Man, it’s been a while since I put some fiction up on this site. Time to fix that. Here’s the first few pages of another story of mine I’m fond of, and probably the most normal story I’ve ever written ( so no hearse drivers talking to the dead in this one). Hope you dig it. 

They sat at the edge of the waterfront, legs dangling over side of the marina with toes pointed to the ocean below, a bottle of champagne open and bubbling between the both of them. Oliver had undone his tie and untucked his shirt long ago, and his suit jacket was now tightly wrapped around Alice and her thin red dress. Oliver spent the better part of his week in his suit, typing numbers into spreadsheets ad nauseum, listening to his co-workers groan about management and their children’s baseball coaches. But now, even with the cold wind rising up from the waves lapping against the shore, he couldn’t help but admire how it looked draped around her shoulders.

Alice laid down and gazed up at the sky, another taste of warm champagne sliding down her throat, her curly strawberry blonde hair falling onto her shoulders. If it weren’t for the wedding ring on her left hand or the smidge of make-up she had under her eyes to hide her wrinkles, no one would scarcely believe she was thirty-three. Oliver wouldn’t, and neither did most of the men at the reunion, who had flocked around her like dogs begging for their master’s affection. She humored them for a while, but when she saw Oliver the past came rushing back, and it wasn’t long until they had left the others in the cramped dining hall and were on their own, galavanting around their teenage hang-outs and catching up old times.

They each took another sip of the champagne, their hot breath escaping into the cold night air, the alcohol coursing through their blood bringing them long past the point of small talk.

She smirked. “ Admit it, I was the best lay you ever had.”

Oliver said nothing, only smiled and stared up the darkened sky.

She pinched his arm. “ Come on.”

“ I don’t know what to tell you,” he laughed. “ You were good.”

“ I was the best,” she said, running her fingers through her hair. “ The best.”

“ Top three.”

She shook her head. “ So smug.”

He brought the champagne to his lips. “ Aren’t I?”  He took a swig, the pale amber reflecting the moonlight of the bottle. He put it down and wiped his mouth. “Delicious.”

“ Well, you weren’t even in my top twenty,” she said with a smirk, throwing her hair back behind her head.

“ You have a top twenty? My, you’ve been a busy woman.”

“ Oh please.”

She grabbed the bottle and chugged the last bit of it, burped, and then tossed it into the ocean where the currents carried it away.

“ Impressive,” said Oliver. “Even if you did just litter.”

“ I always thought so, though few men have found it as charming as you.”

He laid back on the ground alongside her. “ You remember…when was it…maybe 10th grade. We came out here—me, you, Randy, Carl—and all went skinny dipping?”

She rolled her eyes. “ I bet you do.”

“Please,” he chuckled. “ you’re not bitter, are you?”

“ No. I just find it funny that a bunch of teenagers had to pretend to want to skinny dip to see girl naked.” She flashed him a glare.

“ That wasn’t it,” he said blushing, “ we thought it’d be fun.”

She laughed. “ If I remember correctly, you all covered up your manhood until we were neck deep.”

He shook his head. “Well, best laid plans…”

Silence. They both stared at the water, listening to the waves lapping up against the shore, each of them fidgeting and struggling to find the words to say.

Alice sighed. “Jesus Oliver, when’d we go and get so damn boring?”

He laughed. “ You always had a way with words, Alice.” He stood up shakily, the champagne making it’s presence known, and leaned against the guardrail. “ I don’t think we’re boring.”

She adjusted her dress. “ What’s the last exciting thing you did?”

He bit his lip. “ Well…I went to Venice last year. Gorgeous.”

She crossed her arms. “That doesn’t count.”

“ Of course it does.”

“ No, it doesn’t.” She got up began to pace back and forth. “You planned it—you thought about it, figured out how to do it, saved up for it, and then,” she snapped her fingers, “ you went. That’s not exciting.”

“ And what is?”

She threw her hands up. “ I don’t know. I don’t—it can’t be planned. Spontaneity, doing something just to do it. It hits your brain—bam!—you do it. No planning, no thinking—pure reaction.”

