A struggle for survival has never been so beautiful.

After recently beginning my third play through of The Last Of Us, and subsequently having cried for the third time after seeing Sarah’s death scene again, I had a rush of emotion and reinforcement of realization that The Last Of Us is a masterpiece that I love, and simply just want to speak about.

When I think about the cultural masterpiece that is The Last Of Us, I don’t have the word characters in my mind. I have the word people floating around. I have Joel, Ellie as well as other people that we meet throughout the game in my thoughts, the same way that I think about friends or family, and this is the product of absolutely stellar writing and video game craftsmanship. Neil Druckman, alongside all the crew at Naughty Dog were able to make me, as well as millions of others across the globe actually care about the people within this game through a platter of reasons such the incredible performance given by voice actors Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson, as well as the constant, captivating fight for survival that these characters must endure. In addition, the relentless and vicious nature of the world that this lovable duo must live through, only has the player on the edge of their seat, praying for the pair to come through untouched after each and every encounter. Through all of this, an honest, true to the world and down-right excellent soundtrack helps the player to become immersed in this seemingly real world. And it also helps to make Joel, Ellie, as well as many other members of the cast come across as real people.

 

There are probably hundreds of aspects of The Last Of Us that somebody could analyse and praise, however the one thing that sticks out to me as perhaps the most memorable aspect of the Last Of Us, is the development of Joel and Ellie’s Father and Daughter like relationship, throughout the experience. Twenty years before the main events of The Last Of Us take place, and also twenty years before Joel and Ellie actually meet. Before the apocalypse even began, Joel had a daughter named Sarah, and of course, Sarah is killed right as the infection is first beginning in a devastating, and emotional scene which sets the brutal and gritty tone for The Last Of Us. Now when Joel meets Ellie for the first time, it is because he is taking on a job to escort Ellie across America in search of a group of Fireflies that are based at a particular hospital. They don’t know each other and there certainly is not an emotional attachment between the two. It’s a job that Joel doesn’t particularly want to do but nonetheless needs to get it done. Throughout the earlier stages of the Last Of Us, Joel comes across as ignorant towards Ellie. It’s apparent that he doesn’t want to be travelling with her, and it almost seems like he actually dislikes her, as he disregards any good that she does for the pair. He even goes as far as to show anger towards her when she saves his life. She’s effectively a burden on his life,  however as events unfold and the violent nature of modern America soaks into the pair, a tightened relationship begins to unfold, as the pair become emotionally attached. Furthermore this attachment only expands unto the player as they become emotionally attached to both Joel and Ellie. It’s an infectious emotion that holds a trickledown effect which is triggered by Naughty Dog’s masterpiece. The triggering of emotion is something that happens frequently throughout The Last Of Us. The developers  and writers behind this game masterfully crafted a fragile relationship which could be vanquished at any given time. This realisation causes the player to genuinely care for the characters within this game. The trickledown effect that I just mentioned returns. As the game progresses, Joel begins to protect and care for Ellie as if it was his own child, and us as the players then begin to care for Joel and Ellie as if they were our responsibility.

 

I speak about beauty within character formation and emotional attachment, however beauty exists within The Last Of Us and Joel and Ellie’s struggle for survival simply within the environments that the player, Joel and Ellie explore. Post-apocalyptic  America as depicted within The Last Of Us gets a coating from all four of the seasons. Starting with Summer, and ending with Spring. Through all four of these seasons we see harmonious and elegant areas. From lush woodland which Ellie witnesses first hand for the first time, to abandoned overgrown universities and Spore-infested subway tunnels. The gorgeous environments that you get the pleasure of traversing contrast with the horrors that inhabit them.  However I feel like the seasons entwine with Joel and Ellie’s developing Father and Daughter like relationship. As I mentioned, The Last Of Us begins in the Summer and ends in the Spring, and during the adventure, Joel and Ellie go from being total strangers whom have no love for each other, to the pair becoming so closely bonded. I feel that in terms of weather and the seasons themselves, Summer is the least harsh, and perhaps the most pleasant when it comes to survival. It is a time where wild-life and nature is thriving most. I feel that this translates to Joel and Ellie’s relationship. When they first meet, they’re within the wall and when they leave, they face the easiest of the challenges that they face, compared with what comes later down the line. They haven’t experienced or been through much together, as a pair. Come Autumn and they’ve been through a fair share together, and thus their bond strengthens. Continuing onwards,  deep within Winter and the storyline involving David, one of the most trying times for Joel and Ellie, what is in my opinion the most emotional and biggest turning point in the developing Father and Daughter relationship occurs. Ellie survives a horrific near death experience at the hands of cannibal, David, and during the cut scene after the fight, Joel clutches Ellie to him and tells her that she’s safe, before calling her ‘baby girl’. This phrase is imperative as the only person Joel has ever said that to is his late daughter, Sarah. The building of the pairs relationship reaches what could be seen as maximum strength during the most brutal and trying time (Winter) and it brings the pair closer than ever. This relates back to what I said about the seasons, as generally speaking, Winter is the harshest of the seasons. Wild-life dies out, and the coldest conditions are in effect. The normal effects of Winter obviously effect Joel and Ellie during their journey, but it’s the way that this changes their relationship which is beautiful. Finally, Spring. During Spring, new life enters the world. Resurrection and renewal occurs. It’s essentially a reset on natures calendar. The way that this translates into Joel and Ellie’s lives is that their bond is at its peak. The tables have turned, and Joel no longer sees Ellie as a burden. Instead, it’s obvious that he very much cares for her. This is obvious as he chooses to save her life, rather than allow a vaccine to benefit the entirety of humanity, at the end of the game. From Summer to Spring, Joel has flipped his feelings for Ellie completely.

