(Dota 2) Team Liquid wins MDL Macau 2019

It has been quite a while since the winners of The International 7 managed to reach first place at a larger tournament, but the European squad captained by the legendary player Kuroky managed to win out against the North-American challengers Evil Geniuses in the finals of MDL Macau 2019.

Image courtesy of Hotspawn.com

Team Liquid made their way through the upper brackets of the tournament knocking both Royal Never Give Up and Evil Geniuses down to the lower brackets. Evil Geniuses managed to beat out the CIS favorites Virtus Pro in the lower bracket finals to once again square up against Liquid in the grand but in the end they fell short.

Neither ESL One Katowice nor MDL Macau 2019, the two large tournaments that took place the past week, count towards the points average for Valve’s Dota Pro Circuit. The teams competing in these two tournaments most certainly got a good bit of practice out of it; and a nice bit of cash to boot.

If teams are looking to earn their place for the next International – Valve’s massive Dota 2 tournament, considered to be Dota’s World Cup of sorts – they will have to perform well at the upcoming Starladder ImbaTV Minor (starting on the 7th of March) or Dreamleague Major (starting on the 14th of March).

Review: Resident Evil 2 (2019)

Ever since the remake of the original Resident Evil was released on the Gamecube way back in 2002 fans of the franchise have been pining for a remake of (arguably) the best installment in the original trilogy: Resident Evil 2. In the summer of 2015 fans finally got what hey had been asking for for over a decade: an announcement that a remake of the Playstation One title Resident Evil 2 was going into development, and by Capcom R&D Division 1 no less. A very excited Yoshiaki Hirabayashi reveals that after many years of asking for it the fans will finally get what they want. He takes off his jacket to reveal a T-shirt with the text “We Do It”, a tagline that became symbolic for fans around the globe of better times to come for the Resident Evil franchise.

The excitement for the return of the franchise to its horror roots reached a fever pitch when Resident Evil 7 was unexpectedly announced at E3 of 2016 with a first person perspective and a promise of returning to the franchise’s quintessential claustrophobic environments. Overall Resident Evil 7 released to critical acclaim and a warm reception of its loyal fans, and though it sold well, it didn’t sell quite as many copies as its predecessor (the much maligned Resident Evil 6) did. Despite its relatively poor sales performance Capcom was still pretty happy with the release overall, claiming that they preferred a good critical reception over high sales. [1]

Resident Evil 2 (2019) takes place in the fictional town of Raccoon City, the home of the pharmaceutical giant Umbrella Corporation. A few months before the events of the game there was an incident in the Arklay mountains which surround the city. This incident, detailed in the original Resident Evil and its respective remake, saw the members of the Raccoon City Police Department’s S.T.A.R.S. (Special Tactics And Rescue Service) unit trapped in a mansion that doubled as an Umbrella training and testing facility for the T-Virus, a virus that turns living beings into the hungry dead. The virus has in the months since spread to the city and it has become overrun with zombies. Enter our hero and heroine: Leon S. Kennedy and Claire Redfield. One is a rookie cop whom after numerous warnings not to come decided to travel to the R.P.D. in the hopes of finding out what happened. The other is a concerned sister looking for her brother, S.T.A.R.S. member Chris Redfield, who ceased communications with her weeks prior. On the outskirts of the city our protagonists have a run in with the walking dead, and as they drive deeper into the zombie infested city they find themselves trapped in a sea of hungry corpses. Separated by an exploding truck they each have to find their way to safety.

Resident Evil 2 (2019) takes a note from its most critically acclaimed predecessor and takes place entirely in over-the-shoulder camera perspective. Though this might seem like it invites the player to be Gung-Ho about their approach to the enemies they face, the game is fairly quick to dis-incentivize going in guns blazing. Primarily by throwing more enemies at the player than they can possibly handle with their limited amount of bullets in the opening moments of the game, but also by simply limiting the effectiveness of the bullets on enemies. Even the standard zombies sometimes take up enough ammo to make players wonder whether downing them is even worth the resources.

