I’ve been playing Ninja Theory’s Heavenly Sword. I like it a lot.
I like it because I think I get what they were trying to do. They didn’t succeed all the time but you can perceive their intent, pulsing just under the gloss veneer of the game itself. Not only do I get what they were trying to do, I respect it, and because of that I’m going to reward them by buying Enslaved – which we learned today has sold a pitiful 460,000 units worldwide.
Pitiful but unsurprising. I saw it coming. I saw it coming even though those who played Enslaved have almost universal praise for it. So I want to buy it because I get what they were going for with Heavenly Sword, and I have a feeling that they got closer with Enslaved, like Quantic Dream did when it went from Fahrenheit/Indigo Prophecy to Heavy Rain.
What were they going for with Heavenly Sword? Like Quantic, they were trying to make a game with feeling, something heartfelt, to include a depth and richness of character not normally seen in this style of game. Not a game that plays like a movie, but a game that feels like a story. Themes no one’s bothered to explore in games, alongside a visual presentation that’s nothing short of breathtaking. A fantastical, dreamlike adventure that makes an effort to include heart, and succeeds.
One of the reasons I’m impressed is that it takes a kinda rinky-dink storyline – evil king threatens helpless tribe and by extension world, but tribe possesses an ultimate weapon with which prophesied warrior would destroy king and save tribe and by extension world – and proves that you can put together a tale with real human emotion in it.
The Heavenly Sword is a… well, a sword from heaven, made by a god and everything. This tribe has guarded it for generations, and a prophecy says a that on a specific date, a chosen son will be born to wield it when it’s needed. But when the day rolls around, it’s not a chosen son who’s born. Her name is Nariko, and she’s hated and ostracized by the entire tribe, even her father (Mom died during Nariko’s birth, natch), simply because she was born a girl. It mucks up their prophecy. Thus when evil King Bohan – played brilliantly by Andy Serkis of Gollum fame – threatens the tribe and by extension the world, giving the Heavenly Sword to Nariko seems just scrotum-pulverizing to her chauvinist, god-blinded tribemates.
Nariko, meanwhile, was kicked and shat on and vilified by everyone, and grew up an angry, confused young woman who nonetheless takes up the Sword. Not because she wants to, and not because she has to, and not even to prove anything, but because even as cruel as everyone in her life has been to her, her tribe is still her tribe. Her Dad is still her Dad. You can’t choose your family, but you have to be there for them.
Nariko’s played equally brilliantly by the delicious Australian actress Anna Torv, before she found fame in Fringe. Torv captures Nariko’s rage and conflict very well, as the writers of Heavenly Sword do a good job communicating it. There’s one moment when she snarls to herself that sometimes she prays the Sword is just a sword, that it was never made by a god, that it’s not from heaven, that her whole stupid tribe has been worshiping this ridiculous hunk of metal and it’s nothing, it’s no more special than a shoe or a broom. The bitter vindication such a thing would bring might be satisfactory payment for all the years of unkindness and unlove she’s suffered, so she could laugh at them as they stood dumbfounded among the ruins of their faith.
As satisfying as it would be, it’s not so. The Heavenly Sword transforms Nariko into a hurricane of destruction capable of slaughtering entire armies, even as it’s killing her moment to moment. From the instant she takes hold of it, she has just days to live. The power of gods isn’t meant for mortals to touch, even chosen mortals. It seems a comment on pride, or rather Pride – gifts from the gods shouldn’t be used even if the gods say it’s okay, because to touch the divine suggests self-comparison to the divine, and one thing all religions seem to hate is when people start thinking they can reach that divine level.
I do find it somewhat unbelievable that everyone in her village would hate her, as Nariko is spank-bank material of the highest degree and clearly knows it. She goes into battle in a completely unsuitable outfit – hell, it would be unsuitable for a brothel (and once again you’ve got someone in a video game trying to save the world without adequate knee and elbow protection) – and she sports Rapunzel-length red hair that’s beautiful enough to be worth the trouble it surely is to wash. Ninja Theory uses all this less to be lascivious (though, damn) than to show off their frankly incredible motion and facial capture capabilities. Heavenly Sword was intended as one of the key technical platforms to showcase the power of the PS3, and it delivered. The presence of Andy Serkis as both a voice actor and mocap asset was of tremendous value to Ninja Theory. It wouldn’t be until Uncharted 2, which used all the same actors for voice and mocap and had them do both performances at the same time, and Heavy Rain’s facial and movement capture technology, that this game would be eclipsed… and even that’s arguable. Because of this the gameplay has a wonderful visual fluidity that the controls unfortunately don’t measure up to. But more importantly the characters seem unbelievably human. Ninja Theory skirted the Uncanny Valley by ever so slightly stylizing them, and created individuals with whom you can share a real emotional bond.
A PS3 exclusive, Heavenly Sword achieved pretty good reviews and has moved 1.5 million units since its 2007 release; a million of which happened after the game’s tenth week on store shelves. The first ten weeks are crucial, so Heavenly Sword had a surprisingly long tail. It’s sad that the multi-platform Enslaved, which by all accounts is a far better game, has moved less than a third of that in its 16 weeks at retail. It is technically far superior, enjoyed better reviews, includes Serkis as actor and director, and was penned in collaboration with talented screenwriter Alex Garland. I know a lot of reviewers and critics who believe it will be a major award winner despite poor sales; several have even bandied about “Game of the Year” in conjunction with Enslaved. But no one bought it, it was an expensive game to make, and a retail failure of this magnitude might put Ninja Theory itself in danger.