 

I don’t think I’ve ever felt raw emotion, empathy and pure love for fictional characters more than I have for Joel and Ellie. The world that they’re living in is so delicate, as is their relationship, and seeing both their world and relationship transform alongside each other is an incredible, and in my opinion unrivalled thing. I speak a lot about special games, and The Last Of Us is one of them. Raw and honest emotion hits you throughout the entirety of this journey, and it’s a journey that I will always re-visit, and cherish for the rest of my days.

Thank you Naughty Dog.

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Being embarrassed about what we love, and enjoy.

Everybody is an individual. Everybody loves different things, hates different things, and everybody has defining qualities,traits and passions in their life, and it is these things that make us, well, us. So why do so many of us shy away from expressing our love for certain things in life?

 

This in’t some sort of inspirational, preach-post where I tell you all about how I let the entire world and everybody I come accross know about the things that I love, and that you should too, because I am one of the people who struggle to be completely honest about the things that I enjoy. And i’m not even talking about big or even important things. I’m talking about never mentioning random things that I enjoy to people that I know, such as my passion for Dark Souls, autumn, writings poems and random silly articles like this one here, live streaming on twitch etc. Of course some people know about the things that I deeply love, however I find myself being very cautious about who finds these things out. For example, the people that I work with, my family, and some friends will never find out about this post, because I’ll make sure that they don’t see it pop up on social-media outlets and what not. But I ask myself, why do I do that? Even if they saw this post or whatever else it could be that I’m posting, they probably wouldn’t care about it enough to read it. And even if they did, what’s the worse that could happen? They could laugh, or find it strange that I enjoy doing what I do, but I know that doesn’t matter. It’s just acting like I know, that is the hard part haha. It’s easy to make it sound so dramatic, but in reality it’s the complete opposite. I just find it so bizarre and I guess, stupid. The things that we love concoct with other factors, such as our personalities, to ultimately define us. To give us our individualism. So why shy away from it? It’s very hypocritical of me to say this as someone who as I mentioned, struggles with it myself, but I think that we should all embrace the things that we love and let that passion and love radiate off of us, for it can only do good. Keeping my biggest passions locked up for the majority of the people I come accross is just me limiting myself. I strongly feel that if I was to be more open and unafraid of who I was, then I’d be a lot more motivated, inspired and ultimately, happy.

 

In the end, i’m scared of judgement. It’s funny too, because I know all too well that this is a terrible way to live. To hide your passions away and pretend that they’re not a part of you is kind of ridiculous. I see a lot of people that I know present their passions so openly to the world. Showcasing their talent so often with no sense of shame or embarrassment is really inspiring to see, and I can only hope to use that inspiration to try to improve my own self confidence as time goes on.

Atmospheres And Aesthetics (AAA Games) #3 – Hyper Light Drifter

The third entry into the Atmospheres And Aesthetics series will see us discuss the action RPG released in 2016, Hyper Light Drifter. This game was developed and published by Heart Machine and was very well received by critics and fans alike.

