S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Call of Pripyat:
I didn’t get the game at first, Call of PRipyat assumes a previous playthrough of another Stalker game, however when you begin to learn the game, it becomes brilliant. Stalker is open world as open world should be. There is no prison of cinematic story telling wisking you down a relatively linear corridor. Some missions are so impossible you’re best bet is to run. Stalker is an open world game that allows for approximation, although putting a helicopter up a dirt hill is still a cheesy plot point.
Might and Delight’s platformer I’ve covered before, but the game becomes a delightful puzzle platformer later on. It continues to develop, and to introduce new mechanics almost every room. The grandmother is a hard boss though.
Super Mario 3D Land
Slider is all the way up, the 3D perspective shows only 1 minor flaw in 3D game making: when we’re able to perceive depth, we notice the plainness of the environments more. Mario 3D Land is full of strip mall like colored pavements, parking lots with only brick blocks in their monotony, in other words depth reveals how much a scorched wasteland level design can be, aside from that a wonderful Mario and exactly how it should be.
The Next Big Thing
I loved this game at first, but by the end of it I had lost all interest and was jamming on the clue button all the time. Pendulolo studios starts with a bang, but ends with gender stereotypes so high they eliminate most of the fun and the villian isn’t much a villian. I found myself rather more interested in his politics than the player’s.
Much like 30 Flights of Loving Bioshock Infinite explores the line between cinema and game play, Ken Levine has adapted to the practices of the FPS to provide near perfect precision plot bursts in the midst of invariant game play. World building here is immense, and Bioshock (like a good anime) is a place you might want to live were it not do to that whole racism thing and the prohpet, etc.
Finished Torchlight 2
Playing: Steins;Gate, Forest, Long Live The Queen, S.T.A.L.K.E.R.
Reading: The Orphanmaster’s Son
You see the ads and referal programs for play-asia on almost any anime related site, anyways just a word of warning: what is listed on their site is not actually what they have in stock. If you order from them do not pay for next day or expedited shipping. What you are paying for is a service where in they locate a system or game for you, order it, and then ship it to you from their Hong Kong base. I ordered a 3DS from them only to be a tad shocked to have wait a week only to find they were still “preparing my order”. They did refund my money, and were quite nice, but their website is a little deceptive and be forewarned: you might be waiting weeks for items you can get other players or from an eshop day of.
PID is a newish indie platformer from a company with the amazing name Might and Delight. Two things I usually like together, however PID suffers a bit from the unity syndrome. The unity syndrome is when an indie game bears such similarity to another unity game that one simply feels one is playing the same game. In the case of PID it bears a resemblance to the equally excellent Rochard. Both are 2d platformers done in Unity only with remarkably different storylines, aesthetics, and play mechanics. PID involves a boy who over sleeps in an intergalactic school bus and finds himself immersed in the politics of an alien world. The game features co-op with both players using the same pc which is cool, but unlikely for someone like me.
PID is the story of various distractions, as the game begins our protagonist is looking for a bus back to his planet, only to be promised one in the first few minutes and then to discover that the old man in question is merely delusional, and a bus can only be caught from in town. From there PID grows into a gravity based platformer. Kurt, the plucky Pixar like protagonist of this surrealist epic, quickly acquires the ability to shoot two little gravity beams that will either send him up or to the side. These abilities aren’t terribly exciting, Rochard for features a gravity mechanic as well, but so far the game has made rather good use of them. You will flip plates, have to time throw to levitate boxes, and occasionally lob one into a tube to deal with an enemy.
And that might be where the game’s problems begin. PID has great surrealist design. It reminds of Windowsill:
But where Windowsill’s joy was the discovery of its surrealist mechanics PID is sadly more mundane in its play style. Kurt will be avoiding a surprisingly mundane group of machines in the castle level (confession I have not made it out of the castle yet). However the later parts of the castle introduce some creepy automatons that stalk Kurt through levels and have to be dealt with bombs, lasers, or other methods. These newer enemies suggest the game gets much more involved later. Truth be told I enjoyed the dining room levels quite a bit, because they reminded me of Mickey mouse in castle of illusion which was a major game for me when I was younger and the sitting room where I now reside is turning out to be wonderful as well. But PID initially in sound track and over all vibe is a bit of downer, propelled by jazz / surf rock bass lines the game’s opening levels seem almost sedate and the world around PID is often standing still.
