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December 26, 2017 6 min read
Will Smith hosts The FOO Show (new episodes on Steam now), makes live cartoons featuring Carl from Aqua Teen Hunger Force and a talking Fleshlight, and hunts humans for sport most nights on Twitch. You can follow him on Twitter too.
It turns out, I really enjoy hunting people for sport. At a time when I thought I was officially done playing competitive online shooters, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds arrived and proved me wrong.
For me, PUBG is about more than chicken dinners. In the beginning, the thing that hooked me was the tension that the battle royale creates. At the end of my first final circle, I had the same shaking hands, sweaty palms, and speeding heart rate I’d only experienced before from surviving actual physical danger, like a near-miss car crash. I had never played a game that evoked this kind of physical reaction before.
Those early games were a delicious mixture of anticipation, fear, and dread that have never really gone away, even as I clear 800 hours played. The scariest thing I’ve ever seen in a game is another person in a solo game of PUBG.
After a few dozen solo games, I realized that having the reaction time of a 40-year-old man wasn’t the handicap in PUBG that it is in a close combat game, like Counter-strike, COD, or Rainbow Six Siege. PUBG works because playing strategically--knowing where and when to engage, how to set up an ambush, and when to run away--is as important as being able to identify a target at 500m, target them, and nail that headshot in two tenths of a second.
The game has always been about communication--but in the beginning, there was no shared language to describe the game’s features. Early on, PUBG had a secrets economy. When I started playing in squads, everyone had different shorthand for everything--different groups I played with called the same towers Harry Potters, wizard towers, or two story bunkers. In the time before the map was labeled, we all had different names for the prison, the shelter, the farm, and more. It was confusing, but it was very reminiscent of the schoolyard talk I had as a kid after a big game like Zelda or Super Mario Bros. 2 came out.
I started hearing about new places to check out. “Hey, have you heard about the secret bunker between Severny and Zharki?” “Did you know you can jump up on the roof of the houses east of Rohzok?” “Do you know how to crouch jump?” That same evolution affected loadouts. Flash hiders were replaced by compensators, angled grips replaced verts, and we all learned how to use the different scopes most effectively.
Once I started playing regularly with the same group of people (Thanks Discord!), the true genius of the game became obvious. After spending hundreds of hours hunting people with the same handful of people, we’ve developed the same kind of squad sixth-sense you get from playing a team sport with someone. I know what my squadmates are going to do when I get pinned down. I know how I should react when one of my squadmates is under fire without having to think about it.
In the beginning, a lot of the fun was figuring out what you could even do in PUBG. After that, lucking into my first win was one of the biggest video game accomplishments. Then, learning how to loot to be an effective squaddie took time. But more than anything else, tracking the everchanging meta of combat and hitting my own personal skill plateaus and figuring out what I could do to move beyond them has been incredibly rewarding.
The progress made in PUBG through this early access year has been astounding too. At first, I was worried that smoothing off PUBG’s rough edges--adding vaulting, making vehicle physics more realistic, and getting rid of the weird physics jank that was omnipresent in the game at launch--would lessen the appeal of the game for me. But somehow, the constant pace of change has improved the game measurably over the last year, and the constant evolution of the meta will keep me coming back for a long time. The addition of a second map, one whose design is clearly informed by the way people actually played on the first one, has made an already great game even better.
Use headphones and turn the bass down. Direction sounds are almost all high frequency, so bass fuzzes out the signals you get from shots.
Don’t shoot at people if you aren’t sure you can kill them (and preferably loot them too)
Get good at the most common weapons first. Practice shooting at moving targets with the guns on the picnic tables before the match starts, but don’t spend too much time with the crate weapons and the sniper rifles. Most games will start with a Micro-Uzi, an UMP, or a pistol before you find even a common AR. The easiest time to kill someone is at the start of the game.
Once you’re good at looting, spend some time at the school or the military base to get lots of combat time in. You’ll die a lot, but better to die quickly than spend 30 minutes looting and running through fields only to die before taking a shot.
Killing someone who has looted a bunch is as good as looting a bunch yourself, but only if you can loot their body without getting killed yourself.
You can almost always run away from a fight. It’s much better to save your ammo, armor, and health if you’re in a fight that will be tough to win, especially early in the game.
I love crosswords and puzzles games. This little nugget lies right at the crossroads between those two things. My wife and I were locked in a heated battle almost every day this year, courtesy of Typeshift’s daily challenge.
Breath of the Wild is a wild nostalgia trip. It made me feel like I did when I was a kid, playing the original Legend of Zelda on my NES. There was lots of talk early this year about Zelda reinventing itself, but I don’t really think that’s what happened. Instead, they went back to the franchise’s earliest roots (Do you remember how open the very first Zelda was?) and built a new game that minimized the item-gated through line that’s been a Zelda staple since A Link to the Past. Instead, they gave players all the tools needed to traverse the world up front and trusted them to find their own paths.
What Nintendo started with A Link Between Worlds reached its natural conclusion in Breath of the Wild. Decoupling story progress from puzzle completion frees players to explore the amazing systems-driven world they built. The result was delicious. When I play Breath of the Wild, I feel more like an actual explorer braving a treacherous and beautiful world than any other single player game I’ve ever played.
The folks at Owlchemy are virtual reality geniuses. In the hands of lesser developers, bringing Rick Sanchez’s garage to life in VR could have been the cheapest of cheap tricks--nothing but plumbus jokes in between bad shooting gallery segments. Owlchemy’s refusal to shy away from tough problems--whether it’s controlling Meeseeks or the development nightmare of the Combinator--resulted in an experience that was more fun than I could have expected.
Bennett Foddy is one of the world’s greatest monsters. What did Bennett do? He built another one of his nightmare creations (see also: QWOP, Super Pole Riders, and Get On Top), then he layered on top a soothing soundtrack and gentle reminders that it’s ok to fail that only play when you fail. This game makes me want to stab my own eyes out every time I play. I can’t stop playing. Please send help.
Before I played Nidhogg II, I thought Nidhogg was a perfect game. Nidhogg II is better. Even with the bow and arrow.
I’m a sucker for puzzle adventure games that are more busy boxes for adults than actual puzzle games. I’m talking about gorgeous games like The Room and Monument Valley, where you just tap around the screen until eventually you luck into the right solution. I play them all, but they bum me out. At the end, I feel like the dumbest rat in the lab, the one who always pushes at levers with no idea which one delivers the food pellet and which will unleash the electric shock.
Gorogoa takes the gorgeous world design from these games, but fills the world with real, integrated puzzles. Random tapping won’t get the job done, you need to use the tools the world provides to actually solve the puzzles. Don’t miss this if you’re on iOS.
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