Elon Musk, Games, and The Last of Us

I somehow stumbled upon this Y Combinator interview of Elon Musk – actually a clipping, on YouTube – I’d seen the full interview but this video reveals his deep interest in gaming. After stating his recommendation ‘Overwatch’ & applauding the gaming studio Blizzard for their titles he quickly turns to the interviewee (Sam Altman) and asks what his recommendations are, and he says “The Last of Us” (TLOU). It struck me right there that Elon could see his prophecy of human extinction being proved through this amazing gaming experience.

In his presentation at the Astronautical Congress in 2016 he laid out a plan to “Making Humans a Multiplanetary Species” and colonizing Mars to avoid the danger of becoming extinct due to some unforeseeable incident. Without revealing much, TLOU presents a similar scenario in which human species is infected by a mysterious virus and a chaotic sequence follows which brutally resembles a doomsday apocalypse.

If there’s one person who’d really appreciate a script such as ‘The Last of Us’ it’s definitely Elon Musk.

Firewatch – My Year Ends On A Good Note!

Firewatch - game banner

It feels slightly awkward, that as I bid goodbye to 2016 I’m taking a journey back into the 80s! Taking a peek through that magical decade, the MTV revolution had forced itself on a 24/7 TV, Hollywood was reinventing itself with sci-fi movies such as ‘E.T.’ and ‘Back To The Future’ series, the VCRs, audio cassettes, boomboxes, had stepped into our homes as the next generation technology and also redefining a long-term alliance between entertainment, youth and pop culture. On the other side, gaming, as it were, became a growing alternative to TV & movie entertainment with titles like Super Mario Bros, Tetris, Donkey Kong, which are today regarded as cult classics. Needless to say, whichever part of the world you were born, you weren’t immune from the razzmatazz of the tech and culture boom in the 80s. Let me come back to 2016 now.

The game which has summoned my inert nostalgia is called Firewatch by Campo Santo, a brilliant indie genre par excellence, of course, set in the 80s, and so reminiscent of that awesome decade. I had read positive reviews on Firewatch so when it became available on the PSN season sale for CAD12.99 I decided to pick it! The other point of writing this post is because I felt this game hasn’t really been discussed a lot, while we continue to endorse some bigger titles this one deserves its rightful place too. (If you are inclined, Firewatch has a Reddit community too.)

The Game (No spoilers, I promise!)
Firewatch is a short, and an enjoyable affair. It could have been a biographical account of some hiker which came alive on screen as an adventure. The best, and perhaps the most vivid characteristic of Firewatch is that it contains no fierce-looking villains, long & stretched boss fights which you need to finish off before progressing the story or even treasure hunts, some qualities which today’s gamers have come to endorse. Basically, a nice break from the complexity of hardcore gaming. It’s a simple story set in the wilderness of the Wyoming jungles in the summer of 1989 (oh, the 80s!) where you play Henry, a volunteer managing a lookout and exploring the vast green landscapes through some help from your colleague (or boss) Delilah, and through a walky-talky which is the prime object of interaction, you seek and sort out the mysteries of this adventurous journey. I’d be honest to say that once I started to play I couldn’t keep the controller down for 5 hours. There are supply caches, and rugged mountain terrains to be explored and mysteries to be unearthed and to dwell upon. The artistic landscapes are rendered from artworks by Olly Moss, (Jane Ng, lead environmental artist at Campo Santo, was tasked with translating Moss’ work into 3D environments while maintaining his stylized artistic vision) making it more interesting & subtle than the peculiar computer-generated graphics, which merges with the storyline so casually. Having said that, I’m wondering how CGI graphics would make a difference if the game was to have a sequel and a much aggressive storyline. (thinking about the jungles from Uncharted 4)

I have shared screenshots of some landscapes which I found interesting and there are more screen grabs at this IMGUR gallery with spoiler alert!

Firewatch

Looking at the graphics this game definitely deserves a VR experience in addition to new plots, and in the absence of a ‘boss fight’ making the climax more intriguing and dramatic.

The Experience
As a hiker, I personally believe that Firewatch is a hiking simulator, if not a substitute for the actual walking undoubtedly, but it’s a great concept to experience nature from the comforts of your home. Also, with the Free Roam mode, the experience comes closer to being on an actual hiking trail. A pro tip – don’t forget to take your axe and flashlight before you leave your cabin if you decide to just roam around. As it happened with me, once the sun sets your visibility becomes next to zero and your map would be virtually impossible to read out in the open dark woods. If you come across a blocked path you’re on your own in the dark with no Delilah to help you in the Free Roam mode. Coming back to the gameplay, the mystery surrounding the forest does build up and keeps you nailed to your seat but the ending lacks a punch and my expectation was completely dashed. For a short 2-5 hour gameplay story, I believe the narrative ended too soon and offered very little solace to my inquisitive mind. There are definitely high expectations from the sequel if the studio has plans for it.