Despite this, or maybe due to a love of platformers, I plundered through the first levels in a two hour binge arriving this morning at a really cool boss fight which involved smashing plates. I can only tentatively recommend PID, it’s design is fabulous, but the play mechanics are only now building to something truly exemplary. Might and Delight might have produced a gem, but nearing the end of the first section I am only now starting to get intrigued. The story, which in the trailer sounds awesome, is another problem, while an interesting idea it lacks execution and often falters in places, PID is a great could have been with story. The sound track only gets darker as one plays which is strange because PID is so much a game of surprise, it’s world is fairly original and it’s story book premise have great potential, but hey I haven’t even reached this guy yet: so who knows what is has in store. So to recap: it looks like a unity game, that same ethereal glow resounds around the game’s graphics. The world is greatly realized, but the enemies only become interesting towards the end of the first section. The game’s hook is gravity manipulation which works like lobbing a soft ball, it doesn’t quite have a fast pace to it, but it does lend to some ok puzzles.
Available from their website or Steam.
Ok so I am sitting in the Phuket airport and I am really tired, but I wanted to get this out there.
Pakarang in kao rat, this is really charming surf school run by Ching. He will pick you up from the bus stop and drive you there. Pakarang has some really nice surf, especially in the morning and the site is absolutely amazing for beginners. No white water to paddle against and the morning and evening breaks are nice, long, and gentle. Accommodations are really cheap too 300 baht per night, boards are cheap also.
Surin, this is a mother fucking hard one. Surin is a small beach near the airport in Phuket, it is almost all white water. Large rocks stick out of almost a third of the beach making most of it unsurfable except by experienced surfers. Inexperienced surfers will only be able to surf in the morning towards the late afternoon high tide rises and if you don’t know how to duck and dive and ride a short board you won’t be able to get very far. Recommend Surin for people who know what they’re doing. This beach really requires a lot of expertise to really enjoy. Boards available on the beach, but recommend you pick up a short board from salt water dreaming (it’s 20 minutes from e beach)
Kata – Kata is slightly harder than pakarang, pakarang is accessible all day long, but kata has moments that make surfing it hard. Kata is also absurdly popular as a beach and is full of surfers, swimmers, body boarders, etc. it is however an awesome ride. The first break is great for long boards the second is a bit harder to reach, but I managed it. Kata is just amaZing really and a lot of fun. It is a possible place for beginners too, but in high season it might be to crowded, even in low season kata is full of people. Boards and surf instruction available on beach.
Kata noi – kata’s rocky little sister is nowhere near the difficulty of surin, but still requires a good amount of paddling to get too and some work. The water was really dirty when I was there too with mysterious piss like foam jetting everywhere. I didn’t spend a lot of time here, but it’s a nice place to learn duck and dive and practice short board techniques. A few boards on the beach, but better to bring your own.
A long time ago in a Korean town far from the enticements of Soeul I discovered the pc bar and Korean pc bar culture. I lost (according to battle net) 350 games of Starcraft and won one. With such unescalating returns I decided to try the other games at the pc bar only to find a Korean I’d was required to get into the average kart game. However there was an exception. Guild Wars was everywhere, billboards advertised it on the sides of buildings, Korean newspapers reported on Nc Soft’s acquiring some of the original developers from Blizzard, The game was everywhere and unlike nexon’s cafe games it was open to all. I logged in as a woman and began to play. The server was derelict, a few npcs strolled around, some large town houses loomed in the fields, and worms were everywhere. I was supposed to kill the worms. I turned it off and sold my account. Mmos weren’t for me.
Desire is, in psychoanalytic theory, a creation. We learn to desire and it’s origins are often frivolous. A film might teach a girl how to desire as a woman, a role model might inspire a boy to a life in mathematics, but games (outside of their filmic parts) inspire desire in very different ways. We often don’t identify with games the way we identify with other art forms. If you watch a film you empathize, you hate, you love, characters in the film. Their behavior forms a fabricate that becomes the agent of desire and spreads wide ideas of how and what desire should be used, maintained, and sublimated. In games desire is often created by sensation or rewards. If you play chess and you win, you will probably want to play chess more. If you play a first person shooter, even if you detest the main character and story, the sheer spectacle of rocketing into combat might be enough to make the game stick and hence, to use the Deluezean term, a desiring machine is born. Games work in other ways too, and their cinematic elements can make the game stick too (I love the characters in hunted: the demon’s forge, but detest the game play), however I will maintain the three central ideas of sensation, rewards, and identification for the remainder of this review, even though final fantasy xiv has a strong social element to it, and that selfishness vs selflessness of the game is often not explored.
