Words in pixels- Tom Clancy’s The Division

My business is one of words, and seeing as I have worked in video games in such a capacity, I figured it would be interesting to go into the mechanics of storytelling in different video game titles. In most reviews, the story is relegated to a paragraph, maybe, and doesn’t get a lot of the spotlight. Really, it’s more like a synopsis than it is an analysis of the game’s story.

What I wanted to do here was give video game stories the attention they deserve. What mechanics did they use to tell the story? Did they work or did they cause more harm than good? Why did this story work or not? These are questions that I haven’t seen the answers for and are usually glazed over in most write ups.

Let’s dive into a title that is currently holding my attention- Tom Clancy’s: The Division.

Summed up : It gives the best argument to never leave the house.

The story is New York (Yes, the city where every thing happens) is hit by an outbreak of a virus spread on 20 dollar bills during Black Friday. This kills almost everyone and while the rest of the nation is dealing with this virus, the government has sent off a majority of its forces to find those responsible. With an almost barren city, filled with corpses, local gangs and militia (Not state run) have taken over the streets and overwhelmed the JTF (Joint Task Force).

You are an Agent apart of The Division, a sleeper cell that is activated during a crisis to help keep law and order going in the face of totally anarchy.

At it’s best, The Division (To be known as DV moving forward) has some moments that really make you feel for this city. The level design only reinforces the despair here, and the random logs, video, and synthetic ‘ghosts’ hit home the humanity of the situation.

At its worst, it’s a bland ‘Thanks hero for stopping the orcs! You’re a great fighter!’


It’s AYSO: Everyone is a hero, everyone gets praise

Division 1At its core, DV is an MMOish/Single Playeris campaign, and this means it’s making the player the central hero to save the world as we know it; while thousands of other players are being cast in the same role. This is wish fulfillment and while many players don’t mind it or even love the crap out of it, I really don’t.

When I play a game, in a huge open world, I tend to be a fly on the wall. I like exploring, helping when I can, moving on to secure and build up either my base or my gear. The central narrative in DV is meh to say the least, there are some great set pieces and awesome moments along the way, but overall the main story is just okay.

Mostly what kills the mood for me is when NPC soldiers say the same thing I have heard in so many games:

-Hey, glad you’re on our side!

-Man, did you see what you did? That’s awesome!

-Wow, you know what you’re doing!

It just feels contrived and frankly my eyes could never roll hard enough when I hear those lines. The JTF are just about the worst thing, I get they’re on the ropes, but the amount I have helped, a single person, in getting them back in order is ridiculous. And yes, I mean me singular, I know this game is about the squad elements, but in the narrative of the story I am the one being acknowledged for putting the city back together.

Which is just nuts to me.

The core of this game’s story is: This is our home, our city, and we are going to take it back.

That is an awesome premise to start from because who is not going to want to want to help? Problem is, you are then cast into the role of a singular savior and that small sentiment of ‘your city’ gets lost. It’s like when I was playing Fallout 4, as soon as I got a hint of being this big damn hero, I lost interest, and if it were up to me, I would just avoid the main story line in DV because it isn’t doing anything for me.

The mechanic of the central narrative is missions, which are actually really fun and cool, but the cut scenes and importance placed on me and the only other agent in the headquarters is just too much to the point of cheese.


What is doing something for me, is the world you get to explore.

E315_TCTD_Final_screenshot_Macys_213016The mechanics in which the game tells its story is through missions, and while the central missions have some wonderful moments, the most impactful part of the game is New York City. Exploring the streets, finding people, and giving them supplies makes me feel like I am helping. It was the experience I was looking for when I originally saw DV and the act of giving someone some water or saving them every once in a while from a thug, hits me more than the central story.

Let’s get this out of the way, I am not from New York City. I have never lived in a big city, so in order to get me to care about this place you have to get me attached. Moments are going to get player plugged in and feeling like they are a part of this world. Video games are experiences and the stories that live in them have to amplify this experience.

Seeing the trash, the sheer chaos in the streets, really gets me attached to this world and trying to help it. The use of side missions is well done, because the dialogue gives just enough flavor and information to make me want to go in and push that button. And it will be pushing buttons because that’s about all you have to do in this game, mission wise.

Do I feel that the actions in the side missions could have been changed up a bit? Oh yes, but as they stand, I’ve played worse ‘busy work’ filler content. What keeps me going here is the movement in game, the combat, and my sweet beanie.

Overall, The Division is more of an experience than a story.