But I am going to reward Ninja Theory by buying Enslaved, which I had not intended to buy simply because I have too large a backlog, and I am going to do it because I get what they were going for with Heavenly Sword. I get it and if they’re going for something similar in Enslaved, that’s the kind of thing games need more of.
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Between talk of Demon’s Souls, and of this, you are making me sorely regret the impossibility of affording a PS3.
I’m sorry, Jakkar. Meho did the same thing to me, I had steadfastly refused but he was all “Demon’s Souls this” and “Demon’s Souls that” and I’d already kind of wanted one on account of Valkyria Chronicles (which is awesome) and then the Slim came out and I couldn’t really blame Meho any more because the price was good and etc etc etc.
It’s frustrating that gaming can be such an expensive hobby. You can do it on the cheap, sure, but it always feels like you’re missing something no matter how much you invest.
Demon’s Souls is life.
Sorry. That just came out.
After playing the demo for Enslave I really felt it was a step backwards from Heavenly Sword. That was just a demo though, and I guess I can go back and give it a go. They oughta throw it up on the PSN store since I never even saw it at my mainstream retail workplace.
In real life, sometimes it isn’t your fault if you die. Demon’s Souls is a better place ._.
I didn’t dig the Enslaved demo either. I wanted to like it by virtue of the gorgeous looking game world and the respect of a decent story, but it just didn’t appeal to me. The climbing mechanics felt dated by a year or two and the demo seemed to run horribly.
Great article Steerpike.
How are the climbing mechanics dated though Mat?
How would you make them better?
Having played it too, I’m not sure it could be anything more than it is. Its hardly much different from anything else out there. Auto grab and easy jumps, just like say Uncharteted 2?
How would I make them better? I don’t know.
What I do know is that Enslaved’s felt too canned. This might not be representative of the final experience, but too much of the demo seemed too basic for me. Just run along and hold X, and you’ll get where you want to go. There’s nothing particularly wrong with that, and hey it might not even be that different from Uncharted, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to be in a particular rush to go out there and have that experience again and again with any game which wishes to serve it up. Particularly if the rest of the package around it isn’t all that appealing.. which I found wasn’t particularly for me.
I’m notorious for viciously high standards, among friends, both socially and with regard to games and films – for ripping them apart most eloquently – but I’ve had to admit to myself recently – all a game really needs is art and story, to get me through. The earliest example of this would be American McGee’s Alice – bland gameplay, but you just keep playing for the art, the music, the voice-acting, the story..
In a bigger sense, you could say this is the root of the classic cRPGs – the gameplay of a title like Fallout or Baldur’s Gate has a tactical appeal, even a visceral appeal, but they do not strain the reflexes or excite the mind the same way their first person compatriots of the period could, for example Unreal. You play for the story. With Heavenly Sword and Enslaved I think this might be what keeps me playing, even if the gameplay fails to inspire.
If only that were enough to make Dante’s Inferno entertaining. I did love the style, but the gameplay was just -too- weakly cloned from God of War. I lost interest around half-way through, and couldn’t push myself to play further.
An interesting counterpoint to this phenomenon would be the Halo titles – I just began Reach earlier today, and as I’ve felt with every other Halo game (.. bar Wars..), I realise that despite loving the story, the meticulously crafted setting and the mysterious/beautiful/doomed atmosphere, the gameplay alone can keep me enthralled. Perhaps that’s what makes it special. It’s truly a game, as well as a work of art.
Nonetheless, the distinction between game and art is visible, in the case of Halo. The mechanics of gameplay, such as recharging shields and health pickups are more neatly encapsulated into the setting by the efforts of the developers than, say, Call of Duty’s mysterious regenerative protagonists… But they remain ‘gamey’, obvious gimmicks that detract from the atmosphere.
Shadow of the Colossus, as a final example, breaks that rule – there’s no ‘gameplay/art’ split. It’s perfectly integrated. Aside from the unfortunate (and unnecessary) use of a HUD, the game is simply a work of both art and gamecraft, balanced better than any other I’ve ever played.
… Nonetheless, you’ve piqued my curiosity. Maybe oneday Ninja Theory will get another sale or two from me. I hope they’ll be around to see it.
hmmm… I really, really liked Enslaved. I’d heard of Heavenly Sword but wasn’t sure it was my kind o’ game. But if Steerpike likes it, I may have to reward Ninja Theory with more of my hard-earned dollars.
Toger: if there’s a demo for Heavenly Sword I recommend trying it first. The game is similar to… like… Devil May Cry, I guess, or Ninety-Nine Nights, in that it’s combo-driven swordfighting. There are a few QTEs as well, but so far (haven’t finished) failure at them just means you have to try again, and they’re brief.
Jakkar: that was a great mountain of commenting. Like you I’m a sucker for story; even if it’s one that requires my own imagination to rework into something good (Final Fantasy XIII comes to mind).
I also agree that there is no game like Shadow of the Colossus, though I hope one day there will be more like it. I still can’t forgive it for the ending or the Eleventh Colossus, but they’re just slightly off brushstrokes in the Mona Lisa. Deleterious to the whole, but not close to ruinous.
I was not a console lad when Halo started, so I admit to missing the first two aside from later multiplay bouts. I bought Halo 3 and just hated it, but mostly for its squishy controls and inability to be as visually directive as Half-Life 2. I can’t judge its story because to be honest I don’t know it. Something involving aliens. And halos, maybe.
