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February 2010

Heavy Rain

Heavy Rain

Note: storytelling is paramount in Heavy Rain, so I've purposely limited my descriptions to its prologue. You can read without fear of spoilers.

I am the target audience for Heavy Rain. I'm a devoted gamer hungry for something different. I'm a father who has begged for games that address me and my concerns. I'm a theater artist who wants more expressive characters and complex stories. I'm the guy who's tired of saving the world, and I'm sick of guns.

Heavy Rain addresses all those concerns. Why, then, does it leave me feeling so cold?

Creator David Cage has said "Heavy Rain is not a videogame..." and he's mostly right. The first trophy the game awards is called "Interactive Drama," which suggests how Cage and his team at Quantic Dreams see this game from the player's perspective. 

The problem with this description is that Heavy Rain's interactive elements intercept the drama that might have emerged from the player's experience inside the story. Ironically, the game that doesn't want to be a game is sabotaged by its "game-ness."

Heavy Rain fails as interactive drama because my interactions have almost no dramatic dimension. Heavy Rain mistakes player input prompts for agency. It assumes calibrated control over an avatar's movements produces a stronger connection between player and character, when in fact it produces the opposite effect. Ultimately, playing marionette with an on-screen character distances me from the inner life of that character and forces me to focus on activities that have very little to do with drama.

Heavy Rain situates a system between the player and the game that heavily mediates the player's experience. Such systems exist in every video game, but the trajectory in narrative game design has been toward system/interface invisibility, with games like Far Cry 2 and Fallout 3 erasing (or seeming to erase), the lines separating player from in-game experience.

Heavy Rain adopts an opposite approach, persistently interjecting on-screen prompts, timed or sequential button presses, and other "do this now" commands that repeatedly remind the player he or she is playing a game. What's more, the gamepad itself functions as a recurring object of player awareness, with on-screen indicators to tilt or shake the device precisely as the game requires.

I don't object to games making me aware of their 'game-ness' (nod to Mr. Suda), but Heavy Rain is at cross-purposes with itself in this regard. It wants to immerse me in a realistic, character-driven story with detailed environments and atmospherics; but it also wants me to remain outside that experience, ever-vigilant for the next quick-response button-press. 

The game insists that I focus, even for mundane activities like carrying groceries, on carefully following directions delivered to me visually on-screen. The simple act of carrying groceries is subsumed by the mechanical procedure of executing a series of prompts for no apparent reason. This, for me, is the primary disconnect in Heavy Rain. My mechanical game-directed actions don't amplify or add meaning to the in-game behaviors they execute. They don't pull me in; they keep me out. 

And so the game manages to reverse the player/avatar relationship. In Heavy Rain, I'm the object manipulated and the game plays me. While I can imagine a game leveraging this role-reversal in exciting ways (Eternal Darkness comes to mind), Heavy Rain does little with it that feels meaningful. My job is to press the right buttons when I'm told and occasionally respond to a palette of choices I'm given. After I respond, the game delivers me to the next situation where I will be precisely instructed how to proceed. The game treats me like a trained monkey.

Confoundingly, I'm given control over exactly how slowly I wish to open a door or flush a toilet, but my decision to take a shower triggers a cutscene in which I watch the character shower...followed by motion control prompts to dry his hair with a towel. It all feels arbitrary. Characters reveal their thoughts when I pull the L2 trigger (e.g. "Should I work or tend the garden?"). But when I'm prompted to pick up a wedding photo and look at it, he has no thoughts at all. The game cuts to a closeup of his face and a small smile appears, but nothing more. Why? Once I've returned that photo to its place, I'm unable to pick it up again. Why? 

I want to explore the rest of the house, but when I attempt to descend the stairs, the game cuts to a shot of the character's face, and I hear him say "I'd better take a shower and get dressed before I go downstairs." Why am I free to impose my choices on this character by exploring his environment in an un-timed fashion, but only upstairs? 

Such constraints permeate the experience of playing Heavy Rain, and when the stakes are raised later in the game, they feel especially confining. The game is at odds with itself from beginning to end. It persistently reminds me that neither I nor my avatar possess consequential autonomy. In Heavy Rain, the game itself controls the game, and that doesn't feel much like interactive drama to me.

