Film is such a well versed and analyzed format that we know terms for it that were invented by geeks and nerds who became out auteurs in time. To watch Godard is to learn about film. Can the same be said about architecture or games? Games have primarily grown up as play things. Heavily versed in consumerism and the language around them continues to be the same one used in magazines and advertisements.
I few weeks ago I had the idea of writing reviews of games that didn’t involve recommending a purchase. Similar to the way film theorists can create discourse around a film they might not even like. This proved to be a problem. A lot of what I like about games is their purchasablity and less their their qualities as a piece of art. Try to find the meaning in Kickle Cubicle, the heart of Majora’s Mask? Games are often empty in the ways literature and film are filling. It doesn’t matter if we’re looking at the bizarre Marxist truth of Star Wars or the epicenter of an art film like Peter Greenaway, we’re experiencing a textual narrative that’s linearity accentuates the conveying of meaning with in. This is similar to Ebert’s criticism of games in which he notes that meaning is often produced by the linear. Now think about Vito Aconicci or Bernard Tuschumi. Neither produce work with heavy linear storytelling ideas. Rather their work is either in space, social interaction, or performance / identity.
Games don’t exist often in the realm of truth novels can provide. While studios like Naughty Dog are trying, the exclusion of nonlinear mechanics and the inability of the player to realize themselves in the game takes away for the experience of it being a game. On the other hand games which are all mechanics and no storyline often don’t affect their audience in the same way. But the conundrum of meaning in the filmic sense and the experiential is a subject art criticism has longed resolved. No one argues that Joseph Beuys performances didn’t mean anything, the tension of man and wolf or the disgust of audience and masturbator is exactly what makes performance art captivating. The experience is meaningful with out needing the strictures novels and books require.
How does this relate to video game criticism though? When we think about Acconci or Beuys we know them through theory. Their work comes steeped in art criticism that in turn lets us analyze the real world in new and refreshing ways. We’re given a noticing task so we can catch the meaning in an act we would otherwise interrupt as unmeaningful. We begin to think about the tension of self and environment, the acceptability of certain social acts and their pairings in our everyday lives, we become more full because art is exploring subjects pertinent to concerns we face everyday. A psychoanalytic film might provide us with insight into a particularly creepy denizen of our day to day. But how did we arrive at this knowledge? It’s part of the pitch of the medium. Performance art advertises theory that empowers it and helps us. It comes steeped in a set ideas that establish meaning in a fashion previously unused. It makes meaning from space, action, or identity and that’s just to start with.
When we see writing about video games it is often in the form of advertising, when we write about games it is often about purchasing them. We’ve been taught to analyze and think about games in this way. The dissemination of a new language about games is only beginning. We hear critics talking about “mechanics” “ludonarrative dissonance” and other terms. The ability to think about games critically and in turn create meaning with them requires a better populace more informed by key gaming terms, until that happens we’ll all be just turning around pr points, spouting desires that only relate to games as commercial commodities, when we could be thinking about identification, what makes a mechanic compelling, and the other constructions these truly fake worlds provide. In other words if we can’t describe ourselves we can’t improve ourselves. Games don’t mean in ways we’ve been taught to look for, rather their meaning often shuttles by like so many commuters on a Monday train, this doesn’t just for the audience it goes for the creators too.
Wonder Flick creates tensions by introducing the player to an unfair battle field. The player uses up resources to deal damage with only a mild guarantee of similar resources. The result is compelling as each anxiety wave laps over the party as you try to succeed. The game simulates anxiety in a unique way. Already I am coming back around to a pitch buy! Buy! But am I doing that because the game lacks meaning or because the form was created in such a way? It’s the later I think. The mechanics in games, especially triple A games, is often made with markets in mind. Wonder flick is compelling because it sells, not because it means anything. In The Last of Us we’re presented with consistent resource conversation. The protagonist must sneak by hostile in order to save resources to fight more hostiles. The game rests on the idea of prediction, patterns must observed and tactical considerations of where to use set resources. The result however is quite meaningful. The context of the narrative and the story the gameplay shows are almost one in the same. In this sense naughty Dog has captured something, that games have narratives in their ludology as much in their story themselves. This is one of the points in Homo Ludens that games are themselves narrative. Such layers showing up in a triple a game should be celebrated, it shows the teams behind it are taking their job seriously not as providers of entertainment, but as artisans trying to move the medium forward. If pop culture can stomach an art form that uses the consumer’ s own initiative to move the story forward is another matter.