One of the main discussions among fans during the period of development for the Resident Evil 2 remake was the camera perspective that Capcom would elect to use for the title. The original game featured the divisive “fixed camera” perspective which many of the long-time Resident Evil fans look back on very fondly. The critically acclaimed Resident Evil 4 switched to the over-the-shoulder third person perspective, a shift necessitated by its more action oriented gameplay. For Resident Evil 7 Capcom opted for a first-person perspective, a series first. This perspective was most likely chosen because of the focus on Virtual Reality inclusion that was clear from the inception of the title, as well as the idea that the first person perspective is more immersive. In the end Capcom decided to go with the over-the-shoulder perspective for the Resident Evil 2 remake.

Resident Evil 2 (2019) features another smart mechanic to clearly delineate the type of gameplay that is expected of the player: dynamic accuracy. When you press the button to ready your gun the aiming reticle will be quite large and shots can be pretty scattered, but when you hold the button down for a few seconds the reticle will shrink to a pinpoint and your shots will always hit the exact spot you are aiming at. Not only does this shrinking of the reticle increase your accuracy, but it also increases your chances of getting a critical hit – and blowing up a zombies head with one shot can save you a lot of precious resources. Like in some of the later Resident Evil titles it is possible to shoot while moving, but when you move your accuracy resets to its original state and your aim will be less true, and your bullets will thus be less effective. Resident Evil 2‘s control scheme works fantastically to combine the slow, methodical gameplay that the franchise is known for with the increased freedom and ease of use of the later installments.

The emphasis of this title is once again primarily on puzzling and exploration. The environments within the game are very well crafted, the choppy flow of the original has been streamlined – item placements, rooms, and doors have been changed up to make the movement through the various locations in the game more clean. This tighter gameplay pattern is emphasized by the control scheme which allows for more freedom of movement and a more snappy pacing. Not only are the individual areas well crafted, they flow into each other naturally and most of them link back into each other in smart ways. In some instances this opens up the possibility of back tracking to certain earlier locales, which can serve the player that is hoping to expand their arsenal as much as possible before facing new possible threats.

The game does a good job of rewarding players that go the extra mile and explore every nook and cranny of the Raccoon Police Station and the other areas the game has to offer. These rewards can come in the forms of extra ammunition, increased inventory space, new additions to your existing arsenal, or upgrades for your growing cache of weapons. Solving some of the riddles the game throws at you can feel extremely rewarding, especially when the actual prize you receive for your cleverness is a shiny new attachment for your favorite weapon, or some much needed extra ammunition. None of these rewards make the upcoming challenges any less daunting, but they can make them more manageable. All of these rewards can greatly improve the player’s chances of survival.

Even though you amass quite the arsenal of weapons during the different story-lines, I felt that there was a slight lack of weapon variety across the different playthroughs. Though the weapon upgrades somewhat help to offset this it would have been nice to see one or two more weapon types or variations on existing weapons for each of the different stories.

Besides the weapon parts that can be used to upgrade your existing arsenal, another mechanic from the classic PSOne era Resident Evil games returns in the form of Resident Evil 3‘s gunpowder mixing. Each of the different story-lines features two different types of gunpowder (standard and high-grade) that can be mixed to make different types of ammunition. This gives the player the freedom to prioritize ammunition for their favorite weapons. The mechanic of defense weapons that was introduced in the remake of the original Resident Evil also makes a return in this game, but with a slight twist. These sub-weapons can now also be used pro-actively, rather than only as defensive tools, which opens up another plethora of possibilities. These various gameplay mechanics give the player the freedom to mix up their play-styles throughout different playthroughs of the game. Slight variations in tactics can vastly change your experience and it becomes clear early on that certain weapons, sub-weapons, or ammunition types work better against certain types of enemies.

