Tag Archives: From Software

Pushing Blood in Bloodborne

Pushing Blood in Bloodborne

While I’ve yet to finish Bloodborne, I can tell you that it’s well worth your time. It somehow both refines what you’ve come to appreciate (I won’t say love because fuck Souls games) and usurps your expectations from Dark Souls. And From Software does it with just two simple changes.

In getting through Dark Souls and Demon’s Souls, I’m sure many of you did what I did, which was aim to simply survive. It wasn’t a matter of winning, per se, but rather outliving the things that were trying to kill you. It’s more like capitalizing on the opportunities given to you instead of creating them for yourself.

Builds, from what I’ve seen, can vary from totally middle of the road knights to barebones speedsters, but the majority sidle towards tank builds. By taking as much punishment as possible while still remaining evasive, you give yourself more time for more opportunities to rear their giant ugly heads.

Dark Souls II

That, however, is not viable in Bloodborne. There are, in fact, no shields in the game. (Well, there’s one, but it’s more of a plywood plank and totally an in-joke.) This is the first change.

There is instead a new category of weaponry: firearms. Rather than set the idea of defense as one of soaking up damage, the goal is to subvert damage. The guns, you see, aren’t particularly good at injuring foes, nor is their ammo (relatively) plentiful like arrows of yore. What they do is open up the ability to counter.

These counters, known as visceral attacks, are made to empower you against moments where evasion isn’t a choice. Timed properly, they allow you to move confidently into situations where you would move cautiously in past Souls games.


It’s different from parries, though. Parrying leaves enemies staggered and possibly open to followup. Visceral attacks are damaging in and of themselves. It feels a lot more like the very active combat framework of games like Bayonetta.

That’s the other change. Bloodborne encourages a much more active take on the previously slow and meditative fighting of Dark Souls and Demon’s Souls. From Software has implemented a regain system where after you receive damage, you can attack enemies to gain your health back.

This is your new shield and armor. Instead of dissemination and ablation, you take the damage and then just get it back. It’s not so you can be reckless and button mash your way to victory. This is still, after all, very much a Souls game, but you are encouraged to be proactive instead of reactive.


In this way, the major expectation of how you used to play is flipped on its head. With the ability to massively counter enemy attacks and recover health from mitigated or failed incursions, you create opportunities now. You dive in and you force the hand of your opponents rather than the other way around.

That is the subtlety of precise and expert game design. Bloodborne maintains exactly what you expect from Souls games but also smashes those expectations into something new. A review will be forthcoming, but between playing new Dark Souls II DLC and eating tacos, I do suggest you make time for this and see what you think of these changes.

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Trailer Roundup: Quantum Break, Bloodborne, and More

Trailer Roundup: Quantum Break, Bloodborne, and More

Gamescom was overflowing with trailers. At 35 minutes, I’d question the categorization of one of them as a “trailer,” but either way, this is at least a movie’s worth of watching time now. Several dozen trailers have overwhelmed the dam, so this is really just a smattering of what I found interesting. I’m sure many of you will disagree with what is going to be excluded, but hey, you could have also just watched the Pokémon World Championships, too.

Quantum Break

There was a trailer leading up to this gameplay demo, but why watch that when you can watch eight minutes of Quantum Break in motion? Finally seeing how the mechanical side of the game is going to work is pretty cool. The general fighting of fodder enemies looks like it could become trivial quite quickly, but that boss battle came across as quite interesting. I’m actually looking forward to playing it now. Comes out 2015 for Xbox One.


Ugh, I hate that Sony’s YouTube channel is calling every announcement video an “announce trailer.” It’s a grammatical terror, sure, but it just feels awful to say. But aside from that, how are you not intrigued by Bloodborne? Coming from Hidetaka Miyazaki, this game just looks cool. And even as inviting as the gameplay teaser is, this six minutes of solid demo shenanigans is even better. Comes out 2015 for PlayStation 4.

The Order: 1886

Woo, this is a gorgeous-looking game. Even from the trailer, I can tell that the feeling of shooting the weapons in The Order: 1886 is going to be a highlight. It looks so immediate and reactive and powerful. Hopefully the game actually manages to be worth playing and not just something that looks good in a video. This will be the first original solo venture from Ready at Dawn, so here’s hoping. Comes out February 20, 2015 for PlayStation 4.


