Lifeless Planet

Being someone who appreciates good science fiction and has an interest in real-life space exploration, it's easy for me to become intrigued with any game that promises to let me explore an alien world. Lifeless Planet promised to let me do just that, so it was a no-brainer Steam Summer Sale purchase for me last year, despite the mediocre critical reviews.

The basic premise of the game is that you play as a colonist sent to alien planet thought to be rich in life and habitable for humans. You wake up from cryo-sleep to find your ship has crash landed and your two crewmates are missing. Worse yet, the planet you crashed on seems to be a desolate wasteland devoid of life.

Are you even on the right planet? If so, where's all the life?

Lifeless Planet - badlands
And we're off to find our missing crew-mates and figure out why the planet is lifeless.

From here, you set off to follow the tracks of your fellow crew mates in an attempt to find them and figure out where you are. Things get complicated very early on when you find a long-abandoned Soviet village. Wherever you happen to be, the Ruskies beat you to it!

But this just opens up even more questions: how did the Russians get here? And where did they all go? The mysteries behind these questions are supposed to be the driving force behind the game.

The bulk of the game, thus consists of wandering around the various alien landscapes in search of answers. This exploration requires a moderate amount of fairly trivial platforming, and you stop occasionally solve an elementary puzzle.

Platforming is mostly comfortable and works adequately. You have a malfunctioning jet pack that allows you a small boost to elevate you to higher platforms, jump longer gaps, or soften your fall. I had some occasional problems with the character sliding off of the geometry, and there were a couple areas late in the game that required multiple jumps without stopping that were difficult to control accurately. But other than that, the challenge of the platforming was minimal. The intended route is always obvious, so there was never any question about where I was supposed to go.

Lifeless Planet - jet pack
Your jet pack allows you to clear pitfalls and jump over large obstacles.

Puzzles aren't much more of a challenge. They are almost all environmental or physics puzzles that vary from "find the key" to "put the rock in the hole" to "push the boulders". There's nothing here that a grade-schooler couldn't figure out.

The rest of the game is just a steady walk along the linear paths ...

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Final Fantasy - all logos

Despite being great games, the character development systems of many Final Fantasy games have really weird qualities that put them at odds with the games' narratives. One of the things that separates games from other media such as books or movies is that games are interactive experiences. The best games typically have gameplay that informs story and / or a story that informs the gameplay. This is especially true of RPGs, which are generally designed entirely around their stories and characters.

While the combat and character development systems of most Final Fantasy games do have a basis in the game's narrative, some of the Final Fantasy games have gameplay systems that actually pull the player out of the story and create strong disconnects between the gameplay and the narrative.

Yet, we still love these games. That is either a testament to the overall quality of the games, or to the general gullibility of gamers.

Perhaps the two most popular Final Fantasy games are the worst offenders in terms of having gameplay mechanics that aren't well integrated into the narrative.

Final Fantasy VII is widely regarded as best game of the series, and it frequently appears on lists of "the Best Games Ever". Its story, characters, and locations have become iconic. And its primary character-development mechanic, materia, is generally well-received by fans and critics. The materia itself is even a functional object in the game world and an integral part of the plot, instead of just an abstract game mechanic.

Final Fantasy VII - battle
All skills and abilities (except Limit Breaks) are granted by equipping materia,
making all character functionally almost identical.

However, this materia system does have one significant drawback: It severely limits the role of the characters in the actual gameplay.

From a gameplay perspective, the characters of Final Fantasy VII are mostly blank slates. The only mechanics that are unique to characters is their weapon classes and unique limit breaks. The weapons are mostly cosmetic, since the combat mechanics don't differentiate them much. There are slight variations in the number and arrangement of materia slots between characters' weapons, but these are minor differences. Limit breaks are infrequently used and are of little consequence ...

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Miasmata

Although not a terrific game, the indie survival adventure game Miasmata (developed by Bob and Joe Johnson of IonFX) is an interesting title that does deserve to be played by its target audience. It's not a particularly challenging game, but players can back themselves up into seemingly insurmountable holes. Knowing the game's mechanics and rules - and knowing them early - is important to ensuring that you aren't forced to restart from the beginning or give up entirely.

Like with my previous strategy post for Alien Isolation, I am not going to provide specific walkthroughs for the game or any of its specific set piece challenges. In fact, doing so would be even harder than in Alien because Miasmata is a completely open-ended sandbox game. Instead, I will be offering some general-purpose tips that should be relevant for the entire game. This will include some techniques for working around the game's bugs and odd design flaws.

Miasmata - holding objective plant Miasmata - storage bin
Owl statues point towards a cache of medicinal plants, but they do not count as landmarks or show up on the map.

This should be a pretty obvious tip. If you find the plants that are used for the 3 parts of the cure, or the three emphasis drugs, you should immediately pick them and ...