Speaking of enemy types, one of the main criticisms levied against Resident Evil 7 at the time of its release was a lack of enemy variety. Resident Evil 2 (2019) luckily has a larger pool of varying enemies, all of which require different approaches in order to best them. The standard zombies are slow but tough to kill unless you exploit their weaknesses, then there are the quick and deadly Cerberus (the infamous zombie dogs) whose fast pace makes it hard to take a good shot, but if your aim is true they go down rather quickly. The Lickers introduced in the original Resident Evil 2 also make a return and just like in the original game they are blind and as such require, again, a different strategy to successfully best them. The G-adult enemy also makes its return but is relegated from its position as a boss enemy to a standard threat in the remake. Most enemies have clear strengths and weaknesses and part of the fun of the game is learning how to exploit these weaknesses and avoid the strengths.

The Tyrant – formerly known as “Mr. X” – also makes a return. He once again stalks the halls of the Police Station in search of survivors, but this time around his presence is a bit more ubiquitous. While in the original it was not too difficult to escape the Tyrant’s grasp, in this version of the game he is relentless. During certain parts of the various different playthroughs the Tyrant will be following Leon and Claire all across the police station. During this stressful chase the thumping of his heavy boots serves as a grim reminder of the fate that awaits you if you linger for a bit too long in the same areas. Though the chase is quite exhilarating the first time around, the Tyrant’s presence in subsequent playthroughs of the game can become more annoying than scary. Not in the least due to the fact that bullets seem to be a mere inconvenience to this trench-coat donning threat, attempting to kill him will only give the player a few seconds of respite before the merry chase continues. The Tyrant’s presence remains constant until the task at hand has been finished. I feel that by allowing the player to at least deter the Tyrant permanently for that part of the game by risking large amounts of ammunition (and perhaps even giving the player a reward for doing so) would have added another layer of risk versus reward that the player could consider during their playthroughs. Making the Tyrant seem like this unstoppable force certainly has an effect the first time around, but his presence is easily ignored in subsequent playthroughs and I feel this does a disservice to the potential that this enemy carries with it.

Another fan favorite enemy makes its return but its implementation makes it feel almost entirely out of place. Its appearance is more of a scripted event and feels like a lackluster throwback to the original title rather than a worthwhile addition. It is a nice nod to loyal fans, but its implementation seems to me to be more of a detriment to the pacing of the game and it really would not have made much of a difference had they left this scene out entirely. It is especially strange to me that this scene was implemented in this specific way since many of the major story events of the original game have been massively changed to better fit the gameplay and tone of the remake.

A lot of the dialogue and plot points have been re-written so they no longer feel quite as campy. The story of the game is by no means the main reason you should play this title, but it does a more than adequate job at keeping the attention of the player. In some instances the events that transpire can be genuinely moving, due in no small part to the incredible performances by the motion capture and voice actors. The beautiful realistically rendered graphics courtesy of the RE Engine allow for some truly stunning facial expressions. The power of the engine not only shines through the character animations but also the detailed environments and objects. The various vistas in the game truly feel lived in and their dilapidated state emphasizes the disastrous scale of the apocalyptic event that has hit Raccoon City. But it is the attention to detail that truly elevates this game’s visuals to another level; the character models react dynamically to things that happen within the game. Blood stains and dirt amass on your character’s clothes as you traverse deeper into the bowels of Raccoon city. Weapons and sub-weapons appear dynamically on the model as you add them to your weapon wheels. These are minor details but they truly add something to the experience in a way that I had not expected.

Another unexpected treat was the sound design of the game. The music is for the largest part of the game predictably understated for a Resident Evil title. During the more quiet moments it is the ambient sound affects that carry the momentum of the experience – the low growl of a zombie banging on the window, a howling wind, torrential rain. Instead there are specific moments in the game where the music really comes to the foreground, and in these instances it is used primarily to set the tone of the events that transpire. The music is very effective at raising the heartbeat in high-tension moments and pulling at the heart strings during emotional scenes. Though I have always quite liked the understated approach to sound design of the Resident Evil series I did not expect to like the musical score quite as much as I did.

