Demon's Souls - title

With a new generation of consoles coming into their own, the lifespan of the PS3 and XBox360 is rapidly coming to an end. It's not quite as monumental as the end of the PS2's lifecycle, which is arguably the single best gaming console ever made! With the PS3 and XBox360, our console games started to have consistent online functionality, and with online functionality comes a sad side-effect: a game's life-span is finite. I can always go back and play my favorite PS2 games (like Silent Hill 2, Metal Gear Solid 3, Ace Combat 4, Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, Gran Turismo 3, and Devil May Cry) and have pretty much the same experience that I had the first time I played. But I won't be able to do that with some of my favorite PS3 games, because some of them have online features that won't remain active forever.

favorite PS2 games
As long as my PS2 is functional, I can always go back and re-play my favorite PS2 games.

PC gamers have been dealing with this problem since the dawn of the internet, but they have work-arounds. PC Games can be modded to support direct TCP / IP connections in order for their online communities to stay online. Hypothetically, you could keep your favorite MMO alive for yourself and your circle of friends in this fashion. But with console games, there are much more significant technical hurdles to overcome, and when the producer shuts down the servers, that is basically the end of that game.

And that is exactly what is going to happen some day with my favorite PS3-exclusive: Demon's Souls.

Every console has its defining games - those games that are reasons for owning the consoles. The original PlayStation had Final Fantasy VII and Metal Gear Solid, the Nintendo 64 had Goldeneye, the Dreamcast had Shenmue and Soul Calibur, the XBox had Halo, GameCube had Resident Evil 4 and Eternal Darkness, the PS2 had Shadow of the Colossus. For me, Demon's Souls is that game for the PS3: the game that makes owning a PS3 worthwhile.

Demon's Souls is a game that completely redefined the way that I think about gaming. My ideas about how a player can interact with a game world and with other players were completely turned on their head with this game. So I want to take a moment to pay tribute to this masterpiece of interactive art with a full review while its servers are still up and running. And maybe - just maybe - I can sell a copy or two to some new players.

The gameplay is based on a simple control configuration in which weapons are mapped to the left and right hand and controlled with the left and right shoulder buttons (respectively). The design is reminiscent of a simplified version of FROM's other major game franchise: the mech-combat sim Armored Core. Weapons equipped in the right hand have a basic attack and a heavy attack, and weapons or shields in the left hand have a block and heavy attack (sorry, lefties, no left-handed characters for you!). These basic controls are very simple, and any player can start hacking and blocking away as soon as they pick up the controller. But more advanced controls and variations in weapon functionality make this seemingly-simple combat system very deep.

Each weapon class has different movesets, ranging from the slashing of a sword to the thrusting of a spear, to smashing of a giant hammer. And shields (and some off-hand weapons) have an advanced parry feature that allows you to stun and counter an attacking foe to land a critical hit. You can also attack while running or out of dodges in order to keep a foe guessing. Mastering these various features takes a little bit of time, but it is immensely rewarding when you finally have the skills to go toe to toe with a giant, butcher-knife wielding skeleton with confidence. But don't get overconfident, because this game will punish you for every mistake!

Demon's Souls - Vanguard rematch
With patience and practice, you'll soon stand confidently before the Vanguard that killed you in the tutorial.

If you die, you lose all your accumulated souls (i.e. "experience"), and must restart the level from the beginning! But there is a shining glimmer of hope: you have one chance to reach the spot where you died in order to recover your lost souls. If you get there...

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Civilization V - Gandhi of India

Continuing my series of strategies for Brave New World, I am going to take a moment to discuss one of (if not the) most sorely misunderstood civilizations from the vanilla game: Gandhi's India. India received a very minor tweak in Brave New World (its unique building was modified to provide tourism instead of gold), but the new trade route mechanics radically change the way that India should be played. In some ways, the new features make India feel like a completely new civilization!

The ancient civilization of India is one of the world's most populace and diverse countries. More than 1/6th of the world's population currently calls India home (that's over a billion people!), it is one of the cultural and spiritual centers of the world. India is the birthplace of both the Hindu and Buddhist religions, which make up third and fourth most populous religions today. The less-populous faith of Jainism also has roots in India. In addition to the variety of religions, there are also over 100 distinct languages that are spoken in India! Indian society used to follow a rigid caste system in which a person's status in life is determined at birth. Although this caste system is not enforced (and is actively discouraged by the government), it remains a persistent force in the nation, and still leads to a great deal of prejudice and conflict within the country.