“ Sounds a bit silly.”

“ That’s the point! We went and became grown ups and for what? A steady paycheck? Pension?”

“ I thought it was your husband who worked?” Oliver said with a grin.

Her face went red out of both embarrassment and guilt—guilt because she’d been having such a good time she’d forgotten about him. David, sleeping peacefully in their bed after their argument—of course he didn’t get a sitter—while she had gone to the reunion alone. Then the thought passed that if he had actually come she would’ve seen Oliver, talked for a brief minute or two and left.

She was glad he was sleeping.

“That’s not the point, and it’s not funny either,” she retorted. “ I’m serious. We’re not meant to be housewives and accountants.”

“ I guess I was always partial to being a fireman.” He laughed at his own bad joke.

She looked at him in the eye and smiled. “ Come on, let’s do something crazy.”

Oliver waved his hand.“ I’m not driving.”

“ Not that. And stop being such an old fart!”

“ I’m not old.”

“ You certainly act it.”

“Pfft.” He sat down against the guardrail. She walked over and kicked him in the ribs lightly.

“ Come on, get up.”

He held his stomach.“ You know, it’s not smart to kick a man with a belly full of champagne.”

“Forget smart—let’s go have fun.”

“If you’re thinking of jumping into the ocean right now, you can do it by yourself. Just take the jacket off.”

“ Just—come on, let’s walk!”

 I’ve never believed that with age comes wisdom.

As far as I’m concerned, the town drunk could live to be 90, but that doesn’t mean you should listen to him about diversifying your stock portfolio. Sure, he might be able to tell you the cheapest place to get liquor, but on the whole, I believe people are still just as clueless about life at 70 as they were when they were 20.

I’m especially wary of taking career advice from most adults. I’ll listen to my parents most times ( since they have a vested interest in my success) and some select few whose opinions I really trust, but other than that, I might as well be deaf.

Why? Because most job advice from adults comes from a place of unhappiness and misery.

Let me explain.

Yesterday I went and visited some of the Occupy Wall Street happenings near my job ( don’t worry, this isn’t going the political route). Protesters were congregating in Madison Park, and had brought professors from universities around the area to teach free lessons to the public.  

In NYC, opinions on Occupy are pretty divided ( as they seem to be for most of the country), and as they gathered,  groups of people would walk by yelling at them.

“Get a job you lazy peice of shit!

“I work hard everyday so you can sit around? Fuck you!”

“Mcdonalds is hiring! Learn how to flip burgers!”

So yeah, not everyone’s happy with the protests.

Anyway, there was something…funny, I noticed about the people yelling at their protesters. Most were around 30, if not older, and for many you could tell exactly wear they worked–a parade of starbucks uniforms, office attire, construction helmets, and janitorial jumpsuits.

On the whole, they were people who ( with rare exception) don’t like their job.

Yes, we can argue on some of them ( perhaps the constructions workers) enjoy what they do, but nobody over 30 wants to still be shuffling papers or fetching someone’s coffee. And yet they were the predominant group shouting down protestors who are trying to create dialouge about the dearth of job options and  inequal distribution of wealth. Perhaps there were  some protestors merely taking advantage of the situation and not working, but on the whole they are a dedicated group of people who clearly don’t like the current job situation most Americans face.

This is why I don’t listen to most grown-ups: there advice comes from a dissatisfaction with their own job, and after a while they stop believing that you should be happy with what you do as well. Yes, you could say that many adults can explain the pitfalls they fell into and help you avoid them, but more often than not they don’t. Instead, a ton of advice is based around complacency.

Let me give you an example: Last year ( just before graduation) I met my friend Thor at a bar. While we were there, we were tended to by an older friend of his, John, who was approaching 35. He started asking us about what we wanted to do in the future, and what we studied.

“English.  The most useful of all majors,” I joked. ” In the end I want to write for videogames.”

