Death Stranding - title

I had no clue what to expect from Death Stranding. I probably would have bought it regardless because I usually enjoy Kojima's games. I was also curious if Death Stranding would be, in some way, representative of what the canceled Silent Hills might have been. Most of all, Kojima is a bold, and usually innovative creator, and I felt compelled to support his new studio -- if for nothing else than to give a middle finger to Konami.

After spending several dozen hours with it, I'm still not really sure what to think of Death Stranding. Much like with Final Fantasy XV, Death Stranding is loaded with novel ideas and messages that I find personally interesting or compelling. But just like Final Fantasy XV, those novel ideas take a back seat to time-wasting filler quests. Death Stranding can be hypnotically beautiful, zen-like, and maybe even emotionally moving, but it's also big, bloated, and convoluted, and it takes far too long to get where it's going.

At a very reductionist level, Death Stranding could be accurately characterized as "side quest: the game" or "Amazon courier: the game". But that characterization would be overlooking the nuance behind the game, and what it has to say about modern gaming and society in general. That makes it a very difficult game to review without giving one's self some time to let it soak in ... which is part of the reason why I've been mulling it over for more than a month now...

Rebuilding America, one Amazon delivery at a time

Carrying cargo is, in fact, the entire game! Our protagonist, Sam, is unwittingly tasked with delivering cargo across this post-apocalyptic America in an attempt to get in the good graces of the settlements dotting the land, and connect them all up to a vast information network to restore a semblance of civilization. On the way, you can literally build roads and bridges as you go -- rebuilding the American infrastructure little by little.

Online players will leave guideposts and infrastructure to help each other out.

This infrastructure is actually a clever implementation of the Demon's Souls / Dark Souls style of asynchronous multiplayer. In principle.

Instead of the ghostly visages of other player warning you of traps or ambushes or pitfalls, online players can build bridges, roads, vehicle charging stations, storage boxes, and other helpful infrastructure that will make your trek through the world legitimately easier. They aren't just cluing you in about what dangers to expect, or what course of action to take, the other players are actively helping you (and everyone else) without ever needing to set a digital foot in your game. Just like in FromSoft's Souls games, you can also leave little notes that take the form of emoticons, and which combine the function of the Souls player messages with avatar gestures.

When you first step out into the world, there's a sense of desolation and loneliness about the landscape. It reminds me a lot of Shadow of the Colossus, except our only company is a crying fetus instead of Aggro (who's such a good horsey!). The scenery itself is more evocative of Iceland, and doesn't look like any part of the United States that I've ever been. But then again, this is the same game designer who put a tropical rainforest in the middle of Soviet Russia, so... It's beautiful and serene, and figuring out how you're going to navigate the environment can be a legitimate zen-like puzzle.

Trekking through the map reminded me of the beautifully desolate environments of Shadow of the Colossus.

This game requires very precise and deliberate inputs from the player, and it can sometimes be very unforgiving of small mistakes. If you turn too quickly, Sam may lose his balance and fall over, possibly damaging or destroying the packages that you are carrying. Walk to quickly down a steep slope, and you'll risk loosing your footing and face-planting. You can hold one or both trigger buttons to try to stabilize yourself or catch your balance -- and there's no real reason to not hold both triggers the entire game, since balancing your load doesn't make Sam walk noticeably slower. And you'll have to manage Sam's stamina, the battery supply of vehicles or certain tools, and so forth. You might even find your hands cramping from holding down the triggers after a particularly long or strenuous journey over rough terrain, providing you with a small degree of physical discomfort to go along with Sam's physical exhaustion. And you'll be pushed along by occasional rainfall that will cumulatively damage your cargo and equipment.

Even though Sam will progressively get stronger and better able to keep himself balanced, and even though the game will gradually unlock new mechanics for making it easier to traverse the landscape, you can never get sloppy, and the game will punish you for impatience! It reminds me a lot of Dark Souls, except instead of getting killed by a hollow undead sword flurry because I thought I could sprint through a return trip through an early area of the game, I'm instead tripping over my own two feet because I tried to run down a mossy slope to get this delivery done faster.

Simply navigating the open world terrain without tripping and falling is a primary gameplay mechanic.

The terrain is important and relevant, and navigating it safely and efficiently is the game's core gameplay. You aren't simply holding the stick forward and walking a straight line to a point on the mini-map or radar, as you might do in, say, Skyrim or Far Cry. This is how you design an open world game! You make the traversal of the space into the operant challenge. Or, at the very least, make the space between landmarks -- and the act of traversing that space -- feel meaningful. I feel like game designers are really starting to vindicate all those blogs that I wrote years ago about the failings of open world design. The destinations aren't important in Death Stranding. It's the space in between (the open world itself) that is important.

