Tag Archives: Bioshock Infinite

The Best Tutorial I Ever Played

Tutorials are the worst.

“Use the right stick to look around.”

“Hold left trigger to aim down the sights.”

“Press A to jump.”

Yeah, we get it. Most of us have played a video game before, we know what to do. Even if we hadn’t, I think we are probably intelligent enough to figure it out. Pressing a button to see what it does isn’t exactly rocket science.

Nevertheless, almost every modern AAA title has a tutorial, and almost without exception they are incredibly dull. Most developers seem to treat game tutorials like a chore; a mandatory but creatively unsatisfying feature that is simply a requirement in shipping a modern video game.

But they don’t have to be. They can be a creative an integral part of the game if done thoughtfully. A good or even great tutorial is supposed to be an introduction, a starting point. Most games take this a little too literally. They don’t even start players on the ground floor of game literacy, they take players to the sub-basement, telling them how to do every one of the game’s basic functions over the course of the first few minutes and then shooing them along so the “real” game can begin.

Maybe if we just rebranded tutorials into introductions they would collectively improve. A great “tutorial” isn’t only about familiarizing players with the game’s controls, but also introducing them to the world and characters they are about to explore and meet. Like I said, an introduction. Some games do this better than others, but there is one tutorial that I can say without a doubt does it better than nearly any other game I’ve played: Bioshock Infinite.

Say what you want about the game’s over-the-top violence (which annoyed some) or it’s linearity (which annoyed others) but Bioshock Infinite boasts the only tutorial in recent memory I could describe as being perfect (Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon comes in at a close second.)

What is so great about it? Everything.

(Spoilers for the first 30 minutes of Bioshock Infinite below)

Players before reaching the tutorial have already wandered about the floating city of Columbia and taken in some of the sights. Everything seems normal; kids play in the street, paperboys hawk papers, couples chat on street side benches. Despite appearances, there is a lingering sense of discomfort that something about Columbia just feels “wrong.” Before long you arrive at a fairground, with posters and signs promoting some kind of special raffle. You see, Columbia is celebrating it’s Independence today, and you’ve arrived just in time for the festivities.

Upon first arriving at the fair you are given your first vital piece of information about playing the game: the seemingly magical potions called Vigors, serving as the Plasmids of Bioshock Infinite. What are they, and what all can they do? Well step up on up and learn for yourself, the game invites, as a professional salesman standing atop the stage begins to promote his products. “One swig, and feats of wonderment are at the tips of your fingers!” The game shows, not tells, as two men dressed as devils use Vigors on one another in front of the stage to demonstrate the different abilities available to the player. Over the course of the presentation the salesman drops several names which will continue to appear throughout the game, specifically the character of Jeremiah Fink.

After watching the demonstration the player moves further into the fairgrounds and discovers a small area to freely explore, filled with a variety of games and activities. Almost immediately a salesman directs your attention to “Cast The Devil Out,”  a game whose name and objective, like nearly everything else in the city of Columbia, draws upon religious symbolism. It’s here players get the chance to familiarize themselves with using Vigors for themselves, an essential part of combat in the game. Using the “Bucking Bronco” Vigor players are tasked with knocking “devils” hiding behind furniture into the air. Even before using it themselves the game salesman gives players his sales pitch about Bucking Bronco, explaining its potential uses and power with his enthusiastic flair.

Around the corner is another opportunity to learn more about Bioshock Infinite’s combat in the form of a shooting game called “Bring Down The Skyline Vox.” Once again the game in name and purpose continues to expose players to important concepts, in this case the skylines players will be using later in the game to zip around the city and the introduction of the “evil” rebels called the Vox Populi. Players are tasked with grabbing a shotgun and blasting a certain number of cardboard Vox Populi targets off the rails, letting players familiarize themselves with Bioshock Infinite’s gunplay.

Often times concepts important to understanding the world of Columbia can be found in the fair multiple times, just in case a player misses out on one activity. In addition to the skyline featured in the shooting gallery, a non-interactive exhibit discussing Columbia’s skylines and their use in transporting goods is also on display. An additional shooting game continues to reinforce the idea of the Vox Populi as villains, even including the important side character and Vox Populi leader Daisy Fitzroy as a special target that can be shot for extra points.