Which is great for a video game, because that is the most important part. The world is well constructed, the movement smooth, the shooting fun, and that it carries me past the meh ‘I am the hero’ story. I really wish I could have just move through Brooklyn and solve problems organically rather than getting put in the center of the rescue effort. I am one of thousands of Agents in this city, how I am I that damn important? And really, I’m not, I just wish I could eke out a small effort of helping to reclaim the city from my stronghold in a subway depot.

In future expansions, there is talk of this feature showing up, and frankly I cannot wait for it. I really do think that this game could do something really interesting from a storytelling aspect. The basics are already there in the form of seeing sections of the town have more patrols and the HQ having more people that don’t look broken residing inside of it. By letting the player feel like they are doing enough to help, and reinforcing that feeling in the world around them, The Division could really make me feel like a New Yorker.

Although, I still wouldn’t be a Yankees fan.

IMG_9638Nick Mazmanian is a content creator and designer on Ironclad Words. He enjoys making things and drinking coffee, specifically the latter, for without it the former wouldn’t get done. He also wrote a book.

Fallout 4 Entry 1- Minuteman Bang Bang

We all know the story, scared people running governments with supplies dwindling that ended in atomic fire. Great way to start summer. Hot enough already, but hey, let’s be stupid and add more heat to the surface of our already hot planet.

I could go over the details about who I was before, but those don’t matter here, it is what I do that defines me.

My name is Nick and I live in a Red Rocket gas station with my dog, Dogmeat. It’s a name, nothing morbid about it, but it fit, you know? Also, he wouldn’t answer to any other name I threw at him, so there.

My days are rather routine, go out there, get stuff, bring stuff back, make things. It’s a rather mundane existence, but in this world, I’ll take it over having to deal with slavers or ghouls. Sometimes those bastards pop-up, and when they do, I put them down.

Today was just a day unlike any other, I needed some copper for wiring so I could get my generator connected to my call beacon running and start to attract some local employees. Getting staff in this day and age is just atrocious! And you can forget about checking references because more than likely they’re dead and phones aren’t really a thing. I had an idea of making the Red Rocket to be a kind of farmer’s market for the traveler looking for food that won’t make them grow a third arm or an extra set of balls.

That’s when the minuteman showed up. Said he was looking for some help. I usually don’t talk to door-to-door salesman, but then I remembered that profession probably hadn’t existed in 200 years, so I addressed him.

There was a settlement being harassed by some raiders. Said they needed help. I usually brush off this kind of non-sense, I mind for myself and I at this point in my life; but that’s when the old woman spoke. She looks blind and high, so typical of most who wander the wastes for too long, but she said that I would find the man I’ve been looking for.

“A man who owes you.”

I dropped everything, joined the minuteman, and made my way to the Corvega planet in Lexington, I killed everything in my path that so much as hissed or growled at me.

I never saw the plant where they made Corvega’s before. I heard when you buy one you can pick it up from the factory and road trip it back home. Now, it’s full of raiders who are active readers of the famous cookbook How to Serve Man.

I showed them how I serve dinner: I started with a shotgun appetizer, followed by the main course of 10mm bullets, and topped off with a mini-gun surprise! The surprise part came in the form of an explosion that wrapped the head of the raiders in a fiery blanket of death as I unleashed a storm of bullets that tore through some canisters sitting around the factory.

After the killing had been completed, I found the rat bastard among the dead. Could hardly recognize him, but when I found my alien toy on his body, I knew I got him.

I might have some anger issues, possibly some slight problems upstairs, maybe. Only thing that matters is I got my toy back! Teaches him to borrow and not return! You know what you get when you do that? Shot!

I went to the settlement being harassed and told them the bad guys were very much dead. They mentioned something about joining the minutemen, and we parted ways…after I took some gourds to start my farm.

Business is looking bright, but the copper I need is still out there somewhere. Maybe tomorrow I’ll get it.

How to ellipses

In our modern day world, we use typing and writing now more than ever in our daily lives. The average person texts more than 3 billion texts a week, I know this as a fact because I made this figure up, but it doesn’t lessen the fact that writing is very important.

Now, clearly showing the facts that writing is important, I have a bone to pick with a lot of you. You see, you think you know everything, you know the stock market will yo-yo and yet you are surprised when it dips? You know every single time we have a presidential election the people running in it are going to say, do, and say some more, the shit you want to hear; and yet you get up in arms about who it is you aren’t head over heels in love with during this rinse, lather, and repeat process.

What you do not know is that when you improperly use an ellipses when you text me, I get just that much closer to sending your ass off to Krampus for Christmas!

Ellipses is a form of punctuation and it is used for a number of formats:

AP Style- To show a quote continues either before or after the mentioned portion.

Fiction- To show a pause in conversation, unease in the person talking.

Anime- When the translation cannot translate the Japanese word for Gasp or Surprise.