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Cities: Skylines - game title

In my last post, I pitched an idea for a new Cities Skylines expansion pack based off of an idea that Colossal Order had posted on its Twitter account. Today, I want to look at a couple of older tweets from Colossal Order that were intended to gauge player interest in some other mechanics and ideas. Those ideas are car wrecks and urban decay.

These concepts aren't as easy to "game-ify" and adapt to Cities Skylines current game mechanics when compared to the season and holiday ideas I pitched in the previous post. Car wrecks and urban decay are both going to require a bit more imagination to come up with ways that they would work within the game.

Colossal Order's Twitter account has apparently been fishing for new content ideas.

Car wrecks and road construction are a disaster!

One of the ideas that Colossal Order proposed in a tweet was the idea of car wrecks being a mechanic in Cities Skylines. Currently, the vehicle and pedestrian pathfinding systems will try to avoid collisions, but it's nowhere near perfect. If you zoom in close enough to any busy intersection and watch it for a while, you'll inevitably see a vehicle phase right through pedestrians or another vehicle. This is especially prominent when vehicles make a left-hand turn.

The game doesn't actually model collisions, however, so no matter how complicated, confusing, or difficult-to-navigate you might make an intersection or highway ramp, no one will ever get hurt or killed in a car wreck. This is a good thing, because if every collision did result in a wreck that would block traffic, traffic would simply never move in the game. I doubt that Colossal Order would ever implement such a feature, since it would probably be considered "in bad taste" by many people. It would also be very difficult to implement from a technical level, as it would require considerable changes to the pathfinding A.I., which would probably weaken the flow of traffic and/or completely tank the performance of the PC. Designing intersections that minimize wrecks would also need a lot more road customization tools!

Cars and pedestrians routinely pass through each other in any busy intersection of the game.

That being said, the idea of delays on the road got me thinking of another potential idea for the game: modeling road construction as a mechanic. I don't think I've ever played a city-building video game in which you had to wait for a road to be constructed before it can be used. Real road construction can often take months or years. Large highway projects can even take decades in real life. In the meantime, the city often has to designate detour routes and close off parts of roads at a time in order to allow access to businesses and homes.

This is a mechanic that seems like it would probably be too complicated to make work reliably, and be fun to play. You wouldn't get immediate feedback on whether your new highway would work, because you'd have to wait minutes or hours of real time (which would translate to weeks or months of simulated game time) for that highway to be constructed before your citizens would start using it. That would be terribly inconvenient.

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Cities: Skylines - game title

Here we are in December, and Colossal Order has yet to announce a second expansion for Cities Skylines since releasing the Campus expansion back in May. This will be the first year since the game's release that Colossal Order will only be releasing a single expansion. They have released some mini content packs, so there has been some new Skylines content -- just not a full-blown expansion.

Expansion titleOriginal release
After Dark coverAfter Dark24 September 2015
Snowfall coverSnowfall18 February 2016
Match DayMatch Day*9 June 2016
Natural Disasters coverNatural Disasters29 November 2016
Mass Transit coverMass Transit18 May 2017
ConcertsConcerts*17 August 2017
Green CitiesGreen Cities19 October 2017
ParklifeParklife24 May 2018
IndustriesIndustries23 October 2018
CampusCampus19 May 2019
* denotes a mini content pack, rather than full expansion.

But that doesn't mean that Colossal Order has abandoned the game. In fact, they've been very active on Twitter asking for people's opinions on what kind of new content we'd like to see. Most recently, they posted a tweet asking if we'd like to see buildings with seasonal holiday decorations (such as Christmas and Halloween). Earlier in the year, they also asked if we'd like to see mechanics for car wrecks or urban decay (among other propositions). Even though these ideas seem to have been positively received on Twitter, and lots of follow-up ideas were presented by commenters (including myself), no new expansion has been announced.

Colossal Order's Twitter account has apparently been fishing for new content ideas.

Though I wouldn't be surprised if Colossal Order announces an expansion before I'm able to finish writing and publish this blog post...

Personally, I've liked all the ideas that they've suggested, in principle. As you may know, I have some gripes with how Colossal Order has handled its expansions for Cities Skylines, so I would hope that any possible future expansion would try to resolve those lingering issues. So let's go through the ideas that Colossal Order has pitched on Twitter and see if they would be worthy of an expansion pack!

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Freshman Kenyon Oblad seemed to improve
considerably over the course of the season

I had given up on Tony Sanchez as UNLV's head coach early in the 2019 season. After failing to recognize that Armani Rogers just wasn't working out at QB, Sanchez waited until conference play had started before benching Rogers in favor of Kenyon Oblad. Oblad had an up and down season, but in my opinion, he showed early on that he was the better passer than Rogers. As I said in previously on this blog: UNLV doesn't need another runner; they need a quarterback.