At this point, my desire to play Below is far outpaced by my desire to simply know more about it. If they were two mutually exclusive options in my entire lifetime but I could ask any question about it and get the answer right now, I would take that deal. Okay, probably not, but seriously. TELL ME MORE, CAPY. Comes out, uh, sometime for Xbox One and Steam.

Shadow Realms

Surprise! That mystery BioWare teaser from a few weeks ago was actually for BioWare Austin’s upcoming 4v1 online action RPG. It’s a structure that sounds a bit like Evolve and the trailer feels an awful lot like a more serious John Dies at the End, so I have no idea what point I’m trying to make here other than “Shadow Realms” is a super generic title, but put me down as super tepid right now.


Well this is certainly the last thing I would have expected from Michel Ancel. Leading a new indie shop called Wild Sheep Studios, this survival adventure game is a huge departure from Rayman. But as the trailer goes on, it becomes strangely apparent that 1) WiLD is French, and 2) WiLD is at least partly infused with Ancel’s latent insanity.


If Ninja Theory said they were making a Barbie game for graphing calculators, I would be onboard. After making Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, anything they make will always be welcome with open arms here. Not to say they can do no wrong, but I’m willing to give them a chance. Granted, this trailer tells us basically nothing about Hellblade (with this “introduction” trailer somehow divulging even less), but the premise at least seems interesting.

The Tomorrow Children

Talk about inscrutable. This trailer is the single most confusing thing I’ve seen all week. It all sums up to mean basically nothing. I had to read this just to get some semblance of an idea of what The Tomorrow Children might be about. The gist is that it involves mining, bettering an online social community, and Marxist parody, which is everybody’s favorite genre of anything.

Battlefield Hardline

For a developer commentary video, there isn’t actually a lot of commentary going on in this 12-minute demo of Battlefield Hardline. However, I am excited about this game solely because it looks so little like any other Battlefield game. It’s something I appreciate about that franchise. While they have the staple (and stale) numbered series, they aren’t afraid to branch off into Bad Company and Heroes territory. Comes out 2015 for PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One.

Donut County

Donut County is a whimsical physics toy that gives players control of a mysterious hole that gets bigger each time they swallow something.” That’s all you had to say, Ben Esposito.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

Sweet jesus. 35 minutes. Of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. At least the commentary is good. Comes out February 24, 2015 for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.


Cyberpunk bartending simulator. That’s all you need to know. Get on that VA-11 HALL-A tip, dawg.

A Voyeur for September

I have no idea what a “live action stealth game” is, but I would love to find out. Give it to me, Team Meat. Give me A Voyeur for September.

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Highlights from Sony at E3 2014

Highlights from Sony at E3 2014

Well, as good as Microsoft was on Monday morning, the general consensus seems to be that Sony somehow surpassed the Redmond efforts. Honestly, I’m inclined to agree. Not only did we get a far more varied selection of game demos thrown at us with Sony, there were more significant surprises, which is really what a press briefing should be for.

Granted, journalists really shouldn’t be cheering or hollering (as someone much better at this job once told me, you only clap for people and not for spectacle), but some of the announcements Sony pulled out of their seemingly rabbit-filled hat really made me want to fist pump. I guess, however, it only serves to highlight how even press has been reallocated to something on par with seat fillers at the Academy Awards.

But let’s put such depressing ruminations behind us (and likely save them for another time). Let’s relive Sony’s numerous tweet-worthy shenanigans like they didn’t just happen on Monday!


My immediate reaction to this was similar to everyone else’s: this is Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons + Tempest. But once I played it, I realized you definitely need to throw a little Panzer Dragoon and Child of Eden in there, too. Its one-line summation is heartbreaking (“it’s about two souls that are in love but can’t be together”) and it plays just beautifully. And it’s out now for $9.99! A review will come sometime when it’s, you know, not god damn E3 week.

The Order: 1886

The Victorian Era aesthetic is one of my favorites. And I’m not crazy about the button prompt situation going on in the video, but the lurking in the darkness and the pacing and pretty much the other 99% of what was shown on stage seems pretty great. Besides, it’s about time those Ready at Dawn guys get a shot at their own IP. Look for it on February 20, 2015.

