaka through the dragon’s lair was when the game really picked-up. It added a ton of character development to the protagonist, Graham. That surprised me too!

It’s funny that Achaka quest shows up several hours into the game. I mean, the first episode of most episodic games are longer, but never more than three hours. This first episode took me a whole six hours!

How long did it take you?

Bryan

Unfortunately, the PS4 features no such way of measuring time. I can tell you it was long enough to settle a disagreement with the bridge troll union, talk to some potion makers who reminded me of Princess Bride leftovers, and bribe a squirrel masquerading as a princess with a pastry.

What did you think of the overall framing device of a grandfather telling a tale to his granddaughter?

M. Joshua

I love Christopher Lloyd as the grandfather. He feels natural and loving: the perfect storyteller.

It’s a double edged sword, though. Grandfather Graham retells stories of his youth, but the past-tense keeps the tension out of the experience for us as players. For those of us who fell in love with Telltale’s ultra-tense Walking Dead, King’s Quest doesn’t have quite enough drama to keep me from feeling sleepy.

I had to fight to stay awake early in the game because I felt so little stress (which I need in my games). It took me a number of sleepy play sessions before the game really grabbed me.

How about you? How did you feel about the game’s hooks?

Bryan

I have a confession to make: I played King’s Quest for myself, even though I played the game with Wyatt sitting next to me.

The game taps into this adventure game purity. While I didn’t so much like the badger puzzle chains of this world, I enjoyed everything else. Solving situations was refreshing.

Graham lacks an agenda. He is a normal guy, with a feather in his cap, trying to do the right thing. I love that. It speaks to a time in my life when gaming was less violent. I applaud the use of puns and clever storytelling.

I enjoyed revisiting a unique season in my life — a season of late night sleepovers, back and forth phone calls, and puzzle solving with friends. And I love sharing that with my family.

M. Joshua

I like that Graham’s solutions veered towards practical creativity. That’s the thing that sticks with me.

Through Graham, we become dependent on relationships with sneaky merchants, bridge trolls from France, a sassy blacksmith, and a midget knight with voiced by The Princess Bride’s Wallace Shawn. These characters stick with us. They’re unique and well-drawn.

I think back to the relationship with the ninja knight, Achaka. Your relationship with him depended on your interactions with him because of a language barrier. This is a hard concept to explore through any medium butvideo games: getting to know people through interaction instead of our own voice. This first episode of King’s Quest does that swimmingly.

I think that covers my thoughts on the game. What would you say to anybody who’s thinking about checking out this first episode?

Bryan

We often shy away from things we don’t think we’ll like, but we can end up surprised when we try new things. At the dinner table recently, I asked Wyatt if he wanted to try some Greek yogurt. He snubbed his nose at me. I persisted, knowing that it was something he would enjoy. After a bit more coaxing, he put a spoonful of yogurt into his mouth. Mmm. Wyatt loved it!

Perception is everything. Whether that is a different type of yogurt or an old school video game genre. King’s Quest: A Knight To Remember is a great first taste that left me asking for more.

Wave SplinterTitle: King’s Quest: A Knight To Remember
Developer: The Odd Gentlemen
Platforms: PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
Reviews on: PS4
MSRP: $9.99

Get Up And Play With Your Kids

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The Gospel Coalition’s Trevin Wax wrote “4 Principles for Parenting in a World of Video Games“. His article contained some practical advice but featured a tone laced in fear. Zachery Oliver, over at Theology Gaming, wrote a rebuttal titled “Kids and Video Games“. My wife, Tabitha Hall, wrote the following as a response to both articles:

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Model good media behavior in front of your kids.

If you restrict your child’s screen time, then make sure you model that while they are up. Meaning, don’t sit on your recliner and watch sports or play a video game by yourself all day. Turn off the TV. Get up and play with them.

If the rule at your house is no phones at the table, turn your phone on silent and put it away. Want your kids to love to read? Then let them see you reading a book and discuss the book with them. Pick a book to read aloud together with your kids.

Something I believe both Mr. Wax and Mr. Oliver have to remember is that every family’s technology engagement will look different, and no one needs to be judged on their own personal plan. Rather, as I believe Mr. Wax was trying to point out, there needs to be a plan for technology in the home. Not a rigid plan with no flexibility for the child, but a fluid plan that can change with the ebb and flow of the family.