After Guild Wars I didn’t bother with mmos. I looked at them and just thought, that’s not for me. A friend however installed Skyrim on my pc and while I didn’t like it at first, the game quickly became an obsession, the thought of sending my Mage to Mage school, of developing npc control techniques, and just the general expansiveness of the world drew me in. What does Skyrim teach me? To desire character growth, branching skill trees, and to bear with repetive actions for a minor reward. The the results of these labor gave me a few valuable moments, such as when I learned I could take down trolls in a few hits, or casting an illusion spell that enraged guests at a wedding enough that they killed the bride (who I in turn took the dress off of and then enchanted with a 100% discount on destruction spells). Skyrim taught me that building a character can be rewarding and highly empowering… Perhaps a little bit to much so I took down the final boss with no problem. After Skyrim I fell in love with Spore which attenuated me to the click and wait tactics of many mmos, when I began to realize the strategy lies outside of the actions you are taking the game took on a new light, and well it gave me the fortitude to make it through my first few levels in ff xiv.
So that takes me to almost up to Final Fantasy xiv 1.2.3. I bought the game from amazon and downloaded it, then downloaded the patches from another server. I placed my bets on FF XIV because unlike every other mmo, it launched with an absolutely abysmal reputation, but as the game was patched and fixed YouTube videos led me to believe it was getting better, hence for 19.99 I would be entering into a game that come October would retail for 59.99 on the ps3 and a game where the developers seem to be in consistent communication with the fan base. If it turned out I didn’t like I just had to wait a month or so and then sell my key for more.
The first thing ff xiv did right was drop me into a storyline. The Gridania storyline opens with an absolutely beautiful cinematic backdrop and then introduces us to two fairly comical characters with British accents. I know that British accent = fantasy world, but somehow I always feels that final fantasy characters aren’t quite indebted to such Tolkein like lineages to require the Queen’s lisp. I would have preferred an American accent on some of the characters, but the voice acting is above average, and the humor pretty good. So score one ff xiv, you didn’t make me kill worms. Next the game went into a quick combat tutorial which my thaumaturge went through pretty quickly, then even more story and finally I was dropped off in the woods with a good sense of how to get home. I grinned a little and quickly leveled up to 5 in no time before hitting the adventurer’s guild and be introduced to Mom. Mom is an npc who gives you you’re initial quests. In Gridania people develop Woodsin, a kinda karmic retribution for harming the woods. In other words all those lingering doubts about litter, recycling, are made into game form and form a rather good impetus to continue the quest line and avoid being eaten by an elemental. However the game devolves a little here, instead of being given more story quests, it becomes centered around guidleves. Guidleves are simple quests that involve doing repetive things for exp. Battlecraft fieldleves produce orange hotspots on the map were you can battle enemies at levels you set at a crystal. The leves are based around camps and include crafting leves and battle leves. I found the grinding to be not overly hard, but just a little grueling. I really would have preferred more content and less battling for exp, but until you hit 50, the game requires a little grinding. The grinding however doesn’t take terribly long provided you get in a party, choose a leve that’s just a little above your parties’ level, and then manage to chew through your creeps in time to get a chain exp bonus. Chain bonuses are awarded by battle time, the faster you kill creeps above your level the faster your bonus grows. Chain bonuses can level up a class pretty quickly, but do slow a tad at times if your party is lower level than you. You can grind about 2 levels an hour after level 10. Before level 10 you can do more than 5 an hour. Parties have the advantage of leve sharing so your four leves plus the other party members leves quickly add up and because they’re adjustable as you level up you can make the enemies more difficult meaning exp doesn’t shrink as you get higher. The leve system is pretty good and is more efficient than using a macro bot to level you, but I still feel it needs more variety, a little more storyline tie in, and could give a slightly bigger exp bonus when you hit the dreaded mid levels where exp remains constant, but the amount needed to level grows. At first combat annoyed me, the click and wait method really got on my nerves, but around level 20 all these things dissipated and the reward of smack, kill, run away!! Begins to fall into place, mmos reveals the dissonance between a player’s first reaction and the developers over exposure to the game. The combat in ff xiv is really offsetting if you haven’t already played similar games. I will not even begin to discuss the crafting which is just an awful game mechanic that needs to be done away with as quickly as possible, combat has the incentive of being social: parties are fun, strategic: you have to make decisions about which enemies to take on, who to heal, and other questions, and your characters attributes factor highly into their damage output and input. Crafting on the other hand is just a set of menus. I actually just created an autohotkey script that presses enter once every 5 seconds and let it run for 3 hours, this usually nets me about 2 levels in crafting and 99 of whatever thing I am making.