Infamous: First Light

You know what? I liked Infamous: Second Son. And more than that, I thought Fetch was a pretty cool character with an interesting backstory, so I’m pretty excited at the prospect of learning more about her within a framework that I already know I enjoy. The only problem is that instead of multiple powers, now we’ll just get the neon set, but come on, that was everyone’s favorite anyways. Releases August of this year.

LittleBigPlanet 3

While substantial that LittleBigPlanet 3 is indeed being made, it’s hard to not notice that 1) it’s being made by Sumo Digital and not Media Molecule (and their attention is being split a high profile exclusive for Xbox with Forza Horizon 2), and 2) it seems to feature basically every fundamental problem that has not been addressed in LBP 1 or LBP 2. However, it does look as charming and fun with friends as ever. I loved that the demo seemed so natural. Expect it this November.


This is where the hype led. Project Beast is now Bloodborne, though I honestly like the name Project Beast a lot more. But this game, led by Dark Souls and Demon’s Souls director Hidetaka Miyazaki, looks to be everything we’ve been hoping for: creepy, gross, and wholly compelling. It also kicked off the day’s trend of trailers with double title cards. Double! Set for release sometime next year.

Dead Island 2

The complete polar opposite of the original Dead Island announcement trailer. That’s what this is. It’s unfortunate that trailer even exists because this is quite fun and the E3 demo is quite solid as well. But my god that trailer hard to live up to. Also, it’s not being developed by Techland (they’re busy with Hellraid and Dying Light) but Yager Development. Expected early 2015.

Grim Fandango

This was basically the surprise of the briefing. This is what these sorts of things were made for. Journalists get big news pieces and questions to ask and interviews to set up while fans get to drool and hoot and holler while executives roll around in their money pits. Also, Tim Schafer confirmed via Twitter that this remastered version will eventually make its way to other platforms. I’m also going to go ahead and guess John Vignocchi had something to do with this.


Much like the Mesopotamian breakdown of the title itself, Abzû is a beautiful game. I do mean on a purely visual level since I’ve yet to play it, but it surely seems like this game was made just for people like me. It looks a bit like Journey (not unexpected considering Giant Squid was founded by Journey art director Matt Nava and the project itself includes composer Austin Wintory and thatgamecompany’s lead designer Nicholas Clark) while certainly something all its own. It will launch in 2016.

Magicka 2

I love how stupidly and impressively absurd every Magicka trailer has managed to be despite, you know, reality. I mean, I also like Magicka and how surprisingly deep the co-op elements were, but the trailers are just so fun and ridiculous. I guess that also applies to the game as well.

No Man’s Sky

I can tell you firsthand that even hours after the event, this trailer and this game is all people were talking about. It’s still something I want to talk about. It looks like the game has grown even more impressive and that’s considering that the studio Hello Games flooded around Christmastime and had to redo quite a bit of work. And this quote: “We’re dealing with planet-sized planets. Even if a million of us played on one planet, we’d still be really far apart.” Yes please.

Let It Die

Yep, definitely looks like a Suda game. And apparently it’s being shown somewhere at E3, but you have to either know the right people or be lucky to see it. I have one more day to find out if I’m one or both of those things. I’m not even entirely sure what Let It Die is about, but I’d really like to find out.

PlayStation Now, Free-to-Play, and TV

The free-to-play thing was weird. It was more like they were trying to get away with saying “these games are free!” and then whispering “…to play.” It was definitely not well received. PlayStation Now and PlayStation TV, however, were pretty well on point. Now is Gaikai rebranded but still totally a gaming streaming service and TV is a little $99 microconsole that pairs with a controller to play games and watch things. PlayStation TV come this fall, as will PlayStation Now, though the latter will go into beta on July 31.

Ratchet & Clank Movie

It was only a matter of time. It and a “reimagined” game will be hitting PSN in 2015.

Remastered The Last of Us and Grand Theft Auto V

I promise you I will play both The Last of Us and Grand Theft Auto V in their entirety over again just because. I did it for Tomb Raider and I will do it again because I think all of them are fantastic games. The Last of Us will come out July 29 and Grand Theft Auto V sometime this fall.

