Hidden gem of a game

Currently playing a game called The Final Station and am writing a (n Indonesian -language) review for it. There’s a couple of things I want to say about it first.

One. This game blew my mind. I expected some simple zombie shooter/train management sim, and instead I get a full-blown narrative experience with a feel that you can just tell is unique to the people who made it. And the people who made it happens to be Russians. You don’t get a lot of games from up there.

Two. It’s definitely a narrative experience. I hesitate to label it simply a zombie shooter/train management, as it’s so much more than just its mechanics. In fact, I’d say while in most cases stories work in service to the gameplay, here its gameplay is the one that serves the story.

So yeah, I’m most impressed. If you can read Indonesian, a full review is incoming. If you’re an English-speaker, well, I might be compelled to say a couple more things about it later.

Where I talk about myself, the internet, and the need for kindness

I was never a very talkative person. As a kid I was intimidated by every single person around. I spent the first sixteen years of my life being scared of people. I guess in a way, I still am. Some days I still tread the world as if it’s out to get me, as if anyone I ever say anything to will find fault in what I  say and do and will point them out and yell and cast me out. I know now that it’s irrational, but no matter how hard I try to put it away, that childhood fear will come out and tangle itself around me.

So for most of my life I kept quiet, kept to myself. I read a lot. And then, when I was nine, or eight, I discovered the internet.

I guess, I just realised, that I must be the first generation to do that: to raise myself on the internet. I raised myself on message boards, on online communities of people who have never met and will never met but can become the best of friends. Later, I raised myself on Twitter, on anonymous boards, on articles and news scattered across the internet, down to the comment sections. I read what others say, I read how others think, I read the words people write to try to explain their thoughts. The human mind is capable of so much thoughts, abstracted through all the senses, impossible to completely be expressed in words, so we have to choose what to express and hope against everything that our audience can derive the rest.

It was a wonder, really. The internet. How so many people can see so many other people beyond geography, beyond psychology or physiology. Your face, your age, your gender, your nationality don’t matter in the internet. Only what you say.

There was a time when some of my best friends live on the other side of the planet. America, Australia, Europe. And our conversation went slowly, one reply a day, thanks to the lag that is time-zone difference. I didn’t realise it anything strange at the times. I like talking to them, writing to them. I didn’t think it extraordinary that I have to wait overnight for people to reply because I’d be asleep when they’re awake.

And they came in all ages and faces and status. Some of them are adults, some kids. They could be a Caucasian or a Filipino or a native American, but none of that mattered. I never imagined them as faces, as the people I found on the streets. I was afraid of the people I see, afraid of what they could do. But these people I meet on the internet, I didn’t see them for what they look like. I see them through their words. It formed how I see people now: as a people, with hearts and minds, no matter what face they have, what they were born like.

Yeah, there’s a lot of bad things on the internet. I’ve seen people rage for no other reason than to rage. I’ve seen people spewing hate and breeding hate, sometimes just because they could. There is an idea, I heard, that people do that because they could do it under an identity completely separate from their real one. That idea sounds completely alien to me. What you do is you, whether you’re doing with the face that you take to your nine-to-five job or the face that you wear on Saturday nights, talking to strangers that you thought will never be hurt by what you say.

No one can ever really escape hate. There will always be someone who will take you down just because they can. But through the words of the internet–which might look less harmful than a stone or a kick, but can actually have just as significant an effect–I learn which fight to take on, which to leave. When to stand my ground and state what I think, and when to step down, admit defeat even though I don’t believe I have to, for the greater good.

The world is big. So so terribly big. And it’s filled with so many people, so many thoughts, so many point of view. There is always a place where you can belong, always somebody out there who share your thoughts and feelings. The internet is a blessing. Books can give you a window to another world. The internet lets you become a part of it.

Growing up on the internet, I live my life holding on to this: Be nice. Be courteous. Be kind. Understand others. The world is big enough for everyone.

Further ramblings about Shadowrun

Late night rambles because I need to say this before I forget about it.

Harebrained Scheme’s Shadowrun is, I swear, the weirdest game experience I’ve ever had. Or, not weirdest, that’s not the right words. It’s how it’s experienced that’s weird, and how that experience just kind of mounts and evolve over time.

I ranted earlier about how its narration and its visuals are always at odds with each other, how the art is a handpainted beauty, but the loaded descriptions just nullify anything that they could be. I still maintain that that’s true, but it really could be solved just by looking at it the other way. You ain’t supposed to just go from Point A to Point B. Shadowrun’s as much a strategy game as it is about sightseeing. You’ve gotta be willing, yourself, to chill out and look around. Even in a high-stake mission. What is even a high-stake mission? It’s a turn-based game and wandering around is a free action.

This is especially more pronounced with Shadowrun Hong Kong, simply because Hong Kong and its related locales are exotic, veritable tourist spots. Harebrained seems to have quite caught on to what could make those sightseeing nice by this point, with the little detail bits, the little neon signs and the Chinese marks.

Not to say that Berlin, in Shadowrun Dragonfall, is a terrible place to look around in. It’s just that after a while–and this must just be my memory. Dragonfall is my first Shadowrun. I’ll get back to that–everything just starts to look the same. The same old buildings. The same old crystal palace office suits. Even the details–the trash cans, the fancy fountains–just kind of blur together. Hong Kong has a unique theme going on. Berlin’s deco are just kind of meh.

I like the graffiti though. It’s just, it kinds of repeat after a bit. Background noise instead of something to go ooh-aah at.