The major lesson mmos teach us is that systems attract game players, the question one should be asking then is, what systems are worth it and why? What mechanics should input and export from the system and why? A lot of the design principles in ff xiv are based off ideas of the real and not so much on fun, using a menu is not fun regardless of how much worth a high level crafter might bring to the game, crafting needs to be a game in itself and not just a bunch of menus off setting to first timers. Addtionally crafting is complicated by necessary items, in gridania for instance a culinarian can create marmot steaks. Marmot steaks require marmot meat and gridania walnuts, two things the forest is full of, however the recipe also requires garlean garlic an item only found far from gridania, hence marmot steak, an item intended for low level culinarians and to buff low-level melee players can not be made until a player has reached the their 20s or 30s. This additionally complicated by an undesirable gathering system that while slightly more interactive and interesting than crafting is still sub-par. A botanist for instance is presented with a simple interface (not even mapped onto the in question) in which they set a notch in the tree and then have to time their button presses to swing as close to the notch as possible, the game breaks all sorts of video game logics, it rarely nets you wood (believe it or not you can get garlic by swinging an axe at a tree), but it also takes a possibly interesting part of the in game economy and boils it down to a mini-game that is less well developed than many prototypes on new grounds.
This brings me to one really nice part of ff xiv: the economy. Ff xiv has a huge crafting economy. All the little trinkets you collect from battles or gathering leves become items sellable at the market wards or craftable if you have the complimentary items. The market wards are still problematic, while asking an npc will search all available items in the wards, npc still compete for space in the wards, but talking to an npc in the main room bring up a search function which shows how much an item just sold for and quantities. I am not sure if it includes all the npcs In the wards, but I believe it does connect you to other npcs. This means that the game supports a rather impressive player driven economy. I find myself buying almost all my gear from the wards because someone high on virtual life just produced the exact staff my conjuror needs and is selling at half the price of npcs, other items though might not be as profitable, cotton for instance is priced at twice it’s npc price because apparently many players don’t know that cotton is sold by npcs at the weaver’s guild in ul’dah. The wards additionally are difficult to access and make little sense in the game’s world (I would prefer to have an npc at a shop that takes down what you’re selling at makes a big searchable list of all the items players are selling in game and let’s you stay in the city you’re in), but square should be complimented for creating a recipe for almost every in game item. The possibilities are amazing and it makes crafting a humanitarian gesture, another player on a quest with me crafted two diremite rings for my conjuror when she saw some of my spells slip. The ability to make items on the fly is cool, it’s just boring.
Crafting only creates desire with in social networks, not by the crafting game itself. Additionally motives of profit or sharing bear down on this menu based sub-game (hint if your item glows red wait, only use careful synthesis when you at 80% and have over 30 durability remaining). We learn to desire crafting by coercion outside of the game itself. I can think of few games I play regularly just to impress others.
Learning to desire with in the limits of an mmo is hard, but once there the space of availability is huge, the character builds diverse, etc. mmo are peculiar Once you get into the game enough to care about your character, the crafting becomes a minuscule, but necessary chore, but you may as well disable the option till you reach at least 20, the game simply isn’t any fun when all you’re doing is menus. Crafting bots for ff xiv exist on the net and can be downloaded easily, but I wrote one in autohotkey in about 10 minutes just using their API, but it does have the disadvantage of producing the same item over and over again something which the game punishes with diminishing exp for each serial item made.