With Heavenly Sword I have to admit that the gameplay is fun but far from perfect. I also hear it’s only about four hours long, which can be a dealbreaker for some. But I am greatly enjoying the characters and story. Go hold up a liquor store, take the money to Best Buy and get yourself a PS3, and let us know what you think.
I guess you could just hold up the Best Buy.
Wait- the Tap-Repeatedly Legal Department just called.
(fifteen minutes later)
Okay, so no, don’t do either of those things. TAP-REPEATEDLY DOES NOT CONDONE THE HOLDING UP OF LIQUOR STORES OR BEST BUYS. READERS ASSUME ALL RISK FOR COMMENT CONTENT. ERECTIONS LASTING LONGER THAN FOUR HOURSfsadfsvsbr tyjjytjkk
After watching 90 minutes worth of youtube videos I remembered checking Heavenly Sword out just before Enslaved released… this is the not the game for me. I’d cripple myself with all the button mashing and never remember the combos from one play session to the next.
I have to admit that the nut cracker is the best finishing move I’ve ever seen! 😀
I just came home with a copy of Enslaved – because they managed to make me kinda sad after saying they only sold 460,000 pieces. I played it halfway through on a Xbox 360 using a less than legal copy, but this now kinda pushed me into buying. It’s a nice enough experience, it’s just not such a brilliant game. But I guess I also got a T-shirt to go with it so it’s kinda OK. I of course dread of what they’ll do with Devil May Cry…
If you’re going to comment; do it hard 😉
I’m afraid as you lack Halosperience, I lack Ffantasysperience – I’ve only played VIII, and while I loved it I never finished it. Just such a large game, life tends to change over timeperiods at the scale of weeks, and I lost the regular opportunity to indulge in it. A pity. I remember it fondly, however – a game with a story and atmosphere good enough to overcome, as I said, incredibly clunky gameplay.
Remind me, with spoiler warning for others, which was the eleventh colossus? Personally, the final colossus bothers me the most, but stylistically and in story terms it absolutely fascinates me enough to forgive it the incredible frustration of killing the bloody thing… SPOILER WARNINGS, for the FINEST GAME I’VE EVER PLAYED (maybe..) – stop reading, people! ‘cept Pike. —- It’s the fact he’s inside a scaffold of walkways, can’t move, and his legs are rougher and less glowy than the rest of him. It makes clear the implication evident in almost every other colossus; these are partially manmade entities, which brings into question the history of the Forbidden Land in wonderful and inspiring ways. I’ve debated this with some of the GameFAQs story-guys who write up whole articles on the plot of SotC, and had little agreement – but my personal theory was that different factions/cultures/noble families within the forbidden land each built a Guardian or a work of art to symbolise their house, using great architectural skill, massive quarrying labours, and the raw life force of the god they shattered. The people faded away, the Colossi remained in the ruins of their respective family homes, mindlessly guarding things and people often no longer there. The shielded walkways and crenellations present on some of the humanoid colossi particularly emphasise the notion that they were designed to hold archers protecting their flanks… /ramble.
Halo.. Halo halo halo. Hm. Yes, the controls can be infuriating. I was around 13 years old when I joined a friend for Halo co-operative splitscreen, end to end of the campaign, on the two highest difficulties. I was very skeptical of this ‘FPS on a console!?’ business, and was utterly useless at it for that first run.
However, Halo may hold the distinction of being the only, or at least the first FPS truly developed solely, and developed -well- for thumb-stick based movement and aim. Killzone strikes me as a real failure of game design, from the first to the third, a good setting but without any inspiration of design..
Halo is honestly quite magical, I don’t know where to start. For one, it was the game that finally knocked Unreal off its pedestal for best combat AI, and retains that distinction to this day. No game can challenge you like Halo’s singleplayer campaign AI on the higher difficulties – more, maybe, but never as skilfully.
To have waves of grunts ebb and flow, challenging your position and hurling grenades over your cover while snipers carefully lock you down, moving slowly around you to fire potshots – while artillery rains down, a constant threat, then you realise all of these things were merely holding your attention so that a sword-wielding Elite could slowly, quietly sneak around a distant flank only to stab you in the spine with a cruel chuckle. Ouch.
Secondly, the use of physics in gameplay since the very first title leads to a far more dynamic battlefield than the gimmicky implementations of other, later games – Half Life 2’s physics rarely have any actual impact on gameplay, for example, merely providing a visually reactive world until you indulge in the base and crude direct manipulation of ‘throwing table at zombie’. Halo’s vehicles and heavy explosive ordnance, powerful, charging foes and impulse-heavy melee attacks send objects flying in all locations. Hell, yesterday in Reach I attempted to ram a Hunter to death using a stolen civilian 4×4, only to have it absorb the impact with its shield, skidding backwards on its heels, then use the shield to hook the underside of my front bumper and heave me like a scotsman with a caber, hurling my vehicle, and myself into a ravine.
The dynamism and variety of combat via AI and physics is incomparable, as is the sheer entertainment value. Only Men of War and Red Faction Guerilla come close to this kind of unpredictable, creative and reactive combat environment, albeit neither with AI as skilled or varied in abilities.
And above those features, there’s simply a beautifully written setting and story, that grows with depth and complexity as the series goes on.
