Posts tagged ‘games’

Just Beat the Wonder Flick demo

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.

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December 7, 2013 at 6:20 am Leave a comment

This Month in Academic Research Jul 2013 (it’s about video game research)

I follow video game research via scholar.google.com
Here are a few interesting papers I came across this month.

http://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-642-39241-2_39

FPS games, what are they good for? Apparently they cure amblyopia aka lazy eye and the researchers in question have created a positive preschool friendly FPS game in order to help deal with it. So yes in a preschool somewhere… Children are being taught FPS mechanics before they can probably even read. Future exports champions beware, Lazy Eye Shooter is getting kids hooked on the genre before most kids even own a game system. Not sure if this pay to access article has screenshots though.

http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0068382

In the seemingly never ending war of video games bad, video games good, this article finds that violent video don’t have a negative effect on social skills at odds with previous research.

http://revistaaloma.net/index.php/aloma/article/download/184/122

There are simply so many articles criticizing and complaining about video games, and a few praising that this over view of the “effects of video games on young people” will help summarize both the negatives (college course work takes a dive) and positives (the usual spatial skills argument). If you’re not familiar with research into the effects of video games on players, this little short, and free paper will help get you up to speed on the concepts.

igitur-archive.library.uu.nl/student-theses/2013-0627-200619/jeremy%20falger%20BA%20thesis%20findings%20analysis%20chapter%20.docx
Battlefield 3, it made war look like really cool CNN footage, in this thesis the author takes apart the way BF3 presents scenes in order to justify or vilify violence. If any of those BF3 moments disturbed you with their pro-Iraq overtones, this paper will at least give you some insight into how the game managed to get you so pumped up for an unpopular war.

uhra.herts.ac.uk/handle/2299/10980
Autistic kids they score higher than us, but they have no friends. They also are way more likely to be into video games. Now researchers are trying to give them robot friends to play with, which means they will officially be significantly cooler than you ever will be.

https://aaltodoc.aalto.fi/handle/123456789/10347

I can’t even access this article from my iPad, but I had no idea there was a theory of comedy much less that a serious ludology had been developed to analysis of it in games. Would love to read this and I think it’s free to access, but can’t take a look in Chrome.

psycnet.apa.org/journals/drm/23/2/97/
This is a weird one, apparently gamers in the military are less likely to have nightmares than non-gamers. The paper then replicated this experiment on college students to only find that male high end gamers seem to be immune to nightmares. However female gamers are more likely to have nightmares after playing games. Then again just imagine playing a game and identifying with the damsel in distress. Unfortunately you have to pay for the full journal, but the abstract does get you thinking…

uwispace.sta.uwi.edu/dspace/handle/2139/15864
Games used to help deaf children in Trinidad communicate and also to chronicle their culture. Results were increased scores in numerous subjects and better social inclusion of deaf students! Way to go games!

http://www.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=lllCnJu_5yAC&oi=fnd&pg=PA161&dq=%22video+games%22&ots=VX7IXLBrWY&sig=r8k8YhwcLrZc2KUxIUbXUmvrnNo

In this excerpt from a book The Development and Meaning of Psychological Distance the author summarizes a surprisingly good wealth of information about games and how they develop our sense of space and by extension distance. I found the author’s summaries really rousing and quite fun, I also like the idea of a bunch of researchers sitting around an arcade in the 1980s asking Star Wars fans to take a spatial reasoning test after playing a vector based 3D game. Especially because it was this Star Wars game:

http://hmi.ewi.utwente.nl/verslagen/capita-selecta/RT-Veen-Gijs-van.pdf

Brain machine interfaces are becoming more common and in this paper a few game designers at a University in the Netherlands ponder what games could be made using these interfaces. Cool idea and one that hopefully will be down out of Academia soon.

http://arxiv.org/abs/1307.3195
The march of A.I. Continues in this paper for arxiv researchers outlay a plan to take a.i. From robots and use it towards games. A.i. Continues to be a field that games don’t excel at…. Except Creatures and the new game by the guy who made Creatures.

http://www.helloliefje.com/wp-content/uploads/Thesis-final.pdf

Surprisingly, or perhaps not so surprisingly, video game players showed up having faster intuitive solutions to moral dilemmas and strangely preferring non-violent solutions. “the contrary, those who played single player games displayed a clear intuition to save people, regardless of the violent means necessary. Regarding multi-player gaming, those who were exposed to such games showed a shared intuition to accept a dilemma involving mid-distanced violence, in the face of saving many lives. Gamers in general, regardless of what games they play most, were found to be more accepting of a non-violent, utilitarian dilemma when compared with the control.”