Right now ff xiv is flush with players trying to grind to 30 and get a goobbue mount before the goobbue mount is removed in 1.2.3a because of this I might have come into the game during a grind heavy time instead of a story centric period, I have done two storyline quests with other players and both went the same way. For Imperial Devices you make your way to a remote location in gridania and then your party is granted one hour in the dungeon. The dungeon is beautiful. A swooping cinematic introduces it and then you the actual layout lacks inspiration, but is serviceable as a dungeon. My party included one level 42 gladiator who pummeled us through the mission in o time. I think it would have been more fun with just level 30s, but the final boss is quite hard and really takes a tank. Seeds of Initiative went similarly a level 50 killed the boss for me, however this added on job quest tied into the main storyline perfectly and made sense in the context of the game which furthers adds to my claim that the game is fairly well written. Square has over twenty years experience creating fantasy content, and their writing has improved remarkably since the NES days. However right after an elemental protesting killing in the name of the forest you are given a mission to “take down” an over grown bird in another land, hence non-lethal missions for the white Mage are necessary according to the story line, but chafe with the games combat mechanics. However support classes can definitely play non-lethally and in fact might prosper if you place your attribute points along such a line.
Ff xiv is one of the few games in which the support class is really important and necessary. Once one is attenuated to the game, the actual act of proceeding through dungeons becomes strategical and the conjuror becomes a fairly important class. Less then 28% percent of players choose support as their role hence a good white Mage is in demand. In the game the white Mage has to balance casting and cool down times with estimations of when party members will take damage, and who to prioritize. This is more demanding that it seems and I really loved my time healing other level 30s and sacred prisming into stone skin for my exp party. The game’s supporters will have their hands full mending every scrap, while managing a dwindling mp pool and enemies intelligent enough to go for the healer’s throat. That is once you get past that initial discomfort of click and wait, the oddness of the crafting system, the unfamiliar elements in recipes, the necessary linkshells never explained in a tutorial, the mending and repair systems, the sparse story line, the pressures to help your friends, and all the other desires you become attenuated to in the games initial hours.
Johanthan Blow at a talk at rice university gets into the idea of skinner boxes and creating desire. Desire is certainly created, the mechanisms of desiring machines are various, but the problem with skinner boxes is how they reveal how blatantly desire can be produced. The act of positively reinforcing something causes a subject to desire. Given such a blank state, the ethics of desire comes up. We can for instance create a desiring machine between a child and an interest or between a child and a commercial product. Capitalism often prefers addictions that lead back into consumption and production is often left on the sidelines. If the games that mmos make us play are actually beneficial is a question I struggle to answer. Currently I am incensed that my server is down , I had an entire to do list of crafts and quests to do, but to critique mmos purely off their skinner box like means of producing desire loses the fact that other games attenuate us to tasks that might not be beneficial either. Additionally mmos make their means of producing desire blatant, a player goes away knowing that they were in a way conned into liking something, but the result of all this clicking, waiting, and calculating is a game that’s surprisingly deep and varied. Players have built and rebuilt classes to discover the algorithms behind spells, the effects of leveling, the most efficient means to achieve 50 in a class and the diversity of builds is immense that for parts of the game one must become dependent on others, and that is where the game really shines: in dependency. On one of my linkshells a cat gives me all her food so I can level up my culinarian class, on another I am asking a blacksmith for cooking knives. All of this is so satisfying I don’t find myself wondering to other games, trying other things, yet I do not feel strongly enough to feel overwhelmed. These games crudely produce mechanics that are terribly offsetting to first timers, but grow into emotional worlds and kinships, they became minor tasks in a social order, mmos show us how far we’ll go for friends.
The Video in Video Games:
One of the major problems with arguing against Video Games as a sight of meaning is that they inherently differ from typical games by including video in them. Video Games are there for a hybrid form between real life games like hide and seek and film. The problem with this mixture is that any medium capable image is also capable of meaning and the control that one has in shaping the possibilities and framing of a game means that poignancy can abound. Hence focusing on the absence of meaning in play ignores that games contain another medium with in them perfectly suited to meaning production. It’s what happens when the two collide that makes it all interesting.
Moonrise Kingdom is Wes Anderson’s latest and like a lot it deals with trauma and the rather flexible borders of acceptability. It is essentially a record of society enforcing mental illness by trying to block the romantic intentions of a 12 year old.
