Archive for July, 2013
When you’re in the over world in an RPG, you are in a different state. Possibilities open up, enemies squirm in front, and the possibility of a voyage is present. Over worlds are tranquil states, places between the battles of dungeons and the storyline of cities. In Final Fantasy 3 achieving the over world is a delight. Ni No Kuni it’s empowering, but dangerous. In RPGs this is where the majority of grinding occurs. In a tranquil place where you think you’re doing something else.
In Dragon’s Crown you do it in tight linear tunnels. Dragon’s Crown is an RPG in a subtle sense. Loosely based off Capcom’s famous Dungeon and Dragon’s beat’m ups, the game takes place in a single city with a shop to recruit fellow warriors, a place to resurrect them, an upgrade parlor replete with fix ‘m up shop, and of course an Adventurer’s guild. The guild plays surprisingly little way in the game’s storyline, instead the game chooses a D.M. Who in tells you the story as if in a role playing session. The story is standard fantasy fare with a little poke here and there on the storyline. The city is incredible well laid out and a joy to use. It’s easy to get around and get things repaired.
What makes Dragon’s Crown unique, and refreshing, is that instead of being a 3D RPG, it’s instead a stat heavy beat’m up. Fans of Golden Axe and Final Fight take note: the genre is not dead. The game’s kinetic combat is full of swoops and whirls. My Elf is fully capable of dashing across screen at a moment’s notice and her arrows while sparse also replenish quickly. The game perfectly balances the tension between over powered ranged attacks and the peril of melee. What it does wrong is fail to provide enough choice in the skill tree to make your character feel unique. You quickly fall Into a grind of fairly predictable enemy behavior. Later unlocks, so far, do not introduce new abilities although my archer can go down the frost, poison, or rapid attack path of damage, all of which are abilities I unlocked by level 9 the play style stays fairly similar. The character are more were the game makes up for this, they are varied in the extreme. The bosses can be gruesome and a bit clever, a few have predictable wind ups you must dodge, others ask you to deal with adds while someone tanks the boss’ damage. A few even include mechanics with the environment. With the wrong party, you can die quickly, never take squishies into the red dragon’s den, but if you can pick your friends right and the party knows the boss most can be done quickly. In other words it’s an RPG.
Now imagine this: you and your friends sit down with your ps vitas or a ps3 and a few controllers and roll some party members. A Dwarf comes on board, a Warrior, an elf, and a bizarrely proportioned Sorceress. The Tanks take the damage, the Sorceress provides DPS and an the elf flips around killing little adds and providing some needed poison shots and evasion. The situation is stellar, it’s just you have no idea what’s going on. Dragon’s Crown has incredibly lush visuals. It is drawn with an admiration of D&D that goes beyond the ordinary. The environments are beautiful, the characters larger than life, and your little elf or Wizard will get knocked back, chewed on by ghouls, annihilated by one hit boss attacks, however you can quickly get covered over by the other characters on screen and all the game offers is a simple colored ring to help differentiate your characters. At times I have spent 10 – 15 seconds trying to find my character on screen. Add to this that it’s hard to gauge when a ranged attack is on the Y axis as the target and you begins to get the idea. The game often becomes a melee fight with ranged being at a slight disadvantage. The design of RPG manuals is lush, but confusing, the game needs a way of simplifying the in screen chaos so you can take better evasive action during an epic fight. However after a few hours of play most of these moments of confusion subside as you become accustomed tracking your self and prioritizing the enemies on screen. Parties become strategic, magic users take out ghosts, elves stick to the smaller adds while tanks take on the bigger foes etc.
The match making works, after beating the lost woods and getting a dragon trophy you can now play online with other players. You need to collect 9 talismans to reach the next story point, and this means replaying the same 9 dungeons you just did only with real actual players. The replays offer little variety, a boss b is required for the talisman hence groups whole heartily choose B over A even when slightly under powered. But basically the game makes you replay the first levels with out bots. What’s worrying is that the a.i. For bots is rather bad, they rarely evade obvious boss wind ups and up one hit and on the floor, hence the talisman quests essentially require co-op as much as Hunted: The Demon’s Forge required one player to take the dark path of sledge addiction for the other to progress on the good ending. If online co-op dried up players will have to range together friends and do it locally, the bots can not make it past the B bosses, in fact the last 2 A bosses might take down your party and cost you all of your gold. [Update] if you run into this problem go to the church resurrect higher level tanky bots and you should be ok, but the first ancient dragon still ate about 9 level 35 bots before I got him down. Btw to access online co-op go to the gate, press start, and choose the first option.
