Games I Played in January 2024

Games
Sean and Daniel Diaz in Life is Strange 2. (Source: Square Enix.)

Life is Strange 2 (developed by Dontnod Entertainment) exists within the same universe as the first Life is Strange, but presents a different set of characters. Like the first game, the player interacts with people and objects in the world and makes choices that affect the final outcome of the narrative — but the impact of those choices feel so much more weighty here.

What fascinates me about the gameplay in Life is Strange 2 is that the game positions what might otherwise be the sidekick to the main character as the main character. Sean Diaz (in his teens) is the older brother to Daniel (9 years old). When a confrontation with a racist neighbor leads to a cop shooting their father and a strange explosion, Sean takes his brother on the run with the aim of reaching their father’s property in Mexico. Eventually, the two brothers come to realize that Daniel has telekinetic powers — and Sean is forced to make choices to protect his brother and help guide him through the world.

Playing as Sean, the player does not have direct access to the use of these powers. Instead, the player has the option to instruct Daniel if and when to use his powers and how to use them (to save or harm others). These interactions, combined with a variety of other smaller choices (such as whether or not to steal, beg for food, allow Daniel to curse, etc.), impact Daniel’s sense of morality and how he sees the world.

Choosing whether to send Daniel to beg for food. (Source: Square Enix.)

The gameplay, in other words, is basically parenting — or the closest that a big brother can get to it in woefully difficult circumstances. Sean makes sacrifices to take care of his brother, with all of his focus on his brother’s health and happiness, except in rare moments when he is able to have some space and friends to himself.

Many games operate under the illusion of choice, balancing the need to grant the player interactivity and options and the need to maintain a cohesive and meaningful storyline. While playing Life is Strange 2, I assumed that the outcomes were mostly inevitable, with the choices being mostly about emotional impact. And I wasn’t entirely wrong about that. There are certainly choke points that hold up the narrative structure and keep events moving forward — but after looking into alternative outcomes to various events in the game, I discovered more variety than I realized. There are some significant differences in how events can turn out, some better and some far, far worse. In addition, there are multiple endings (good or bad), depending on the choices made and how Sean guides his brother’s moral compass.

In the grand scheme of things, I believe my play through may have been the best possible outcome — at least, it’s the best outcome considering these characters exist in a world that is unfair and unjust. I thoroughly enjoyed Life is Strange 2, and I would argue that it is one of the most impactful games in the Life is Strange series.

Chris, aka Captain Spirit. (Source: Square Enix.)

The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit is a free demo for Life is Strange 2, and features one of the side characters who appears in Episode 2 of the main story. Chris is a young boy, who escapes the hard reality of his life (the death of his mom and his alcoholic dad) by escaping into the fantasy of being a superhero. During the gameplay, Chris puts together his superhero costume as Captain Spirit, helps with chores around the house, explores his backyard, and plays a variety of games. Some of the most compelling moments are when the player is able to activate Chris’ imagination and pretend to use his powers or when he transports himself into an imaginary world, where he can battle evil. While this demo does not have any direct impact on the main storyline, playing it does provide deeper insights into the character, revealing background information that the player wouldn’t know without having played the demo first.

I also jumped back into God of War (Sony’s Santa Monica Studio) this month with the idea that I would mainline the story, so that I could move on to the sequel. After getting back into the rhythm of the gameplay, however, I found myself getting excited about exploration of this beautiful mythological world all over again. So, yeah, I’m back into it and loving the experience. Every father-son moment grabs me with its humor and/or pathos; it’s just such a good story and game.

Getting Over It continues to be the bane of my gameplay experience. I mean, I’m still really stuck at the same spot, but I’ve advanced a few inches and it’s enough to make me think that I could possibly maybe get past this aspect of the challenge. It gives me enough hope to keep going — for now.

In the realm of little indie projects, House of Poems is a small Twine game developed by Kyra Jaeger, which plays in browser and takes 10-15 minutes (ish) to complete. The interactive story is presented in poetic form, inviting the player into an ethereal fantasy that leads them on a journey into discovering witchyness and their own personal power.

If you’d like to know about the rest of recent culture I consumed, including books and TV, you can check out my Culture Consumption for January.

Books on Game Writing and Development I Read in 2023

Books

My full list of books I loved in 2023 includes a mix of fiction, graphic novels, and poetry. But I also spent a significant amount of time reading to help improve my craft in games writing and narrative design. Here are the books I read and loved in that regard.

Writing for Games: Theory & Practice by Hannah Nicklin is a fantastic book for anyone interested in delving into writing stories and developing narratives for games. She provides a solid theory for storytelling and story structure and explains how these basic elements fit into the development of games. Taking into account the various ways in which people learn best, Nicklin presents this information in a variety of ways, including case studies and a practical workbook with exercises designed to allow the reader to apply the knowledge they gleaned.

Ten Games I Loved Playing in 2023

Games

It’s been a great year for me when it comes to games, and I found a ton of wonderful game experiences that I loved — making the selection of my favorites a bit challenging.

I started or continued playing 32 games in 2023. Of these games, I completed 23, leaving seven unfinished and ongoing games (specifically two mobile puzzle games that don’t have a proper end point). The unfinished games include: Fallout: New Vegas (Obsidian Entertainment), Starfield (Bethesda), Baldur’s Gate 3 (Larian), God of War (Sony’s Santa Monica Studio), Dishonored (Arkane Studios), Yakuza: Like a Dragon (Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio), and Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy (Bennett Foddy).

Most of the games that I played were released prior to 2023, and because of this, all of the games on this list were also older titles. I explored a number of gameplay genres throughout the year, from adventure games to bullet hells to puzzle games. Among my favorites, my interests tended toward survival horror, narrative-intensive adventure games, and casual puzzle games.

Continue reading on Once Upon the Weird…

Games I Played in December 2023

Games
Image Source: Remedy Entertainment

I adored Alan Wake (Remedy Entertainment) and the way it weaves a creative meta narrative into its gameplay. Alan Wake is an author of thriller novels, who has found himself facing depression and anxiety due to writer’s block. Hoping for a reprieve, Alan and his wife Alice travel to a small town, called Bright Falls, Washington. As soon as they arrive in this quaint community, however, things go horribly wrong. Alan wakes up in a car accident with no memory of what happened during the previous week and his wife missing. While desperately searching for Alice, he must face off against darkness-possessed enemies attempting to kill him.

Games I Played in November 2023

Games

My month is games has been a bit all over the place, with me bouncing between difference games at whim — so much so that I haven’t really played more than a few hours in any of them and I am now in a position of having too many games to try to complete at once (since I’ve got other games in flux, as well). So, I’m really hoping I can finish off a couple of these off before I find anything else shiny to start playing. 

In the early part of the month, I kicked things off with Dishonored (from Arkane Studios) and Yakuza: Like a Dragon (from Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio) just days apart from each other, and I was quite enjoying exploring the tonal differences between the two games.