” Oh…that’s, uh, interesting.” I couldn’t tell if he didn’t think that was possible, or was one of the many who hadn’t seen a game since the days of Super Mario. ” Well, good luck.  You never know where you’re going to wind up.  I double majored in French and Spanish and  I’m working here.” He shrugged his shoulders, and then went back to serving other customers. It took every ounce of willpower to avoid cursing him out.

“What do you think of him? Nice guy, isn’t he?” Thor asked.

I turned. ” I think that if I ever hear another adult tell me about how they failed and I shouldn’t upset when I do, I’m going to flip the fuck out.”

“What?”

“This guy just said that both of us probably won’t ever get where we want to. And you know what? I get it. You’re unhappy that you’re still a bartender. But fuck that. If you actually were fluent in French and Spanish, you would have a fucking job that involved that. Don’t try to make me okay with not succeeding.”

Misery loves company. When people begin to think “well, I have a shitty job and deal with it, so you should just get a shitty one and deal with it”, we have major problems. Too many adults are not doing what they dreamed of, and all too often their advice only sets up the next generation for failure.   That’s why people clearly unhappy with with their work are yelling at protesters to just shut up and fall in line.  If anything, that will be the hardest demographic for Occupy to win over–the group of discontented 30 and 40 year olds that believe that’s not only that it’s how the world works, but how it SHOULD work.

A professor I admire once said, ” Nick, there’s nothing more depressing than watching the people you grew up with getting used to being unhappy.”

More and more, I feel the same way. You spend most of your life working, so for the love of God do everything you possibly can to make that time worthwhile. I’m not saying you necessarily need to take to the streets and protest, but please don’t become content with bullshit, or even worse, try to make others content with it. Maybe I’m talking out of my ass here ( and I’m sure a bunch of you will disagree) but I think most advice from those older is designed ( either accidently or on purpose) to derail you.

I don’t know. What do you think?

So I recently completed Batman:Arkham City, and found it a wholly underwhelming experience compared to the first game. I wrote an article about why and posted it to Gamasutra ( seen here) and opinions were mixed to say the last. Some people agreed, others wanted to take a bat to the side of my head. Anyway, figured I’d post it here since I’ve been a bit light on the game criticism lately. 

Batman: Arkham City is not as good as Arkham Asylum.Now I know that the amount of enjoyment someone has with a game is a largely subjective experience, and that many people are going to disagree with this statement, but I can’t help but feel that it’s an inferior product in many ways. Arkham City tries very hard to improve on the original—especially with it’s larger world and grander scope— but it does so sloppily, oftentimes making contradictory design choices that render aspects of the game irrelevant.  More is not necessarily better, and the lack of focus leads to the core gameplay and story not coalescing together as tightly as in the original, especially when it comes to the integration of stealth.The stealth/hunting segments of Arkham Asylum were some of my favorite parts, simultaneously ratcheting up the tension, while giving the player enough power to make them feel like a hunter slowly picking apart at his prey. Unfortunately, these sequences did not carry over well to Arkham City. Not only are these scenes fewer in number, but they don’t provide the same gameplay balance as they used to.In the original, stealth segments were your way of getting around goons with guns, which could tear Batman apart in less than half-a-second if you got caught in the crossfire. This led to juxtaposition between hand to hand fighting with “physical” baddies, and having to sneak around and stealthily take out gun wielding enemies. It helped in both switching up the gameplay, as well as rounding out Batman as a character. He’s not an immortal superhero—he’s a just man. While he may be able to take a punch better than most of us, bullets are just as deadly to him as you or me.

In fact, I actually liked the last sections of Arkham Asylum the least because stealth was de-emphasized in favor of combat, eventually putting you in fights WITH gun-wielding guards. While that does seem like a natural evolution in gameplay, it only serves to undermine the threat you were originally avoiding. You can argue that Batman became stronger throughout the game, and could now more cunningly take on those adversaries, but in terms of story, Batman gets the living shit kicked out of him before the night is over ( just look at his cape), and it’s odd that he’s suddenly more capable later on. Barring that, even if was just to increase the pressure/difficulty of fights, all it served to do was wreck the (until that point) pitch-perfect balance between stealth and fighting.

