So far no one is revolving in Deus Ex Hu

So far no one is revolving in Deus Ex Human Revolution

Nightmare Mode Is Relaunching

Preface: Nightmare Mode is officially relaunching sometime on Friday night (at which point we will go down for about 24 hours). What follows is the context as well as a detailing of the many upcoming changes that you can expect to see in the near future.

Ah, welcome. It’s been slightly over a year since Nightmare Mode’s inception, and, in that time, we’ve gone through a lot of change. Writers have come and gone, we’ve changed templates more times than I care to count and, my level of involvement and dedication has varied.

Fast forward to about a month ago. Remember this post? Also, this one? Posts thinking about my future, essentially. April and May have been months of much personal turmoil, as I gear up for life beyond college and start thinking about my career. In ‘Resolve’ I mentioned “I would be happiest (and poorest, most likely) writing about games.” In ‘Final Year Thesis’ I mentioned my plans for a paper revolving my senior project at Hampshire College. My old one, anyway.

The more I thought about what I wanted to do with my life, the more I started to panic about how inadequate my skills would be in facilitating that career. Hampshire College does not offer either of the things I am studying–marketing and video game design. Most of my studies have been self-directed and, while that’s taught me a good deal that could not be captured in a classroom…it has piqued a degree of uncertainty in myself. At one point I even considered–seriously considered–transferring schools. At the end of my third year of college, I was considering starting over someplace else, someplace that actually offered what I was interested in studying.

I tried pitching this idea to the people around me, and was met with a lot of resistance. Starting over, with just one year left? Really? I suppose that is the level of insecure I had become; I did not believe that just finishing my degree would be worth it if I wasn’t going to attain concrete skills out of it. I wasn’t sure what to do. The thought of writing a ‘useless’ paper for my final year was deeply troubling, and yet, it was the only thing I realistically could do.

Or so I thought. Talking to people–writers on this site and mentors from First Graduate, my scholarship program–about the issue, one thing kept coming back up. The site. THIS site. I could do something with it. I SHOULD do something with it; devise my final year project around it. Fix it up, make it bigger, better…make it profitable, or at least self-sustaining. Y’know–make it a ‘real’ site? Even if I could not fulfill a business plan to specification in a year’s time, I will have still gained many skills that would be readily applicable to the real world. So that’s the plan, it seems like. Tackling the site seriously. Getting us out there. All that cool jazz.

Now, there are a number of changes that will be up and coming over the next year. The most evident one will have been our relaunch, here. Prior to this, we had been attached to WordPress. This severely limited our options both in terms of template (if my dissatisfaction with the templates wasn’t clear enough with our 5 or 6 changes in the past year), but also in terms of possible sponsorships, partnerships, what have you; things that can only occur if we detached ourselves from WordPress. And, the most ridiculous thing of all: sticking to wordpress meant having to pay to change basic HTML or CSS. That’s…just not happening. Thus the first move seems obvious: detaching from WordPress, going onto self-hosting. We’ve wanted to do this for a long time, but it wasn’t until I actively decided to take the site seriously this April that we actually started setting this in motion. In that regards, many thanks to Grant, Patrick and Greg for lending their hand in re-launching the site.

Aside from this, you may have noticed a few other changes, as well. We have a full-fledged logo now. Fancy, ennit? We’ll have to get business cards next, I imagine. Hell, we have a Favicon now. That shows we’re serious, right? You may have also noticed a plethora of new names. Yes, we’ve grown quite a bit now. You should read our About page to see the full list of people currently on board now. That list is by no means final. I’ve still got about a dozen more applicants to sort through (we have applicants now! Wow!), so do not be surprised if you see even more new names. Hopefully our new writers stick around for a while! Relatedly, you may have noticed a higher level of production unlike anything we’ve done before. As a result, our readership has absolutely exploded in the last month. It’s…frightening but exciting at the same time. Thus I can’t give enough thanks to my writers and the level of dedication they are putting onto the site. They have to put up with very high demands and they workshop their writing as if this was a part-time job. I hope it shows.

I just have to reiterate how amazing the people I’m working with are. Really, you guys are great, and I don’t know why you put up with me.❤

Lastly, there are a bevy of partnerships, collaborations and affiliations that will be upcoming. We’re republishing material from a few friends and sites, with the intent of widening the subjects we cover. I am happy to announce, for example, our partnership with the soon-to-be-launched Nerd Vice; helmed by the ferocious Viragunn. Aside from crossposting material and promotions, Nerd Vice shall be teaming up with Nightmare Mode to providing you with a great podcasting show. More details on that later this week, I imagine. The other partnership (which you may have already noted!) aiming to bring the more philosophical approach to video game criticism is The Game Saver. There are talks of other partnerships and collaborations with other friends of the site, hopefully great things will come of it. We’ll see!