The soundtrack of Firewatch is very evocative of the 80s pop genre. You cannot but listen intently to the “Push Play” song being played on a boombox at the Jonesy Lake (check screen capture above) where two drunk teens are skinny dipping on Day 2, even as you’re in the midst of the game. It sent me on a wild searching spree on Google actually believing that an 80s band called ‘Cheap Talk’ scored the music for the track. There’s a mystery surrounding the track too which is posted by Owen S Good in his insightful article. Least to say it’s a reverberating, melodious track, reminding you just how amazing the 80s’ pop music scene was. Have a listen!

In The End
If you are looking to just have an easy time playing a game on a lazy afternoon (or night, whatever), or maybe if you’re a beginner in gaming and not feeling too motivated to compete with villains, then Firewatch is the title for you. It’s a journey of its characters in the frontline wilderness conveying a story through their personal experiences. If you’re a trophy hunter it’s an easy one but there’s no Platinum trophy to win, which is a bummer. It’s enjoyable also because you wouldn’t have to hunt the Internet to complete a level and all the accessories come as part of your walkthrough in the game. Firewatch is like a book which you can’t put down, that you not only visualize through the minds of the characters but also experience because, in the end, it’s a game. I’m glad, it gave the perfect ending to my 2016 gaming life!


Game Details:
Title: Firewatch
Developer: Campo Santo
Platform: PC, PS4, Linux, Windows, OS X, Xbox One
Reviewed On: PS4
Publisher: Panic

The Last of Us – A Late Review

I’ve never been so stressed and nervous playing games ever, as I have been with The Last of Us – Remastered on PS4 lately. This has drastically changed my perspective on gaming and so I decided to share my thoughts through this blog post. The Last of Us (TLOU) released on the PS3 by Naughty Dog in 2013 and the PS4 in 2014, I couldn’t play it on the PS3 for reasons that I will describe later in this post but I’m so glad that I picked it up for the PS4.

Naughty Dog launched the mind-blowing and one of my favourites Uncharted 4 in 2016, which is an open world thriller and action-adventure title. In contrast, when I played TLOU I couldn’t bear the thought that it required me to work in stealth to progress in the game. The semantics for Uncharted were quite simple and linear but not with TLOU and that left me disappointed on the PS3. When I started playing the Remastered version (that’s what they call it for the PS4) I looked at it from a new perspective with no comparison with Uncharted, and that’s how it became more enjoyable for me.

The Runners, Clickers, Bloaters are without a doubt the worst characters to face in The Last of Us. Runners are still fine as mêlée attacks will overpower them but I have problems with the Clickers who can overrun you at the slightest noise. The Bloaters are the worst looking and the toughest of the group of infected creatures and I realised very late (after several ‘deaths’) how to defeat them. There’s a specific strategy to defeat these guys individually, or you may just use stealth tactics to go ahead further in the game. But at some point eventually, I’m left with no choice but to face their grunts and horrible attacks. It’s the worst situation in this game, one which I couldn’t come to terms with on the PS3 version.

One of my favourite features in the game is ‘crafting’. You could be creating medicines for yourself (Joel) or mêlée weapons or Shivs (sort of dagger to kill Clickers). To craft any of the items I must constantly scan the surroundings for items like scissors or adhesive tapes or antiseptic and so on. It’s wonderful to note how the game will change for better or worse if you continuously engage or fail to engage in exploring the vicinity for items. I have kept searching for Firefly pendants as well with zero luck. There are Artefacts and Manuals too which will help you to upgrade your weapons and skills, it’s a narrative relevant to a post-apocalyptic world and one which hits you hard when you consider the devastating effects of climate change on the environment. The game’s AI engine is also very sensitive to your moves and will change the gameplay often and keep you immersed.

It’s a great game, and if you own a PS4 you must own a copy. Moving on, let’s see how I can settle my score with the Hunters now.

Uncharted 4 – A Perspective

It’s the last installment in the Uncharted series of Nathan Drake’s treasure hunting adventures and gun fights, and this time, Naughty Dog has pushed the gameplay and the graphics beyond imagination. The hype was on a mammoth scale for the final farewell to one of gaming history’s most exciting franchises. By the way, this isn’t a review for Uncharted 4, it’s just my perspective on the gameplay and the graphics for the title. It also made me go for my first PS4 – the Limited Edition Uncharted 4 bundle.