The problem is magnified Arkham City, because in order to not repeat the pacing of the first game, the player is forced to do battle with foes armed to the teeth before even hitting the halfway mark. This throws a major wrench into the sequel’s balance. Why?  Simply put, you’re not as threatened. You learn to deal with “gunners” much sooner with your fists, and as such, the need for the stealth mechanic evaporates. And while you can argue the designers did try to add some other wrinkles to keep you in the shadows, they don’t work as well. Take hostages as an example: many sequences have the enemies taking hostages, warning that if you come close they’ll shoot. However, they’re not an effective threat because you can punch out every enemy in the room, and as long as you just creep up on the guy holding the innocent, you’ll be okay. In addition, while one could argue that you can approach many of the open-world aspects in a stealthy manner, the pre-scripted levels/indoor sequences very much emphasize combat over stealth, which would make it a deliberate design decision to diminish it.

In fact, for me, I found that Arkham City emphasized all the parts of Asylum that I didn’t think it should. There is significantly more combat, and you’re forced to do battle with greater numbers of foes much earlier in the game than in the original. Some would argue this is part of the necessity of the sequel—you can’t ramp up the difficulty in the same way, otherwise players who enjoyed the original will get bored. But for me, it just served to make combat more repetitive and unwanted. I simply didn’t want to have to have another backyard brawl with a dozen enemies—it’s not fun, it just gets boring quickly ( the mad hatter sequence comes to mind). Batman’s combat system works well, but it’s not particularly deep, and forcing players to use it so much makes it that much more obvious where it’s shortcomings lie ( especially in the majority of the boss fights, which are primarily one-on-one encounters, and not what the system was built for).

Going past the stealth and combat, there are other aspects of the design that don’t make sense. Why, for instance, is it halfway into the game before you get the line launcher? Batman orders several equipment drops throughout the game, and even though he realizes he’s going to be traversing a large city, doesn’t order this effective travel gadget for many hours. And then when he does, there was no reason for it, be it narratively ( he decides to get it out of nowhere), or in terms of you knowing about an upcoming challenge that would require it. It’s literally the designers saying, “Well, now you’re going to need this item, cause you’re coming to an area we designed that requires it.” In fact, one of the major things that bothered me was how there is so little context to WHY things happen, in either the design or the narrative.

When it comes to the plot, it suffers from all the problems of sequels—it’s too sprawling, there’s too many characters, too many locations, and too much history shoe-horned into the story. The open world gets in the way of the narrative by making it more disjointed than the tightly constructed plot of the original, which, while containing a pretty big cast of characters, was focused squarely on the Joker. In this one, way too many elements are added via dues ex machina that both come out of nowhere, and made less and less sense. The game simply does not set-up many of its plot turns effectively. For instance, when a game that has mostly been grounded in the “real world” (as real as you can make it) suddenly tells me I need to hunt down a several hundred year old man to get a sample of his blood ( someone who hasn’t even been mentioned in the story until now) eyebrows start to raise. I understand his role in the comics ( I’ve have several Batman die-hards explain it to me) but that doesn’t change the fact that throwing this character into the plot out of nowhere, and making a large portion of the story REVOLVE around him is amateurish at best. It screams sloppy fan service, and reinforces the overall feel of things being cobbled together as opposed to being thought-out and interconnected.

Lastly, the game’s final plot twist is random and ineffective, and I’m honestly shocked at how many praised it. Plot twists are supposed to make you reconsider what you thought occurred, to have you reinterpret events with new insight—this plot turn does not. Slight spoiler warning, but I want to pose this question: Why did Joker even need this red-herring to “get the drop” on Batman? It seemed like he could’ve done fine without it. And perhaps I missed something, but why didn’t he just drink the cure when he had it in his possession? While the final fate of the Joker was pretty well done, this abrupt and unnecessary turn dampened its shine.

