I don't think that Capcom and Naughty Dog realized just how topical their 2020 releases of Resident Evil 3 and The Last Of Us Part 2 would turn out to be. Both games were released in the spring and summer, as a strange novel coronavirus (believed to have jumped from Chinese bats to people) began to spread within the United States and the rest of the world. Both games are about zombie apocalypses, and were released at a time in which large portions of the global economy had been shut down, and residents were expected to essentially shelter in place in their homes for weeks or months to prevent the spread of the pandemic. The 2020 pandemic (which is still ongoing 18 months later, despite the widespread availability of multiple vaccines), provided me with some unexpected context on these two games.

Check out the video essay version of this post on YouTube.

Both games are zombie apocalypse games, and zombie fiction is often based around fears and anxieties of societal collapse in one form or another. The original Night Of The Living Dead channeled the anxieties of nuclear Armageddon, and filtered them through the lenses of both McCarthy era Communist witch-hunts and a degree of racial tension. George Romero's Dawn Of The Dead channeled fears that consumerist culture would lead to toxic behavior that is not only self-destructive to the individual, but also to society at large. Zombies in other fiction might represent anxieties about racism, sexism, socialism, technology gone amok, and so forth.

Zombie fiction is usually inspired by contemporary fears surrounding societal collapse.

Video game zombies are no different, and they can represent any of those anxieties from a simple narrative standpoint. Because games are an interactive experience, zombie games can even explore anxieties about a loss of individual autonomy in ways that non-interactive media would struggle to approach. But I'm not here right now to talk about zombie games in general. I want to talk specifically about the pare of blockbuster zombie games that released last year, during the height of a real-life pandemic.

Both Last of Us games express concerns about the increasingly myopic "us and them" mentality in American culture and politics and the apparent inability of many people to empathize with others and see their point of view -- or even their humanity. And Resident Evil, as a series, channels anxieties about the self-destructive nature of the corporate desire to make profit at all costs, and then use their vast wealth and lobbying power to cover up their unethical activities.

Regardless of the messages intended by the developers, playing both of these games in 2020 made it really hard for me to not look at them both through the lenses of my own anxieties about the contemporary pandemic situation that we saw (and continue to see) ourselves in. It was a situation that neither game's developers could have foreseen (even though scientists, public health experts, and futurists have been sounding the alarm bells for the inevitability of pandemics in our increasingly globalized world). Anyway, since neither Capcom nor Naughty Dog could foresee that the games would launch in the middle of a real-world pandemic, they didn't really design their games around the ideas and anxieties of a real-life pandemic, and I think that shows through clearly in both games.

Neither REmake3 nor The Last of Us 2 are really about the pandemics of their settings.

After all, it would be so much easier to deal with a pandemic if we could clearly see the spread of the disease in the way that characters can in Resident Evil and The Last of Us. It would be so easy to isolate and quarantine individuals if infection caused their skin to almost immediately start rotting, or if we could see with our naked eyes the little coronaviruses coming out of people's mouths and noses when they cough, sneeze, or breath. And it would be so much easier if the disease itself were only transmitted between people through invasive physical contact such as a bite. But none of that is true in this real-life COVID pandemic. In light of a real-world pandemic, it seems almost silly that the fictional pandemics of Resident Evil and The Last Of Us could possibly lead to such widespread societal collapse, and the pandemic itself is of little concern to the player.

To be clear, what follows represents my personal contextualization from playing Resident Evil 3 and The Last of Us Part II during the COVID pandemic. These impressions do not represent my opinions on the actual quality of the games on their own merits. You can check out my reviews of both games, or check out my video on the "Lessons Capcom Learned for Resident Evil 3". I understand that neither game is about the pandemic. All I'm saying is that having played them during a pandemic highlighted just how not about the pandemic they actually are.

The lessons Capcom learned for Resident Evil 3.

Needless to say, there will be some minor spoilers for Resident Evil 3 (remake) and both Last of Us games. There will also be some spoilers for Metal Gear Solid V and Death Stranding. Reader discretion is advised.

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I recently posted a new video to my YouTube channel about my frustrations with the design of Control's "challenging" gameplay. I'm not going to transcribe the entire video here on the blog because most of what is in the video is already in my previous written review of the game.

In summary, the video compares the "tough but fair" design philosophy of From Software's games (most notably, Dark Souls) with the way that difficulty is implemented in Control. Even though I found Control to be a much easier game overall, and I suffered far fewer deaths in Control compared to Dark Souls, I did feel that Control lacked that "tough but fair" feeling that Dark Souls is famous for. Control uses a lot of seemingly cheap tricks to artificially inflate the difficulty of the game. If deliberate, then they are cheap tricks. If not deliberate, then they are faulty game design. I may not have died as often in Control, but the few deaths that I did suffer rarely felt deserved.

The full critique is available on YouTube.