On my shoulder, whispering


You will alway be with me now, father. Your memories, your drives. And when I need you, you'll be there on my shoulder, whispering. --Eleanor Lamb, Bioshock 2

In 30 years of gaming, I've played endless variations of the same character: the brave hero who, against all odds, must save the world. Our fascination with this story is at least as old as Homer's Iliad, and it's unlikely we'll grow tired of it any time soon. 

Games rely on heroism as a sturdy foundation for interactive storytelling, but unlike the Iliad, they rarely explore what it means. They seldom contemplate the human consequences or the personal cost. No game I've played has approached the moment in the Iliad when Priam falls to his knees and begs Achilles for his slain son's body. This grieving father moves Achilles to tears, and the two lament their losses in the war. 

For Homer, the Trojan War is a bloody backdrop for exploring honor, vengeance, morality, and fate. His characters are fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, and these familial connections underpin everything that happens in the Iliad and the Odyssey. At stake is family, and if we strip away all the obstacles and complications, Odysseus' 10-year journey is about one thing: returning home to his wife and son.

Eleanor_mother_lamb No game I've played has come close to conveying what it means to be a father. Fighting to avenge the death of a wife or child can provide a handy context for gameplay bad-assery, but nurturing and responsibility don't translate so well. Lots of games have made me feel like a fighter, but no game has ever made me feel the responsibility of fatherhood. No game has touched me in a way that feels familiar and real to me as a father. 

No game, that is, until Bioshock 2

I'll get this out of the way now so I can spend the rest of my time explaining. This game had a profoundly moving effect on me. The ending - my ending, the one that reflected my values - resonated deeply. As the father of a 2-year-old daughter, my journey through Rapture touched on my fears and aspirations for her in ways I never expected from a game. That experience lingers, and I'm grateful for it.

Bioshock 2 is a dialectic hyper-yin to Bioshock's hyper-yang. Andrew Ryan's distorted utopia exalts the individual, while Sofia Lamb's "Rapture Family" exalts the collective. The player can track this philosophical collision by exploring Rapture's ruins, and much of the appeal of both games comes from the drama that unfolds via audio diaries. For what it's worth, these games owe much to radio dramas of the 30s and 40s, once a staple of American popular culture.

Ryan's "Great Chain" produced an intellectual backdrop for Bioshock, but the player's choices and actions were mostly disconnected from those ideas. The player uncovers facts about his relationship to Ryan and others, but those reveals occur in a sender-receiver format. Ryan's warnings and exhortations colored my journey, but they never added meaning or provoked personal reflection.

"Love is just a chemical, no matter the origin. We give it meaning by choice." --Eleanor Lamb

Eleanor-lamb-bioshock-2-screenshot Eleanor Lamb changes everything. She elevates Bioshock 2 by offering a warm familial relationship to the player's avatar, a Big Daddy called Subject Delta. Eleanor raises the stakes. Suddenly, I'm not in this for myself, but for her. She's watching me, helping me, and learning from me. I am bound to her as a father to a daughter, and her pain is my pain. My existence has no meaning if I cannot help her become the hopeful, self-reliant woman she is meant to be. As long as she is imprisoned, I can never be free.

Suddenly these little girls with glowing eyes are more than ADAM vessels to be rescued or harvested. They're the child Eleanor once was, before the madness. They're my charges, relying on me for protection and deliverance. They are, truly, Eleanor's 'little sisters,' and I am, in a way I never expected to discover, their 'Big Daddy.' 

I should note that my affection and paternal feelings for Eleanor grew primarily out of her own maturation and blossoming sense of herself as a woman who refuses to buy into something she can't believe; who sacrifices nearly everything to win her own freedom; and who reaches out to save me too. Eleanor is nobody's damsel. In many ways, for significant portions of the game, I'm her damsel and she's my protector/savior. Rapture's Big Sisters are far more crafty and powerful than its Big Daddies.

This game makes me feel the weight of compassion and responsibility. I won't soon forget confronting the rat-like Stanley Poole in the train station, every bit of me itching to kill him and make it painful. He stood there cowering, defenseless, bent at the waist, gripping his head. I watched him for a moment, savoring his suffering. And then I realized that she was watching too. Eleanor was there with me, just as she was 10 years before, when her mother faced a similar opportunity to kill a man. I turned and walked out the door. Near the end of the game, some 15 hours later, I discovered I was right. She was watching; and she learned.