Now, I don’t want too act as if I hated Arkham City. I enjoyed some parts ( the Mr.Freeze fight comes to mind) and while I do think there are some areas that were improved  from the original( it’s ambient storytelling is second to none), I can’t help but feel it was a step back from Asylum in many ways, yet somehow garnished more praise. It seems as though Rocksteady started with plenty of great ideas, but when it came down to it, couldn’t decide which ones to eliminate to craft a more cohesive experience.  I know I’m in the minority on this, but I really hope Rocksteady takes a better look at what made its first game work so well, and tightens the focus in the next one.

Man, it’s been a while hasn’t it? About 5 months as a matter of fact.

Time for some catching up.

Long story short:  I’ve been working like my heart’s going to stop if I put the pen down. 60-80 hour weeks have become the norm, between working part-time at the Juvenile Diabetes Cure Alliance, 10-15 hours a week on freelance gigs, and another 40 at Touro College to support the other two. Shit, I’m getting exhausted just looking at that. And while output has been slow in recent months with the sheer amount of things I’ve had to do, lately I’ve had a real creative streak ( have some new story things to post shortly).

On the fun side of things:

I participated in the Global Game Jam, which was one hell of an experience. Definitely cemented my desire to work in the Game Industry.

Gone to a bunch of comedy shows lately–last night I even went to a Comedy Central taping off “John Oliver’s New York Stand-up Show”. Was a good time, though strange ( they film everything out of order because they do several episodes in one night).

Going to PAX East next month. Should be a good time/nice opportunity to meet some contacts.

Finally shipping out some new short stories now that I have the money to pay for 35-50 dollar reading fees. Good not to be counting pennies for grocery money anymore.

Anyhow, gotta run, but will definitely have some updates later this week. In the meantime, here’s a video I just wrapped up for the Juvenile Diabetes Cure Alliance that I’m pretty proud of. The amount of man hours that went into this two minute video is a little terrifying, but worth it.

See you soon.

Figured it was about time to upload a few more creative samples. This is the first five pages from a short 30 page play that’s almost finished ( gotta crunch to make the competition deadline). The format is a little messy ( damn wordpress) but it still works.  It’s a small sample from the start.

I hope it makes you very uncomfortable. 

Couples Therapy

By: Nick Masercola

NOTE: Throughout the play, the word REACT will be written as an action. Wherever it occurs, it means the characters are responding to a question posed by our nonexistent psychiatrist.

(The stage is sparse. In front of us, center stage, is a couch. Art sits on the left, Lily on the right—as far apart from each other as possible. Arty wears a cheap suit. Disheveled, like he just ran from work. Lily wears a green dress, make-up. She dolled herself up for the occasion. The only light is around the couch. They look at the audience. Arty fidgets, occasionally glancing over to Lily with a look of disdain. She sighs heavily.  Arty starts to tap his foot. It echoes.)

LILY

Would you stop that?

(He flashes her a glare, and stops. A few more moments of uncomfortable silence.)

ART

I still don’t get why you dragged me here.

LILY

You don’t get it? At all?

ART

Therapy is—I talk. You talk. God you can talk. We can talk about this—about us—by ourselves.

LILY

(To audience)

You see? He did it just then. You see how he slipped in that little comment?

ART

Hey now! Wait a minute—you expect me to sit here and not have anything to say about it?

LILY

That’s not—

(To audience)

You see? He doesn’t get it. He’s so damn thick. He get could get into a car crash with the point and still not see it.

ART

Hey, wait a minute—now whose judging who, huh?

LILY

Oh please.

ART

(He sighs.)

This shit again.

(Looks at audience.)

Sorry. Stuff.

LILY

My stuff? Me being upset because of the way you act, that’s my stuff? You don’t care. You don’t—

ART

I care! I care plenty. I showed up to this goddamn—er, goshdarn—thing anyway. I’m here. I’m present. So talk to me. Tell her what you couldn’t tell me by ourselves.

LILY

(Beat. To audience.)

We uh…we’ve been having some problems. I know it’s a bit silly to say I mean, why would we be here otherwise, right?

ART

I could use a nap.

LILY

(Stares at him.)

You’re not funny.

ART

I’m not trying to be, I’m tired.

LILY

(Bites lip.)