You’re missing something special. The controls take getting used to, and you will never be a twitchy, instantly reactive Goldsrc/Source character – rather, a heavy, charging, genetically modified cyborg man-tank who can punch through a wall at need, but lacks precision or instantaneous reactions. It’s surprisingly fitting, once you wrap your head around that setting. Mindset and expectations deeply influence the experience – I think Halo would be far easier to get into for someone who had never played the modern FPS using a mouse and keyboard. The very basis of gameplay is different, in some ways almost a different genre of action.
The story.. Ah. Halo ranks up there with Fallout and Grim Fandango, for me. It can be a little cliched, but the creativity, the sense of mystery and of epic tragedy are on par with any modern epic, from LOTR to Star Wars, depending upon your personal tastes.
Give it a chance, either solo or with a friend. Halo 1 can only be played on traditional TVs, doesn’t like higher refresh rates, but you can acquire a remastered edition of sorts on Xbox Live downloads, it and two only support split-screen for coop, which can make it rather hard to see what you’re doing, but nonetheless very entertaining. 3, ODST and Reach are each fully co-op multiplayer via Live and stunningly entertaining as such.
You have no lived until you’ve led a coordinated (or very uncoordinated) assault on a Covenant Scarab, the giant, four-legged walking tank O.o
Finally, with my fingers starting to ache a wee bit; I am afraid I have neither liquor stores nor bestbuys – will an offlicense and a tesco do?
If for no other reason, buy a PS3 because one day The Last Guardian will exist.
—Shadow of the Colossus Spoilers Ahead!—
The Eleventh was the little one up in the temple – the one who looked sort of like a bull and knocked you down, then knocked you down again the instant you got up. You have to wave a torch at him (he’s afraid of fire), which would have been okay if the game had ever even once told you that you could pick up objects in the landscape.
The Final Colossus was brutal, and I agree, not a ton of fun to battle. Your theory that ancient cultures built them is a very intriguing one. I always thought of them as manifestations of the magic used to keep Dormin trapped, but the two ideas aren’t necessarily exclusive.
Overall the endgame bothered me because it trivialized Agro’s sacrifice and didn’t fully deliver on Dormin’s dire warning that the price would be too high. Personally, I preferred the idea of Dormin being defeated and, in defeat, either unable or never willing to resurrect the girl, so the scene closes with a pullback from all the corpses in the temple, starting with hers. And no Agro, of course.
But I am a grim and curmudgeonly person who sees little joy.
—Shadow of the Colossus Spoilers Behind!—
I’ll give Halo a try. It’s only fair. Maybe by the time I get to 3 I’ll be more comfortable with the controls and will be looking at it from a story perspective. I can definitely overlook controls if the story’s there.
xtal’s right about The Last Guardian. Between the promise of that, Heavy Rain, Valkyria Chronicles, the Slim, and Meho’s exuberance for Demon’s Souls, that was a no-brainer purchase for me.
@Jakkar: more comments please! 😉
You make me want to give Halo a chance, despite Master Chief’s god awful name. I’m not convinced the story will transcend its cliched trappings for me but if the combat is as good as you make out then I really ought to find a way of playing the series…
Gah, who am I kidding? My backlog of games is so epic I’ll be sat dribbling in a retirement home by the time I get round to playing them.
Hello ‘gain folkses..
POTENTIAL SPOILERNESS HERE, FOLKS O.o Hm. I wonder, bbcode here, html? flabberterglab?>/b> [b]this[/b]? *prods at it*
Pikeness: I remember him. And I remember that bloody torch too >.> I don’t recall though whether I eventually worked it out myself or gave in and invoked the might of GameFAQs. That might have been what tipped me off about the Story FAQ guys. I imagine for all their shiny polish and minimalist perfection, the game must either have hit a rush at the end, or they burnt out and lost the will to continue – between the two irritating miniature Colossi, the second bearded club-wielding giant and the final Colossus, and perhaps the relative simplicity of the endgame, something definitely dragged them down in the last few hours of gameplay.
The final Colossus, and the fire-fearing Colossus.. Could they really just be the products of laziness, or did they have some subtle agenda in making them so frustrating? The unexplained nature of the use of the torch, the failure to introduce the feature could simply be a way to give presumptive, lazy gamers a slap in the expectations – but being forced to climb the final Colossus over and over again every time you fail to figure out his ‘gimmick’ was simply.. Ridiculous. I’d be giving them too much credit to try to find some ‘meaning’ in that. Perhaps they had a more ambitious design and ran out of time, and were forced to ramp up the difficulty on ‘plan B’ by simply making it infuriating.
End-game syndrome seems a frustrating common flaw, particularly from that generation of consoles – the failure to wrap up the story in a satisfying fashion, or the failure to implement a satisfying difficulty curve toward the end results in the cop-out method of creating an annoying, time-consuming and repetitive end-boss that leaves you feeling sour when you should be gasping with relief and awe at the climactic events of your endeavor.
Regarding story/setting, I think our two guesses on the nature of Colossi are kin, applicable as a pair – the biological bodies of the Colossi are beyond human artifice – only a god with control of life and death would be able to manifest such creatures – though he may have been forced to it. Some aspects of their biology, such as the sensitive ‘teeth’ on the crown of the great turtle would appear to have been modified or encouraged by human masters to aid in manually controlling the beasts, but in general I imagine the masonry itself is the work of human architects.
The glowing runes sometimes visible in the stonework – most notably on Gaia, the Swordsman, third Colossus and my personal favourite – suggest to me a sort of enchantment designed to bind and control the giants. On Gaia in particular, the runes encircle zones akin to ‘cuffs’ or manacles on the upper arms, though they could as easily be seen as armour.