So much of Bioshock 2 suggests it was built by smart people with loving hands. The name 'Eleanor' is derived from two Greek words: 'elios' meaning 'compassion' and 'Helen' meaning 'ray of sun.' Both are especially apt sources for Eleanor Lamb ... or at least the Eleanor Lamb that appeared in my Bioshock 2. Her behavior at the end of the game can change drastically depending on choices made by the player.

Near the end of the original Bioshock, the player gets to feel what it's like to be a Big Daddy, but it's really just a novelty act. Aside from a change in visual perspective, the game doesn't do anything with it. But in the sequel, Eleanor saves your life after nearly losing hers, and then she injects you into the body of a Little Sister. 

It's a brilliant transition because now the player sees the world as the Little Sisters see it. Soft and lovely, with elegant ladies and gentlemen, only briefly punctuated by sharp flashes of ugly, bloody decay. It's the first and only time we see the conjured lie of Rapture - or in Sofia Lamb's mind, the promise of Rapture - with our own eyes.

Eleanor is that rarest of women in games: a gifted, intelligent, brave, determined, nurturing, compassionate, self-reliant, kick-ass sister. She loves her father enough to die for him. She loves her mother enough to forgive her. That's my Eleanor Lamb. That's my daughter on my shoulder, whispering.

Sequel 101

Bioshock art 

Lately it seems every game I a play has a "2" in its title: Uncharted 2, Mass Effect 2, Bioshock 2, No More Heroes 2, Assassin's Creed 2. I'm not complaining. The common wisdom that says sequels are bound to be inferior cash-ins on their originals ignores a mound of evidence to the contrary. With the exception of NMH2, which both improved on and fell short of NMH1, these games illustrate how developers can smartly iterate on a successful formula and produce games markedly superior to their originals.

So how did they do it? I think these games impart some useful lessons in how to do sequels right. I'm not a game designer, so my observations are derived purely from a player's perspective; but from where I sit here's what I see.

  1. Hold fast to the vision of the original, but resist the temptation to retrace your steps. Give us a new destination and ensure that journey amplifies the meaning of the first one. Bioshock 2 is a case study in how to do this effectively. Bioshock 2 functions as a dialectic with the first game, re-exploring Rapture by revisiting and re-contextualizing its environments and opposing ideals. I'll explore this further in a post devoted solely to Bioshock 2 later this week.

  2. Learn from your mistakes, including the ones we don't know about. The most obvious outcome of positive iteration is fixing the stuff that didn't work in the first game. Assassin's Creed 2 eliminated the repetitiveness; Mass Effect 2 upgraded the combat mechanics; No More Heroes 2 jettisoned the open world; Bioshock 2 killed the maddening "Circus of Values!" clown (voiced in the original by Creative Director Ken Levine) - a little thing, yes, but THANK YOU.

    These are welcome changes, but skilled designers see things many of us don't, and targeting those issues too suggests a development commitment that transcends addressing player complaints. Mass Effect's awkwardly staged cinematics didn't draw much ire from fans (in fact, lots of reviewers praised them), but ME2's greatly enhanced dialogue scenes prove its designers weren't satisfied with what they accomplished the first time.

  3. Bigger isn't necessarily better. Bioshock 2 and Mass Effect 2 are both shorter and more compact than their originals, and both are better games for it. Some bemoan the loss of backtracking in Bioshock 2 or the fewer number of planets in ME2. Not me. The narrative drive forward is more powerful in both sequels, and neither sags in the middle as their predecessors did. More stuff to do doesn't necessarily translate into better.

  4. You don't have to 'go dark.' The common trajectory in storytelling across media is to darken the protagonist as he/she grows more complex. This can be a good or bad thing (Prince of Persia: Warrior Within = bad; The Dark Knight = good), but it shouldn't be treated as a default choice. We learn more about Drake, Desmond, and Shepard in these games, but their designers wisely avoid the sullen, doleful fate that befalls other game heroes. Travis grows a little angsty in NMH2, but the game isn't committed to exploring it.

  5. Don't assume "developing the characters and story" are sufficient reasons for a sequel. Uncharted 2, Bioshock 2, and Mass Effect 2 each advance an existing storyline, but they also do more important things like enhance their gameplay with genuinely fun new options and features; refine their interfaces; lower their barrier to entry for new players, and generally communicate a sense that this game has been honed and polished by a development team that went all-out. A sequel needs a compelling story, but that story should be embedded in a game that feels like it's advancing too.