Oh yeah and to add to the game’s troubles, it got lambasted by Kotaku for it’s depiction of women. But let’s not focus on the true, but negative. The game has varied characters, the Fighter and the Amazon are genuinely different, the elf and sorceress, the wizard they all have unique play styles. It’s a brawler, but one with unique traits. The narrator is well voiced and the game can be told with a variety of voices and the animations are solid. Once you acclimate to the online play storming a dungeon with 4 others is a blast. The game displays your damage clearly so you know if you’re out ranking other players, the leveling system is a breeze and cooking is tons of fun. The game does a lot of things right, it’s just not built, at this moment, for the long run. In my last group people were already running like MMO dungeon runners from ghosts to check point. That said, the 4 player brawler is a genre usually relished to nostalgia, Vanilla Ware has made it relevant again even if the flaws that haunted Final Fight are still somewhat present in this game. For the limitations the format provides, Vanilla Ware has done a great job expanding on the formula and providing a unique and memorable experience. I can’t wait to level up my Dwarf and finish the game again.
Update: Dragon’s Crown is also a game of a game. It marries Diablo loot collection to the mechanics of old school coin ups. The more you die, the more you spend. In these moments if rather brilliantly plays on our own expectations and turns the coins in the slot metaphor into a desperate gambit to pay attention to your other party members and then to click them in time. Continues are surprisingly pricey things in the later bot levels, after I finished 9 I spent some time farming coins before even trying the online play. Additionally, the click to loot mechanic is awesome and probably works well on vita. Parties compete to be the first to click the chest or activate the runes. The rune based magics are helpful and one of the better co-op mechanics I’ve seen. It’s not invasive, and it lets a more experienced player show off their runes and knowledge with some well placed clicks. So it’s really a game that relies on previous knowledge of games and uses the device nicely, it’s just becomes bland in the same way Golden Axe does after awhile. The game play doesn’t feel strategic the way an RPG does, instead it feels impulsive. This is partly do timing, the game is fast paced, but it’s hard to shake the feeling you”re doing the same thing time and again.
Update Epic Elf:
Beat the normal level today so unlocked epic elf I.e. the elf d.m. Voice pack and the next hard more. 9 more grinds and I can fight the next dragon. Replaying the same 9 levels is a bit annoying, but they are thankfully short so the grind isn’t a big deal. Multiplayer was down due to my shitty Internet, so I just had to use bots to fill out my party. Collect those bones! When you’re at the boss they make all the difference. I am not so sure the game is really about the levels as much as the character. I would love to see all the things the sorceress can do and my elf can now climb to 65 in levels meaning more health and damage. The game is really about the spectacle of the player and less the meaning of the level, although side quests do unlock some extra rooms. I still need to write down the runes I have yet to utilize, have all of them now. All in all a fairly short grind for bad ass ness. Seeing the characters is the real delight, but finding normal difficulty parties is now hard. Hopefully hard mode will reveal a few new players to me and multiplayer is working tomorrow. I still object to Vanilla Ware’s mmo style re-use of content, but the levels really aren’t that bad and maybe hard mode will show some new stuff in the levels. In a quest with another elf last week we ended up in a new room with slimy zombies that attacked us and are weak to fire. My whirlpools are powered up by water. All in all a fairly friendly grind just one that really needs content outside of the player to make it feel fresh. A little more Torchlight 2 style randomness would be appreciated. The storyline is about as deep as 90s fighting game, but I am enjoying myself and would love to see what unlocks at higher levels. Give it a go, but once you’ve seen the 9 you’ve seen 90% of the game’s exterior, it’s what’s inside your character that counts.