All speculation though – I’d love to know the truth, although I fear my own ambitious guesswork being an overestimation of depth.. That would be rather disappointing. Reminds me of my endeavors to reconcile the fractured Headcrab lifecycle from Half-Life, when Opposing Force’s Gonome was rendered non-canon D: *maybe a wee bit obsessive*..
I didn’t find Agro’s loss to be.. Trivialised, as you put it. We aren’t meant to like this cruel boy, so obsessed with love or a promise that he’ll kill so many creatures, among them apparently happy innocents, for one girl. To see him get his only friend and ally killed only to keep on trucking with barely a moment to mourn.. Only emphasises his obsession. Although by that point the boy is essentially the living dead, come to think of it.
I found the end-game satisfying, it strikes upon numerous notes I love the sound of – above all, the crossing of the ‘point of no return’, where a mixture of magic and raw willpower turn a young boy into something that can’t really die. I merely wish Dormin could have returned in force. I’m that kind of player x]
Curmudgeon you may be – we’ll see if The Last Guardian will satisfy your need for misery 😉
Regarding Halo: I’m glad – I’ll dare to hope you’ll see the depth I see, and that I might oneday get to read an article by you on the topic. Whether you come to love it or remain disinterested, I’d love to see a piece telling us -why- you think that is.
I would suggest, in that case, playing it alone, and playing it with the mindset of a gaming scholar. I have trouble playing games any other way these days.. To try to start you off, pay attention to the early level known as ‘The Silent Cartographer’ – consider its open-plan gameplay, its emphasis on exploration, and the details you can read in its architecture. Note for example that the Forerunner structures dotted around the island appear to serve as docks, if you look hard at them – but are now high and dry. Ravines and caves nearby also suggest the pounding of the ocean at a far higher level. The architecture and geology themselves here tell a story – that once upon a time, the Ringworld’s oceans were at least ten metres higher, implying that systems somewhere on the ring are breaking down.
To a greater or lesser degree, every level contains details like this. It’s a world, not merely a set of levels. It’s a real design, not merely a lazy mashup of ‘cool ideas’.
Oh, and ensure you play on Heroic difficulty (second hardest). In later games, this mode is described as ‘The way Halo is meant to be played.’. You will struggle but it will feel like a fair fight. Legendary is for masochists, Easy is for the mentally ill, Normal is.. Well, just not Halo. A shooting gallery rather than a war.
STOP making me want a PS3. *beats at you with a broken umbrella*.
Gregg: I’ll take that wink as cheerful encouragement =D Master Chief – I don’t know the origin of that rank. Think of him as John-117 if it would help =p Spartans are trained and modified from childhood, and never know the surnames they were born with 😉
The story is simply sci-fi epic. It’s not as subtly nuanced as an Iain M. Banks book, but on the other hand it isn’t as wilfully depressive, as intentionally disappointing. It’s somewhere between a decent war film in the vein of Black Hawk Down’s stylish action mixed with pseudorealistic military drama, and a transcendent, time and space-spanning epic which can introduce some rather deep thinking. There is in all honesty no other game with as thought-provoking a plot. There are better plots, but none that you can spend months dissecting and studying in the depth of Halo’s.
The combat on the other hand is simply better than any other FPS. Nothing has enemies this clever, varied and responsive. Nothing else, after around eight years during which I’ve finished every Halo game, some of them several times, can still easily trick me, distract me, flank me or ambush me as effectively. It feels good to be challenged.
It feels so good to play a game in which, for all that you are a genetically modified cyborg supersoldier in an advanced armour suit, you are not the all-powerful hero. In fact, any given Covenant Elite squad leader, of which one or more are present in almost every engagement, is strictly speaking faster and more dangerous than you are. Every one deserves respect and caution. And it’s not merely their armour or powerful attacks – it’s their speed, their intelligence, their ability to dodge an attack, to fall back when they feel threatened, to double back suddenly with a piroette swinging a sword, to climb on top of cover to try to spot you, to..
Well, I’ve typed enough for the morning.
I’m truly happy to know I’ve encouraged you both to try something again. Open minds, study-hats on, Heroic difficulty, play solo. Co-op is a whole new world of fun for afterwards, but if you want to study the games you’ll need a slightly calmer environment.
– Garrulous Jack.
Oh ye gods. Looks like I found one of the bold tags applicable to this comment page. Sorry, guys >.> Should have just asked, but I thought experimenting would be quicker 😀 Be grateful I wasn’t italicising.
You’ll be pleased to know Jakkar that I start every game on a higher difficulty, I find it really brings out a game’s nuances. You tend to think more outside the box when the odds are stacked against you. It creates more friction and you could say friction creates more sparks.
HERE BE SHADOW OF THE COLOSSUS SPOILERS!
The little colossus (lower case C) that was scared of fire was one of mine and my mum’s favourites (she refused to let me play SotC without her). It took a long time to work out how to do it but once we’d cracked it we found it really rewarding. I was a little dubious that they’d recycled an earlier Colossus though.
I’m with you both with regards to the final Colossus, it felt much cheaper than the others and relatively speaking, a low point in the game for me. And please for the love of all that is colossal — Agro did not die. She’s right there, moping around during the final credits. Unless you’re implying that she appears to die when she falls, in which case, carry on. I kind of wish she had croaked because her survival only satisfied that perverse Hollywood hope my curmudgeonly side hates to see satisfied.
It looks like we need to do some tinkering with the comment system associated with this theme. I want to implement clickable names, and it would be nice if we could set up easier user editing and a list of common codes allowed. Of course, I’m technically incompetent, so this may take some time.