If you enjoy what Resident Evil 2 (2019) has to offer then there is a lot to enjoy. A single playthrough takes somewhere around three to six hours to complete, but there are in total four different stories you can play through. Like in the original game both Leon and Claire have their own stories as well as a b-story with a different starting point, item locations and an extra weapon. The differences between Leon and Claire’s respective stories are fairly minimal but significant enough to feel fresh. If you enjoy the base gameplay that is offered by Resident Evil 2 (2019) you will most likely finish every single one of these stories. There are also multiple difficulties available and the changes innate to the higher difficulty levels will change your approach to the game drastically. You will also have plenty of reason to attempt finishing all of these different playthroughs because you can unlock new artwork, models and even weapons to use in your consecutive playthroughs. There are also several extra modes available if you get bored of the standard game. These will serve you short bursts of high octane action oriented gameplay, so if you are looking for an adrenaline rush these modes will hold you over.

Resident Evil 2 (2019) is the complete package: tight controls, great level design, good pacing, amazing sound design, a nice story and some excellent visuals to boot. Though some of its aspects don’t shine quite as bright as they could you would be hard pressed to find a better modern survival horror experience. Capcom has shown with this title that there is a bright future ahead of Resident Evil and hopefully the survival horror genre as a whole. There is plenty here to love and if you like horror games you would be doing yourself a disservice if you missed out on this incredible title.

The Witness: Modelling the Epiphany in Gameplay

In this post I take an in depth look at how The Witness teaches its players the solutions to its puzzles

Oxford Dictionary on the word epiphany:

“A moment of sudden and great revelation or realization.”

In 2014 Leigh Alexander posted an interview with Jonathan Blow on Gamasutra in which Blow said that “The Witness is about modelling the feeling of epiphany with great care.” At the time, the actual release of The Witness was still almost two years off and as such it was difficult to understand exactly what Blow meant when he said this. Almost a month ago The Witness turned three years old and it is high time to take a look back at my favourite game of 2016; what it tried to do and why I think it was successful in its attempt.

The main gameplay of The Witness revolves around the simple mechanic of solving maze-like puzzle panels in order to progress through the island’s idyllic landscapes and reach the end of the game. The puzzles are solved by drawing a line from the bulbous part of the puzzle to the tapered end. This seems simple enough, but the puzzles grow increasingly difficult as you progress. Not necessarily by growing ever larger and more intricate, but primarily by introducing new symbols that reconfigure the way you reach a solution.

These new symbols can throw you for a loop as most of the time when you first encounter these symbols you will not be familiar with the rules that are attached to them. I have read accounts of players online that stated they found this quite frustrating but to me it seemed like the designers wanted me to run into this wall. My conviction was strengthened by the fact that the above puzzle is one of the first puzzles the player encounters after exiting the tutorial area, an area where the most difficult puzzles were still simple mazes with a single start and end point and no symbols whatsoever.

When I came to the very next area of the game it became clear to me exactly the goal that Jonathan Blow had in mind when he decided to tease the player with their inability to solve this puzzle. The very next area featured two rows of panels with simple puzzles that explored the previously found symbols in a way that lead the player to understanding their function. Blow wanted the player to be aware of their incompetence, and to find ways to supplement their lack of knowledge.

These panels were constructed in such a way that their solutions in most cases would lead players to figure out the nature of the symbols and test their hypothesis on the subsequent panel until an understanding was reached; it was a simple simulation of the epiphany. Supplemented with your new understanding of these symbols you could return to the enigmatic puzzle of before and actually solve it.

The Witness teaches the player the mechanics of the game by modelling the epiphany in its structure. Once the awareness of this system is created within the player they will know to look for the answers if they don’t have them yet. It leads to a less dependent and more resourceful player one who might even notice that there are more secrets within the world of The Witness to uncover.

If you enjoyed this write-up about the use of epiphany in The Witness, I co-wrote an article about this very subject. It’s titled: “The Link Out: Towards a Theory of Epiphany in Digital Games” and it was published in the proceedings of ICIDS 2018 which can be found here.