Halloween 2018: The Nostalgia of Michael Myers

It’s 2018 and American culture feels at war with itself. Some of this is no doubt a spilling over of the bitter partisan division currently ripping at the fabric of the country. I think another aspect, however, comes from the rapid pace of technological and social change. The world is not the same one it was ten years ago – and who knows what things will look like a decade into the future. This uncertainty is reflected in our art, namely in the incredible popularity of nostalgia.

Continue reading Halloween 2018: The Nostalgia of Michael Myers

How I would Improve the Friday the 13th Game

The Friday the 13th series doesn’t have much life these days, at least so far as the cinema is concerned. It has nine years since the Friday the 13th remake tried and failed to breathe life back into hockey mask-wearing slasher Jason Voorhees. If it weren’t for the 2017 video game (aptly named Friday the 13th: The Game), the franchise would be all but dead.

Oh but what a game it is. If you’ve only ever played the 1989 indecipherable mess that was the Nintendo Friday the 13th, you may have written off the series’ gaming potential. Which would be a shame since developer IllFonic and publisher Gun Media have created a fan love letter to the series, complete with meticulously recreated campground levels.

When I first started playing Friday the 13th: the Game over Christmas vacation, I thought it was fun but frustrating. Months later and I’m still routinely diving into Crystal Lake, the Jarvis House and newly added Pinehurst. Clearly they’re doing something right.

That said, I do have some thoughts on how Friday the 13th: the Game can improve and, maybe more importantly, how these companies can keep financing their efforts. I know: Unsolicited feedback from a white guy – how original.

Being able to turn the male counselors into mock kid Jason

One of the most interesting aspects of gameplay in Friday the 13th: the Game revolves around killing Jason. Yes, it is possible (if unlikely) for the counselors to band together and turn the tables on their foe. This method is a multi-step process that involves summoning Tommy Jarvis, stealing a sweater, and knocking off a mask.

It is the second part where the potential issue begins: Only a female counselor can steal the sweater. This is to recreate the ending of Part 2 where the final girl pretends to be Jason’s mother, halting the killer in his tracks. It’s a cool bit of fan service to be sure and – as I said – really interesting gameplay.

Yet if there are no female counselors in the game, or if they have died, it prematurely closes the option to kill Jason. This is kinda lame. Rather than have Chad discover his feminine side, I believe I’ve come up with a solution that stays close to franchise emulation.

While only female counselors can steal the sweater, male counselors can cut their hair and mimic kid Jason (much in the way that young Tommy Jarvis did at the end of Part 4). This will require a procedure of its own. First, scissors. Every game would load with one set of scissors in a drawer. It would be exactly one item that would function much the same way as a pocket knife should Jason grab you.

Friday the 13th: the Game
Sure, our counselors are a little older but the effect could still work. Not like Jason is supposed to be the sharpest knife in the drawer.

Once the counselor has scissors, it’s time to look for a bathroom, more specifically a mirror. After this is done, the counselor will need time (perhaps a button-pressing mini-game like car repair, except based on composure stat) to re-style his looks. After this is done, he now has a one-time opportunity to stun Jason, much like the sweater.

I believe this will add variety and further develop what already is one of the most interesting aspects of the game.

Adding a more open water level

A lot of perks in the game revolve around water – this is true for both counselors and Jason. While it’s a cool aspect to add variety, it feels pretty weak right now for one major reason: There’s not a lot of water on the current maps. Most have a shoreline in a corner or narrow rivers running throughout. I don’t have any solid numbers to back me up here but I wouldn’t be surprised if the average counselor spent less than 10% of his or her time in water.

This makes all those water traits kind of useless. When I can only equip three perks – who cares if one of them pluses my water speed by 99%? I’m never going to use that. Oh, Part VII Jason has excellent water speed… does that matter?

Friday the 13th: the Game
As things stand currently, this almost never happens in the game.

While one new level won’t entirely fix this problem, it will help. I would propose one of two options. First, the setting from Part 7: A New Blood. I would design that map to have a massive lake in the center – maybe with an island or two scattered on it. This will force counselors to swim for rapid transit or item retrieval.

Second option is the cruise ship from Part 8. Since this boat inexplicably sailed from Crystal Lake to New York (how did that happen?!), it would make sense to have supporting islands. The claustrophobia of the boat would also be a nice change of pace from numerous levels of open cabins and sparse woods.

More weapon variety 

I’m actually really happy that they toned down the amount of guns and machetes in the levels. I always wondered why a summer camp had like… literally a gun every few feet. While it could have been a commentary on the status of firearm worship in America, I doubt that’s what Gun Media and IllFonic were going for.