Our family decided to keep technology out of the bedroom. We have a limit on how much screen time our son can consume at one sitting. Twenty minutes is our norm before we encourage that he do something else. Technology is not going to go away, it will just get more influential as time progresses on.

As a parent, you help your child solve a problem by brainstorming solutions. You help them practice their catching, bike riding, or even their shoe-tying skills. In the same way, my husband and I are trying to model good technology behaviors to our son.

The Mammoth: A Cave Painting

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The flicker of flame, wet finger tips pressed against cold rock walls. Stories take shape, history recorded in hand presses and finger strokes. Archaeological parietal art, or cave paintings, offer a glimpse into the past.

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The Mammoth: A Cave Painting, tells a 5 million year story in 5 minutes. A story about a mamma mammoth, her babies, and the wide world around. Joyful-filled trumpeting. Heartbreaking charging.

Developer inbetweengames have handcrafted a stunning play framed in torchlight.

Take a moment. Download the game. Enjoy the brevity of the experience.

DEFCON 5wavesplinter5/5 – A unique experience at the dawn of the age. 

Wave SplinterTitle: The Mammoth: A Cave Painting
Developer: inbetweengames
Platforms: PC, Mac, iOS, Android
Reviews on: Android
MSRP: Free

The Pokémon Tourist

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Pokemon Logo

I want to be the very best, like no one ever was. Even though I was 17 when Pokémon Red released, I have always been somewhat of a novice trainer. Following the series evolution across platforms, I have dabbled in different generations. Never completing:

  • Pokémon Red
  • Pokémon Yellow
  • Pokémon Pearl
  • Pokémon Platinum
  • OR Pokémon Y

Pokémon just isn’t an obsessive thing for me. What does draw me are the solid game mechanics, relaxed world, and creature battling.

Pokémon Y represents the most time I have spent with the series. Clocking in at over 20 hours, I thought I was almost done with the campaign. Nope. A walkthrough confirmed that I am but halfway on my journey. Never going to be number one at that pace. Ash, I’ve failed!

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As a dad, Pokémon has taken on a new meaning. It is a series that I can share with Wyatt. A series that encourages reading, fun gameplay, and quality time spent. Nintendo has indeed created a monster.

pokemonThis year, The Pokémon Company is celebrating Pokémon’s 20th anniversary. The Super Bowl ad above is but the cusp of this tidal wave. Throughout the year, Nintendo and GameStop are offering one rare creature download a month. Take a look:

  • Celebi: March 1 – 24 (Nintendo Network)
  • Jirachi: April 1 – 24 (Nintendo Network)
  • Darkrai: May 1 – 24 (GameStop)
  • Manaphy: June 1 – 24 (Nintendo Network)
  • Shaymin: July 1 – 24 (Nintendo Network)
  • Arceus: August 1 – 24 (GameStop)
  • Victini: September 1 – 24 (Nintendo Network)
  • Keldeo: October 1 – 24 (Nintendo Network)
  • Genesect: November 1 – 24 (GameStop)
  • Meloetta: December 1 – 24 (Nintendo Network)

We’ll see if Wyatt and I can keep up with the pocket monster collecting. I’m still waiting for him to be ready for his own handheld console and copy of the game. We just aren’t there yet… but soon.

 

Across the Net: “‘That Dragon, Cancer’: A Video Game on Death, Grief, and Our Living Hope”

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The Gospel Coalition’s Chris Casberg wrote a piece titled “‘That Dragon, Cancer’: A Video Game on Death, Grief, and Our Living Hope“. Love his observation on how the experience subverts player agency.

“That Dragon, Cancer” frustrates and subverts the normal expectation of agency. Players are given game-like tasks, like navigating Joel through a field of cancer cells as he clings to a handful of balloons, or racing a wagon through the hospital.

The facade of power and control crumbles away. It’s a brilliant piece of artistry in terms of video game design and theological heft; we players, accustomed to the power to trample our enemies, are shown our impotence in the face of a broken and fallen world. Our works cannot save Joel.

The overall effect is devastating. I cried multiple times, and I even had to stop the game to go hold my infant daughter. I’ve never had a game move me so much.

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From Across the Net: “Sharing FFXIV with my kids”

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Enjoyed this piece by Justin (aka Syp) titled “Sharing FFXIV with my kids“.

And then I tasked them with helping me find on-screen clues leading us to the poacher, so there were three sets of eyes combing the screen and pointing to anything with a name tag over it. “Is that it?” “No, that’s another player.” “What about that?” “That’s the same player.”