Better yet, doing well in these “tutorials” cleverly disguised as carnival games grants you rewards like additional money. This gives players an incentive to actually explore everything the fair has to offer.

Even after playing all the carnival games there is still plenty left to see. An exhibit with mechanical horses show the technical capabilities of Columbian inventors, paving the way for the game to introduce the heavily armed motorized “Patriots” that players fight later in the game without having to overly explain why. The game’s audio logs, Voxophones, are introduced and explained in a humorous way with player character Booker recording a Voxophone of his own and then spouting the line to the salesman, “Just so we’re clear, I’m not paying for this.” The colossal Handyman, one of the game’s most challenging enemies, is also on display for players to witness and learn more about before having to face one in combat a few hours later.

Minutes after leaving the fair comes the controversial “raffle scene.” It serves as the conclusion to Bioshock Infinite’s introduction. Picking a numbered baseball from a basket as your raffle ticket, you wait as Jeremiah Fink (the same character responsible for inventing Vigors and introduced just minutes before) announces the raffle winner. Lo’ and behold it is number 77 — your number. All the while the player is curious, “What did I win?” The reveal comes as a shock, quickly followed by a sense of discomfort and revulsion — your prize is the “honor” of giving first throw at the public stoning of an interracial couple. It’s in this moment that the uneasy sensation creeping just below the surface of Columbia comes to light. This is the real Columbia. After Fink and guards catch a glimpse of the “A.D.” tattooed on the back of your hand as you attempt to either throw the baseball at the couple or at Fink,  the game begins in earnest. Players grab a skyhook and melee their way out of the area before truly starting their adventure in the dystopia of Columbia.

All the information in the game’s fair “tutorial” is presented to you, not forced upon you. That is the key here. While the game does give players a quick cartoon demonstration of how to use new Vigors upon acquiring them, several of the Vigors have already been explained and demonstrated in a non-intrusive and interactive way long before players even get their hands on them. Important characters, game concepts, ideologies, and the true nature of Columbia itself have been revealed naturally as the game went along, not as walls of text appearing in the middle of your screen or journal entries. By the time Bioshock Infinite really begins, it’s likely you didn’t even realize you had played a tutorial. You were simply absorbed in the world Irrational created and ready to explore it further.

Bioshock Infinite proves that tutorials can be an integral part of the game experience and don’t have to be a mandatory afterthought. In fact, the fair, raffle,and scenes leading up to both are my favorite parts of Bioshock Infinite, even taking into account how much I enjoyed the game’s combat and dimension hopping storyline. Video games need more tutorials like this. Gamers are (generally) a smart crowd. We know how to shoot and jump. We know how to crouch. Developers, tell us something we don’t know. Tell us about the world you’ve created, the characters you’ve populated it with. If you do have to tell us how to play, make it part of the game, not separate from it. That’s all I’m asking. If you follow Bioshock Infinite’s lead, modern games will be all the better for it.

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My Top 5 Games of 2013

This year was a pretty huge year for gaming – it’s not every year that two next-generation gaming machines hit store shelves, and few console launch’s have been as heated or as controversial as the debate among gamers about the merits or flaws of the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One. But even though much of the news centered around Microsoft’s and Sony’s clash of the titans, this year’s best games aren’t to be found on the newest pieces of hardware. No, this year I found the best gaming experiences to be the small, short, and often thought provoking independent game titles that I could pick up for $15 or less and play in an afternoon. Below are my top five video games of the year, with number one being my Game of the Year.

5. Injustice: Gods Among Us

Fighting games have a certain affliction which seems to plague them year after year – lack of single player content. The most recent example of this is the Xbox One launch title Killer Instinct, which features absolutely no arcade or story elements. To me, a primarily single player gamer who still enjoys the skill and complexity of a good fighter, this is a problem.

Thankfully Netherrealm Studios, the makers behind the excellent 2009 Mortal Kombat, know how I feel. When I learned they would be making a fight based in the DC Comics universe, my expectations as both a comic and fighting game fan were sky high. What Netherrealm delivered was Injustice: Gods Among Us, a visually stunning fighter filled to the brim with content, both online and off. While most fighters provide bare bone single player experiences or none at all, Netherrealm delivered a full length story mode, complete with voice acting, cinematics, mini-games, and what I would call the best alternate DC universe storyline in the history of DC Comics. Coupled with the S.T.A.R. Lab challenge missions, tons of unlockables and plenty of online matchmaking options and Injustice is not only the best fighting game of the year but one of my favorite games of last year as well.

4. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

Assassin’s Creed III let me down. It really didn’t fulfill any of it’s promises. The controls were sloppy and unresponsive. The main character Connor showed no emotion or complexity. The storyline, with it’s constant shoehorning of Connor into practically every pivitol event of the American Revolution, is boring at best and cringe worthy at worst. If this was the future of the Assassin’s Creed franchise, I wanted no part of it. But among all the crap was one shining beacon of hope, the naval missions. Soon rumors began to surface that an Assassin’s Creed pirate game was in the works, drawing heavily from the naval combat of III and expanding it and perfecting it. I told myself I would come back to the franchise if the rumors were true.

The rumors were true, and I came back to the franchise with arms wide open. I don’t regret it. Black Flag is an improvement on III in just about every regard, with more precise controls, beautiful visuals and a more captivating historical background. I feel a little guilty including this on my top game list. Black Flag’s narrative isn’t very impressive. It is sometimes confusing, and for the most part doesn’t accomplish much or move the storyline of the franchise any further. What is does do however is provide the ultimate escape from reality. It is so easy to get lost in this digital version of the Caribbean, exploring every nook and cranny. Who hasn’t dreamed of sailing the high seas, free as can be, with your crew of pirates and friends, doing what you want when you want? Now after nearly 100 percenting Black Flag, I can safely say it is not only the best and most polished Assassin’s Creed game, but also the best pirate game in gaming history.

3. Bioshock Infinite

A long time in the making, Bioshock Infinite let some with too high of expectations down. Some criticized it’s violence or it’s linearity. Others compared it to it’s predecessor, saying the floating city of Columbia wasn’t as interesting or as well done as the sunken dystopia of Rapture. I beg to differ. The themes of race, American exceptionalism, and religion found in Infinite I found to be much more captivating and thought provoking than the economics of Rapture. Throw in the sci-fi element of alternate realities and the idea that one choice, one single act, can change the course of one’s life entirely and you have me hooked. The gunplay is just entertaining icing on the cake.

Infinite is on this list, despite it’s flaws, because it made me feel uncomfortable. Entering a temple dedicated to Abraham Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth, made me uncomfortable. Being asked to lynch an interracial couple made me uncomfortable. The level of violence Booker directs towards his enemies, violence he can’t seem to control, makes me uncomfortable. If something in a game makes me uncomfortable, it is probably doing something right, and Bioshock Infinite hit just enough right notes to make it one of my top games of 2013.

2. Gone Home

There is no combat in Gone Home. No mini-games. Almost no voice-acting. It takes only about two or three hours to finish.

Which is exactly why Gone Home is so brilliant. Players occupy the body of a young twenty-something girl coming home from an extended trip across Europe. While she was away overseas, her family moved into a strange new house, and when you arrive nobody is home. Cryptic messages tell you not to snoop around, and to definitely not go up to the attic. What follows is a simple game of exploration, finding documents, notes, and other clues that help the player piece together what has happened to this family, in particular your younger sister Sam, who is the author of many of the notes lying around the house.

I loved Gone Home because I wasn’t sure what to expect. I finished it in one single, intense and focused sitting as I searched every inch of this spooky and foreign empty house. The game throws curveballs at you, at times making you think it is something it isn’t. At the end, the very real and very strong feeling of dread I had before opening the door to the attic was something I haven’t felt in a video game in a long time. Gone Home is important because it shows games don’t have to be about guns or violence. They don’t have to last 30 hours to be considered “worth it.” And they don’t have to be told in cinematics that take you out of the experience, but rather can be told simply through the gameplay. For all the reasons above, Gone Home is one of my favorite games of 2013.

Game of the Year – Papers, Please

Papers, Please is an indie game about stamping passports. And reading rule books. And verifying birthday’s and expiration dates.