Ok so hard more adds a few new creatures a goblin that can turn you into a frog, and captains. Captains are tankish big guys that are primarily up scaled versions of knights. They do have slightly different move sets and change the dynamic of the game from break up and kill to everyone take down the captain. The ghouls have more frequent red ghouls and the bosses get adds and a little bit more armor. Leveling is quick, I shot up to 40 in an hour a gain of 8 levels and gained 4 more levels the next hour. So 7 ~ 8 ish is about right so expected about an hour and a half of grinding for 10 levels. That seems fair. I also discovered a new ability with my elf and upgraded her damage output slightly. Hard more is killing me sometimes, but weapon wear becomes less frequent 40+ weapons seem to go the distance. The game froze the second hour at a black screen so lost possibly 3 levels to that and one talisman. Hard mode primarily asks of you better creep control although the furry of spells from the magic users with the plethora of abilities on screen creates some serious clutter. I should power up to 50 by tomorrow and hopefully have the talismans for dragon 2 by Saturday or Sunday. P.s. the new enemies do change the game play, whenever that goblin wizard appears everyone gets on him and forgets about the adds.
one way to think about it: Dragon’s Crown is to beat’m ups what Borderlands 2 is to fps or Torchlight 2 is to action RPGs. It lacks the dungeon variety of torchlight 2, but the loot mechanic works and for a core group of players this game will become as compulsive as an MMO. For me at least taken the incredible lack of other games in it’s genre, Dragon’s Crown is worth the price if you need a beat’m up to play with friends that happens to have some real depth and hacking to it. I mention hacking because you can set up skills that compliment each other quite easily and supplement them with further abilities and potions. However, where Borderlands 2 and Torchlight 2 have massive amounts of content Dragon’s Crown is only slightly longer than the arcade games it quotes from. I am slowly developing a theory behind the game’s development: Index is bankrupt and I believe Dragon’s crown was originally cross buy, but those plans were canceled. Vanilla Ware’s games have rarely premiered at full retail price. They are usually in the 30 usd range on release if I am understanding correctly. I updated my review with a few more positives because I am beginning to think Vanilla Ware didn’t intend this game as a full price title, but rather ended up having to sell it as one. With a bankrupt corporate parent and the canceling of cross buy (had this game been cross buy it would have been a steal for both versions and the current price) the indications point to some corporate Tom foolery on Index’s part. Had this been 30 usd, it would be brilliant, but I still have to say buyer beware: it’s over 50 usd to grind the same 9 levels even if everything else rocks.
Update: having fun as the Sorceress and enjoying the game a whole lot more playing as a character I like. She has spells activated by scrolling through the equipment list and each wands gives her a different set of elemental abilities. Huge tits are more grotesque than alluring, but over all I get this woman, she does a good job as support and deals out some awesome Aoe damage. Leveling up the elf is a serious grind right now, hopefully infernal opens up some more exp.
Rerunning the first 9 is a breeze with higher level bots. My team of 35s are practically one hitting some bosses and the Sorceress provides them with food. All in all a good time and I could see myself getting more into the support role.
Villian had begun to simply leave the games open. “Sell them immediately,” he told me. jas concurred. In the second day of the Steam sale they discovered Steam Trading cards, a new currency Valve has introduced that sounds odious on paper. Cards work like this: you open a game and let it sit there. Every half hour you get a new card. The cards are worth 0.40 to 0.12 u.s. cents. The wages of play are low. The case gets worse when you look at the trading card’s FAQ: be sure to login in every week to be eligible for boosters, the FAQ advises. So not only do we need to play more games for puny material rewards, we need to use steam weekly to qualify for more cards. The problem is, the system works fine when you’re actually playing a game. I opened Dust: An Elysian Tale as my first trading card game and immediately got engrossed. Every hour or so a new card would pop up in my inventory. The cards were carefully made, the art work expressive and exactly like the thing on collectible trading games in my youth. The promotion worked in other words, instead of sitting there waiting on cards, I played Dust for a few hours. Trading Cards are only available in certain games, but they work as a reason to open games. You are rewarded with a nice piece of artwork and the possibility of netting a u.s. quarter in profit for doing so. The cards are then in turn grindable for experience points on your steam profile. Get to a higher level receive rarer cards. My level was already well above many other players, I have the 8 years of service badge and numerous holiday sales behind me.