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Quality Time With Wyatt

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There is nothing that makes my son Wyatt happier than pancakes for breakfast. Saturday, I did an odd thing. I sent my wife off to get ready for the day. Grabbed a skillet, stirred up some pancake batter, and flipped some hotcakes.

As we ate, I pulled out Wyatt’s Bible he got for Christmas. The only present that earned both Tabitha and I a big hug. We read from the Book of Romans.

8 But Christ died for us while we were still sinners, and by this God showed how much he loves us. (ERV)

We talked about how we don’t have to be perfect all the time. How God showed his love for us even when he knew all that bad things that we’d do. God doesn’t want us to beat ourselves up. Some of us, at the table, needed to hear that truth.

Tabitha finished getting ready and went to the grocery store. I had to finish putting up backer board as part of our shower renovation. Wyatt played in his room and then would come out and talk to me for a bit. Always nice to have an extra pair of little hands to help out.

Later on in the afternoon, Wyatt and I had a chance to sit down and play Kingdom Rush. For those of you living under the rock I’ve been living under, Kingdom Rush is an iOS tower defense game. Monsters scurry down predetermined paths, you place different types of towers to destroy them. Perfect game for father and son bonding.

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Wyatt snuggled up next to me, iPad propped up on my lap, we worked our way through the main campaign. Battling the hoards. Doing the good. Enjoying our gaming and quality time together. Might have to do it again.

My friend Josh hosts a weekly gathering at his house called GameCell. GameCell is an ongoing Biblical discussion founded on building relationships while embracing video games. It is a neat concept that I’ve wanted to test drive but haven’t found my tribe to do so with.

Turns out I was looking outside my home. Forgetting that in this season of life, my son follows in my footsteps. Can a GameCell group consist of just a family? I think so. Our time of:

  • Reading and discussing one Bible verse
  • Quality time
  • Game time
  • Closeness

All was intentional. I think we just had our first GameCell.

It sucks to be real

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The problem with being real is that we open ourselves up to hurt. Wounds then form, mental playgrounds of the same scene played on repeat. A festering sore gnawing at the soul.

I lowered my defenses this past weekend. Decided to be real, vulnerable about where my wife and I are in life. I need a new job. For those of you who have read my blog for awhile, you’ll know that this is not a new crisis. What has changed is the depth of the situation. The situation has to change.

As a recent exercise, I sat down and wrote a list of responses to the question: What expectations do I have for my job?

  • A positive work environment.
  • The ability to grow/move up within the company.
  • To be able to make a salary where I can support my family. Annual raises of some sort. Anything but years of silence.
  • Open/clear communication on company direction.
  • The ability to learn. Even if on my own time.
  • Feedback on job performance and ways/direction on how to improve.
  • Common respect being a foundation for work relationships.

None of the above expectations are mind blowing. Yet, I had someone tell me in my moment of being open that I will never find a healthy work environment. That this somehow elusive thing does not exist. I know this not to be true based on past companies I have worked for. But the comment ate at me. I was also told that my current salary is normal. Not to expect much more. If only this person was open to a little market research.

What hurt the most about lowering my defenses, is that no one else in the group I was in have any clue of the response given. No idea that I’ve allowed discouragement to affect me before from this person. That I have veered off a track of studying due his words eating at me.

I know that I shouldn’t let words hurt me the way they do. Words have weight. Hard-wiring is hard to change.

The blank stare, the expression that casts, “he has no clue what he is doing with his life”. I’m tired of it. My college degree, my side pursuits, all beg to differ.

We might not all have the answers. I’d argue that this is part of the faith journey. This is part of my journey.

While it may suck to be real with others, authenticity is essential for both maturity and growth. So be real. Drop the shields.

That Dragon Cancer drove me to prayer

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Tabitha and I experienced That Dragon Cancer together. With Wyatt tucked away in bed for the night, we hooked the laptop up to the television. Light’s dimmed, we entered the world of the Green family. The musical score comforts like a warm blanket. The woods around full of promise and wonder. In this setting we meet the Green’s son, Joel, who is feeding a duck. Joel laughs, a lot. After a transitional time at the playground, we meet the dragon of this story, cancer.

Cancer, represented in jagged distorted shapes of hate. Always lurking like a monster in the night. Howls reverberating as a heartbeat of a sick boy.