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

If the title wasn’t telling enough, Nolan North, voice actor behind Nathan Drake, also believes this will be the last Uncharted game that Naughty Dog will make. It makes sense and I sincerely hope so. No matter how good Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End ends up being (or bad, who knows), I don’t think anyone wants to see this storied franchise end up becoming a commoditized burden, especially without Justin Richmond and Amy Hennig behind the wheel. Look for it in 2015.

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

While not as classic as last year’s E3 trailer, this is classic inscrutable Kojima. I can’t wait to look at my TV with a dumbfounded layer of confusion plastered across my face.

Batman: Arkham Knight

One word: Batmobile. Glad to see Rocksteady Studios back at it. Comes out in 2015.

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Hands-on with Dark Souls II

Hands-on with Dark Souls II

I was way behind. The day started with a 12:00 PM appointment, the same time as when the doors open on the first day of E3. The unwashed masses descend upon the South and West halls and inexplicably form orderly queues despite the rampant disorganization that soon follows the opening bell. This is how E3 meetings and demos fall behind schedule; they simply start out late. This, however, is also how I got my hands on Dark Souls II for nearly a whole 30 minutes.

Settled into the waiting pen for Namco Bandai, machines appeared before me unattended. So I grabbed a controller and set about playing a game I knew only in passing and had seen a trailer for once just the day before. I’d played both Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls but finished neither; to me, they were casual games I would pick up, get stumped by a battle, and put back down all in the span of 15 to 30 minutes.

But let’s talk about Dark Souls II. It opens with me standing in a dimly lit room. It gives me a moment to refamiliarize myself with the controls, which are largely unchanged from Dark Souls, and scope out my current location. There’s a hole in the ground and a door that doesn’t open, so I position myself above the crevasse and peer over.

A bit too far, it seems, as I fall in, gleefully ignoring the ladder right beside me and losing about 75% of my health from the 15-foot drop. So far, so Dark Souls. It’s much darker down here, but I do see that there’s a body lying on the ground shambling back to life to try and take the last quarter of my vitality. He does so quite easily. Time to start again.

This time, I manage to remember the ladder. Success! Oh, but I forget to use it. Dammit! Back down to 25% health, but I slam down a health potion and I’m almost as good as new. In related news, that corpse goes down a lot easier this time around. Some well-timed rolls and not-so-well-timed swings of my sword put him down and me only slightly down. All that animation priority goodness you love from Dark Souls is back, so don’t worry. After crossing a bridge and entering a nearly pitch black basement, though, I’m reminded of the other chief property of the series: the opportunity to make stupid mistakes.

Combat is all about mitigating risks and knowing when you have an opportunity worth seizing. Navigating the world, however, is all about not being a complete fucking idiot, which I fail to do in the most spectacular fashion in this subterranean dungeon. First off, it’s almost completely and totally dark in there and yet I go in without a torch. Second, I haphazardly run around like I own the place. (Note: I do not, in fact, own the place.) Third, which is a net result of the first two failings, I show how I can be equally ignorant to helpful things like ladders as dangerous things like the giant hulking Turtle enemy right in front of me. He’s about a third taller than me but way bulkier, covered from head to toe in armor, and just killed me with his humongous hammer.

Dark Souls II

Third time’s a charm, though, and I finally do it; I used the ladder! However, I die at the Turtle’s hands again because, I dunno, I thought maybe I could be a hero or something. Anyways, if I’d learned anything from the first Dark Souls and life in general, it’s to run away from your troubles, so I take another bridge outside, run away from a few more life lessons, and warp into a long hallway.

This hallway looks kind of familiar. It’s the throne-like runway from the trailer where all the dudes are swiping at you as you run towards the camera. Well, I don’t see any dudes, but I do see a lot of statues with pikes and a, uh, statuemancer at the end. While he casts spells at me, I put two and two together and decide to take a page from the trailer’s playbook and haul ass down the corridor. Recklessly and fruitlessly, I take damage from his dark fireballs and the numerous blades shivving me in the side to the point where I only brief touch a wall of mist just behind the wizard before collapsing in a heap of failure, regret, and poor risk analysis.