The gamification of Steam, the way it has become a RPG is questionable. Gamification often makes Things competitive that shouldn’t be. Karma fishers (I am one btw) race to get their links on reddit before others do. Particularly avaricious fishers down vote other Fisher’s links and often triple post links to several reddit’s to score better. Both of the later behaviors I do not engage in. Points systems are great, but introduce stress in places we go to relax and converse in. In the case of stackoverflow teenagers racing for guru status in a particular nerdy field often troll each other just to gain an advantage in status or merely take out deep seated frustrations. Long before quantization became a norm, delicious made links… Delicious, I loved posting to it as much as I enjoy the new followers on my blog. The problem with Steam’s exp is that it doesn’t seem to introduce anything: reddit at least encourages timely link drops while sadly degrading conversation with fishers looking to score high points in comment threads. In other words points encourage better coverage of the net outside of reddit while making conversing inside of reddit less tenable. Steam exp can do something worse: it can inspire game gluttony and completely enjoyable stings of literally watching a menu screen for nothing more than 0.15 cent card drop.
As it turns out Dust: An Elysian Tale is far more than I anticipated. The combat is breezy, but the three enemy types require strategies to get through and the story line picks up amazingly well around chapter 2. Questions of ethics and genocide, of situational violence and the greater good come to the fore. It’s a really well done game with a very well rounded ethical compass. The only problem is, I wasn’t really playing Dust: An Elysian tail I was playing Steam Trading Cards. You see, steam only allows you to collect half of the cards required for a badge from a game by playing the game. The other cards need to come from different games. In order to complete my mission and try out these new badges I had to get out of an engrossing platformer just opening up to a dimension most games don’t touch and get into another game.
As I said Steam Trading Cards is an advertisement, it promotes playing through a multitude of games. Most of these games I already own. In order to get my Dust badge I needed to sell cards acquired from other games in a marketplace and then turn them into the cards I required. This turned out to be a 6 hour affair. I opened The Binding of Issac and sacrificed my badge in that game and almost four of my life in order to shift 4 more cards out of that. The gave me enough for 1 or 2 more cards for Dust. I like The Blinding of Isaac, but I have to admit, I really just wanted to play Dust. Isaac expended I moved onto Monaco. Now Monaco is not a game I enjoy and even worse all my progress had been lost in an update that enforces online play. I struggled through Monaco, but ultimately left it and Isaac running on the PC while I went out and paid bills and ate dinner etc. promotion avoided, I got the cards and didn’t even play the game. What’s worse is that the game I was playing was the most heinous of con jobs, it incentives spending time with media I would rather not consume while discouraging you from using any other service except Steam for long periods of time. Ludology needs ethics, capitalism needs more than trade laws and bankruptcy courts: it needs a moral conscience. Steam Cards work great as a reward for playing media you enjoy playing. Really, I wish I still had my fidget card as a memento of my play through, but their design also degrades the practice of games while turning a game into time sink, players simply open an application and wait on money to come through. As a game it subverts the practice of gaming, and me more skeptical of digital marketplaces as a whole. It also turns out my friends list is now limited, expandable only by grinding a useless quest unless I happen to like trading card enabled games. Yet we see these games so often now. On iOS Square-Enix had turned Hiroyuki Ito from a game designer into a cash machine.
Ito was the director of Final Fantasy 9, the game that in many ways Introduced jrpgs to the more serious plots and writing that mark Final Fantasy today. He did this by directing a game that had great characterization, all of the characters were enjoyable to interact with and their role well realized. He did the Sam thing win Final Fantasy 12. Both games made us aware of what it’s like to care for digital characters and then made this link part of a slice of atmosphere miles long in length. Ito is a master of intention, his characters inhabit real understandable states, they are relatable and often down trodden, their worlds are perfect simulacrum of our own presumptions of what a fantasy world should be, he gives us what we want with out the power fantasies that usually permeate gaming, although his games do build into power trips eventually. What makes this situation devastating is that Ito’s last game is Guardian Cross, a pay to play iOS title that nickels and dimes you at every turn. You have lose 5 points per battle, gaining 3 of you win. When you run out of points, you need to purchase more. The game is based on cards (again cards!) that you must squire from a shooting range. The gun game is so rudimentary it almost feels like a budget hunting sim. In addition to this, the hunts are also limited, you need to pay for them too eventually. Graphically the game has the production values of third rate Church booklet. It looks like a piece of crappy propoganda more than the exaggerated details of his previous games.