Sound exciting? Not really, but place these mundane sounding game mechanics in a dystopian country called Arstotzka, reminiscent of Cold War Soviet Russia, where you work as an immigration official on the border and things get complicated quick. With one simple “Access Granted” or “Access Denied” stamp can save or ruin somebody’s life. Do you deny this man entry because his paper’s aren’t up to date, even though it would separate him from his wife and child? If you let him through your job might be on the line, as every mistake you make cuts into your already measly paycheck, which you must use to pay for food, heat, and medicine for your family. Do you accept bribes? Do you detain innocent people because you get money for every three people detained? Do you help rebels trying to smuggle agents into the country? Every chapter of Papers, Please includes more heart wrenching choices like these than any other game I’ve played. The consequences of your actions are near immediate and painful. For more than half of the game I wasn’t able to provide both heat and food for my family. Soon all of them were sick, and I was forced to allow my uncle to die so I could have enough income to buy medicine for my wife, son, and mother-in-law. All of this is told in in the retro aesthetic of the game were people for the most part are just pixelated silhouettes and 90 percent of your time in the game is spent at a desk staring over documents.

This simple gameplay and clean interface, combined with it’s social commentary on security checkpoints, full body scanners, privacy and immigration law, makes Papers, Please without question my game of the year. Check it out. Glory to Arstotzka.

What games were among your favorites this year?

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The Point(lessness) of Pre-Orders

Looking back, I can’t really remember the first game I pre-ordered. I don’t remember when the trend started or the first game to feature pre-order bonuses. However, I do remember why pre-orders were originally created – to ensure you got your copy of a game or console on release day.

This, except in very few circumstances, isn’t the case anymore.

Games continue to be big business. Unless you live in the middle of nowhere, chances are you can find the majority of game releases on launch day just about anywhere, whether it be Wal-Mart, Best Buy, Target, or Gamestop. Interestingly enough, almost every one of these retailers use pre-orders in some shape or form, despite the chances of being sold out of a particular game day one are slim.

Preorder Bonus

So what exactly do gamers get out of pre-ordering?

Well, to be honest, not much.

Say you want to pre-order a game from GameStop; let’s use Bioshock: Infinite as an example. You are, for whatever reason, disillusioned and afraid of not being able to find a copy of this major game release on launch day. So you stroll on down to your local GameStop to ensure you will be zip lining through the skies of Columbia come launch day. When asked how much money you want to put down on the game, you flop a five dollar bill out of your wallet and hand it to the cashier. No big deal, right? As a freebie for pre-ordering you get this wonderful in game shotgun – neat.

So what did that five dollars do exactly? Well, the idea is that your hard earned five bucks is ensuring you get the game day one. But if the retailer is getting a large shipment of the games in, what’s the point of spending money to ensure you are going to get something you would get anyway?

Game companies and retailers get plenty out of it though. Pre-order numbers give both game publishers and retailers a rough idea of about how many copies a game will sell upon launch. For retailers, there is a reason the trend has caught on in recent years – GameStop, Wal-Mart and every other game retailer is basically getting free money while providing you with almost nothing in return.

Your five bucks is essentially buying (the majority of the time) a useless in game item. Worst case scenario your five bucks is completely wasted if you A.) Forget to pick up the game or B.) Simply don’t want the game anymore.

So when does it actually make sense to pre-order? Usually when you know there will be a limited supply of the item you want in stock, such as Collector Editions of games or newly released game consoles. These are much harder to come by and you will most likely not get one if you do not pre-order. Midnight releases also require pre-orders. If you can’t wait an extra 9 or 10 hours to get your hands on the hottest title and your retailer is doing a midnight release, it might be worth it to pre-order.

Another reason to pre-order is when a pre-order bonus is actually appealing. Pre-order bonuses emerged as an incentive to pre-order the game, and later attract consumers away from the competition by providing better or different bonuses specific to the retailer. Most of the time they are complete trash, an additional weapon skin or maybe some extra in-game money. There are, however, occasionally some really cool pre-order bonuses. I know I’m not the only one who remembers the excellent Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker pre-order bonus – a copy of Ocarina of time and Master Quest. Sometimes you can get some really cool real life swag from pre-ordering. I recently pre-ordered the DC fighting game Injustice: Gods Among Us to pick up a couple of cool alternate reality skins. Russian Solomon Grundy anyone?

Ultimately though, pre-ordering just isn’t worth it. There is very little point in buying car insurance if the chances of getting into an accident (magically) are zero. Same goes for pre-ordering. If it’s a mainstream, big game release, don’t pre-order. I guarantee you will get a copy – and your wallet will stay a little fatter as a result.

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