Anyway…we could really use some help. Really.

(Reacts as if asked question).

How bad are things? Well…I don’t know if I could really you know…it’s not something I could put a number to—

ART

Nine. Definitely a nine.

LILY

Why don’t you do the talking if you’re going to keep interrupting me?

ART

Oh, you’re going to let me talk.

(To audience.)

She’s mad cause I broke a plate. There.  Can we go?

LILY

You didn’t just break a plate. You threw it.

ART
Okay, so I threw a plate. We have more.

(Reacts.)

Fight? Yeah we were having a fight, but it’s not like I threw it at her. I…it was like a…it was just something there. I was mad. I was fucking—er…listen, I’m gonna need to swear for this thing, I can’t play by these kindergarten rules. I swear at my job, I swear in my house—

LILY

In front of the kids…

ART

(Flashes her a glare.)

Yes, oh perfect wife of mine. I’m sure you’ve never, ever, ever done anything in front of our kids they shouldn’t have seen. Maybe—

(Reacts to audience.)
Fine, fine. So I threw the plate.

LILY

Across the kitchen.

ART

Fine, I threw the fucking thing across the kitchen. We can buy a new one.

LILY

That’s not the point.

ART

I know that’s not the point, but I don’t want to talk about the point with this er…shrink staring at me the whole time.

(To audience.)

I know…this looks bad, I know. I’m not a bad guy. I can be a bit…temperamental.

LILY

A bit.

ART

But I’m not bad. I just lost it.

(Reacts.)

What were we arguing about? What else is there to argue about—money.

LILY

We’ve been having a difficult time keeping up with the mortgage.

ART

Keeping up? Hell, we couldn’t keep up with that thing if we were in a cop car.

LILY

Art hasn’t been getting as many sales at work lately, so we’ve had to cut back.

ART

Don’t…don’t blame this all on me.

LILY

(Sighs.)

And my income has been a bit light too.

ART

Light? Please I…

(Reacts to audience.)

My job? I work at this place called Otto’s. It’s a bit of a ways up the highway. It’s an alright gig.

LILY

(Disdainfully.)

It’s a car dealership.

ART

Yes baby, it is a car dealership. You care to tell the shrink what your moneymaking profession is?

LILY

That’s not funny.

ART

No. It isn’t. There’s not a damn thing funny about it.

LILY

(Beat. To audience.)

I uh…I write poetry.

(Reacts.)

Where could you read some?

ART

Her computer. Or the trash bin next to it.

LILY

You’re a real son of a bitch sometimes, you know that?

ART

What? I thought we were talking about our problems? Being honest? And I’m honestly sick and fucking tired of working a job I don’t like only to hear the glorified bum that I married complain about it. You spend all your days at home writing that crap—

LILY

Crap?

ART

–That doesn’t make us a dime. It doesn’t even make it out of the house!

LILY

I don’t…I’m a writer. I take care of the kids. I cook, I clean, I—

ART

Yeah, yeah.

LILY

Well fuck you then Art! Fuck you! If you hate it so goddamn much why don’t we just get a divorce and say to hell with this whole thing!

(He stares at her, unsure just how serious she is. She reacts to the audience.)

I…I’m sorry I…that won’t happen again.

(Reacts.)

I…we’ve talked about it. I’ve certainly thought about it. But with the kids…

ART

We…at least agree that we don’t want to do that to them.

(Beat.)

We got a real uphill climb here doc.

It’s been a little since I’ve added to the blog, so this week I decided to post a new game article I wrote ( along with a some more creative samples a few days from now). An issue near and dear to my heart, this article is about the slow removal of good platforming from modern action titles.

WHAT’S WRONG WITH PLATFORMING?

BY: NICK MASERCOLA

Dear Gaming Industry,

Is everything okay? You sure? I’m just checking, because I’ve been noticing a disheartening trend in a lot of your newest AAA titles. Yeah, yeah…I know you’re really focused on the combat, and that’s nice and all but…what’s happened to platforming in your games? A slew of big titles were just realized that emphasized platforming and environment traversal as major gameplay elements and they…well, fell flat. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that in the attempt to widen the gaming audience, traditional environmental navigation has been all but neutered in today’s AAA blockbuster’s into a boring, tedious mess devoid of challenge or fun.