How many reviews of The Last of Us caught this clear quoting of Homo Ludens in its gameplay? How many readers were introduced to the idea of games as representative of / enacting something? Almost none. Do the consistent games of anxiety ridden exploration with resource management and prediction make the plot of The Last of us better? Yes. However, As long as we continue to replicate the market’s terse terminology of enjoyment and recommendations we’ll never truly understand what we want is depth in games and less the fun and consumption we enjoy today. The medium has spawned a player ship commendable in their intelligence, it’s just up to the media to spread the ideas and get the discourse flowing. We need to talk more about mechanics in games and less why we enjoyed them.
Level-5 decided to take the jump into mobile gaming a little more seriously than their competitors and designed an entire RPG with the idea of mobile behind it. Wonder Flick is probably the most well designed iOS game I have ever played. the menus and dialogs are all touchable. the combat system uses the screen to good use. the design is similar to the family friendly stuff found in Popcap’s games. This is a jrpg designed with Peggle and Coin drop in mind.
The towns are maps you click on, as is the over world. Random encounters happen in lush fields as you make your way to the cave. The dungeons are fairly simple you rotate and tap a door to enter. It works well and the variety of dungeons probably improves over time. In other words Wonder flick is optimized for on the go play, long hauls to dungeons are turned into map jaunts, dungeons become choices between doors, the whole thing works, but nothing works as well as the combat system.
Wonder Flick presents you with a choose of circular jewels to flick at the enemy. The sword is a basic attack, the diamond is a skill, and the star is magic. You flick them at the enemies, left for the left most enemy, forward for the middle, and right for the rightie. Once flicked the tokens take a second to replenish and they respawn in a randomly. You can end up with a screen of only heal pots or all magic attacks and no MP. Basic attacks respawn quicker than abilities or magic making them your bread butter. Sometimes you stagger an enemy and have 5 seconds to flick the corresponding tokens into the Enemy to trigger an attack. Beyond the basic tokens are a series of circles in circles tokens that when flicked take 3 of your existing tokens to make a combo. Then there is an item token that can be used for potions for hp and mp and a mystery token that opens a roulette wheel that triggers item theft, a gold rush mini-game, or nothing at all. The gold rush can easily net you 200 gold in a go. The 3 circles combo token is useful because certain tokens can be used to trigger special abilities. When you flick the 3 circles token, 3 empty slots appear on the screen you flick into. You can throw an item pot on the end of a basic attack chain and you get a group heal, other buffs can be accessed similarly. This leads to a decent amount of strategy in the game as you save your pots waiting on circle chain tokens to trigger a group heal or a buff. It’s the right amount of skill and luck to make knowledgable use of tokens valuable while having you curse your luck if the corresponding token doesn’t spawn. The only major flaw with the system is that I often found myself,looking down at my tokens and not up at the enemies meaning I missed stagger combos if I didn’t hear the noise. Ad justing to the visual complexity of the can take time, you have to manage your attention between the tokens and the world.
After battle you get the option to take 15 gold (a little less than a health pot) or gamble on more by rolling three dice. I circulated between the options constantly. This does bring up a little problem: money can be a problem in Wonder Flick. After the first level of the Dungeon was completed I struggled to best the second boss and ended up farming for a day or two for more coins. The fact that the average battle doesn’t even pay enough for a heal pot makes saving difficult. At the end of each battle you can also spend pink currency to boost your rewards, I did this once and got 300g when I would have gotten 15. I am not sure, but I believe the pink currency can be purchased using micro transactions so beware, the game might require real cash for gold later on the game. The pink currency can also be used to power up your mystery attack but I am not sure how. Finally, the game keeps track of your daily in game movement and a red foot bar counts down to your final step. When I first tried for the dragon boss I ended up grinding so much I used up all of my footsteps twice in a day and had to use pink coins (the demo comes with 33 pinkies) hence consistent play appears to require cash too. Your footsteps appear to refill everyday though. the pink coins aren’t terribly obtrusive, there are no pop-ups wanting cash or otherwise. I was able to finish the demo in about 3 days with out paying a cent to Level-5. If the rest of the game will be free is another question. I kinda hope Level-5 makes the game affordable rather than free to play. Wonder Flick is a great jrpg with an innovative and necessary combat system and great art design, it just needs to avoid the temptation of trading in quality gameplay for a micro transaction fest. At times the limitations on footsteps and the pecuniary gold drops made the game feel like a slog towards micro translations, but it turned out I just needed to farm lower level dungeons and wait a day. If Level-5 can deal with the minor over grinding & money problems Wonder Flick could dominate. This might be the start of a new breed of jrpg and is a really necessary step forward in terms of iOS game design.