That Dragon Cancer is a series of vignettes, brief flashes of hope and dark nightmares. Narrated at times by Ryan and Amy Green, we follow their family on their journey with Joel. Tabitha and I appreciated the depth of honesty in Amy’s comments on doubt. Doubt is normal, she says. A contrast to the modern Church whispering “hush” in such moments.

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No matter how dire the situation became. No matter how hard Amy and Ryan prayed, their faith stood out to us. A faith that allows for questions, doubts, and even fears. Media, as a whole, has a hard time portraying faith. The video game medium allows for an unknown level of intimacy. Allowing us to partake, in some small way, in the Green’s suffering. I’m thankful for that.

As the game ended, I found myself in a contemplative mood. That Dragon Cancer reminded me of my need to pray. I prayed for Amy, Ryan, and their family. I fell asleep only to wake up sometime later. Praying over life, direction, and meaning.

I would like to thank Ryan and Amy for being real. For sharing Joel’s life and opening up their family to the world.

Wave SplinterTitle: That Dragon, Cancer
Developer: Numinous Games
Platforms: PC, Mac, OUYA
Reviews on: PC
MSRP: $14.99

*A review copy was provided for this review. 

A Parents Perspective On VR: Being Present

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When I’m playing a game, I zone pretty hard into it so that I’m not seeing the room around me anyway. But I also like the option to turn my head and look at other things — for instance, my family if they’re around. I do NOT want my kids to grow up seeing their dad play games with a mask on, shutting them out. If I do play games while they’re awake, it’s nice to have them hop on my lap, take over jumping duties for my character (hop hop hop), and talk with me about the various sights we’re passing. Being able to look at each other and communicate is key to not shutting ourselves in a game. (And wearing headphones is bad enough, sometimes). – Bio Break, “Virtual reality? Thanks, but no thanks.”

Bloodborne: Toolbox

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Slowly adding to my Bloodborne toolbox:

  • The Front Stab – L2, then R1
  • The Backstab – Hold R2 to charge attack, then hit R1
  • Leaping Attack – Up on the left analog stick, then hit R2
  • L1 transforms a weapon, R2 to charge up
  • L2, with a transformed weapon, swings said weapon in a wide arch. Great for enemy groups.
  • Pebbles are your friends, use them to draw an enemies attention.
  • Put down your gun and swing!

Tales from the Borderlands Episode 3 – Shifting Gears

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Taking a break from my Yharnam hunt, I fired up Tales from the Borderlands Episode 3 – Catch a Ride. Telltale’s third act of the Borderlands saga begins to reveal a grander story. The introduction of Gortys, a Pixar-like robot, made me smile. I haven’t finished the episode yet but every plot beat has felt solid so far. Take a moment to check out the introduction:

A Delightful Reminder

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Woke up feeling anxious this morning, a heaviness on my chest. Not sure if a chain of nights staying up late has anything to do with it, but I’m exhausted.

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Have been going through a period of bitterness and a lack of hope. Just feeling like I will never move beyond my current job, no matter how hard I try to break free. Reminded that God delights in every detail of our lives, that God holds us in His hand, I needed that this morning. Thought I’d share.

Bloodborne: Caution To The Wind

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I played the same run for over an hour. Don’t laugh.

At first I was cautious, taking on one enemy at a time. Many deaths later, I embraced speed. Plunging into mob groups, swinging in true wild style. Yeah…

In the above video, I had a solid nine minute run. I applied the MMO concept of pulling, of drawing away a few enemies from a larger group. My MMO roots served me well until I became reckless. One moment of complete surprise by the enemy at the end, death. Logic dictates that large things should not move quickly, especially troll-like creatures.

Logic: Amended

Mental Database: Upgraded

My friend Zach pointed out that:

  • The stamina meter is my friend. Not to attack to the point where I lose the ability to dodge.
  • I need to walk, rather than run. (I’m not sure I 100% agree with this piece of advice. From a mechanical perspective, Bloodborne seems to beg for speed in movement. Wondering if this is like having a gun in Metal Gear Solid V. Just because the gunplay feels amazing doesn’t mean one should go Rambo with it. Stealth and all that.)
  • Use ranged attacks to pull enemies. (I’m going to have to experiment with this. The gunplay seems built for close range combat. Used to stagger an enemy, open a single moment of weakness, in order to attack.

For those hunting in Yharnam, any other crumbs of advice? I promise to eat them up! As long as advice crumbs taste good.