QUANTUM CONUNDRUM is the latest game by Kim Swift. The game is not portal. The puzzles rather quickly differentiate into new territory (a lot of glass breaking and platform building) and the game play becomes hypnotic. The game suffers from one major problem: Portal derived a lot of it’s charm by being a disturbingly realistic fps in a sci-fi world that humorously devolved many of the overtly serious conventions of the fps into comedy. It was like opening a Gears of Wars games only to find out the locust were emotionally disturbed pansies, Portal turned genre expectations on it’s head. QUANTUM CONUNDRUM does not do this, the game’s cartoon lay out screams kid friendly game and while the dialogue isn’t entirely unenjoyable seeing Ms. Swift’s trademark humor in the dimension it was intended, takes some of the bite out of it. The story in other words lags, the game play shines. I fine myself strangely frustrated by the narrator because I think I would rather be him than the little child at the door step. It was patched yesterday (hopefully with better video options) and I bought the dlc season pass so we’ll see if the second outing from Portal’s main lady works as well. So far it’s fun and really drew me in.
Anyway, I continue to have this weird nagging I should be posting about philosophy sensation, but really am taking a break into game design. Stuck on a fairly hard problem over at udacity.com right now and my game in Codea continues to lag on a simple display issue… sigh… programming can be so much fun (I would really like to get into A.I. and bioinformatics), but leaves me with many mysteries. Back to my classes and probably Crysis 2.
The problem with LoL post-Dota 2 is that LoL’s more fair to new players. You don’t lose money from dying, almost everyone hits level 18, and the towers are good defenses, but the problem is the game becomes 50 minutes of pure frustration as a clearly winning team is held back or decimated at the end. League of Legends fails to reward players for early gains and extends what would be a shut out match into a prolonged noob fest that never ends. Dota 2 has rage quitters, games are often one sided or even worse a single hero can carry a team to victory, but if a dota game lasts more than 30 minutes it’s due to the performance of the team. Hence a skilled Dota team ends a game quickly and while quitters quit, ragers only have a few precious minutes to gripe, and trolls can only get in so many jabs. Hence LoL traps lesser players in prolonged games with their betters building up a community of gripes, trolls with epic spiels, and other less enjoyable elements. It’s like cabin fever only in troll form. What’s worse is that LoL has spent the last few years silently mimicking Dota. LoL’s play field now resembles Dota’s, Lulu is basically a stand info for Lion, Fiona is Juggernaut, etc. The once mighty split between the games and their designs has come down to a low reintegration of Dota’s designs into LoL’s game space.
Part of the point of LoL was to make a game more equitable than Dota, this meant sharing experience from creep kills, better protection for new players, and parrying down Dota’s lethal and complicated assortment of equipment. In some cases innovation is good, I would rather play Janna than against Invoker with the item that sends out twister, in other cases LoL produces a hegemony far worse than Dota’s sometimes cheaper mechanisms. LoL’s rune system and mastery points inherently enable higher level players in ways Dota’s champs never will be. What this has meant for LoL is that mages have typically been unviable because most people go all magic resist with their runes. On the other hand dying in Dota keeps you from getting gold, this allows for a strategy of targeting carries to keep them from ever building up the reservoirs necessary to get essential items, cheap, but true. In LoL gold simply accumulates and doesn’t dissipate when you die making saving up for items much easier. I prefer LoL’s items and gold system, but find the runes and masteries to be to enabling to older players, not only does a more experienced champ have… Well more experience, but they also enter the game with better armor, hp, magic resist, and other things, creating a play environment that simply makes low level games a pain and even high level where everyone is 30 are annoying too. Dota’s equalizing of the play field makes early kills easier and it’s weaker torrents make defense of them less of a priority. Well that’s my spiel on league of legends. In a nutshell, games like this are inherently frustrating, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, but the thing is Dota makes loses short and overwhelming, league of legends makes them 50 minutes exercises in the worst parts of human nature. I still like LoL’s women more than Dota’s primarily male cast, but over all Dota 2 has a lot going for it, and LoL increasingly looks like its cheap clone. One additional note, LoL does have really creative modes like Dominion that Dota lacks, but even the design language of Dota shows more forethought, Dota champs are easily recognizable, LoL group fights are confusing. Dota 2 is what riot games will have to face up against. Taken the age of LoL’s engine, it could use a new coat of paint and a few lessons from its ancients.