Jakkar, you have inspired me to ponder at more length about Shadow of the Colossus, though I might wait until the HD version comes out before I do.
I did attend a Shadow of the Colossus panel at GDC 2005 or 2006. Most of the design team was there, showing how they did their animations and used various Excel spreadsheets to balance each Colossus. They didn’t say anything about a lack of time (Team Ico traditionally gets whatever it wants from Sony, so I doubt it was strictly time); I didn’t want to offend anyone so I didn’t ask about the Eleventh even though I was dying to. I’m inclined to agree with your thought that creative exhaustion may have had something to do with it, since Eleven and Fourteen are essentially identical.
As for the last one, that felt like a forest-for-the-trees problem. They were going for this sweeping sense of epic and wound up instead with an infuriating jumping puzzle. The challenge of the final Colossus is that they wanted to make something suitably… Colossal, and different from the others, but they missed the mark entirely. To me it would have been a far superior approach to have the final Colossus be one of the most harmless ones, to really drive home the cruelty of what you’re doing in the game.
It wasn’t Agro’s fall that I disliked, it was that he survived it. Aside from the simple practical fact that he fell like a thousand feet and survived with nothing but a broken leg (which admittedly would probably kill a horse in the long run anyway), it felt like the game was throwing me an unnecessary bone.
I will try Halo. It was really just the floatiness of the controls that made me so unhappy. I can probably get the Windows version for peanuts these days, though like Gregg I might be in a home before I have time to give it a try.
I tried playing the Windows version years ago Steerpike and it’s got this weird zoomed-in-type-thing going on with the FOV that put both me and my brother off playing it. We couldn’t find a fix for it either. Apparently nobody on the internets noticed it.
What is it with console games doing weird FOV shit on their PC counterparts? That was one of the (many) things about Deus Ex: Invisible War that drove me crazy. PC players are people too!
Ello again shipmates.
You’ve my envy for your attendance of the SotC event, though I may have been kicked out for asking the questions you chose not to, had I been in the position to 😉
Remarkable difference in tastes regarding that annoying stone chihuahua thing, Gregg. I’ve a similar family situation though – around five years ago I rented SotC for a week and my little sister, with whom I don’t have a very strong bond, watched me play almost every minute of it. Having lacked for it for many years, this past Christmas my sister purchased me a copy of it in nearly perfect condition, with its cardboard sleeve and art cards. She is a good sister ^_^
Now I can’t play it without both her and my ladyfriend watching. The offense I feel at how callously the sibling’s boyfriend ignores the epic, tragic action.. Rawrgh.
It is obviously unrealistic for Agro to have survived the fall, but in the realm of survival little is impossible – and if we’re going to suspend disbelief in order to allow that Wander can survive great falls and being kicked in the face by a 400ft tall stone-clad beast, we can certainly allow an off-screen landing that could have been in deep running water was survivable. It doesn’t bother me, and I was glad, come the end, to see she survived. Good call on gender-specificity, by the by – I had never really considered Agro’s gender – but I’ve never seen anything flapping about beneath while we’re galloping across the plains, now that you mention it =p
I cannot account for the final Colossus merely being a product of a ‘missed target’. Team ICO don’t seem to miss targets. They don’t seem to miss much at all. I cannot just assume they made a mistake by making the final Colossus a simplistic yet frustrating platforming sequence when compared to, say, the third.. It had to be a loss of motivation or time, on some level. That Colossus was either lazy or rushed, it had to be. It HAD TO BE D: *clings to his slightly worn respect for the developers*
I appreciate the notion of the final Colossus being relatively harmless, but at the same time prefer what they seemed to be aiming for. The elephantine sky-serpent with the solar airbags was the most ‘beautiful’, and by far the most peaceful creature of all, and at that point the game reached its pinnacle of tragedy.
… As I’ve said, my theory floats that the Colossi were built by tribes, citystates or noble houses, it fits neatly for me that some were made small in the canyons and forests – that some were made huge in the open plains – that some were made in the image of the local fauna (the two major animals of the game are lizards and eagles, both of whom are represented by a Colossus) – and that many were made in the image of man himself, with such ‘homosapien’ features as beards, knuckled four-finger hands and wielding weapons of symbolically human design…
… therefore, it fits neatly that a considerable number of the Colossi were militarised in nature, wielding weapons, immediately aggressive and equipped with platforms where humans could stand. Others represent less aggressive or paranoid cultures in the Forbidden Land. The final Colossus, the product perhaps of the richest or the most insane, crafted in the highest mountains, the least accessible place in all the land, was built as a king above all others. And he was built last – almost as the final gambit in an Arms race, he is bigger, his construction more elegant, and wields power, and magic superior to that of all who came before.
And as many famous endeavors, gravid with ambition – his construction was stymied by who knows what strife, cataclysm or simple entropy. There’s something beautiful and horrible and yes, very sad about a giant who was never granted movement. He’s the tin man without a heart, Edward Scissorhands, the classic ‘unfinished masterwork’. He’s trapped, in the hills, in the rain and storms, alone. Killing him was almost merciful.
Just a damn pity he was boring and irritating to fight, hm?