Level-5′s next gen mobile jrpg is awesome. Surprisingly it’s the jrpg genre rethought from the ground up with tablets in mind. This might be the most innovative thing to come out of Japan in sometime. the combat is surprisingly fast paced and combo laced. With Japan moving towards mobile and away from consoles, this is a needed game. Here are some shots
In a test in which players were placed with virtual Caucasian and virtual African-American players, Whites generally evaluated African-American players more positively than white players. I can only speculate on the reasons for this, but as a test of social inclusion this shows that online games work towards better inclusion of minorities (and other outgroups) in the predominate ingroup.
In this yeah duh! paper, the researchers find that greater background complexity in a game distracts the player increasing the challenge. What I love is that they suggest increasing background complexity to make games more challenging in places and decreasing it accordingly which is a really clever way of changing difficulty.
Hiroshi Iuchi’s career has been a wandering one: he began at Konami, moved to treasure, left treasure for another company, and then came back to Treasure only to leave again. At treasure he created Radiant Silvergun and Ikaruga to shumps aka shooters that received intense critical praise and one of which will be heading to steam in a few weeks. Both games shared unique mechanics Radiant Silvergun equips the player with 3 different types of shots that can be combined to create new iterations on existing weapons. Using them effectively is the challenge. Ikaruga on the other had let the player flip between black or white eliminating damage from projectiles of the matching coloring. Each game is also littered with boss fights, some more intense than the last. That’s what makes his latest game Kokuga such a surprise.
Kokuga is a mobile tank shump. It takes place in a much slower place than Radiant Silvergun did. Shots fired in Kokuga have a limited range, luckily your tank’s fire goes much further than your enemies. What Kokuga emphasizes is precision: you can not shoot another shot until your shot has landed. The result is a lot of strafing if you’re not really precise. Aiming is handled by the right and left bumpers making rotating your barrel a bit of a chore. This also sounds bad, but it’s really quite refreshing. Kokuga wants us to think ahead, we have to plan and predict where the next is going to be and then move in for the kill. It takes Iuchi’s previous experiments with strategy and boils it down to minute movements and small predictions. Kokuga manages to make a shooter feel very tactical. This tactical sense is further enforced by the addition of cards. The tank can be temporarily upgraded using a card from the touch screen. Some enemies are more easily dispatched this way, and others practically require an upgrade to take down. The upgrades are limited, but not so much that you run out. However you can only see 3 at a time so if you need a shield regeneration effect, you might need to burn a few before you find a heal. It borrows the card idea from board games at puts it to great effect in a shooter.
Graphically Kokuga is sparse. The polygons are simple and developer G.Rev is known for their shoe string budges and financial difficulties. However, the sparseness of the backgrounds and unit design means you see each shot coming. This is not a shump with overwhelming backdrops. The level design is peculiar to, the game offers 4 endings that can be experienced after beating only a handful of VR missions. The last missions are tough and take place in a warzone while the VR missions are more like a computer training ground.
What I love about Kokuga is the obvious sense of design that went into this. It asks that you create constraints on your play time and lets you go straight to the end. It also feels remarkably tactical while maintaining the real time stress of a typical shooter. It shows what we also kinda new about Iuchi: that he plans his games out. Kokuga is an amazing documents for anyone looking to further their understanding of game design.
Yesterday I was riding a dolphin
While shooting a missile launcher
It’s like when you’re eating and all you can see
Are perfect meals
Or two gaymers are making out
In your YouTube thread
Then chrome quits
And you’ve been flagged for indeceny
Ride that dolphin
Shoot that ship
Folk music will never be real
The thing about the young is
They constitute a tribe
Like the ones in the amazon
Their forest is communism
But theirs is not a rich language
You will never make millions
Brokering deals between companies
And 2 year olds
But those that learn it
Understand humanity well