Serotonin

sero_castlevania2

Lev Grossman is one of my favorite authors. The first two books in his Magicians trilogy, The Magicians and The Magician King, are right up my alley. They’re Narnia meets Harry Potter with a macabre twist. The series is scary, realistic in its own way and has a protagonist whose voice matches my own at times. It really does feel like it was written for guys just like me; obsessed with fantasy and not exactly sure what to do in life. The third book was released recently, The Magician’s Land, and it, too, was spectacular. Some scenes were so beautifully written that I will never forget them. But something wasn’t quite the same. READ MORE

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The cynical part of me rears its annoying head once in a while, reminding me video games are a business first and always. The industry has expanded since the NES launched in 1985, bringing us unmatched content for nearly every digital desire we could possibly imagine (within reason, holodecks are yet to come). People have become deservedly rich from creating, distributing and selling games and consoles.

Most of us are willing participants because we feel games are, mostly, a strong product. They can be played as many times as you wish, and many have multiple reasons to return. They can be discussed in great detail, played with others in the same room or even around the world. They are constantly evolving, bringing new ideas, challenges and artistic interpretations straight to our living rooms. They are truly a marvel, and we are lucky to be in a position to play games so often when others are much less fortunate. READ MORE

sero_interstellarxeno

I am sitting in my boring room, not listening to anything at all. I put myself in a blank stasis, to figure out if silence can be deafening and seeing nothing can be a beautiful sight. I fail to answer those questions, quickly. Whether it’s because I’m a slave to stimulation, or thoughts of gorgeous aesthetics and catchy tunes are too much to resist, I’ll never know. Specific songs creep in and force me to remember things that matter, things that don’t and all things in-between. READ MORE

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Serotonin’s criteria are simple: did a video game connect with me on an emotional level? Did it make me happy? Sad? Angry? Confused? Bored? Thrilled? As long as I remember it in a meaningful way, it doesn’t matter what the game is. I’ve been pondering lately if the emotional connection is tied to a specific aspect of a game. Am I more moved by musical scores, or do I find peace in gazing upon a particularly beautiful level?

I used to think the ultimate satisfaction came through gameplay. Was I comfortable with the jumping sections? Did the controls help or hinder my progress? How did beating each level make me feel? These are questions I ask myself frequently. It’s a sign of a great game when it connects with me purely through its gameplay. Isn’t that what a video game should be? Games are an experience you control; you are in charge of the progression. You tell your own story, you create your own struggles and triumphs through your own, personal input. Nothing else matters if the gameplay is subpar.

But then came  Telltale’s The Walking Dead, and my supposed unshakable foundation of game philosophy was disrupted in a wonderful way.

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I’ve been sleeping well lately. Kyla and I moved into a basement suite in an area as close to a video game setting as you can get. It’s absolutely gorgeous; small, curvy roads lead you through architectural wonder. Three doors down is a house with the look of a medieval tavern mixed with modern wealth. The Governor General’s estate is one block away, filled with ponds, flowers, deer and paths tailor-made for long walks and longer talks. The pièce de résistance is a castle right around the corner. Craigdarroch Castle, lit up at night, makes me feel like I belong to a neighborhood instead of living among random people in a random place. READ MORE

sero_DKC

Last year, I was sitting next to my buddy at a hockey game at the Memorial Arena in Victoria, British Columbia. We obeyed the voice telling us to stand, removed our hats and welcomed some aspiring local vocalist to sing what would, no doubt, be a rousing rendition of Canada’s national anthem. After a quick internal check to see if my ears were working (sadly, they were), I confirmed that it was the national anthem I was hearing.

Oh, for it to be any other song, for the butchery and obnoxiousness wouldn’t pain me as much. A true Canadian wouldn’t derive anything but sadness from this version of O Canada. The singer was trying too hard, she hit high notes where there shouldn’t have been, she hit low notes where low notes should never go and she stretched it out with unnecessary wailing and impromptu head and hand movements. It was way too long and over-produced. I turned to my buddy and said, “you know, it’s not a cover.” He agreed. READ MORE

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My very first Serotonin was about how good games make failure fun. The concept was, through good design, it would encourage players to switch strategies and try again, rather than frustrate them to the point of quitting. I seem to have come full circle with this edition; the latest triumph my group had over Dungeon Defenders was an arduous, brutal journey of frustration, death and Game Overs. This went beyond a game making failure fun. This was an exercise in constant futility, humiliation and bewilderment. I would never have gotten through this one level had it not been for the excellent group dynamic of which I was lucky to be a part. Sometimes good game design isn’t enough. READ MORE

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Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for the second season of Telltale’s The Walking Dead.

Telltale’s The Walking Dead was my top game of 2012, so my expectations for the sequel were about as high as they could be. After finishing it and letting the impact settle, I can safely say it met every expectation I knew I had and surpassed expectations I didn’t know existed. This will land a spot in my top ten at year’s end for many of the same reasons its predecessor did: top-notch directing, excellent pacing, professional voice acting and brutal choices that force your inner moral compass to show itself, one way or another. The Walking Dead: Season Two retains much of what made the first game successful, but deviates so far from the story arc of Season One that it becomes a totally different experience and is richer for it. READ MORE

sero_hiddenpalacegem

My dad and I used to joke around about the moon landing. We laughed about how crazy it would be if the whole thing was faked. We humored our curiosity by researching all the literature and pictures attempting to sway popular opinion, and some were even almost convincing. We still talk about it today, how NASA is an entity shrouded in mystery, how it could be hiding interstellar secrets from us and how it’s entirely possible they could have doctored the photos. READ MORE

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I moan about a lot of things, like how the traffic lights don’t sync up on Cook Street between Johnson and Yates. Or how much sunscreen I have to use during the summer, or even how the seagulls near my apartment seem to be practicing for the Sam Kinison choir, starting at 4 a.m. I’m sure we all have our little irks about life we want to change, and some are empowered enough to do so. If I were smarter, I would take a different route home from work, wear a hat when I’m outdoors and move away from mating birds.

Some grievances are beyond my help, or at least I can only do so little. The Snackbar staff are well aware that I’m a positive person, but when it comes to a lack of sequels for my favorite game series, I can turn from Mr. Rogers to Oscar the Grouch at the drop of a trash can lid. Lately, I can’t get Suikoden out of my head and how a Suikoden VI could knock it out of the park. READ MORE