Regarding Halo – Xbox, please, for your own experience. There’s a reason Halo is the only FPS I respect on the consoles – the reason is that they were designed for it, and designed well. The gameplay lacks the twitch-intensity of PC shooters, the movement is often cautious, benefiting from the pressure sensitive sticks – the gunplay emphasises a lot of melee combat, and elegantly controlled vehicles dominate much of the action. You’re a walking tank yourself, your movements at times cumbersome and with great momentum, and you’re wearing a visored helmet that limits your field of view. You wear a suit that can deliver medical aid and that is protected by a self-charging energy shield, allowing you to shrug off damage received in this fairly unique style of combat.
Many later console FPS releases mimicked the health/shielding system and the two-weapon limit, but only Halo knew -why- it was doing this, and used it properly. It integrates perfectly with the setting. To the very core, Halo was made for the Xbox, from the first game to the last. Halo on PC unfortunately becomes, while entertaining, unbearably easy – mouse controlled aiming applied to a game where the AI were balanced for a slower and less precise opponent cannot compete with a different aiming method any better than would players in a crossplatform multiplayer shooter. It’s an unfair advantage, and one that would spoil the game for you.
Stick to the Xbox, friends =)
And please, oh god please feel welcome to toss me an email at jakkar ate gmail daught com if and when either of you play, for any kind of plot speculation or gameplay discussion, whether positive or negative – it would be my pleasure. I get far too much of a kick out of discussing games – if only I had the patience and the friendly attitude for journalism 😉
Maybe you should come on board as a Tap staffer. We have neither patience nor a friendly attitude.
You know, I think we just uncovered some accidental sexism in me. I just assumed that Agro was a dude, though as you point out (and I was thinking reading Gregg’s post) I never saw a horse-dong during the game.
Interesting fact: Agro was developed by the same (female) designer/animator who was responsible for Yorda in Ico. She gave quite an interesting speech about how she studied horses and the way they moved for months and months in preparation, and how she’d used her experience creating Yorda as further inspiration. Her classic line of the show:
“This time I was not in charge of a girl, I was in charge of a horse.”
Somehow, rendered through the headphones via the translator in the back, that remark dissolved the entire audience into laughter.
I will pop up here just to say I played Halo on Windows not long after it came out and enjoyed it. I’m not sure what this says about me, but I found the later levels quite difficult (I was played middle difficulty if I remember correctly) even though I was blessed with a mouse.
After the limp-wristed Vista-only exclusivity of Halo 2, I never played the sequel and my Halo interest waned over the years.
But I have fond, fun memories of that first Halo experience and its environment, although it was a tad repetitive in places.
Ello Harbourmaster =) I recall the Halo 1 multiplayer demo, back in ye olde days.. The precision of the mouse-aim would allow me to consistently headshot elites and grunts, bringing the challenge of facing a squad down considerably. I am a fairly experienced player of the console versions (singleplayer only, I admit to despising the MP aspect of Halo), and enjoy the added challenge of the thumbstick controls. They may be incredibly clumsy, but in some ways that approximates the real experience of handling a heavy rifle far better than our lightweight, pixel-perfect Razer mice 😉
I certainly can’t do with my air rifle what I can with a sniper rifle in TF2.
Thanks for the input, nonetheless. And yes, Halo 1 does have some dreadfully repetitive scenes. The first time I was enjoying the co-op too much to notice – my first solo playthrough, I was very bored by those later scenes in the snowy canyons – but most recently, I found that long gauntlet of bridges, corridors and canyons to be.. Punishing, atmospherically so. The repetition of it was torture in a way that felt like a soldier suffering a long campaign against a relentless foe. With age, I’ve come to enjoy ‘bad’ parts of games for a certain value they can have.
Stalker would make a great example. Most of the game is technically extremely boring, sneaking around positions that ‘might’ contain enemies, looting bodies to manually unload all the rifles for spare bullets, travelling long distances carefully avoiding conflict… But this combines into a truly compelling and extremely enjoyable experience that I wouldn’t call ‘fun’, but I would definitely call entertaining.
Another example would be Silent Hill – a game traumatic and unpleasant but utterly thrilling. An excellent horror experience. Once again, it isn’t fun, but we do love it.
Steerpike: I can see that, in Agro. It is inescapably evident that great love went into the creation and depiction of the character, and that the movements of the animal were given grace, rather than merely machinelike function. Compare this to the horses of Assassin’s Creed, the only other game with a noteworthy equine depiction I’m aware of, and you’ll see beautiful but utterly soulless, machine-like animals.
Oh, hell, how could I forget Red Dead Redemption – also a good technical depiction, but completely lacking any soul or spirit, the things Agro has in spades. As well as looking better in almost every way ^_^
Caring for an NPC companion, when they’re well-programmed, is an absolute joy, radically changing and deepening an experience. I could end up ranting again here, but I’ll try to restrain myself (and save it for an article, perhaps =))..
I only really found my -love- for Fallout: New Vegas (in spite of its barbaric gameplay method courtesy of Bethesda) when I met a companion character named Veronica. She changed the whole game. I have a whole new dynamic to pay careful attention to in keeping her equipped, bearing her own objectives in mind, keeping her safe and being protected by her power-fist in combat, for she has saved my life many times. She’s well written enough to be both funny and serious, and I really.. Care, for her. A fictional duplicate of a million copies experienced by a million players, and I care for her. Well done, Obsidian.
But it doesn’t always take great writing to make me care for a character. Agro had no dialogue. And the UNSC Marines of Halo 2 had little to recommend about them, being so pathetically fragile, so inept, so insecure in their whining, their fear and their misplaced anger against the Covenant soldiery.. But I fought, and fought (and reverted my saves, and reverted my saves) to keep them alive through thick and thin, though I rarely succeeded. They felt just alive enough, as free AI entities (compared to the 90% scripted actions of Call of Duty NPCs), to have my care, in the same way that I care for my Dwarves in my Fortress. No, that IS a reference to the game, not a bizarre euphemism for my family life.