I wanted to begin talking about this game with a quote taken directly from developers Heart Machine’s website. “Explore a beautiful, vast and ruined world riddled with unknown dangers and lost technologies. Inspired by nightmares and dreams alike.” I used this quote as it sums up the game very well. You truly do explore the world that you are traversing. Most games have an element of exploration to them, however Hyper Light Drifter really sticks out to me as a game that does exploration to a very high standard. This is due to the fact that the locations of the keys and treasures required to progress through certain areas of the game aren’t shown to you. You aren’t even told that you actually need certain items to progress, and so the exploration element of the game begins. In some games searching for what can seem like hours for one certain item can become extremely irritable, however with Hyper Light Drifter, the more you search a certain area, the more the game opens up to you. New enemies, contrasting areas and secrets become visible to the player and this keeps the game refreshing, even when trying to search for one particular item.

Something that I absolutely love about Hyper Light Drifter is the fact that the world initially is split into four parts. North, east, south and west. Each of these four areas of the world contain very contrasting and vibrant terrains in which the player must explore. In the north we are greeted with a blizzard battered zone. In the east we are mesmerized by a zone filled with water falls and canal like structures which must be crossed by jumping over stepping stones or accross bridges. The west is home to a cosy, autumn mood which is filled with thick, lush pink trees. The sound of the wind whisks around you so elegantly that it creates a feeling of home (when you’re not being attacked by bandits). And finally in the south… Well I haven’t explored or unlocked the south zone as of yet.

All of this 2D beauty, charisma and charm is sewn together by a soundtrack crafted by the artist Disasterpeace. The electronic based OST brings a mixed bag of emotions to the player. For me I felt that the soundtrack opened up a creative void for me, as there is a mysterious and secretive element to the tracks that play within this game that creates a fruitful concoction with the fact that the game itself is very secretive and mysterious. While there are times where the soundtrack to Hyper Light Drifter can get a little frantic, the OST generally holds a very mellow and relaxed tone, and this contrasts brilliantly with the fact that Hyper Light Drifter is a very difficult game. You will die a few times during your play through of this game and the unexplained exploration within the game can get a little frustrating when it feels like you’re making no progress. However the OST will always be there. Keeping you calm through its mesmerizing and mellow beauty.

The things that I wanted to say about the ambient sounds within this game, are very similar to what I said about the OST itself. The ambient tracks within this game are some of the most tranquil that I have ever had the pleasure of hearing in a video game. The flowing waters of the east, the howling winds of the north that make you wish your character was in the warm indoors, the autumn whispers of the west. The ambiance is of such a high level that I feel like i’m in a different world when I hear those tracks. They’re so elegant that they make you feel bad for exiting the game.

Hyper Light Drifter is a very special game to me. I was recommended it by a friend and I took his word and purchased the game. After going into the game blind and discovering such a beautiful 2D world that had one of my favourite soundtracks of all time tagged with it, I was instantly hooked and I knew that Hyper Light Drifter was special. The game is so powerful that at times I will just find myself staring at the screen, taking all all of the games creative wonders until my character decides to meditate on the ground. I would recommend this game for even one of the elements of the game that I spoke about here today.

The Last Of Us Part II is coming.

So at PSX 2016 just last week, Publishers Sony Computer Entertainment, as well as developers Naughty Dog announced part two of their critically acclaimed game in which millions of people hold dear to their hearts. The Last Of Us was released in 2013, and  captured the minds and hearts of so many people; through a harrowing, emotionally captivating storyline, which followed the lives of two very special characters, Ellie and Joel. Through post-apocalyptic America in 2033 we followed them on their emotional journey of love, hate, friendship and despair. The one of a kind storyline was infused with gritty, and well polished game mechanics such as the ability to scavenge parts to upgrade weapons, and intense third-person combat, as well as a beautiful soundtrack composed by Gustavo Santaolalla which fits like a glove into the world of the Last Of Us. Colin Moriarty, a former writer for IGN; and the man who reviewed The original game, said the following.

“It’s PlayStation 3’s best exclusive, and the entire experience, from start to finish, is remarkable.” The Last Of Us went on to score a perfect 10 from IGN and received outstanding reviews from other video game outlets also.

After being given a peek into the world of The Last Of Us Part II, in the form of a trailer, and discussion interview in which Ashley Johnson (voice actor for Ellie), Troy Baker (voice actor for Joel) And Neil Druckmann ( writer of Last Of Us Part II), I wanted to talk about some very interesting things that we learned during the trailer, and interview.