Anyway. It’s not just all that I wanna talk about.

I started with Dragonfall, as I’ve mentioned. In retrospect, it’s not a bad place to start. Shadowrun’s world and lore is a gigantic fist, multiple fists. It’s a lot of things to swallow. So many things. Which is part of what makes the world’s fun, what makes these games fun. You get to pick up so many pieces about how the world works and how its histories run and it’s just a well that never dries up. But it is also, can’t-help-it-mate, overwhelming at the beginning, no matter where you start.

Although ultimately I enjoyed it, I had a difficult relationships with Dragonfall. I don’t like how it goes on its own tangent while I’m just figuring out what the ropes even are. I disliked how its missions just come and goes without anything, in my eyes at the time, mattering in it. And don’t get me started on its battles; I basically made a crap character because I had no idea how to handle its min-maxing, hand-holding-free, character building. Battles are long and hard and very boring.

So I started up Shadowrun Returns a bit of a long while after I was done with Dragonfall. Now this is something that most players are going to disagree: I vastly prefer it to Dragonfall. And it ain’t just because I like Seattle more than Berlin. Returns has structure. It starts off with a mission, and the whole game is you trying to finish that mission, one step at a time. Everything that happens there follow after the one before it. The tension carries, and there’s always a reason to do what you do. It’s one giant story you’re following through.

Dragonfall takes a different route. In there you have a team, a hub, and from that hub you pick up missions, most of which are completely unrelated with each other. Sure, there’s that main story about the Firewing, and there’s all that talk about how there are people hunting you down, but there’s nothing much to support that claim. There’s no tension, nothing to push you forward to do what you’ve got to do. “Raise money” isn’t a compelling enough reason to pick up and go on random missions, completely detached with each other. Dragonfall’s basically a short story collection. And one whose stories albeit interesting, aren’t particularly compelling.

So, impressed as I was at Returns’s structural integrity, I was kind of disappointed that Hong Kong followed the same route as Dragonfall. Some crazy schemes at the end to start it off, but the rest being mostly picking missions unrelated with each other. But this time I already have a grip at the world, at how it works, at how it expects you to work with it. I slow down, smell the flowers, talk to everybody.

And you know what, Shadowrun Hong Kong is probably one of my all-time favourite game at this point.

It’s all the little things that really add up. Heoi, Hong Kong’s hub, is a much livelier place than… whatever that little kiez is called in Dragonfall. Sure, they’re both populated with interesting side characters and vendors who are actually characters instead of just a face and a buy-sell screen. But Heoi’s characters just feel a bit more thought-out. Conversations with them evolve with time, so after every mission, I can just chill out and talk to them and they’ll say something different every time and it really feels like I’m making friends with these guys. Over at Dragonfall, I only feel like I’m scratching a surface, and then suddenly get their life story thrown at me.

At this point it’s ten minutes past midnight and I’m too tired to talk a lot more on this, so I’ll just wrap this up.

Shadowrun starts as something of a novelty: it’s super interesting, but also really exhausting to play. And then it evolves into a, how do I say this… It’s a delicate game. You gotta be in the right mindset to be able to enjoy it fully, otherwise it will actually feels like a horrible mess of reading and weird tactic and wasted visual. But when you get it, it will feels like this perfect blend of everything that made it, from the stories, to its art, it characters, its gameplay and missions and the little details they put all over the place. An unending well.

The music’s still meh, though. But I guess that’s just my personal preference.

A newbie to Shadowrun should definitely start at Returns, if only because Returns has the best structure, has just the right foundation to try to understand the world. After that, you can go crazy in Dragonfall and Hong Kong.

Great games, lemme tell you. Great. Games.

Where I ramble a bit about the dark

Copied-pasted from my journal because I can’t be bothered to rewrite it in a form that makes sense. Just so that the first post in this blog isn’t stupid a rant about passwords

Gone Home. Hey let me talk about Gone Home a bit. It’s basically a game about snooping around a house, right? It’s not at all a horror, or at least I believe it’s not at all a horror. It takes place in a large unfamiliar house, in the middle of the storm, and you’re completely alone. So, yeah. Say what you like, it’s a scary experience. You never know what’s going to be at the other side of the door, and even though the whole time you’ve been there it’s really have been nothing but room after rooms, you can’t just throw out the itch that something’s going to pop up and surprise you at the next turn.

The Stanley Parable has similar feelings, even though you’re basically cooped up in a controlled environment with a convincing voice edging you on. There’s that fear you get that you’re doing something very wrong and the game’s going to catch you red-handed. With a jumpscare. Oh please not the jumpscares.

It could just be me, but I’m kind of scared of things going very wrong. Flying objects that shouldn’t be flying, a shadow that’s not supposed to be there, the narrator noted that you can’t see your own feet in a first-person game. That sort of things.

Anyway, back to Gone Home. Most of the lights in the house were off, so there are that moments of rubbing around blindly trying to find the light switch. It’s blessedly positioned near the door most of the times, but there’s still that small, controlled, rising panic that you’re going to be stuck in the darkness. And even when you turn the lights on there’s that moment of holding your breath, wondering what you’re going to find in the room. Wondering where you’ll find yourself in.

Stark contrast, I suppose, to games like, letssee, BioShock. Or at least BioShock after the first few hours. You get used to the flickering lights and the mangled corpses and zombified people trying to kill you. It didn’t get any less grotesque, good job BioShock, but it lost that sense of flailing-in-the-dark as Gone Home is. Which I guess a good thing considering how BioShock is played, so yeah, good job you two.