I know you don’t want to here this, but someone needs to address the issue—even incredibly well received games have badly implemented platforming. Don’t believe me? Take a look at Uncharted 2.  Considered to be a crowning achievement the year it came out it features platforming that is quite frankly, poor at best. One button does all of the work for you. There are very few obstacles that enforce player skill, such as collapsing platforms, or the need to scale something within a time limit. Hell, there’s not even any skill needed in either determining where to proceed next. There is very little timing required in your leaps, and more often than not you’d have to truly force Nate to jump in a direction he’s not supposed to. Some people call this streamlined design—I call it pandering and pointless.

An even worse offender was last year’s Enslaved. I’d say platforming and environmental navigation takes up a good fifty percent (if not more) of the game, and it is quite possibly the most atrocious I’ve ever played in a game designed around it. You literally cannot jump in any direction other than the one you’re supposed to. All of the parts of the environment you need to go to are highlighted, and there is almost no need to time any of your leaps. Hell, in the few sections where you’re scaling an object that is collapsing, you could literally complete it by waggling the analog stick and mashing on the x button. In the words of Zero Punctuation, “ there is no challenge to this. This is not platforming, this is just walking down an unusually shaped corridor”. Trimming down navigation to such a degree is both a wasted opportunity for the developer (both in time, money, and design) and a chore for the player. How are you supposed to feel any sense of achievement if what your doing requires little to no skill? More importantly, why do you want to continue playing the game if it seems like you’re barely interacting with it?

More and more games are approaching platforming this way, and it makes me worried for two reasons. A: That we’ll be stuck with a bunch of titles that are padded out with dull, lifeless navigation sections that do nothing for the game. Or B: That platforming will eventually be phased out of most modern action games. That too would be atrocious, as quite frankly, this break-up in gameplay is often quite necessary to keeping a game’s pacing interesting.

And here lies the conundrum:  how do we keep platforming interesting, challenging, varied, yet accessible to most players? To figure this out, I’ve highlighted two games that (in my opinion) have fantastic environmental traversal, and will explore why they succeed where others fail so often.

1. God of War 3

An odd first choice, I know.  While mainly a game focused around combat, this sequel upped the ante on both puzzles and platforming, and the standout sequence where you chased after messenger God Hermes managed to be both exhilarating, challenging, and rewarding without ever overwhelming to the player. How does it manage this? For one thing, unlike the previous games, there are two primary buttons used for platforming. The X button both jumps and glides, and the R1 button cause Kratos to swing and slide down walls. When compared to games that only use one button for platforming, it’s shocking how much more of an impact this has on how the player perceives their actions, as alternating between buttons FEELS significantly more impactful and challenging despite the controls being relatively simple. Apart from controls, the design of this sequence uses two important elements. The first is that you are chasing someone, so already there is a sense of urgency to the platforming that you don’t have in most of the game. Secondly, many sections you are navigating across are dangerous—not only must you chase Hermes, but you must scale a rapidly burning bridge, jump across treacherous falling platforms, and dodge debris collapsing around the area. It’s bombastic enough to be exciting but never overwhelming, challenging without being frustrating. Lastly, it combines all the skills you’ve learned up until this point in the game. They key in that sentence? Skills! It’s next to impossible to design a sequence this memorable when you give the player almost no input on their actions. This section allows a sense of satisfaction that other, less skill-based platformers fail to achieve, while still keeping in line with the rest of the title’s twitch-action gameplay.