A few more attempts at trying to defeat the statues (they go down rather easy as long as you don’t let them overwhelm you and take proper cover from the incoming projectiles) and the dark magician (he is much more resilient and now the bane of my existence) pass by before I decide to just try to bee line it straight for the mist. It’s a tense affair of pushing slowly into the sparkling barrier and hearing my doom slowly encroach on me, but I push through…

Dark Souls II

And am immediately greeted by death. Well, not death, per se, but the massive Mirror Knight you also see in the trailer. He is, however, the harbinger of my imminent doom, so details like who he’s PR for aren’t all that important. I run up to him and dance around, trying to feel him out. I want to tease him to find out where his head is at. Is he a brute? Does he cast spells? What’s with that big shield? All of these questions go running through my head as he jumps into the air and brings down a swift and brutal end to my life. His blank, unchanging face taunts me as I fade to black.

And so this goes on for the next 10 minutes or so to varying degrees of success and ways of being crushed. It takes a lot of patience and nuance to get around his large, sweeping but fast attacks and spanning lightning spells. He has a pose that could lead to one of three moves that become harder to predict the closer you are to him (it just so happens that the moments prior are the best for inflicting damage). And when he slams down his shield, a soldier busts through the mirror and comes after you. He’s easily handled if you rush up fast and unleash naive hell upon him, but that depletes the stamina you would otherwise be using to avoid the Mirror Knight’s attacks. Slogging through just a fourth of his health is painful and takes more concentration than I’d used the entire day prior. It is, basically, everything you’d want from a Dark Souls game.

From what I can tell, From Software has made no effort to make the game any easier—there is no easy mode—but they have tried to facilitate the ways you play it. There’s a new engine powering the game that gives more clues about enemies with greater visual and audio capabilities; improved enemy AI will result in less outcomes where you feel cheated; and there is now persistent bonfire warping. There’s also a character generator now that asks your questions and guesses the best match of what type of play style you would want based on your answers.

Dark Souls II

Gameplay changes are indeterminate, however, in regards to difficulty impact as there are now life gems that can regenerate health without stopping to down a potion, you can dual wield weapons, and you can carry three weapon or shield items now. Some more die hard Dark Souls fans I spoke with said that the movement felt a bit faster (perhaps it was their particular loadout) and that a few combat things felt different (in what ways, they could not readily articulate given the short demo time), but from what I saw, the philosophy of the franchise was there. It was brutal, it was mean, and it was consistent. Just in the brief time I spent with Dark Souls II, I failed at so many things, learned a few lessons, and overcame a couple of obstacles. For the first time that day, falling behind wasn’t so bad.

Look for Dark Souls II on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC in March 2014.

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Where Difficulty Matters

I’ve always found it upsetting when people describe games as “unforgiving” and then just leave it at that. That sets up such a small facet of the game that you might as well start over with the plastic wrap around the box. A game can be unforgiving but fair or unforgiving and an unrepentant piece of satanic horse hockey. It can ply and test the tensile strength of your gaming resolve or it can make you feel cheated over and over again like a blackjack dealer with glaucoma.

Difficulty, as it turns out, is a difficult thing to tame. It’s a bucking, wild colt that must be reined in properly, otherwise you’ll find yourself in the air and on the ground more than you are riding those majestically powerful chestnut haunches. Difficulty, above all, must be fair. The Golden Rule doesn’t just apply to face-to-face communication but also asynchronously virtual interactions.

And that defines video games pretty well. Designers and developers spend months and years building up one side of the conversation, and then you get to work on your response following that. It’s a paradigm that, at its foundation, represents a digital conversation, and as with all conversations, you don’t want the person you’re chatting with to every once in a while slap you across the cheek and call you Amy Whiny-house as you attempt to hold back the tears.

Super Meat Boy, for instance, is a hard game for all the right reasons. It’s a side-scrolling platformer with the number of ways to die outnumbering the number of hits you can take somewhere in the neighborhood of 5,000 to one. At certain points, it feels like you can die just from existing too long or for cursing the game too loudly (oh god, can it hear me? DOES IT KNOW?!). Your replays start out innocuous enough, numbering somewhere in the five to 10 range, but by the end of the Dark Worlds, it’ll look more like the product of a gyroscope formed from crystallized DMT that also is probably on a fairly severe acid trip.