Cards are not gaming’s oldest medium and the simplified combat system in Guardian Cross is sickening. However trading cards are a more recent medium. Wikipedia claims trading cards came about in the 19th century and then picked up popularity in the 1950s with Topps trading cards. Trading Cards hold literally no intrinsic value. They are an abstract commodity, like money, reliant on a group of users who assign value to them. In the case of sports cards value is often determined by performance of player although personal preference comes into play too. In the case of purely made up cards like the Garbage Pail Kids, they are simply collectible because they work as miniature artwork. In a country such as America that lacks pronounced art galleries, they work as a totem for children to trade in for their image needs. Cards have artificial rarities, Topps trading cards makes sure that some cards are rare, foil, common, etc. their artificial scarcity makes them desirable. Yet, despite this asymmetry, despite the fact we could easily produce a more lenient and less competitive world of trading cards where consumers can just buy the cards they desire, we continue to buy into an artificial market that scars us, rewards us, and disappoints us. What we want is winners, but we all agree to be regular losers in order to do so. Asymmetrical markets, scarcity, and inequality are part of the discourse of these markets. trading cards are a cruel world, but the exact hell we desire. If they are anything to go by, we’ll be designing games with even more punishing systems of control, with scarcity that truly envelops entire wholes, with the exact necessary cruelty we all seek to produce by purchasing them.
Yesterday I bought Stylus for my iPad and Valkyrie Chronicles for my ps3. If the later will entertain me as much as the Stylus is open to question, but what’s above I made this morning during a little down period at work.
Concerning Back Logs
Let’s say games are like marbles, the further they are up in the sky, the more fun and force they exert when they hit the track and begin rolling in the track. Games store potential the way gravity does, the problem is Steam lacks gravity sometimes. During these periods, usually Steam sales, the average consumer may as well be playing cars in a super nova. Gravity is warped and the potential of games goes out the window. In my case I have survived numerous steam sales. These sales leave archaeological layers the way dinosaur bones do, you can identify when gamer teenagers graduated to gamer fully employedness by simply looking at their steam log and determining when they first blew over 300 USD in a 36 hour period on Steam sale. Sales build up dirt and grunk in Steam’s layers aka lists. But the thing is a more massive object exerts a greater gravitational force. as everyone knows the fun of dropping things is the force with which they hit. Your account becomes a small planetoid around which potentially shrinks, the length of the drop reduces to nothing. The fun of games is reduced by the size of my back catalog. Their Purchasability shrinks when I still need to finish X and Y. So great is my steam catalog, that I can not justify another purchase. Part of this is simply Steam’s Microsoft like decision to refuse a firm design choice and instead force us to peal through layers of options to choose the rightish design template to reduce back catalog showing. By default Steam shows all games you own, by default iOS makes it somewhat difficult to achieve what Steam does naturally. Apple clearly understands the need to clean up a mess more than Gabe does. The problem with these Steam sales is that conditions return to normal. Those 2.99 triple A games you bought pile up, the planets go back into alignment and gravity resumes it’s due. And all our games come crashing down, more garbage in a pile of wasted potential, and what’s worse is that we have to carry it all around.
When I was in College we were told about an experiment: a group of college students had to carry around all the waste they produced in a week in a bag. Students jokingly thought it would be rather small, but soon discovered the bag grew enormous and eventually untenable. Steam’s inherent UI works like this. Every time I open it, by default it shows me all of my purchases. In order to cope psychologically with the depth of my greed, I have to create categories and determine favorites. I don’t get why it just doesn’t show what’s on my machine (this option is available in a click, but clearly not Dan Gilbert style easy to do). What’s worse is that Steam is one of those schizophrenic types, in reality Steam is a slob, but hey it’s got a second personality as a diligent cleaner. The problem is when the potential exists to be a slob, the cleaner is annoyed. You see we’re fascists. I get down on my knees and scrub toothbrush style to get stains out of my bathroom, giving me the illusion that games aren’t there when they are is just more annoying. Steam can ends it’s delusion of being neat and clean with a simple click, and often does.
Well anyways, My back catalog continues to work one effect: I feel almost no need for new games knowing how many I purchased before and have never played.
P.s. purchases include rockin’ android bundle, Dishonored (gift), and to the moon this season. Waiting on rayman origins to finally drop to 50% before I buy.