    This, in my view, is the particular triumph of Bioshock 2 - a game whose most convincing initial argument for a sequel was financial. That 2K Marin overcame this cynical impetus and built a game that surpasses the original in nearly every way is a testament to their ingenuity and their devotion to creating a sequel second to none.

I'm sure I've neglected a few 'rules' in my list. If so, I hope you'll let me know.

Rapture redux with VGC


The Vintage Game Club recently played Bioshock in preparation for the arrival of its sequel. Now we're moving on to Bioshock 2, and you're welcome to join us.

We're experimenting by playing a new game this time, hoping to capitalize on our experience playing the original. Even if you've never played Bioshock, you can still jump into our collective playthrough of Bioshock 2. The VGC is a friendly place for conversation about games. We're here to have fun and broaden our knowledge and awareness of games.

As I've mentioned before, we use the term "vintage" purposely because its primary definition: "characterized by excellence, maturity, and enduring appeal" strikes us as just the right way to describe the games we play together. As far as we're concerned a vintage game can be 20 years old or 2 years old. For our purposes, it doesn't really matter.

The Vintage Game Club



I've been reading lots of reviews and blog posts certifying Mass Effect 2 as the future of RPGs. It fixes what's wrong with the genre and sends designers of backward-looking games scrambling to the drawing board. It represents, as several notable outlets have noted, the future of storytelling in games and a lesson in how to do narrative games right.

I'm going to play contrarian here, but first let me say I think Mass Effect 2 largely earns the lavish praise heaped upon it. It's an exceptionally fine game with fabulous production values, and I've enjoyed just about every minute I've spent playing it. I'm not quibbling with the hype. Not much anyway.

I'm troubled by the mentality that games exist to invalidate other games; that the most effective measure of a game's value is its ability to surpass or trump other games that preceded it. Among its many praiseworthy aspects, Mass Effect 2's success as a kind of refutation of other games is considered an especially noteworthy achievement.

The problem with this line of reasoning is that it mistakes streamlining for refinement. It assumes the fiddly RPG elements the game eliminates are vestiges of outmoded design. It presumes that frequent skirmishes and action-based gameplay are more fun or engaging than the strategic RPG elements they replace. It assumes that a dialogue-tree system of interactions enables a more sophisticated form of player agency. None of these assumptions are incontestably true.

I'm not suggesting ME2 lacks refinements. As an iteration on the original game, ME2 is chock-full of mechanical, interface, and visual upgrades. As many have noted, its shooting and cover system is vastly improved from ME1, and Bioware seems to have learned from its mistakes in this regard. ME2 improves on ME1 in all sorts of useful ways, and that's a good and praiseworthy thing.

But when we discuss Mass Effect 2 as the game to finally shatter RPG genre limits and chart a new narrative path, I think we project too much on a game that exchanges some limits for others. I want meaningful interactions with my environment, not pop-up notices for glowing blue frames. I want dialogue unbound by a nice/naughty/neutral triad. I want to do trivial things. I want lower stakes. I want to play a game that doesn't insist the future depends on me. I want a game that defines role-playing more broadly than dialogue choices. I want a game that won't insist my actions and movements (what I do, not what I say) are merely bridges to the next fight.

I'm not suggesting ME2 is a bad game because it fails to meet those expectations. On the contrary, I think it's a terrific game. I'm merely pointing out that while ME2 is unquestionably a high peak, there are plenty of other mountains worth climbing.

It's useful to consider how ME2 succeeds as a well produced RPG that elevates certain genre elements, and de-emphasizes others. But Bioware is up to more than simply rearranging the RPG furniture here. ME2 is a canny scramble of storytelling and game design highlights from previous Bioware games, Gears of War, Star Trek/Wars/Galactica, and The Magnificent Seven, among other influences.

What Bioware has accomplished with ME2 is less about refining the RPG or blazing a new narrative trail than about distilling and mashing up stuff that works from other sources. ME2 is a tantalizing cocktail of action, adventure, sci-fi, RPG, and shooter ingredients, poured into in a big cinematic shaker. 