I just finished Chapter 8, and there was plenty of energy, mind-boggling puzzles and enough stress for surviving in a fighting situation, an anticipated feature of the gameplay anyway. Collecting hidden treasures of course (and fretting over the missed ones usually) but I’ve somewhat become a pro at this one. Apart from the intense gun fights Uncharted 4 has added an exciting crouch-movement in stealth mode too. The stealth move was present in previous titles too but has greater significance in Uncharted 4. So when you are surrounded by tall grass you can remain undetected to a group of mercenaries and take them down quietly to avoid a full-fledged gun battle. Watch for the stealth meter as it fills from White (about to be detected) to Yellow (something suspicious and investigating) and finally Orange (you’re screwed, dude!).

Uncharted takes you on a virtual holiday around the world and I absolutely can’t wait to play the next chapters in Uncharted 4 to see how the adventure takes me to other locales — I know the Madagascar map is awesome from the promos. When it’s Uncharted it’s been a norm to play the title more than once to absorb the story and the gameplay.

I just wish that this isn’t the last title in the series but that seems likely. The Internet is talking about Naughty Dog’s willingness about the development of the Uncharted series with a different studio. A serious gamer once told me the series would continue but with a new character. I don’t want to speculate though I wish Sony doesn’t pull the trigger on one of its most successful titles.

Finally, I will post some Uncharted 4 game screen captures. Enjoy the vivid landscapes while it lasts. The graphics quality is just jaw-dropping.

Also, au revoir to Nathan Drake!


Uncharted 4-1

Uncharted 4-3

Uncharted 4-2Uncharted 4-5Uncharted 4-6Uncharted 4-7

 


Further Reading:
Could Uncharted 5 Actually Happen? Here’s What The Director Says
Naughty Dog Creative Director, Neil Druckmann, weighs his opinion on a possible fifth franchise title. Interesting read.
A Brain Dump of What I Worked on for Uncharted 4
Ming-Lun Chou worked on the programming of Uncharted 4 at Naughty Dog. This is a brilliant post on the behind-the-scenes of the game (to avoid any spoilers, I will read this after I complete the game). You can also see some game graphics in his blog post.

The Imitation Game: Turing’s Analogy of Gaming and AI Theory

The Imitation Game produces an engrossing setting in a chamber with Detective Nock questioning Alan Turing, where he defines the theories of gaming and AI. The detective is clearly bewildered by the mathematical brilliance of his respondent. Alan Turing is widely considered as the father of theoretical computer science and artificial intelligence today.

Turing seems to ostensibly denote the inadequacy of humanity about tolerating an individual’s right to freedom (a reference to his homosexuality) while harbouring a surprising curiosity in machine behaviour to quantify its emotions.

(Very well done Benedict Cumberbatch!)


Detective Nock: Can machines think?
Turing: Oh, so you’ve read some of my published works?
Detective Nock: What makes you say that?
Turing: Well, because I’m sitting in a police station, accused of entreating a young man to touch my p**** and you just asked me if machines can think.
Detective Nock: Well, can they?
Turing: Could machines ever think as human beings do? Most people say not.
Detective Nock: You’re not most people.
Turing: Well, the problem is you’re…asking a stupid question.
Detective Nock: I am?
Turing: Of course machines… can’t think as people do.
A machine is different… from a person. Hence, they think differently.
The interesting question is, just because something, uh,
thinks differently from you, does that mean it’s not thinking?
Well, we allow for humans to have such divergences from one another.
You like strawberries, I hate ice-skating,
you… cry at sad films, I… am allergic to pollen.
What is the point of-of different tastes, different… preferences
if not to say that our brains work differently, that we think differently?
And if we can say that about one another, then why can’t we say
the same thing for brains… built of copper and wire, steel?
And that’s…
Detective Nock: this big paper you wrote? What’s it called?
Turing: ”The Imitation Game.”
Detective Nock: Right, that’s…that’s what it’s about?
Turing: Would you like to play?
Detective Nock: Play?
Turing: It’s a game. A test of sorts.
For determining whether something is a…a machine or a human being.
Detective Nock: How do I play?
Turing: Well, there’s a judge and a subject, and…the judge asks questions,
and, depending on the subject’s answers, determines who he is talking with…
what he is talking with, and, um…
All you have to do is ask me a question.
Detective Nock: What did you do during the war?
Turing: I worked in a radio factory.
Detective Nock: What did you really do during the war?
Turing: (laughs softly) Are you paying attention?