One of the most significant leaders of Indian history (and world history) is Mohandas Gandhi. In the early 1900's, India was under British occupation, and Gandhi, the son of the Prime Minister of the small state of Porbandar, was successful in leading an unprecedented non-violent rebellion to drive the foreign rule out. This peaceful rebellion lead to Gandhi being recognized as one of the most courageous and moral leaders the world has ever known. Indians affectionately refer to him as "Bapu" (translation: "father") in recognition of his role in creating the modern Indian nation. His birthday, October 2, is a national holiday in India, and is celebrated outside of India as the International Day of Non-Violence. Sadly, he was assassinated in 1948 (at age 78) by a Hindu nationalist who believed that Gandhi showed too much favoritism to Pakistan, one of India's bitter rivals. The assassin was tried and executed the following year, and Gandhi's ashes were distributed around the country for numerous memorial services.

Civilization V: Brave New World - Gandhi

Gandhi's representation in Civilization V gets a lot of undeserved criticism from some players, who often cite India as the "worst civ in the game" based solely on the fact that he is the only civ with a penalty explicitly stated in his unique ability (except for Venice in Brave New World), and that his unique unit is in some ways inferior to the unit it replaces. However, it is important to note right off the bat that there are plenty of civs who receive indirect penalties as part of their uniques. But the "Population Growth" ability, itself, is very poorly understood. Many players assume that this means that India must be played with a small empire, and that India cannot compete for any victory except for culture or diplomatic. This is simply not the case, and I'm going to explain why!

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Alien: Isolation - title

It's been a long time since there's been a mainstream survival horror game. Alien: Isolation may not be the same kind of traditional survival horror as its classic Resident Evil, Silent Hill, or Alone in the Dark predecessors, but many players may not have much familiarity with the stricter resource management that is required in a game like this.

Dead Space and The Last of Us had resource management elements, but since those games were more action-oriented, you weren't under as much pressure to conserve supplies. Alien: Isolation, however, is a bit slower and requires slightly better management, since it isn't quite as generous about providing supplies. As such, I thought I'd offer a few tips for inexperienced survival horror players to help them cope with surviving on Sevastopol.

Alien Isolation - hiding in plain view
Don't hide in plain view of a doorway or down the hallway, since the alien will be able to see you.

I'm not going to post specific tips for problem areas of the game. For those, you can look for actual walkthroughs provided by other authors. Instead, these will be five general-use tips that will apply to the majority of the game:

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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 my earlier post 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. Rather, I was arguing that the plots of the game were focused on the cult and Alessa, and how they affected this supernatural power. I thought about responding with my own comment, 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.

Please note that much of this post is speculation, as the games themselves provide very little concrete information about the extended history of the cult and region prior to the Civil War.

I did not mean to imply that the cult and Alessa created the supernatural phenomena, and I agree that it existed (in some form) 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 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.

But based on what we know about real-world Native American beliefs, it is safe to assume that the natives of the Silent Hill region would likely have worshipped any regional supernatural power as the "ancestral spirits" or as the "spirit of nature". The Book of Lost Memories, which can be found in Silent Hill 2 after beating the game, 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" is significant. In addition to being a callback to the game's title, 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 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 probably does not have an intelligence or will of its own...

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Gaming for life...

Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to opinions about video games and the video game industry. But occasionally, I talk about other stuff too. Feel free to read about the blog.

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Humble suggestions for improving Dark Souls II onlineHumble suggestions for improving Dark Souls II online09/22/2014 I recently posted my much-belated review of Dark Souls II. In it, I criticized the game for having lackluster online components, but didn't go into much detail other than to say that Soul Memory seems like a non-optimal matchmaking method and that invasions are rare and reserved for elite players. I wanted to take a moment to...

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'Brave New World' expands economic and cultural development, but pacifies 'Civilization V''Brave New World' expands economic and cultural development, but pacifies 'Civilization V'10/19/2013 One of my biggest criticisms with the Gods & Kings expansion pack for Civilization V was that none of the features added really felt all that fresh. They were just redesigns of old features that were present in previous games. Granted, they were also the most highly-requested features by the player community, but as concepts,...