We’re also in talks with developers and the like to bring you more great material–you may have noted this by virtue of the increase of interviews we have conducted. There are other changes, I’m sure, that either I’m forgetting right now, or simply haven’t planned just yet.

So, yeah. That’s where we stand right now: in a vortex of exciting change. Here’s to another year of the new, soon-to-be improved Nightmare Mode!

New Dragon Age 2 Images Tease Relation to Grey Wardens

Released on the Dragon Age Facebook page are images that, while not outright stated to be DLC or a sequel to Dragon Age 2….well, logic would dictate that it would not be presumptuous to assume that these are most likely DLC screenshots.

“We managed to land some high rez images that Mike Laidlaw claims he “found lying around.” Are those griffins?” teases the page.

The griffins, one might recall, are the emblem of the Grey Wardens.  Notice, too, well…the fact that these look like new locations. Thank god. The question, now, then: where shall the DLC take us!?

The other two images after the jump.

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Are Difficulty Settings Necessary?

The pursuit of a challenge can be a driving force in life. The accomplishment of something thought to be unobtainable has a certain allure which some find irresistible. Game designers tend to play off of this concept, creating challenges that seem insurmountable in the context of the game world. Typically there will be an option for the player to affect the likelihood of beating the odds through game difficulty. As a designer, the proper implementation of difficulty, in my opinion, is instituting a learning curve and building from there. Once the player has gleaned the knowledge the game has presented, the designer is free to introduce complex obstacles that utilize this knowledge in varying ways. Approaching the difficulty question from this angle allows designers to create more involving situations during the progression of the game. This concept of “learning in order to succeed” seems to eradicate the necessity of a difficulty option altogether.

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The Philosophical Basis of Exploration Cues in Game Design

Republished from The GameSaver, whose purpose it is to use objective philosophical analysis to save the video game industry from imploding.

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…it’s your game. You decide how you want to play, I mean, we’re not the ones who are going to tell you how to play...” – Mathieu Ferland, senior producer at Ubisoft Montreal, describing the design philosophy of Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory.

Obviously you can’t instruct people on how to enjoy art.” – Lisa Foiles, video game commentator (and former “All That” star) stating what she believes to be a truism relevant to a gamer’s choosing how (and whether) to explore a game world.

Together, these two quotations represent a malignant viewpoint stretching from video game designer to video game player. The second quote comes from one of Kotaku’s (few) intellectual features now roughly a year old. It is the perfect encapsulation of the average person’s view of art. Because this view is so widespread, what I am about to say is tragically controversial: there is an objectively correct way to read books, watch movies, view paintings, and play games. Read the rest of this entry

The Difference Between “Hard” and “Frustrating”

I would like to preface this by saying I love hard games. I love Demon’s Souls and most Atlus games. I play Touhou, though I have only beaten one of them and only on easy mode. I measure difficulty in ‘Megamans’. I do not believe those who play easier games are lesser or inferior, I just like hard games. The thing is, “hard” is an ambiguous word. A game can be hard for a lot of reasons, but as far as I am concerned, there are two kinds of difficult games: those that are “hard” and those that are “frustrating.” As a final preface note, unless stated otherwise, everything discussed in this article is set to the “normal” difficulty.

“Hard” games are deliberately hard. They are designed to be difficult, and make you work to complete a level, to get an item, to win a fight or complete a puzzle. They are games like Super Meat Boy that kill you a lot but keep death a quick thing and don’t make a big deal about it, or games like Persona or Megaman that are simply difficult. They are nothing short of challenging, and despite the difficulty I rarely find myself frustrated when playing them. Dying a lot, for example, does not have to be a source of frustration, especially when handled correctly. Demon’s Souls is a great example of this. Death is so frequent it is actually part of the narrative and, more importantly, it is quick. There is no long game over upon death. The character simply falls over and respawns at the beginning of the level. All you lose are your “souls,” the sort of all-purpose currency/experience you have on hand, and you can always go back to where you died and recollect them.

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REVIEW: Enslaved Odyssey to the West

Enslaved: Odyssey to the West is a game developed by Ninja Theory, and published by Namco Bandai. It is available for the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. It is a less than mediocre game and clearly intended for a ‘casual’ audience. The Xbox 360 game was played for the purposes of this review.

I’ll admit I’m hesitant to give a bad review to a post-apocalyptic kind of game, as I generally like this kind of stuff. What drew me to this game was the art work, the cover art, and the screenshots. It’s very different than most post-apocalyptic kind of scenarios, in that the world isn’t so desolate and barren. So think Wall-E, but instead of dust and nothing growing, there is plant life growing all over the place. The New York skyline is full of greenery, the buildings are
literally taken over by plants, slowly being broken down to the effects of Mother Nature. The idea of exploring New York like this is was really appealing to me.