http://oficinas.incubadora.ufsc.br/index.php/sciofgaming/index

The Science of Gaming is new open source Brazilian journal of games research. Worth a look especially because the papers are free. The abstracts are in English,but the papers might be in Portuguese.

akspublication.com/Editorial_Jul2013_.pdf
Computer vision syndrome is when excessive computer use causes headaches, blurred vision, and other eye related problems. This paper covers a few easy remedies for computer vision.

www.yordiverkroost.nl/vu/paper_sct.pdf
In this rather accessible review of literate on serious games, the author describes several serious games used in military training and the place and problems serious games present to the classroom. Worth a read just for the overview.

http://digitallibrary.srmuniv.ac.in/dspace/handle/123456789/9626
Research from India suggests video games harm children’s eye sight decreasing their ability to learn in the classroom. In other words all those kids playing lazy eye shooter might also being getting refractive errors in their sight, a condition curable by wearing glasses, but optometry is not as widely available or affordable in India as it is in the first world.

http://www.goodgamesbydesign.com/Files/Chapter5_Flow_Motivation_Fun_Final_WebVersion.pdf
Many educational games are little more than flash cards and drills in disguise, in this paper several prominent serious games researchers take on the psychological terms flow and motivation and proceed to outline games for the classroom you might want to actually play!

http://www.google.co.th/books?id=fJ4GxyLzIOoC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_atb#v=onepage&q&f=false

Roger Ebert wrote a blog post about it, this dude wrote an entire book. Are video games art? From legal definitions to more esoteric aspects of aesthetics, Marc Ryan… Has a surprisingly short sample on google books. But regardless, if you need a long arguement for the artistic merit of video games, this book has you covered in more than just title.

July 30, 2013 at 7:51 am Leave a comment

Review: Dragon’s Crown

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.

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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.

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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.

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Ain’t no party like an all Elf party

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.

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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.

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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.

July 28, 2013 at 12:39 pm 2 comments

Bad Games: Steam Trading Cards / Guardian Cross

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.

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Ito is clearly being under utilized, and seeing his work being degraded to this stature is alarming in the extreme. The artwork on the cards though is beautiful.

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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.

July 20, 2013 at 1:18 pm Leave a comment

Find Mii or empowerment, the princess in distress

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.

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July 16, 2013 at 12:25 am Leave a comment

The hokey pokey

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.

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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.

July 9, 2013 at 5:25 am Leave a comment

Etrian Odyssey IV and Zeno Clash 2

These are just two quick observations on two really great games.

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Etrian Odyssey IV
3DS

Ok first thing, this game has a demo, download it first. etrian odyssey is surprising in that it’s all about being an RPG: stats matter, grinding is common, you make runs on certain enemies to collect the components for certain weapons, and it’s a first person dungeon crawler think Legend of Grimrock. It is surprisingly light on story, for a genre well known for elaborate cinematics Etrian Odyssey dares to do something special: stand on it’s own as a game. What makes it really special is how perilous the game feels, each bear that hunts you down, every random encounter really helps or hurts, the game doesn’t offer empowerment fantasies, rather it makes self-esteem in oodles of cases. Mapping out each dungeon, or going back to defeat some pesky boss: the game really makes you sink time in to accomplish something, and the results are fruitful. In other words it’s a great little game which will reward careful and cautious play.

Zeno Clash 2
PC / Steam

The original Zeno Clash was such a delight because it dared to go into the grounds that magazines like Heavy Metal put forward. It’s characters were punks, driven by little more than libidinal excuses and a world surreal enough to contain terribly human desires. The problem is, the second game rests on a Hollywood like premise, it’s opening is full of action movie cliches, and while it maintains a few intriguing points (it questions the genetics of family and the establishment of discipline) Zeno Clash is at it’s best when the it’s desires come to the forefront and primitivism triumphs over logic, sadly it’s predictable opening destroys much of what made the original great. Then you get into it, as the game progresses it gets better and the details begin to come alive again and the strange primitivism surrealism, the way it denies internal logics in favor of a frank acceptance of things as weird a they are begins to start again. The game is beautiful and has a few Metrodvania elements to it, the addition of weapons surprisingly works rather well, Ace Team knows how to be creative, and Zeno Clash 2 got me once again with the twist, but the weapons are what makes it cool and improve the fighting aspects. I haven’t finished it yet, but if the opening upsets you, just keep playing it gets better the further you go inside.

May 31, 2013 at 1:47 pm Leave a comment

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