While too many top tier weapons is a bad thing, I hope they enhance the number of options for mid tier and low tier weapons. The branch is awesome but it needs company. So I propose three new weapons:

  • a paintball gun: Made famous in Part 6, this rapid fire projectile could temporarily blind Jason if enough shots hit. The blindness would work like the blooper ink in Mario Kart 8, physically obstructing the screen. Jason players could always wash the paint off in water. While it won’t do much damage, it would be a terrific irk weapon.
  • Dinner plates: I see them on every table, stacks of projectiles. This would be the lowest tier ranged weapon. Counselors could hurl plates at Jason, hoping with enough direct hits to knock him down or at the least stun him. Stun chance percentage would increase based on the number of direct hits. Plates would come in stacks of five.
  • A rake: This weapon would function purely as a push-away. Counselors could prod Jason from a distance, not doing much damage but keeping him from getting close. Given that they just increased the number of throwing knives, this would be a cool chance to highlight their effectiveness. Jason would also of course eventually just break the rake.
Friday the 13th: the Game
How funny/frustrating could this make potential matches?

Monetization methods to support continued updates 

Now here me out here fellow players: Games cost a lot of money to make and maintain. Not everyone can do what Minecraft did. Gun and IllFonic have, to date, done an excellent job of keeping their Kickstarter promises and delivering a slew of free content. There’s but some monetization but it has been limited to a couple dollars for costumes and kills.

I want them to build on that. Keep the Kickstarter promises free, obviously but augment them with DLC to justify their continued investment. The counselor costume variety is terrific – keep it coming! This nature of superfluous paid DLC is the best as it doesn’t make those who can’t afford feel like they’re at an unfair disadvantage.

To this end, I have a few suggestions:

  • New Jason starting screens: Currently, Part 3 Jason greets players every time they load the game. While he’s cool looking, some variety might be nice? Charging a dollar or so per main menu Jason seems reasonable. Again, no one needs it but I might fork over some money to customize my game further.
  • Roy voiceover:  If players select the Part 5 – or Roy – Jason, they still hear Pamela Voorhees droning on about killing kids and making them remember and bla bla bla. Honestly, it would be cool to hear someone else. While Dick Wieand may not want to return to voice his character, it would still be cool to hear someone play Roy. Dialogue could be more focused around vengeance and his little brother and things like that. I would definitely pay at least $2 not to hear Pamela every single game.
  • Part 5 Tommy: Designing models is expensive and getting voice actors is also not cheap. These two factors together explain why we only have one version of Tommy Jarvis – the Thom Mathews Part 6 version. Having John Shepherd’s Part 5 incarnation (or even an adult Corey Feldman) would add some awesome variety to the game. But for free, it doesn’t make sense – not on the developer’s side. I would be willing to pay for a new Tommy, and I’m sure I’m not alone.
  • A Kane Hodder Jason costume: While Savini Jason remains locked away forever (single tear), they could add another cool/funny Jason to the game. Kane Hodder. That’s it, no costume, no mask (well maybe some kind of mask for gameplay purposes), just the famous Jason actor. It would be a fun extra and technically wouldn’t violate their policy of not charging for Jason.
Friday the 13th: the Game
Obviously buying the likeness rights to Kevin Bacon will be expensive but I would be willing to help invest in that cost.

Adding in a way to report bigotry/hate speech 

One last quick thing: there needs to be a way to report players who are bigoted assholes. I was playing as Jason one night and came across a kid. I could tell his age because of his microphone – I could also notice an accent. But I think, whatever, all races and people are scum in the eyes of Jason Voorhees so I’m going to go after him.

As soon as I kill his counselor, this other one appears and starts shouting the most vile, hateful crap I’ve heard during gameplay. Honestly it made me feel awful for having offed the kid’s character. I hope he didn’t think I agreed with any of the shit this “adult” was saying (I didn’t have a mic at the time so I could not vocally voice my disgust).

I made killing the bigot my next priority but I didn’t feel like that made it right. People like that should face consequences for spewing vile garbage across the internet. Jason may kill people but even he isn’t that much of a monster.

A report option please – I never want to be in that situation again.

Friday the 13th: the Game
Social Jason Warrior (would also pay money for whatever that looked like)

So there you have it, just some thoughts on improving the game. Obviously I’m not alone in having suggestions – just hop on the Forums to see more. If you haven’t played yet, give Friday the 13th: the Game your time and money – especially if you’re a fan of the film franchise. It may be a mess, but it’s a fun mess.