Well, I’m too hungry to rant any further or make anymore sense than that. Steerpike, I’ll make an effort to step up my activity in the comment threads here – I’m really coming to love Tap Repeatedly. If I find I’ve something to contribute (.. I think I will o.o) I’ll have a word with you about it =)
*runs off to the land of crispy-fried beef in peking sauce, oh yes, yes, yes*
Red Dead Redemption lacked soul or spirit..?
I think he was just referring to the horses.
I will say I much prefer driving horses in RDR to driving cars in GTA (horses are easier to steer and there are fewer pedestrians), and while I did like the mechanic of whistling and a horse turns up, you definitely have no attachment to your steed.
Another one with good horses is Mount & Blade, but again, no particular emotional attachment to the horse. I always tended to see mine as a giant price tag that occasionally broke a leg.
Exactly that, Steerpike – The horses in all of these games are either property or simply an over-complicated sprint-button. At least in Mount and Blade or an MMO they have cash value, and are an investment – although in MMOs they can rarely die or be lost. That’s only a fraction of what would make them interesting though – and there, SotC is the only one to nail it.
Emotional value, a living creature with a mind of its own. I love simply letting Agro walk, on his own. An occasional tap of the heels if he gets distracted by grass or something, but let him walk while I stare at the beautiful surroundings and get lost in thought.
Oh, this is making me ache for something which combines the massive scale and minimalistic silence of SotC with the richly detailed and deadly survivalism of STALKER.. STALKER was never big enough for me. Too many years waiting for the ’20 square kilometre open zone’ they originally promised.. Do you remember the original STALKER design? Even more tragic than the original Bioshock design, as a famous change late in the game.
I played the original STALKER design, to the degree that anyone who’s not fluent in Ukrainian was able to. The STALKER Build 1934 is available from GSC Game World, and it’s… well, let me tell you, it’s something. In the end many of the changes they made were wise ones (reducing supernatural effects, eliminating vehicles, etc), but the whole completely open Zone with no loading was unbelievable. And it was about three times larger than the Zone that shipped in Shadow of Chernobyl.
I like the idea of a game that combines exploration and scavenging with survival and confrontation in an effective way. I tend to shy away from “open world” games as that term is usually used, because they tend to be boring GTA clones full of races and minigames and stuff, never really handcrafted. The brilliance of both STALKER and Shadow of the Colossus is that their worlds were open, created an almost instant emotional attachment, and had clearly been made by hand.
One of the things I always thought might be interesting is if SoTC had been a persistent game, with all 16 Colossi available from the outset, just doing their thing on the landscape. If you could pick and choose which you faced, in what order, and even retreat from one that was giving you trouble. The game’s linearity didn’t bother me, but it would have been interesting to see this alternative.
Agreed – to have been granted a hunter’s freedom, forced to actually explore the Forbidden Land and find the Colossi for yourself would have been.. Compelling. Potentially frustrating, but not if a richer ecology, some lesser threats and more content had been included to enrich that experience.
Neither necessarily better nor worse, merely.. Interesting. And it would have appealed both to the immersive-sim lovers and the ‘completionist’ Xbox Achievement crowd for combing every inch of a world.
I never did actually touch the old builds – I wasn’t so much talking about the failed endeavor to create it so much as the -idea- itself. The notion of walking for an hour through the countryside without seeing anything but a few strange ripples in the air and a tree grown into a ring without a single root touching the ground.
Then you spot a man in the distance, and wrestle with your fear that he may shoot you. The fear he may not be human. The inhumanly cold consideration of how many bullets you might expend to take him down. The chill in your stomach when you realise how emotionless that thought was. The sudden recollection that you’re in a very dangerous situation and can’t afford to stand there thinking about this. Has he spotted you yet? Belatedly, you hit the dirt prone and worry some more. For all you know it’s just a scarecrow. Or he’s not even alive but doesn’t know dead men shouldn’t stand up.
All of this inside ten seconds, then maybe you just wave using a gesture button, and tentatively make contact, trading a tin of beans for a magazine of ammunition that doesn’t fit your rifle or sidearm. You step away from each other, smiling but trying not to be the first one to turn your back.
That night, you eat the beans with the meat of a bird you shot yourself, cooked over a campfire you assembled yourself, torn between worrying about the meat being irradiated, and worrying that the gunshot may have attracted attention.
The idea of wounded targets being tracked by their blood-trails, and the body being found half-eaten, but still well-stocked with equipment, indicating the stalker must have been killed by animals, not humans – or they’d almost certainly have followed him and finished him for his equipment.
That’s what I mean when I talk about ‘Old Stalker’. That idealised notion we won’t be seeing outside of an ASCII roguelike for some time yet, I imagine.
From what I know of that early build of stalker, it would have been fascinating and very entertaining if they’d polished it up and worked out how to pack it with content and gameplay worthy of its scale – but it still wouldn’t have been the Stalker we were hoping for all those years ago.
The final result was little more than an openworld shooter, and once I’d modded it heavily with the aid of a friend, it was a great game. But it was nothing compared to what it might have been.
I’m glad its finally getting the attention it deserves. I was getting very tired at that point of hearing about how Half Life 2 was the pinnacle of game design >.>