You never, however, feel overwhelmed. You are always equipped with everything you need to successfully overcome each challenge and level. The controls are fine enough to where you can break a block on crumbling wall as you jump against a fan so it pushes you back over a swinging saw. The nuance afforded to you is so great that you can wall jump between undulating platforms of spikes over a rising pit of lava. But will you? Probably not.

At least for the first few (hundred) times, but eventually you’ll get it. Some of the obstacles require a bit of consideration and a little pause for personal reflection and introspection, but none of it necessitates rote memorization and a subsequent physical manifestation. The solution is always right in front of you, goading you to try your best (if that’s even good enough), but never will it force you to poke and pry at the cover to see what’s underneath.

Contrast that with Pid, the inaugural release from Might and Delight. It is also a side-scrolling platformer, but you get to throw around light beams that will float you along in whatever direction they’re pointing. Since you, as a character, are limited in your ability to jump and climb, these light beams become necessary for you to explore this strange, sleepy world and escape from its hostile robot inhabitants.

Pid is also, however, difficult in a…less agreeable way. Given that Might and Delight is mostly comprised of the same team that brought us the equally difficult Bionic Commando: Rearmed, it’s no surprise to find Pid also on that end of the challenge spectrum. Just like Super Meat Boy, though, Rearmed felt more or less appropriate in the ways it punished you. Pid just feels punishing for the sake of being a dick.

Don’t get me wrong; Pid has its moments. In fact, it’s an all-around good game. It looks great and is charming as hell, but it can be difficult with absolutely no recourse. The entire game looks like a dream with everything being somewhat soft and bloomy, but that dream-like nature extends to how everything moves as well. Enemy animations are buffoonish and exaggerated and, more importantly, slow. The speed at which everything moves feels just a hair too slow for reality, making it a perfect match for the ethereal nature of the game’s milieu.

But you as a character also move slowly. Not only that, but you move insufficiently. As slow as everything else is, you always seem to move a bit slower. Death far outpaces you, making every checkpoint an exercise is rote memorization. Remember how I said Super Meat Boy avoids the need for that? Pid didn’t get the memo. Those glowing death boxes that hound you seem to require prescient input on your part, and don’t even get me started on that butler boss. Or the one after that.

They all require trial and error and precise parroting but also introduce elements that will also need in-the-moment acts of rapid response time. All of those combined feed into a feeling of being inadequate. Understandably, this fits in rather well with the theme of the game, but the actual playing of it needs to be handled much more adeptly. You can be outmatched for any given situation, but for a game to not be frustrating, you have to feel capable. In this case, you feel outmatched and woefully incapable of much more than dying a lot.

Another good contrasting comparison would be Dark Souls. Dark Souls (and its predecessor Demon’s Souls) is notoriously brutal. Enemies cause just as much (if not more) damage than you with more health and usually are much larger than you. By and large, it’s safe to assume you are in danger of dying at any given moment. You aren’t, however, any more likely to die than anything else in the world. This may sound like a contradiction, but it’s true. You are more than able of defending yourself and taking down every bad guy around you, but you have to be capable of doing so.

You must understand the systems at play: how your attacks work, the timing of defense and counters, where geography will be an advantage or disadvantage, etc. If you manage that, you then are on equal footing with the game. The tools are there for you to learn, not memorize. Your ability to intuit and understand the things happening around you is your advantage, not some abstract sense of overbearing power. You feel commensurate, an equal in the eyes the game. Neither of you look down on one another, and that is why Super Meat Boy and Dark Souls and the like have difficulties that feel manageable, that feel right.

In Pid, you feel like you’re constantly fighting uphill against frightful gales and smashing debris. Not only that, but you’re fighting against yourself, too, as if your feet were a separate entity that communicated with you via semaphore and furtive winks. Its difficulty is not fair and tends to overwhelm. It does not serve to enrich the gameplay or work on some metaphysical narrative level but instead frustrates and punishes to do just that: frustrate and punish. We want to learn how to play, not memorize when to press buttons. Worse yet, those memorized sequences are often subverted by things that would similarly require a strict commitment to memory if they were not random. It is the Golden Rule torn asunder.

It’s a shame that I really do like just about everything else about that game.

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