The video also contrasts Control's healing system with that of Doom (2016) and Bloodborne. All three games seem to be trying to encourage fast-paced, aggressive play by rewarding the player with health for relentlessly assailing the enemy. Yet this intent doesn't come through as clearly in Control because the player needs to be close to where the enemy dies in order to pick up the health, but most of Control's action is done at medium or long range. Doom and Bloodborne, however, give health to the player when the player performs melee attacks, ensuring that even if the health is dropped on the ground as a pickup, that the player is always close enough to immediately get it if they need it.

One thing that I neglected to mention in the actual video, but which I want to add here, is that Control also has enemies with hit-scan weapons. Most enemies have machine guns that instantly damage the player if the enemy has line of sight. Attacks are not always projectiles that travel across the arena and which can be dodged, blocked, or otherwise avoided. This means that exposing yourself to crossfire is almost certain death if your health is critical in Control, and it contributes to the player needing to slow things down and play cautiously and defensively, instead of maintaining that fast-paced, aggressive play.

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Madden NFL - title

I don't think I've ever played a football game that feels like it truly nails special teams play. Madden has been especially bad at this phase of football for a very long time, and has largely neglected it year-in and year-out. Every now and then, a release comes out that focuses on special teams, but the upgrade is never as comprehensive as it should be. I was considering making a video about all of special teams, but that's too big a topic to tackle in a single video, so I decided that it would be best to make shorter videos that each focus on specific aspects of special teams play.

While drafting the script for my previous video about pass blocking and pass rushing, I had started thinking about issues with blocking and rushing in special teams, and thought I'd do a video about one specific specialist position that has been a personal crusade of mine for quite a few years now. I'll surely discuss more of Madden's special teams failings in future videos. But for today, I want to talk about how Madden completely fails to do justice to an oft-overlooked and under-appreciated specialist position: the longsnapper.

The full video on YouTube contains additional commentary and examples.

I'm looking at this specific position for two reasons:

  1. I played on special teams in high school and worked alongside our longsnapper. He spent extra time before and after practices honing that skill.
  2. And the 2nd reason I'm covering this topic is: unlike other highly specialized positions like holder and kickoff coverage gunners, Madden actually includes Longsnappers as a position in the depth chart, but has never included any mechanics or rules that actually make the longsnapper a meaningful position on your team, or which differentiate who is a good longsnapper versus who is not.

As for my high school teammates on special teams: there were several of us who never would have seen playing time if not for our special teams duties. Instead of resigning ourselves to a life on the bench, as some other reserves had done, we carved out niches for ourselves, so that we could see more playing time. We worked hard to earn our positions, and the coaches noticed the hard work (especially if it was extra-curricular in nature), and they rewarded us with extra rotational reps on both offense and defense in relief of tired starters. My experience has lead me to respect special teamers, probably much more than most football fans.

Some of us reserve players would have never seen playing time if not for our specialist roles.

A Knee-Jerk Reaction

I remember proposing a "Longsnapping" rating on a YouTube comment or Madden forum like 6 or 7 years ago, and received absolutely vitriolic responses that largely boiled down to "having the outcome of a game decided by a random fluke like a botched snap would be horrible game design." It's a sentiment that does makes a certain degree of sense. Determining the outcome of a match by a die roll does seem like it would be bad video game design -- at least, outside of digital craps.

But hold on a minute. Is it really bad game design...?

Running backs have a rating that determines their likeliness to fumble. Quarterbacks have several ratings that determine the accuracy of passes. Receivers have several ratings that determine their likelihood to catch a pass. Linemen have ratings that determine if they whif on a block. Defenders have ratings that determine the likelihood of missing tackles. DBs have ratings that determine whether they blow a coverage. Kickers have ratings that determine if they miss a kick. Every player has ratings that determine if they get injured on any given play. All of these ratings can affect the outcome of a play or an entire game based on a random die roll. Heck, even coaches have ratings that determine how much players develop in the offseason or how likely free agents are to sign a contract. Ratings semi-randomly deciding the outcomes of games or entire seasons is apparently OK for literally every other position both on and off the field, but somehow having a rating that determines if a snap or special teams hold is botched is a bridge too far?!

Nobody complains about other positions having ratings that can randomly decide a game.

To be fair to the critics: if you're playing a 5 or 6-minute quarter pick-up game online or in Ultimate Team, and each team is only getting between 3 and 5 possessions the entire game, it does make sense that you wouldn't want your one and only attempt at a punt or field goal to go awry because of a fluke like a botched snap. In such a shortened game, it would swing the game wildly in one direction or the other, with little-to-no time or opportunity for a team to overcome such an unfortunate outcome. (I keep saying, every installment in this series is probably going to refer back to that first essay about quarter length.)