The vast majority of games deal with empowerment. Skyrim turns you into a bad ass, many FPS games similarly build the character into a gun toting colusus, and Guild Wars 2 level syncs were derided by some because it failed to make the average character feel powerful. Empowerment is usually what we build in games either through skill or through simple accumulation of credits and special abilities. It is also a fantasy primarily associated with a masculine becoming in gender.
I bought a 3ds in April and have been walking around with street pass on for the last few weeks to try out the mii plaza games. Here is how it works, you make a mii and share it via street pass, your mii in turn is traded via wifi to other 3ds owners who in turn you get a mii from. The result is a surprisingly engaging game of vanity, every person I have made contact with has hats well beyond my level and other vanity items I have yet to acquire. It makes me feel surprisingly self-conscious about my mii because I want to impress and delight other as much as the crazy ones I’ve picked up have. Of the two miis I’ve collected both were pretty awesome and made me laugh. Street pass increased the virtual connection, the identification with my avatar by making dress a social and location based commodity. It made the Miis more valuable by making them scarce and special. Then there are the games.
Find Mii is a game in which your Mii is disempowered. Your Mii, like Princess Peach, is stuck in a cage at the end of a dungeon. You are the princess in the dungeon in this game. It’s a strange sensation for me because I am so used to games making me feel powerful, yet I love this camaraderie of 3DS ownership and seeing these street passed Miis try to take out Ghosts in a very jrpg style. The game creates a connection between players and then uses that connection to have someone else’s Mii (which you play as no less) go out to rescue your Mii. It’s a strangely disempowering experience, yet works surprisingly well as a game, it might be the best location based game I have ever seen. What does Fnd Mii say about the relation between player and avatar especially as you experience the actual avatar playing the game as foreign while identifying with your own avatar in the cage? It’s interesting that representing a disempowered and to some extent feminine fantasy in gaming took the creation of location based games to increase your connection with the avatar and then a simple swap of that stronger identification to make you feel like some strangers are coming to rescue you. It really says a lot about the potential of game play outside of physical controllers.
When we talk about and design games we often do with the implicit assumption of a joystick, games are emotionally established and carried by a general assumption of a single player story driven joystick controlled game. That using other interfaces like location and touch can bring unexpected emotional resonance to a game should not be unexpected, yet what Find Mii and Street Pass are proving is that location games can show peculiar places in game designs and take us on metaphors more provocative than just empowerment.
The hokey pokey is a fairly famous children’s song used by educators to get children to repeat key concepts in an enjoyable environment. The song has no really definable structure beyond doing some basic actions and then singing the chorus: “you do the hokey pokey and turn yourself around..” They key thing is no one knows what the hokey pokey is, it is literally Nonesense, but something in its juxtaposition of sensibility and surrealism it acquires a freedom rarely scene in speaking: it is free from meaning and hence an invitation for fun.
The hokey pokey works as a gate way, a means of relieving ourselves of the strictures of meaning and simply having fun. Teachers have been using it for years and it’s puerile charms never wear off.
What the hokey pokey becomes is a means of avoiding meaning while engaging in meaningful play and in this sense it’s a lot like Super Mario Brothers. Miyamoto’s handiwork simply avoided the pitfalls of meaning entirely, it is not profound in a narrative or literally meaningful way, it’s design decisions eschew taste and narrative in favor of a mixed up world where plumbers navigate through a surrealism more intense than in any other pop cultural artifact I can think of. Where the game becomes useful is in a similar manor as to how the teacher employs it: brief spurts of relief from meaning in the midst of some intense learning. Mario Brothers lets us carry around a portable space to return to when we no longer want meaning in our lives. In this sense it is art, and possibly more affecting in Dadaism than Dada itself.
What Mario Brother also reveals is the way surrealism is coded in literature, when Dali sought to escape meaning he meant it in the narrative / literary sense hence his paintings willing subvert the narrative traditions of Western painting. What he avoided is what Mario Brothers fills in is the ability to not make sense and enjoy it. The void in Dali is a dark and unnavigable dungeon, in Mario it is rather a dance we do to entertain ourselves. That we’ve enshrined both surrealisms suggests that None sense is a bigger and more important thing than it’s unassuming manor projects.