UNLV ended up with a four-win season. I don't know if UNLV would have won another early game or two if they had played Oblad sooner. But I will say that I think Oblad got better over the course of the season, leading the team to two nail-biting (but ultimately meaningless) victories to close out the season. With another 2 or 3 games of experience early in the season, maybe he would have been playing better in the middle and late season, and maybe UNLV would actually have been able to pull out another win or two in conference play. We'll never know because Sanchez stubbornly kept Rogers in until after it was too late to salvage the season.

Tony Sanchez won't even get a single full season with the
Fertitta Football Training Complex that he helped build.

That being said, I do kind of feel bad for Sanchez. Despite his failings on the field, he was actually very successful off the field. His legacy with UNLV will be that he managed to drum up financial support for the team from friends and family, and he is the reason that UNLV now has its fancy, top of the line Fertitta Football Complex training facility. Unfortunately for Sanchez, that facility did not open until October of this year. Despite being the single biggest reason that training facility exists, Sanchez did not even have a single season in which to train his players there.

He's also missing out on the opportunity to coach the team in the Raiders new Las Vegas stadium. A part of me does feel like Sanchez maybe deserved one more year to be able to coach the team for a full season with these shiny new facilities and see what he could do with access to those resources. He worked hard to make them a reality for UNLV football, but he won't ever get a chance to reap their rewards.

UNLV hired Oregon's former offensive coordinator, Marcus Arroyo to a 5-year contract.

Instead, the honor of training UNLV's football team in the Fertitta Complex and coaching games in the Raiders' stadium will go to new UNLV head coach Marcus Arroyo. Arroyo is the former offensive coordinator at Oregon, and he will be coaching the Oregon Ducks in the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day before he moves down to Vegas.

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Silent Hill 3

Last year, YouTuber Super Eyepatch Wolf posted a video titled "The Problem with Silent Hill 3: the Downfall of Team Silent". In that video, Super Eyepatch Wolf asserts that the design of Silent Hill 3 changed early in development, as a result of pressure from Konami. He claims that early designs for the game were going to be a more personal, introspective tale, in the vein of Silent Hill 2.

YouTuber Super Eyepatch Wolf posted a video last year asserting that Silent Hill 3
was originally going to be more similar to Silent Hill 2's personal and introspective story and style.

Konami may not have been happy with this early design because -- believe it or not -- there were apparently many vocal fans of the first Silent Hill game who were upset that Silent Hill 2 had not continued the story set forth by the first game. So Konami mandated that Team Silent make Silent Hill 3 be more of a continuation of the first Silent Hill, and so SH3 was re-written as a direct sequel to the first game, and returned to the narrative of a cult trying to birth a demon god.

I've adapted this blog post into a YouTube video response to Super Eyepatch Wolf.

It's hard to believe, but when it was first released, Silent Hill 2 was not universally regarded as the "gold standard" of video game horror. You can look at middling contemporary reviews from publications like Gamespot and GameInformer. In those days, the series was perceived as being "about occultism", and Silent Hill 2 was a stark deviation. Now, with a generation of gamers having grown up playing and loving Silent Hill 2, there's an effort now to re-frame the entire series as having always been about a haunted town torturing the guilty, even though three out of four of the original games are explicitly about a cult trying to re-birth its demon god, and repressed personal guilt is only featured in one of those four games.

Silent Hill 2 was the only of the original 4 games to be about the protagonist being punished for repressed guilt.

But that may not have always been the plan...

If Super Eyepatch Wolf is correct, then Team Silent may have wanted to pivot the narrative focus of the series away from occultism and towards more personal stories like SH2 -- though, importantly, not necessarily about repressed guilt or amnesia!

I have a complicated relationship with the question of "what is Silent Hill about?" Readers of my personal blog will know that I've rigorously defended the idea of Silent Hill (as a series) being about occultism, and that new entries in the series should respect that history, rather than trying to re-frame the entire series (and the nature of the town itself) to be about a haunted town that summons people to face their hidden guilt.

That being said, it isn't that I have a particular attachment to occult stories, even though a lot of the games that I like (such as Demon's Souls and Blooborne) also have strong occult threads. I also am definitely not opposed to more thoughtful, introspective stories. Silent Hill 2 is my favorite game in the series because of that thoughtful, introspective story! Rather, I've found all the third-party-developed games after Silent Hill 4 to be highly derivative of Silent Hill 2 and not particularly good.

Silent Hill 3 pivoted hard back towards the occult inspirations of the first game.
But is that really what Team Silent wanted?

Super Eyepatch Wolf does have some quotes and evidence to support the idea that Silent Hill 3 was originally intended to be a very different game -- all of which was taken from a single interview. But there's not much (if any) information about what the actual story of that game may have been. Nobody on Team Silent has (as far as I know) talked about it, nor do we have a leaked design document like what we have for Silent Hill: Cold Heart (the Wii-exclusive that eventually transformed into Shattered Memories).

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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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