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Madden NFL - title

In the previous essay in this series about how Madden fails to simulate football, I discussed how QBs in real football go through their progressions to find open receivers to throw to. And then the second half pulled a bit of a bait-and-switch and turned into a pitch for the return of the QB Vision mechanic, or something analogous. Surprise!

I also briefly talked about how the goal of the defense is to cover the primary receiving threats long enough for the pass rush to disrupt the play. In the best of cases, the defense can cover the receivers long enough to sack the quarterback, or force him to make a bad throw into coverage that is intercepted. But sacks and interceptions aren't really the goal of the defense. The defense will, of course, be happy to take them when they happen, but no defensive play is really designed to force a sack or an interception.

The full video on YouTube contains additional commentary and examples.

Truth is that a lot of relatively mundane outcomes can be complete successes for the defense. Forcing the QB to throw before he can make his reads and set his feet so that he throws an inaccurate ball is a success. That is true whether the QB deliberately throws the ball into the sixth row of the stands, or if his rush to release the ball puts it inches out of reach of the receiver's outstretched fingertips, or if his inability to set his feet results in a weak, wobbly ball that bounces harmlessly at the receiver's feet. Or maybe the defense tips the pass or knocks it down such that the play gains no yards. All of those outcomes represent unqualified defensive success.

Defenses don't need sacks or turnovers to "win" a series.

If a defense can do this for three consecutive plays and force the offense to punt, then the defense did it's job, even if it isn't flashy, doesn't show up in a Chris Berman highlight reel, and doesn't light up a stat board. Heck, even forcing a check down that is completed for positive yards, but which does not result in a first down is still a success for the defense! Especially if it happens on 3rd or 4th down.

Of course, the defender who wants to pad his stats with a sack or interception, and get a big payday next time contract negotiations come along, might disagree.

EA's Madden video games apparently disagree as well. Since the pace of play in Madden is sped up to facilitate the shortened length of quarters, gaining yards and making first downs is really easy for the offense, but yet sacks are paradoxically too common.

Get used to hearing statements like that. Quarter length and game pacing was the first essay of the series for a reason! -- because it really is so fundamental to almost everything that is wrong with Madden. I would not be surprised if every single essay of this series will refer back to that first episode at least once or twice!

For much of Madden's history, pass rushers either have no impact on the play (because the QB can see the entire field and can hit any receiver on the field with the press of a button), or the pass rush downs the quarterback for a seven yard loss on a sack. Sometimes two or three times in a row if the game's scripting or an X-Factor ability decides that the defense should win this particular possession.

Playing Madden on 15-minute quarters, it's not uncommon to see each team pile up 5, 6, or 7 sacks by the end of the game. For reference, good NFL defenses usually average 2 or 3 sacks per game. You can adjust the difficulty level or the "Pass Blocking" A.I. sliders to reduce the frequency of sacks, but then this leads to the opposite problem of the pass rush being almost completely irrelevant, and QBs having the opportunity to complete more deep shots that inflates completion percentages, passing yards, and final scores.

On 15-minute quarters, it is not uncommon to see each defense record 5 or more sacks.
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I do not have particularly strong opinions one way or the other about the video game sub-genre known as "walking simulators" in general. I have strong opinions about some of the games that I've played within this genre, but I would not say that I either like or that I dislike "walking simulators" as a whole genre. Some work well and are good games. Others are un-engaging or lazy and didn't particularly work for me.

For example, I hated Dear Esther and Ether One. I was immensely disappointed in Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs, after having enjoyed The Dark Descent. But on the other side of the coin, I thoroughly adore Gone Home, Firewatch, and What Remains of Edith Finch.

Patrons had early access to the full video essay.

Are "Walking Sim" games?

So what is a "walking simulator"? Well, like with most things in pop culture, the definition will vary depending on who you ask. But I think most people would agree that a "walking simulator" can be accurately described as interactive entertainment that conveys a narrative almost exclusively through the exploration of an environment and the clues provided therein. You may notice that I used the term "interactive entertainment" as oppose to "video game". I did this in order to keep this discussion's definition as non-contentious as possible. One of the criticisms of walking simulators that I specifically wish to address is the idea that they are not video games, and such critics would immediately object to the use of the term "video game" in the definition. These experiences generally lack any of the violent conflict that is present in most video games, and the mechanics rarely go beyond navigating obstacles, solving puzzles, or managing a limited inventory.

While I am perfectly content to call walking simulators "video games", there are somewhat valid arguments for why the label might not be appropriate for such entertainment products. It could be argued that they are not video games because they lack conflict; they lack a traditional win state, fail state, or any stakes at all; and they lack mechanical depth or complex systems. I personally do not accept these arguments as disqualifying walking simulators from consideration as "video games". There are plenty of universally-accepted video games that also lack one, or even all three of those criteria.

Many games have lacked violence conflict, traditional win states, or complicated system mastery.
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A gamer's thoughts

Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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