Bioware knows what we who write about games ought to know better. Genre classifications are essentially meaningless, and it's time to drop them and move on. Three of the best games I've played in the last year - Mass Effect 2, Demon's Souls, and Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor are all classified as RPGs, even though they actually have very little in common. On the other hand, IGN may classify MLB 09 as a "sports game," but I say it has more in common with Mass Effect 2 than Mario Baseball. More than ever, genre categories seem like arbitrary labels we apply to games so they can be properly shelved.

And, of course, the scramble extends beyond games. It's the Judd Apatow Effect. Inject moribund romantic comedy genre with lowbrow buddy-movie humor to create slacker-striver films with male and female box office appeal. It's Robert Plant and Alison Krauss; it's MMA; it's the Subaru Outback; it's Elton John and whatever flavor-of-the-week artist the Grammys pair him with. 

It's the inevitable trajectory. For better or worse, we like our entertainment scrambled. Sometimes it doesn't work, and sometimes - as Mass Effect 2 skillfully illustrates - it does.

Digital feelies

Planetfall1   Mass-effect-2-box-art 

Back before the dawn of time - before HD, virtual lens flares, and 14-button gamepads - text adventures lured us into their virtual worlds with smart storytelling, clever writing ... and feelies. If you're too young to remember feelies, well, I feel for ya because feelies were something special.

Feelies were physical items included in the boxed versions of Infocom games from 1984-1989. These small artifacts, most of them nuggets of sly inventiveness, were far more than window sill collectibles. They often functioned as indispensable tools to the player, providing contextual backstory, clues, unlock codes, and other data enabling progress through the game. Feelies weren't toss-in extras; they extended the game experience, literally, right into the player's hands.

Sniffnscratch If you're lucky enough to have played the original Leather Goddesses of Phobos (my mother's family hails from Upper Sandusky, Ohio, for those in the know), you will surely recall the scratch and sniff card required when the game instructed you to scratch a number and report the corresponding odor; the Adventures of Lane Mastodon 3D comic book (and 3D glasses) containing vital hints; and a catacombs map warmly welcomed by IF gamers accustomed to creating our own on graph paper.

Of course, feelies also served as a clever form of copy protection at a time when asking the player to type the 4th word from the 3rd paragraph on page 27 of the manual was the best safeguard anybody could think of.

If you'd like to see .jpg scans of every Infocom feelie, including game manuals and box art, I highly recommend The Infocom Gallery. This is why we have the internet.

To my surprise, I've been thinking about feelies since I started playing Mass Effect 2. It seems to me that Bioware is attempting - and one can see this evolving from its prior games - to embed content in and around ME2 that looks a lot like a digital version of feelies. It's not a perfect analogue (nothing compares to holding an artifact in your hands), but it seems to me they're tapping into the spirit of what Infocom tried to do 25 years ago.

It's important to note that I'm not talking about the ME2 collector's edition swag. An art book, a comic book, and a making-of DVD are nice souvenirs for Mass Effect fans, but they're commemorative items that don't deepen or extend the game. A bonus weapon may impact the player's experience, but it's superfluous by design. 


ME2 delivers its digital feelies via an extraordinarily rich in-game codex and by a decidedly un-extraordinary online service called the Cerberus Network. When first announced, I mistook Bioware's press release description of Cerberus ("a direct channel for our players to dive deeper into the intriguing lore of Mass Effect") to mean an online hub for players to gather and extend their experiences with the game. Silly me. Cerberus is Bioware's DLC channel that doubles as a disincentive system for players who prefer to rent or purchase a used copy of the game. 

But, ah, the codex. Reviewers have understandably focused on ME2's improvements to the original Mass Effect: upgraded shooter mechanics, streamlined RPG elements, polished cinematics; but precious little has been written about the powerful storytelling dimension of ME2's in-game codex. Slightly modified with a cleaner interface, it's the same gloriously overstuffed lore device that appeared in ME1, but its utility in the middle of a sprawling 3-part epic is greater than ever.

Dakota2 Like the fake "Dakota Magazine" feelie (dated 'April 2031') included in Steve Meretzky's masterful A MInd Forever Voyaging, ME2's codex enriches the storytelling by contextualizing it within a dynamic, self-contained world. It serves the practical function of helping players new to the Mass Effect universe get up to speed, but it also satisfies lore-hungry players who want to immerse themselves in a rich role-playing experience. Given Bioware's decision to simplify some of the game's traditional RPG elements, the codex plays an even more important role in this regard than in ME1

RPG scoffers may smirk, but to a devoted player it actually matters that the Asari reproduce through a form of parthenogenesis. That information, explained and archived in the Primary Codex, will impact a player's perceptions and choices. It's pertinent, not disposable lore. It also matters that these primary entries are delivered in spot-on 70s-era Disney-Tomorrowland narration by VO vet Neil Ross.