2. Infamous

I think most would agree that the best part of this superhero simulator is simply getting around the environment. The original game had two great platforming sequences—one where you scaled a prison, and the other where you climbed a mammoth tower in the center of the city. Both were memorable, enjoyable, yet still provided a bit of challenge. How is this possible? Well, once again more than one button is used (X is jump, R1 is fly), but in the end, Infamous uses far more context sensitive movement than God of War. Hop on an electric wire and you’ll zoom across it, but if you jump on a sign you’ll scale it like a raccoon. Yet even with most of the platforming being context sensitive, it still manages to be engaging. Why? Because in Infamous, navigation is like a dance, and the better you get at platforming, the quicker you traverse obstacles. Not only that, but much of Infamous’ platforming relies on figuring out how you scale something as opposed to the mechanics. It choosing the route, more than completing it. And during sequences where you have little choice (such as these set-pieces) the platforming requires precision ( if not necessarily much timing) because the game will not simply shove you into the direction of the next handhold. You can die and fail easily in both of these sections, yet restarting is quick and painless, and when you scale either of these massive structures, you feel like you’ve accomplished something because you’ve used everything (climbing, jumping, flying, sliding) to navigate them.

So what have we learned makes platforming engaging, challenging, and rewarding?

  1. Use more than one button for navigation. However seemingly small a design choice, this makes the player feel as if they have much more input over their actions.
  2. The player must be able to fail. Handholding to the point where you have to use all of your might to make the character jump the wrong way isn’t good design, it’s what a leash is to a dog—restrictive.
  3. On top of that, there must be danger. Be it traversing dangerous areas, running across something on a time limit, or just death waiting below, that element must exist. Sounds simple, but many games are failing to implement this. If there is no possibility to fail, then success means little.
  4. Lastly—and here’s where things branch off—is your approach to set pieces. God of War’s platforming-sequences are memorable because they are approached as action-scenes. They are balls to the wall, fast-paced, and just as intense as many of the fights you’ll come across. Infamous approaches platforming more as a puzzle—rarely is their any sort of pressure to navigation, and the majority of traversal is simply figuring out how to get where you want to go.

This is at the heart of why these games succeed where others have failed. In both Enslaved and Uncharted 2, rarely is platforming treated as a set-piece. When it is, the lack of any other interaction past the x button removes most of the skill. And lastly, neither of them approach their platforming as a puzzle often, handholding you to the point where it’s obvious how you have to proceed, and there’s only one way of doing it.

Bottom Line: Gaming Industry, take the training wheels off. Don’t hold my hand so much that I literally can’t jump anywhere I’m not supposed to, and don’t diminish platforming to just one skill-destroying button. There’s no point in wasting development costs on poorly implemented platforming that’s just going to bore gamers into a coma. I mean hell, we’ve been doing this since the days of Mario—do we really need a refresher on how to make traversing and environment fun and challenging? Developers, please take note.

Today I woke up and plucked a nose hair because it was too long.

Fuck.

There are two things I’m afraid of. One is bees. I got stung in the eye by one when I was five, and to this day will shriek like a little girl if one comes near me. The second thing? My dad’s body hair.

My dad is a hairy man. Very hairy. Like, if you saw him in the woods without his clothes on, you’d probably shoot him thinking he was a bear. And all my life I’ve been trying to dodge the Masercola curse–copious amounts of thick, jungle-like hair that all the men in my family are covered with. I mean hell, I’m taller than anyone in my family, paler, skinnier than most, have diabetes ( and no one else does), so chances seemed good that I’d manage to dodge this sucker.

No dice. Nose hairs are coming in. I used to have slight chest hair, now it’s trying to form a freedom bridge between my upper chest and my pubic hair. And worst of all, I’ve seen little sprouts start on my back–tiny little hairs popping out of my skin like warning shots, preparing me for the volley to come.

Lately I’ve been feeling old, and I think this is the step in me starting to look it. This also proves my dad wasn’t lying when he said that it wasn’t for a while after puberty that he started growing all his hair ( I just thought he was messing with me to keep me worried). But now it looks like I’ll fall victim to the Masercola hairiness, and with the Swanson baldness (their gracious genetic gift) around the corner, I gotta start enjoying the time before I become a furry half-man beast.

So yeah, kinda random, but worrisome. I’ll have some more writing ( game and creative) on here by the end of the week, cause I’m sure you don’t want any more descriptions of my genetic fears.