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Silent Hill 3

In my previous blog entry about the history of Silent Hill's cult, I had originally intended to include a small section about the cult's name, as it is accepted by series fans: "The Order". However, it wasn't really relevant to the specific topic of the in-game cult history, since it is a more meta point about the games in general. So instead, I decided to make it a brief independent article:

Silent Hill 3 - The Order
Joseph's article is the source of
the name "The Order".

I am one of a subset of Silent Hill fans who does not like using the term "The Order" to refer to the game's cult. For one thing, the name reminds me of the movie and Homecoming, which causes a resentful knee-jerk reaction. But there are also other in-game evidences to suggest that naming the cult might not have been intentional.

The primary source for the name "The Order" comes from an article written by the journalist Joseph Schreiber which details an orphanage that is run by a sect of Silent Hill's cult.

This article is present in Silent Hill 3 as well as Silent Hill 4: The Room, but there are slight differences in the text of the document in each game. Most noticeably, the name of the orphanage changes between the games. In Silent Hill 3 the article appears in a patient room in Brookhaven, and the orphanage name is given as "Hope House". In The Room, however, that same article gives the orphanage the name "Wish House". It was apparently changed sometime in the development of The Room, or it was mistranslated to begin with.

Silent Hill 4 also doesn't give us any indication as to whether the appearance of this article is intended to retcon the article in Silent Hill 3, or if it players are to assume that the actual text of the article changed at some point after the magazine's publication. Perhaps the article was reprinted in a different magazine and the editor or author changed the name. We don't know if it's the same magazine because in Silent Hill 3 the magazine is closed and we only see its cover and never the page of the article, but in Silent Hill 4 the magazine is sitting open on a desk and we see only the page of the article and not the cover.

Silent Hill 3 - Joseph's article Silent Hill 4 - Joseph's article
"The Order" comes from an article that appears in both Silent Hill 3 (LEFT) and Silent Hill 4 (RIGHT).
But if the name of the orphanage changes between versions, can we trust the name of the cult to be correct?

As far as I can remember, "The Order" is never referred to anywhere else in The Room...

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In one of my earlier posts titled "'Silent Hill' is NOT about 'repressed guilt'; it's about occultism!", there seemed to be some misunderstandings about the interpretations that I offered. For one thing, reader Malik commented:

"I have to disagree. The series has never established the cult as the basis for the goings-on in Silent Hill. It is never explicitly stated that the cult or Alessa are the true source of the supernatural power ..."

The commentor is correct on that point. Though, I don't think I ever said that Alessa and the cult were the ultimate source. If you got that impression, then there might have been a misunderstanding or miscommunication, and I apologize for not being clear. To be clear: I was arguing that the plots of the game were focused on the cult and Alessa, and how they affected this supernatural power -- not that the cult is the cause of the power. I thought about responding with my own comment on that original post, but I felt that it would be more appropriate to just write a new blog article about it, so that I could spend more time exploring the town's history, as it was established by the original creators. So, Malik, I hope you read this. and I hope it makes more sense. I'd love to hear your feedback.

Please note that much of this post is speculation. The games themselves provide very little concrete information about the extended history of the cult and region -- especially prior to the Civil War. The following is all retroactive explanation and may not represent the original intentions of the creators. This will be my own, personal opinion and interpretation regarding the nature of Silent Hill's otherworldly power.

The Place of the Silent Spirits

I never intended to imply that the cult and Alessa created the supernatural phenomena, nor that they are the power's ultimate source. I agree that the power likely existed (in some form) far prior to the events of the first game.

Silent Hill 2 - sacred place
Mary refers to Silent Hill as a "sacred place".

Mary's comments regarding the place being "sacred" in the past implies that early inhabitants (probably the Native Americans) were aware of the supernatural effects of the region going back hundreds - maybe thousands - of years. Since the Natives saw the place as being "sacred" and beautiful, I tend to believe that the power did not originally manifest demons or project people's nightmares onto reality during these periods of history. Instead, I would imagine that the force (whether conscious or not) would have been more benign - maybe even benevolent.

We don't know much about the natives' beliefs prior to the arrival of European colonists, and what little we do know is possibly clouded by the lens of the European colonists and cultists.

Based on what is known about real-world Native American beliefs, it is probably safe to assume that the natives of the Toluca Lake region would likely have worshipped any regional supernatural power as "ancestral spirits" or as "spirits of nature". The Book of Lost Memories can be found in Silent Hill 2 after beating the game, and it supports this idea and tells us about the nature spirits:

Lost Memories
"They called this place 'The Place
of the Silent Spirits'. By 'spirits',
they meant not only their dead
relatives, but also the spirits that
they believed inhabited the trees,
rocks and water around them.
"
     - Lost Memories book (Silent Hill 2)

The name "Place of the Silent Spirits" may simply be an innocent callback to the game's title, or it could be a significant clue. The fact that the spirits were "silent" implies that the natives were not able to talk to it; or at least, the spirits did not talk back. This implies that the "spirits" are probably not a conscious entity. Even though it can apparently react to the thoughts - and even desires - of the people it comes in contact with, it may not have an intelligence or will of its own (which I explained in my earlier post about repressed guilt)...

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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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