Video games- Because the writer couldn’t think of a good one-liner to put in that scene where your best friend turns out to be your mother who was murdered fifteen years ago.

Now, in texting land the rule for ellipses has changed since the introduction of texting itself. When you use an ellipses today, you mean the following:

I’m apprehensive

Example:

“Hey, you coming to my mother’s?”

“Sure…”

I’m angry

Example:

“Sorry I missed fixing your dog.”

“It’s fine…”

I’m secretly trying to destroy the world

Example:

“Hey, they have a discount on Self-Drilling Nuclear Technology. You want one?”

“Okay…”

When I text you, “Hey, we’re going to be at your house in 15 mins.” and I get back, “Okay…” my spine stiffens and my brain runs through a million scenarios that begin with “Maybe that just means ‘Okay'” to “Ah shit, their going to murder me when I get there because I forgot their birthday and texted them a hour later than when they were actually born!”

Just stop. You want to respond to a message, try just saying your word and using a period at the end of the sentence. Using more than one period does not indicate excitement over the ending of a statement, it means utter doom!

Thanks for reading…

Why do we watch video games?

The 21st century is full of oddities. Who knew that we would one day have computers in our pockets and at the same time most Americans still do not know where Timbuktu is located on a map.

Also, who knew watching video games would become a thing? Growing up during the rise of video games from 8-bit to the current almost photo realistic graphics that are almost the norm today, an entire generation of people have grown up waiting their turn. Originally, that’s why you watched video games, because home consoles had a maximum amount of players capped at 4.

So, if you had a party with six people, two of them would just sit there on their butts, eating their ice cream cake, as the rest of the expensive cake melted while the rest of the party played Turok 2.

Today, millions of people watch other people play video games and the people they are watching are making a crazy amount of money from it. Many would blame this new trend on the downfall of mankind’s mental ability to actually do something productive with their lives, but this is a falsehood.

Humans have been watching sporting events for eons. Many obsess over it to the point where they have a fantasy game that doesn’t involve a 20 sided die. Fact is, we love to watch other people doing something difficult or skilled because we either:

A- Can’t do it

B- Are too lazy to really try, because that box of Entenmann’s doughnuts isn’t going to eat itself

This also goes for video games, because let’s face it, many people are not going to play 5 Nights at Freddy’s, no, they are going to watch Markiplier do that because of two reasons:

A- He’s hilarious to watch

B- Most people will still poop their pants as if they had their first cup of coffee in the morning

Just like sporting events or anything else that requires people to put in hundreds of thousands of hours to become masters of, we love to watch video games because of the same reasons. We have empathy with other people, and for many that is a sign of our humanity, but because of this bond we get a huge surge of emotions and chemicals in our brains that make our hearts jump or our chests explode in laughter because we connect with those who playing these games.

Fact of the matter is this, the future is a strange and bizarre place. Where it is going, no one knows, but let this be a lesson to us all: Anything and everything we do can possibly be sponsored by Mountain Dew some day.

Get a job: Barret- Final Fantasy 7

SPOILER LEVEL: PACE SALSA MEDIUM (This game has been out for nearly 20 years)

Name: Barret Wallace

Job: Leader of AVALANCHE

I may catch some hell for this, but hear me out. I will be evaluating Barret, from Final Fantasy 7, as the leader of AVALANCHE, an eco-terrorist group that actually delivers on the terror rather than hugging the evil out of the mega-corporation. This has nothing to do with his character arch or how he indirectly destroyed his hometown.

Let’s look at the three characteristics a leader needs and see if Barret matches up.

1. Planning

Barret’s plan for reactor 5 consists of two things:

A. Break in

B. Blow it up

Now that is straight forward and simple. When we join AVALANCHE (a name so cool it must always be said in caps or yelled) that is the plan and after executing it successfully, barely mind you, Barret calls together a meeting at the ultra secret AVALANCHE hideout that is directly under the bar that one of his team members owns. I guess it increased the property value?

And the plan for the next reactor is to blow up it! Great! How will they do that?

A. Break in

B. Blow it up

Yes, it’s the same plan! Surely Shinra won’t see this coming!

When planning to blow up a reactor it is advisable to, perhaps, change the plan a bit? This is when things go wrong and the group fails at their mission, because Shinra, somehow, saw this one coming.

2. Cool under pressure

When the pressure mounts and things go south you have to be cool under pressure so the rest of the team can be reassured that everything will be alright.

Barret doesn’t do that; in fact he yells and shoots his gun off whenever he feels like it. When he goes to the bathroom, to call a waiter over, or when he washes the car he doesn’t have, that thing just goes off. Whenever things go just a tiny bit off schedule, Barret is the first character to start yelling and shooting everything.