Unfortunately, that is where the appeal ends. Heard of two people abandoned on an island that don’t really like each other at first, are forced to work together to avoid immediate death, and totally end up falling for each other? If you haven’t, that’s alright, because Enslaved has you covered. You play as your classic tough guy raised in the jungle. The “I have no family and I have no name” kind of hero. You and your companion are prisoners of some sort, and she controls you by means of a headband device which doesn’t allow you to leave her side without killing you. Which is why the game is called “Enslaved.” You, “Monkey,” are enslaved to Trip, your companion.
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Right in Front of Your Face

Elitism still is the big divide. It’s the biggest obstacle facing games today. Elitism is the belief that some individuals, who form an elite — a select group of people with intellect, wealth, specialized training or experience, or other distinctive attributes — are those whose views are the only ones that matter.

We are that elite.

Many of my friends resented when Nintendo positioned itself as a beacon to attract non-gamers (including some of my non-gamer friends, interestingly enough). Now, after piling them with shovelware for years, we see our dusted Wiis and state “The Wii Is Dead” in a dismissive tone that implies “See, we were right all along. You shouldn’t have abandoned us. We are the ones that get it, not them”.

Because (OMG!) gaming is art. And we are (obviously) the only ones who can see it.
Some pieces of art are difficult to understand or appreciate. That’s why the elite is the elite; and have Bach playing on the background as they discuss the peasant situation. The thing is that while there is only schooling and experience in the way of turning the Average Joe into H. E. Pennypacker, for gaming there is also the issue of skill. How can grandpa even start to appreciate games when just comprehending the controls is bound to take more spasmodic accidents than his patience and time could afford?

Yes, folks, this is my Omnitopic entry!

No matter how unapproachable a book or a movie may be, one can always get through it. The same is not true for gaming, as the skills it requires are primarily related to manual dexterity – which is not a trivial thing to acquire. It’s mostly an aptitude after all. Gaming is built on progression and not matter whether this progression if linear or open ended, the plot is not. One cannot skip to world 8-8 if one cannot even pass world 1-1 (and the first warp zone is hidden in the world 1-2, mind you). This is troublesome. It’s like buying a movie without knowing how to read it.

I find this unfair, especially now games are maturing into a narrative driven medium. Read the rest of this entry

Persona 2 Coming Fall 2011 To North America

It’s official, folks. Turns out that the email Atlus sent last week dated 1999 was hinting at a North American release for the PSP remake of Persona 2: Innocent Sin. Up until now, Persona 2 was the only title in the Persona franchise which had not made it to western shores.

Check out the official trailer, here:

This version of the game will host a bevy of new features and improvements. To list a few: the visuals and audio are remastered, the UI has been improved and there are new quests.

”In a world in which rumors are coming true, an unlikely team of citizens must discover and harness a hidden power dormant within each of them if they’re to have any chance of getting to the bottom of this dangerous phenomenon and stopping it before it gets out of control.

The official website can be found here.

Surviving The Horror: Dead Space 2’s Hard Core Difficulty

When humans get scared, our bodies prepare to take action. Adrenaline courses through our systems, our heart rates skyrocket, and certain bodily functions like digestion get suspended entirely. This is commonly known as the body’s “fight or flight” response. But while “fight or flight” may have a nice ring to it, the terms suggest a simple duality that doesn’t quite mesh with the reality: our fear response covers not just fight OR flight, but every combination of the two. Furthermore, the fear response varies between people. How you react to something scary may not be how I react to it.

Horror game developers are aware of this range of response, and they design their titles to fit a certain segment of it. Some horror fans prefer games that trigger their “fight” reaction. Others prefer games that trigger their “flight” response. Neither is a more valid horror experience than the other, and, contrary to popular belief, titles like Resident Evil 5 and Amnesia can occupy the same market space.

Enter the Dead Space series. The first game appealed to both “fight” and “flight” enthusiasts with its mix of extreme player vulnerability and engaging dismemberment. The second game ramped up the intensity in all respects. The hero, Isaac Clarke, is faster and deadlier, but so are the bladed undead necromorphs he faces. With added environmental hazards, the player is thrust into situations that constantly challenge him or her. Despite all these new features, the developers at Visceral knew they needed something extra to combat the greatest enemy of fear: familiarity. As the second game in the series, Dead Space 2 would automatically start off in a weaker position. Thus, a new difficulty was included. Hard Core mode would give the player only three saves for the entire game. Checkpoints would be disabled, and death would return the player to his last save, regardless if that was 5 chapters ago.

Hard Core offers players quite a different experience than usual. The cost of failure is not a few rooms’ worth of progress, but rather, entire chapters and multiple hours of gameplay. Similar difficulty modes have appeared in other games, but it’s particularly suited to the survival horror genre. The player is already used to being extra careful about enemy encounters, and the more serious consequences serve to heighten the tension. All this is just fluffy theory until you actually screw up, however.

Then the game changes.

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