I miss the Infocom feelies and all the other fun stuff game companies once stuffed into boxes along with their discs. Mass Effect 2's terrific media-rich codex imparts a bit of that old flavor to me, even if it can't match the charm or tactile feel of, say, an actual letter to shareholders from John D. Flathead IX, printed on genuine FrobozzCo letterhead. 

Come to think of it, maybe a wee bit of humor would liven up the ol' Mass Effect codex. Hmm.

Note: The Mass Effect 2 cover art shown above was replaced by another design prior to release, but this one looks nicer next to the Planetfall cover.

When better is worse


No More Heroes: Desperate Struggle is a better game than the original NMH. It streamlines or eliminates most of the problems folks complained about in the first game - vacuous open world, monotonous required side jobs, muddy visuals - and reviewers have rewarded it with generally higher scores (Metacritic 89 for NMH2 vs 83 for NMH). As 1UP's review notes, it "takes the fun parts of the original...and tries to make those the focus while practically quartering off the weaker parts."

So you should definitely play NMH2, if only to reward Grasshopper Manufacture for its signature pursuit of brash idiosyncrasy and deviant design.  

Sadly, NMH2 is also a worse game than the original in ways that can't be tallied on a feature checklist. Designer Goichi Suda missile-launched the first game at our heads - rough edges, obtuse objectives, design misfires and all - and his singular vision exploded on impact. NMH was a bombastic mess, but a startlingly prodigious one. When it appeared two years ago, NMH was the game for gamers sick of cookie-cutter games. A turd in the punchbowl.

Audacity is tough to do twice. The first time feels like inspiration; the second time can feel like calculation. NMH2 doesn't ease off on the stuff that grabbed our attention the first time. Suda's adolescent fascination with potty humor, sexual innuendo, splattering blood, and general bad-boy punkster 'tude permeates the sequel no less than the original. 

But discovery is a precious one-time event, and NMH2 faces a nearly impossible task in that regard. This cleaned-up, streamlined version of Santa Destroy doesn't grab us by the throat as much as it eases our re-entry. The original NMH may have been a better experience than a game, but its sequel reverses that formula and the result feels less satisfying. 

Remember that "joy of iteration" essay I wrote a while back? I guess I was lying.

It's hard to quantify such things, but NMH2 often feels less creatively invigorated than its predecessor. Indelible bosses like Doctor Peace and Harvey Moiseiwitsch Volodarskii have no equals in NMH2. The fabulously wacky boss intros are simplified and diminished, as are most of the strategies needed to beat them. 

Remember receiving phone calls from Sylvia on your Wiimote? The baseballs slung at you in Destroy Stadium that required you to hit them? The sprinkler system used as a weapon to shock you with your katana? Surprising and clever little ideas like these are missing from NMH2, and the game suffers for it. 

And I miss Travis' bike. Okay, okay, I know it was a pain to control, and I know the dead open world was a charming joke that wore off after about an hour. But Travis is a biker, and I say he needs his bike. I won't argue that an open world works better than NMH2's menu system, but I wish Grasshopper had found a way to connect Travis to his bike more inventively than an awful bike joust battle and an oddly meaningless open road ride near the end of the game.

After WWII, Italian Neorealism arose to challenge Hollywood's "tradition of quality," and the French New Wave later extended the argument. Those filmmakers objected to the values and standards of Hollywood production, arguing that such a system codified narrative and stylistic conventions and imprisoned artists in a paint-by-number process of filmmaking. The punk aesthetic Suda espouses advances the same essential argument.

Suda's second No More Heroes game makes a series of concessions to conventional game design that improve the game, but the overall experience feels diminished. So by embracing a certain tradition of quality, is Suda a sellout? Maybe, but I don't think so. 

It seems to me NMH2 suffers, not because of its smoother interface and less irksome gameplay, but because the game feels less personal, less defiant, less inspired, less insistent...less like the creation of an uncompromising artist with a head full of big ideas.