3. Building up team morale

If there is a motto that embodies Barret’s leadership style it’s: “The beatings shall continue until morale improves.” The guy is constantly belittling the members of his terrorist cell and constantly gives Cloud a bunch of shit from the word “go.” He is like that one friend from high school who thought Stockholm Syndrome was a philosophy on how to make friends. This isn’t a man out to win an award for being an inspiration or anything, no, this guy wants to murder Shinra piece by piece.

Which leads me to the biggest fault of Barret’s leadership:

What was the end goal again?

We get it, you want to save the planet, but blowing up the reactors that are pulling in this highly unstable, and potentially dangerous, substance from deep within the planet might not be the best course of action. I mean, what’s stopping the explosion from causing a chain reaction that would do the very things you were trying to avoid, which is, oh, I dunno, destroying the planet?!

That aside, let’s say you stop Shinra, what then? It seems that while everyone in this city is rather not cool with their lot in life, they’re not really giving a giant shit about almost everything in town. In fact, the people you run into are just trying to get by, and if Shinra left town, do you think they would be better off? Yeah sure, the planet would be saved, but how many people would die in the ensuing riots? What would be the plan to make sure that didn’t happen?

Did Barret even think about that when he started his crusade? No, he didn’t, he was so pissed at this company that he just didn’t care about anything else other than destroying this place utterly.

Should he keep his job?

No, he shouldn’t, but in the game he doesn’t anyway because Shinra decides to blow up a section of Midgar that drops on top of the slums along with everyone in AVALANCHE that wasn’t an A list character in the game’s instruction manual.

His actions did attract attention to this particular section of town, but that’s some scorched earth politics! I guess I can see why he was so pissed at Shinra… apparently PR isn’t one of their strong suits. I’ll go over evil mega corporations another day, but for now:

My job recommendation:

images
Motivational Speaker

Rocket Bikes & Shooting E.T.- Destiny

I have a freaking hover bike, it’s called a Sparrow, and I can do wicked cool jumps in it. I ride this vehicle across the surface of Venus and find a pack of Fallen soldiers, aliens that look like an evil Jiminy Cricket. I take out my scout rifle, throw a grenade, and attack the group after leaping off of my Sparrow. Among them is a floating eye ball that is pimp purple, I shoot it, destroy it, and retake the ancient library.

Killer Robot , the 3rd
Lord Killer Robot , the 3rd

Destiny is fun, pure and simple. Sure, it has it’s problems, the grind can be a bit tedious, the story is thin, and enemy variety is a bit low as well. None of these complaints override the fact that this game is just fun to play and none of them touch the best part of Destiny; and that’s the lore of its world.

In the fantasy future that is Destiny, the solar system is screwed and only the guardians, powered by The Traveler, can take back what was destroyed. You find as you play that there is something larger than yourself at play here, the snippets of the story just grazing past you reinforce this notion, but that is done in order to show you that while you are important you are not the savior of the universe. Master Chief type singular heroes are something that gamers have gotten used to, and that isn’t the case here.

In Destiny, you are a part of a legion of guardians who are honing their skills to take on The Darkness. Of course you are not going to feel special, you’re not supposed to as there are millions of players out there doing the same stuff as you.

The problem with most MMO’s is that the storyline tries so hard to make you feel like the hero of the story and it’s really not needed because it feels contrived over time since everyone is this same savior for the same village. When you do something in Destiny, it feels like a footnote in a much grander story. You are a grunt doing grunt work and that’s the long and the short of it for now.

If there is one thing I have noticed with the bitching surrounding this game its that it didn’t live up to the potential of the marketing. I will say that the marketing really was too much for this title as it built it up too much in the minds of the players. What should have been used is the idea of lore, legend, and forging forward. If the marketing was more intimate, it would have made the game feel much larger when the players finally logged in for the first time.

Although, I did enjoy this one.
Although, I did enjoy this one.

 

If you can’t deal with the game for whatever reason, then don’t play it. If there is one thing I hate it’s those who preach ‘The End is Nigh’ on launch day. Giving games time to improve is something that is seen as a weakness, and this is a title that was built from the ground up to be upgraded over time, rather than be a single experience that is buggy as hell.

This title on the other hand...
This title on the other hand…

 

This game will last 10 years, and it is ripe for some awesome experiences and change over the course of that time. I look forward to playing with my friends in this place and seeing where my rocket bike will take me. If you want to come along for the ride, do so, but if you’re going to bellyache from the sidelines then please just shut up about it.

TLDR; Haters gonna hate, but I don’t give a damn because I have a rocket bike!