 

To kick it all off; the thing that stood out the most to me, was the games title. The new Last Of Us game is not a direct sequel, but instead an extension onto the tale of the first game. I felt this was an interesting and credible move by Naughty Dog, due to the fact that not all that many developers title their game “Part II”. Instead a direct sequel is usually the path taken. Of course, since the original games release and exceptional reception, fans have been skeptical as to whether a second game would be released. It was thought by so many people that The Last Of Us was perhaps too good for a sequel. There has always been a notion that the original game could not be beaten, and would be tarnished by a follow-up. Talk of The Last Of Us 2 occurred all the time, and through all the speculation I do not  believe that many people expected this title. It was a clever move by Naughty Dog, as I feel that they have taken away some of the stigma behind a sequel, by essentially extending the already released game, instead of having something completely new. This ideology that I am talking about works both ways though however, just let me explain. For those who were all for a sequel or a second game, ever since the original, and they wanted to see a similar game with the same characters, then this idea of titling the new release “Part II” gives those fans the notion that the game will indeed be similar. It won’t stray far from the path of what they were given in 2013, as it is an extension rather than a whole new thing, or sequel, and this has been proven already slightly, because of the fact that adored characters Ellie and Joel are returning.

 

Ellie And Joel returning is fantastic news in my eyes. I have only played the Last Of Us once, back in 2013 and I can still safely say after the many master-class games that I’ve played since then, that Ellie and Joel still stick in my mind as not just characters, but people. People that I actually care about. I shed tears during their original adventure multiple times and I felt a genuine attachment to them. This is not something that I feel easily with video game characters. I feel as if I have missed the two survivors, and I want to be able to live in their world again, so I essentially can see how they’re coping. I want to empathize with them. This leads me onto touch on some news surrounding Ellie and Joel’s return. Firstly, and something that I am very excited about, is the news that in The Last Of Us Part II, we actually play as Ellie primarily. This contrasts to the first game, as we played the majority of the game as father figure Joel, with hints of gameplay featuring a controllable Ellie. Furthermore, it’s great to hear that Ashley Johnson is once again voicing Ellie, as is Troy Baker voicing Joel. The two actors hold such an incredible talent. A talent that to me, takes on the form of an elixir. One that helps to immerse you into Naughty Dog’s vision of post apocalyptic America. The tension and raw emotion can literally be felt with these actors, and this is something that seriously boosts the quality of The Last Of Us. So the voice actors are the same, the characters are the same. Has anything changed? Well, Joel was already a middle aged man in the original game, so physically, he’s still his usual grizzly self it seems. However Ellie was thirteen in the first game, and now, six years down the line, she is of course nineteen. The pair of course share the same age gap between the first game and the second, however it is of far more significance for Ellie. In six years, she has gone from an early, curious adolescent, who was still discovering things such as her sexual orientation, to a grown woman. A woman who seems to have a new outlook on the world. An outlook of vengeance. A woman who will probably have new goals, beliefs and potentially a whole new personality. The same goes our grizzled lovable dad. While physically he won’t have changed as much as Ellie, emotionally and mentally perhaps he has, The pairs brutal experiences over the last six years have probably changed them forever. Many questions have arisen for me after learning about this game. Has Joel been further broken by the new world that he traverses? Does the death of his daughter still haunt him? Is he still as strong as he once was? These questions link back to the empathy that I said I feel for these characters earlier on. I don’t just want to know how they’re doing, but I want to help them on their journey. I want to ensure their survival.

 

Naughty Dog have crafted multiple master-class games over the years. The Last Of Us is of course included, however more recently we’ve seen releases such as Uncharted 4 which showed off the true capabilities of the PlayStation 4. Graphically mesmerizing, with constantly smooth gameplay, and a gripping story which makes you want to keep playing forever; The Last Of Us Part II will only build off of releases such as this. During the PSX discussion, writer Neil Druckmann mentioned that the Last Of Us Part II will feature some evolution from the first game in terms of mechanics, but also inventions, and this leads me to feel a great feeling of exhilaration. No information was given on these new mechanics, however it of course still early days, and it gives us the fans the opportunity to ponder, speculate and discuss as a community even more topics surrounding this up and coming game. No release date or even window has been given for this project as of yet, however I wouldn’t hold your breath on a 2017 release date. 2018 or maybe even 2019 are the release years that I would place my bets on. Guessing only the release year correctly probably doesn’t land you a whole lot of cash though I imagine.

 

To summarize, I am so excited for The Last Of Us Part II. I’m more than ready to see how our favourite duo Joel and Ellie have been doing, what’s changed in the post apocalyptic land of the free, and I’m just generally excited and ready for Naughty Dog to wow us yet again with another gripping story.