Hype can Hurt: Until Dawn

While October 2015 has ended, that is no reason to (completely) stop talking about horror. This year the PS4 had the good fortune to host an ambitious exclusive called Until Dawn, a choose-your-own-adventure game very much in the style of the recent Telltale series. The player makes choices and the game “changes” based on those choices. In this case, Until Dawn is essentially like playing out every cheesy slasher horror film you’ve seen. A group of teenagers go to a cabin in the woods and horror ensues. As the player, you will have direct control over who lives and who dies. Sounds like fun?

It is.

Until Dawn's cast includes all the stereotypes that would be expected in a horror movie.
Until Dawn‘s cast includes all the stereotypes that would be expected in a horror movie.

Yet when my brother and I played through Until Dawn, we were left feeling ultimately disappointed, particularly at the latter portion of the game. Looking back on it, however, our feelings of frustration had less to do with the game and more with the hype that surrounded its initial release. Warning: spoilers to follow.

If you have some time to kill, here is a lengthy example of a look at Until Dawn:

Here are a couple others if you don’t have a full fifty minutes to watch a bit of the video game (namely to hear the players’ comments toward the end). The point is that most reviews were kind to Until Dawn, maybe unfairly so. As mentioned earlier, this is a game that is very similar to the recent Telltale series (Walking Dead Season One on). One of the larger criticisms with the Telltale series is that they are not as choice-dependent as they let on. Rarely  does the player’s choice has any real impact on the story beyond a slight variation in presentation.

This can be seen as an unfair criticism, as there is no such thing as a video game with free choice. Even something like Minecraft, with its complete lack of story and vast open world of possibilities, has its limits as to what the player can do. What video games are about is largely the illusion of choice (with no game making this point more directly than BioShock). As long as the player feels like they are involved and in-charge, the experience works.

Yet some reviews of Until Dawn (like the quicklook above) really make it seem like the game is doing the impossible. That gamer’s choices actually really matter and there are so many really different ways it can go. To an extent this is true, but in reality  Until Dawn is bound by many of the same type of restrictions as the Telltale games… and in several cases handles them worse. The are two main ways that Until Dawn drops the ball, and both have to do with the writing.

Too Many Useless Characters

When my brother and I started playing, we were psyched to see who our main character would be. Of these eight teenagers, which one would rise to be the (potentially) last standing against the killer? Right away, we’re introduced to Sam (Hayden Panettiere):

SamPersonality

While the player may not know it: this is your hero. She is one of the few characters who cannot die until the very end of the game. Making every bad decision, screwing up every prompt will not matter. Sam isn’t going anywhere… which is a shame because she is arguably the most bland character in the game. Sam is barely in it! It seems like the longest segment the player has with the character, is this right here:

Gee, I wonder why?
Gee, I wonder why?

She’s just really not involved until the very end. Instead the player controls largely the other seven, getting to know those characters a whole lot more… which is a real shame because none of them (save one) do anything.

Here’s the big spoiler: the game ends with two characters either escaping or one or both dying. These two characters are always the same (Michael and Sam). The other six? Well they’re either dead or… not contributing to the plot in any way, shape, or form. They appear to adopt the “stand there and look pretty” mentality of life.

When I played, I managed to keep nearly all the characters alive. It felt really disappointing to watch them vanish as the game went on. What was my reward for making the choices that kept them alive? It didn’t seem to matter. At one point, I was convinced that Emily (the stereotypical bitch character) would step into the role of main character with the right choices. Hahaha nope!

Michael Breaks Every Horror Rule

Mike is the god damn worst. With the side character problem, I can see limitations. Sure, everyone wants to make a game with vastly branching storylines, but the developer only has so much money. Yet many, many, many, many reviews called this a perfect horror simulator, and on that I call bullsh*t. Mike breaks nearly every one of the rules for surviving a horror movie during this game.

He frequently runs off on his own (including into a blizzard – at night – without a jacket), and his decision-making (let’s go find the key from Josh) needlessly puts everyone in danger during the second half of the game – a decision that you do not have the option to call him out on. Oh, and while wandering on his own – he goes into the creepy abandoned asylum and proceeds to touch every single thing he can find.

Yet for all this, Michael is the other character who cannot die until the end of the game. What a load of crap.

Oh, and he can murder Emily for no reason (she might turn into a wendigo – ’cause why not)… something else which everyone else just seems to go along with.

At least he gets punished for touching everything in the creepy abandoned asylum.
At least he gets punished for touching everything in the creepy abandoned asylum.

For all its flaws, Until Dawn is still a lot of fun, especially if you’re a fan of horror movies. It’s not as good as some of the more impressive Telltale games, but it’s also no failure by any stretch.

What is impressive is that the biggest failings of Until Dawn can easily be fixed with DLC that expands the second half of the game and allows for more characters to make an impact.

… or just make a first-person VR shooting segment… I guess that’s cool (this is actually close to how the game originally looked for PS3).